Aunts and uncles play a special role in a young woman’s life. They are not quite parents nor are they mere friends. Dr. Robert Milardo studies family relationship at the University of Maine, and he states: "at times, nieces and nephews were more willing to listen to the counsel of an aunt or uncle." However, like any young person, your niece may test the boundaries of your relationship with disrespect. You can lovingly set boundaries that model self-respect and encourage her to show respect to others.
Calm down. If your niece yells at you, yelling back won’t help. The goal is to communicate boundaries. Instead, ask her to sit and calm down before speaking again. Take some time to calm yourself as well so that you are acting out of love, not reacting out of anger.
Talk to your niece. Family problems, school stress or even friends may shorten your niece’s temper, and she may respond disrespectfully. Talking to her and getting to the root of her insecurities show your respect and love for her as a person. There is also the chance that she doesn’t mean to be disrespectful. As a young woman matures there is an awkward period where your niece may not know whether to treat you as her aunt with the respect due to an adult or the more casual and sometimes disrespectful behavior of a peer. This can be especially difficult if you and your niece are close in age. Discussing your expectations can help you both through this stage.
Use “we” statements, not "you" statements. This helps her understand the basic rules of your home without accusations. When you talk to your niece you might say things like: “In this house, we treat each other with respect,” or “We don’t roll our eyes when someone asks for help.” Using these statements encourages her to look around and observe how people treat each other.
Set a good example. Once you have called her attention to respectful behavior, make sure that you live it out. It does no good to ask your niece to treat you with respect if you are rude to others. Instead, model the behavior you wish to see.
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- Talk to her parents if you feel that her behavior is out of control. Ultimately, her parents must make any decisions that affect her long-term discipline.
- Never let a niece’s disrespect set a bad example for your own children. This may mean limiting visits until she is able to get her behavior under control.
Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.