My sister treats my 13-year-old nephew as if he is 5, doing everything for him, speaking to him in a baby voice. Needless to say, he is very immature and also his behaviour is sometimes poor. It’s now really getting to me as I think it’s going to hinder him in later life. Is there anything I can do to change things?

Interfering in the parenting of other people’s children can create a tense situation, but I fully understand your concerns. It can be difficult to watch from the sidelines when you know deep down the behaviour of your sister is impacting your nephew negatively.

In a situation like this, it’s extremely important to think carefully about the root cause of this kind of behaviour. Is your nephew an only child or the youngest? If so, it may be your sister’s sub-conscious fear of her son growing up, gaining increasing independence and inevitably needing her less and less that is at the heart of this behaviour.

As kids grow up of course they start to form their own opinions and want to ‘cut the apron strings’ in preparation for adult life. This is natural and an important process, allowing them to survive on their own and go out into the world. By keeping him childlike and stepping in to do everything for him, your sister is essentially trying to prevent this natural process from happening.

But this kind of behaviour can be damaging. It tends to breed resentment and anger as the child grows and realises they are being subjected to a great deal of control. Equally, it might also cause issues in your nephew’s future relationships; as his peers grow more mature, he may struggle to feel accepted especially if he displays comparatively childlike behaviour.

So, what can you do? Firstly, always make a point of treating your nephew in an age appropriate manner. Perhaps you could suggest that you take him for days out or have him to stay over, so that he can experience a greater degree of freedom to behave like a 13-year-old boy. Act as a positive role model for your sister when you’re together as a family by encouraging your nephew to do things for himself in her earshot.

If you have a strong relationship with your sister, perhaps you could sit down and talk to her. Not about the way she treats her son, but conversations about the future. Ask questions about how she sees the next ten years opening up for herself and her son. What are her aspirations? What does she want for herself? Drop subtle hints about your nephew eventually growing up and leaving to make his own way in the world and see how she reacts.

Another strategy is to create an imaginary scenario about ‘a friend’ of yours and refract your sister’s behaviour through this lens. For example, identify a behaviour your sister displays and relay it back to her through a story about your ‘friend’ and ask her advice about it. This might allow her to start thinking about the issue without it being seen as a judgement on herself and her parenting skills. More than anything, your sister needs positive support.