Question: I have been a caregiver for a boy of 3 ½ since he was 10 months old. There are rarely behavioral issues when he is with me and not his parents.  But when either or both of them are present, he becomes very aggressive, talking back, etc.  I feel he knows there will be no consequences for such behavior since the parents threaten but do not follow through. I have had many conversations with his mother to no avail.  She says he’ll be better when he’s four; and “boys will be boys”. She is wrong because he does know how to behave; but the misbehavior is becoming less and less tolerable since he now will hurt other children, including a baby. Any advice would be appreciated.

Adele Brodkin: Just as these parents should be setting limits for their child, you will have to set firm limits for them. Explain to them that when the safety of other children is at stake, there can be no waiting for a change in their son’s attitude and behavior. Either he follows the rules you set up, whether a parent is there or not, or he will not be welcome in your program any longer. If they feel they cannot do this alone, find resources for them to improve their parenting skills so they may set the behavioral bar where it belongs. This child, like every other, deserves and needs love, understanding, and consistent limits.  That does not mean punishment, threats, etc.  Hopefully, there is a family guidance program available through your town, county or church or temple affiliation. It is likely that there is much more to the story of this family’s struggles that is not for you to address; but you can guide them to the right source, while firmly sticking to your position about safe behavior at all times as the condition for staying.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.