A 7 Year Old Is Taking Away My Sanity

For those of you that do not know, I am raising my 7 year old nephew. His mother died of cancer two years ago. My mother in-law got custody and she abused him emotionally and physically.

The first several months were good. There were issues, but nothing too big for me to handle. He would throw tantrums over small things, like wanting it to be his turn on the computer etc. When he would throw a fit, I would wait until he settled down. Then I would explain to him that although there would have been a possibility of getting his way if he would have come to talk to me in a civil way, now that he did it with a tantrum, if I gave him his way, I would be rewarding bad behavior. So, now instead he would have to take a break from the computer for a while. I believe any punishment should fit the crime. I also give rewards for good behavior. This was working. When he had good days, there were rewards.

Now his episodes have escalated to him screaming obscenities, throwing things, slamming doors, and banging his head against hard objects. According to CPS, I cannot restrain him, because it is considered abuse. Though, if he continues this behavior, he may hurt himself. I don't believe in physical punishment especially with a child that has been abused as severely as he has. Since we got him through CPS, I’m sure there will be mandatory checking in on us to make sure he is in a safe environment. Besides, I don’t want to do anything that will damage him more than he already is.

Yes, he is in counseling. She's great with him and he opens up to her, but she does not have children and every suggestion she has given me has not worked. He also participates in therapeutic horseback riding where he gets therapy for PTSD.

I am finding myself having to step away to the far end of the house to get un-angry so that I don't over react. None of my biological children would dare to disrespect me in any of the ways that this 7 year old has. They all know that through disrespect like screaming at me, they will get nothing. I keep open communication with them, so that they can share in a civil way how they feel.

I am feeling beat down, overwhelmed, and sometimes in tears by a mere 7 year old. If anyone here has faced circumstances like mine, please share any suggestions you might have.

deleted deleted 26-30 14 Responses Jan 18, 2012

Your Response


Sounds quite the challenge. I have an 8 yr old boy. Who was very difficult last year- though nothing quite as bad as that. Ane he has matured a lot in a year. One thing that helped last year was having him play with an ipod- not just computer. It kept him very focused.

Dear Affinityterra, a courageous and compassionate decision to bring up another young one. Your house sounds like one where discussion is possible, negotiation encouraged, respect expected and given both ways.

Your nephew may take a long time until the pains lessen. There is no standard time for pain to go. Like I heard recently on a TV show, you never get over loosing a parent, you just get better at dealing with it. To loose your parent at 5 is difficult enough, to then end up with someone who is supposed to look after and comfort you and get the opposite is so destablising. I'm glad for him that you and your family are doing what you can to reassure him. Let him know you agree with him (if you do) that it was a rotten thing that his mom died. Terrible that he lost her, and that you are prepared to love him and help him grow up such that his mom would have been proud of him.

I'd second the suggestion for a martial art if he is interested in doing so. As a teen I found judo was a great way to have competition and wrestle with peers without necessarily hurting anyone. The endorphins released were relaxing, it helped burn off the testosterone generated as a youth etc.

I've done kung fu for 6 years, then learned and taught Aikido for 25 years now, a fantastic blending art which teaches self reliance, respect, physical skills and loving protection of the aggressor. You need to find a club which teaches and has activities which draw his attention and interest, whatever the style. If not MA, then any physically engaging sport would be helpful.

My learning about helping teenagers deal with strong emotions suggests that your nephew may be acting out because he feels safe to do so with you. He may be more controlled (but bottling up his emotions) in his behaviour at school for example. Children can sometimes struggle to find acceptable ways of dealing with grief(loss) and hurt (unfairness), and in boys and men, these often are converted to anger - one of the few socially modelled (but not necessarily desirable) behaviours of men.

Music has a great capacity to allow him to express and deal with his pains, so too drawing, physical venting (stomping to music like "in the hall of the mountain king", pretend cutting wood with an axe), writing stories (perhaps dictating them for you to write), imagination play etc.

It's good that you step away when he is having a tantrum if you aren't feeling the energy necessary to keep your control.

Hugging him when he's upset, and before a tantrum can also be very comforting, with gentle rocking or patting can be soothing. Massage after a tantrum can help him relax (through clothes and specific tense parts of the body to start with).

Allowing him to have his tantrum safely on the lounge room floor might also be helpful. Let him know it's ok if he's feeling the energy build up, to put a doona on the floor and a pillow and yell into the pillow and kick and hit the doona on the floor, or use a Nerf bat on a punching bag, have a pillow fight that's controlled etc. Let him know it's ok to yell and scream where it's not going to hurt himself and others (football oval etc)

During my divorce, when the anger built up to hazardous levels, I would sometimes take a wooden sword out onto a local oval in the dark and single handedly slay a whole imaginary army of my former wife and her family who were being horrible. I did it until I was exhausted, then was able to see beyond the anger to the hurt and injustice and loss that I was feeling.

Expressive therapies are often useful for grief work such as this. It is a therapy approach which uses music, physical action, journalling, sandplay etc to evoke emotional reactions in a supportive environment - getting around the rational thinking brain and touching the emotions directly. The client does the interpreting of what the symbols or experiences mean. I have references to books etc which may help explain the concepts if you want. It's best to have professionals do this work however.

I agree that to keep your sanity getting some respite care from time to time is important, you can't help if you are not ok. It is also important to reassure your other children that you love them - by perhaps spending special time with each of them separately.

Not an easy task to juggle all these needs, along with your own and your partner's.

Keep in touch - happy to suggest and listen, in private or within the group as you prefer.

p.s. I had 3 children, one of whom had had a stroke at age 5 with the attendant physical, psychological and sibling issues. Much of his anger and loss didn't surface until much later.

It's what it does in comments for some reason. Never mind - I see through clutter - it's one of my partner's beefs with me ;-)
You are obviously on top of things, your kids are very lucky. You'll have enough musicians for a band! Can I come and live at your house?
The letter writing is great idea, and sorry for your loss - a parent's death is a great loss - they are usually the people on earth who have the best understanding of ourselves, as they were witness to our lives. I'll never get over mine dying, even though it's been 10 and 20 years ago. Blessings to you all. I'll be keen to hear how it's going over time.

You already have some great helpful comments from others on how to help your nephew, but there is one piece of this puzzle I am wondering about.


What help are you getting for yourself to cope with this? To de-stress, to reduce the feelings of being overwhelmed? You have other children and your husband is away. That alone is enough to be a lot on your plate. I hope you are getting some time for yourself to recharge and breathe free from all this. You know that what you are doing is wonderful and important. But do not ignore the need to take care of yourself.

You might consider some sort of martial arts training for this boy. I have many friends who do that as a family - Tae Kwan Do or other sorts - and it teaches self control and discipline as well as giving the body a way to release pent up energy.

I wish you the best. Hang in there. And feel free to vent anytime. Either this way or in a private message. Because you are good people, and I always have an ear and a shoulder for good people.

It is not silly at all. It makes perfect sense. Do not lose yourself in caring for everyone else, please. You have suffered loss and trauma as well. You are doing a great deal to take care of everyone. Being around adults is good stuff. Don't hesitate to invite friends in for coffee and a visit as well. xo


I have no words of support to offer that have not mostly already been shared. I will, however, offer one piece of advice: Don't Give Up.

In my family, many years ago, two young children ages 3 and 5 were removed from a situation like the one you describe. There were many challenges along the way. These kids were wild beyond understanding. They had behavior issues too long to list. Problems at home, problems at school. Many in the family quietly gave up on them figuring they were too damaged from their years in the crazy home environment. Two, however, did not quit on these kids.

Fast forward over 15 years. One of those kids is today a college graduate preparing for a likely entry into law school. The other just got accepted into an American medical school and will begin his studies to become a doctor this year.

If there is anyway possible you can hang in there and continue to love and parent this child, he will be worlds better off. And the world will be better off. And you will know a sense of accomplishment like no other. Help him beat these odds - it's better than winning the lottery.

I have brought up a child who had severe allergies to E numbers and also asberghers syndrome and if he had e numbers by mistake then would become hyper and start tantrums when was young he would scare himself and found that a good way to calm him down was to cuddle him whilst talking quietly but at time had been shown how to do this safely as I also worked with adults/kids who had challenging behaviour.

How does he react to your other children? maybe you can try treeting him the same and rewarding all if they all spend time together,or perhaps one might be able to draw this child out and help this buddy system is used in UK to help problem children but supervision is required but from a distance using your child to help his cousin!

It does take time for a child to gel in to new situation but as your 16 yr old is starting to gel maybe get her to talk to your nephew and see if she can get him to open up then she can come to you and let you know whats going on,but you must let her know to tell your nephew that she will talk things over with you so you can pass on to his councillor to help him,and maybe if the younger one will join in with some games whilst they are together you might glean something of whats going on! Message me if you need

You said your other children would never get away with this. Maybe he wants to be treated as your other children are treated, so he can feel he is part of the family and just as good (or bad) as they are. You sound like a good parent so maybe you are trying too hard. See if you can treat him more like your own child and less like a project.

Sorry feel free to message me if you need to and will give all help I can!

Aww fin that is so sad-I was gonna say he must be ptsd: (! You are doing a heroic thing! Try to find something that gets him tinkering or interested in other than the computer. He needs to burn off that energy-ptsd always stays and transforms itself and mutates. He needs social activity like baseball or something of that nature-I speak from personal experience. I especially loved (DON'T CRINGE!LOL) golf-it is something that can be played alone and you need 100% concentration.


Aww and I totally see where you're coming from on that.....Maybe... Google "behavioral problems with kids" and see if there is some sort of advice site or forum available where parents having problems can go and talk it over with other folks and professionals. You have enough experience, as a good mom to be able to sort out anything that wouldn't be good. You sound like an AWESOME mom to me!!

I don't have kids but I have an AWESOME mom and know what one does and you totally sound like one to me. I'm glad to see some other great parents in here too with good thoughts. We all doubt ourselves here and there....but it has to be doubly hard with kids....I have always admired folks who raise children and put their whole heart and soul in it. hugs and hugs and hugs...♥

I envy you as a woman for what you are doing. We are looking after three kids from a broken home, and it is an experience and a half. The youngest was so bad that he used to pelt stones at vehicles and glass panes in homes. Through patience and understanding we have managed to turn them around. It was all hard work but the satisfaction is beyond words. Keep going, it will never be a cause for regret.

Noted Thanks.

The irony here is that he may possible injure himself during oneof his tantrums. CPS is right, nd you have been doing the right thing, in that you need to just back away and let him get it out of his system. There is no quick fix. Only time can heal these wouns, and sadly that time may be in the decades, not just years. But when his actions threaten his safety and the safety of others, what do you do?

Have you called his case worker for suggestions? Just say that you are worried he is going to hurt himself and you don't know how to prevent it. See what they say. It may be a situation where you can't do anything - which sucks.

Eventually, the episodes will become fewer and farther between. But be prepared, because this is not something that is going to fix quickly. And he will have set-backs, usually just when it looks like you are out of the woods and making progress.

It's not easy, but try to remember that he has very difficult emotions coursing through him and he doesn't know how to express them inb a heathy way. He also hasn't been properly socialized (that sounds harsh) and will need to learn how to deal with people.

You are doing a great thing. Often the hard choice is the right one, and I am proud of how you are stepping up in this case. You are making a difference in his life.

I don't think it would hurt to ask for suggestions. Just mention that you want to do what's right for him and that you are worried he may hurt himself with his behavior and you are looking for suggestions. They are there to help, and by asking you show that you have his best intentions in mind.

You are quickly learning that I am right about everything! :)

Well, Jessica Rabbit has that effect on me.

Like the counselor, I have no children and probably have even less insight into them, so I'm no help. I admire you for taking him in. You sound like you have the inner strength to get through the situation, but I hope that it becomes at least tolerable very soon.


I feel sorry for you and him. You are both in a rough situation. I think it odd that child counselors has no children. Yes there are things that work in theory, but never work in reality.

Of course he is coming from an abusive situation and probably thinks he has to be aggressive to survive.

I have no answers, but do wish the best for all involved.

Bare Hugs


This is a very hard test to work through. We raised a child who was very hard to reach, also, but I have no words of wisdom, only a certain amount of understanding and and a very large amount of sympathy.

It was unheard of at the time or I would have tried Reiki (if the child would have stood for it) for its relaxing effect on the child.

You have much strength and wisdom, and you will do all that can be done to help this child and to protect your family and to keep from feeling self blame. i hope you can look at the situation -- and at your pain -- from a spot outside of it all. I hope that you have enough time alone to nourish the strength in your beautiful soul and that, in those times, you feel, directly, the peace you deserve.

I am proud to know you.

I wish I had some thoughts to add here. I do want to offer some kind words of support. I am honestly amazed and I totally admire the sensibility in all you said above. To take on such a big task shows your kindness. Could you call the CPS folks and explain to them the issues your having? Maybe a new case worker could offer some better recommendations for him. I wish you all good luck in this.....I really do. hugs and hugs.