How to protect your children from a relative's inappropriate behavior

The Baltimore Sun

Reader Kate Dino asked for guidance on how to handle situations in which kids are regularly exposed to "less-than-desirable behavior" from adults. For example, how would you talk to them if you have a relative who's a racist or who has a drinking problem?

I asked Bonnie Compton, who runs a parent coaching business in Ellicott City called Parenting Partners (parentingpart, to tackle this one. Here's what she e-mailed back:

"Just as a parent would prohibit children from watching an inappropriate TV show or movie, it is important to monitor and set limits around your child's time spent with family members who may exhibit inappropriate behavior.

"As a parent coach and child therapist, I often remind parents that it is important to be pro-active rather than reactive. By recognizing that a family member is capable of exhibiting undesirable behavior and to avoid the negative consequences of that behavior, you will want to control the encounter. If you allow your child to maintain a relationship with that particular relative, there are several things that you can do:

* "Plan structured activities for your child and family member. Make sure that the activity is fairly short, about 1-2 hours long, and either be present with your child during the visit or ask another responsible adult to monitor the activity.

* "Speak with the family member in advance and share with them your expectations for the visit, such as no racist comments, no drinking both before or during the visit, etc. Explain that if these behaviors occur during the visit, that you will end the visit and reschedule at another time.

* "Before your child visits with the relative, explain in language appropriate to his developmental level that sometimes people make mistakes or have difficulty behaving appropriately. Remind your child that it is your job as his parent to teach responsible behavior and keep him safe, and that if you or the child feel uncomfortable during the visit, you will (both) leave.

* "If you feel that your family member's behavior is out of control and it is unsafe for your child to be around them, then you need to make the decision either to confront your relative about their behavior and/or keep the child away from the relative. This may mean that you have to remove yourself and child from your living situation, or prohibit any visits with the relative. This is a difficult decision to make, but again it is your responsibility as a parent to keep your child safe.

"It is often helpful to talk with a therapist as you deal with life stressors and try to examine difficult family relationships."

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