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Reality Check: The Family Bully

Q. My nephew, who's 4, hits my 1-year-old and takes his toys. But my brother won't let me discipline his child. How can I get him to curb his kid?

Disciplining someone else's child is like tiptoeing through a minefield. Your brother's right -- don't go there. Instead, if he seems blind to what's going on, point it out to him and let him discipline his child.

But be careful about how and how often you rat on your nephew. No parent likes to hear complaints about his child, even when they're justified, and you don't want this to sour the relationship you have with your brother. Give your nephew three strikes (or toy grabs) before you go get his dad; try to use a calm and casual tone, even if you're absolutely seething inside. Say something like "Bob, I'm so sorry to have to interrupt you, but Jesse's having a lot of trouble keeping his hands to himself, and he's making the baby upset, so we're going to need your help over here."

You should also keep trying to teach your nephew how to play nicely with his cousin. He's not necessarily a bad seed; he's a 4-year-old testing limits. Tell him what makes the baby laugh, and he may get so entertained making his cousin fall out in a fit of giggles that he'll forget about being a bully, at least for a while. When he hits, remind him that hitting hurts and take his hand to show him a gentle touch.

Better yet, try to preempt hitting and toy grabbing by giving your nephew another ball or half the blocks to play with so he won't have any reason to take the baby's. And you should lift your child out of harm's way before his cousin has a chance to knock him over. Yes, this means constant supervision on your part, but that's life with a 1-year-old.