Life Advice



Ask Amy: Young nephew’s behavior causes concern

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: I’m a clueless aunt looking for some advice.

My little nephew (age 4 1/2) is very smart, but seems dysregulated quite often.

He often runs around in small circles for about 10 minutes screaming, and can only focus for very short amounts of times, avoids eye contact, and often does not respond when spoken to directly.

We recently had a situation where his older sister (age 6) built a fort out of blankets when she wanted/needed some quiet time, and she was very happy while building it.

The little one then, of course, "wanted in" on the fort, did not want to build his own, but then stepped over the boundaries he’d promised to keep just one minute earlier.

He didn't seem to remember what he had just promised, which of course then made his sister upset, so that, after much back and forth, she ended up crying, too.

He then threw a fit, as he often does.

I cannot talk to his parents about the possible need for therapeutic help, as they don't want to address this, and everyone is just helpless.

His mother has a lot of issues and feels like she is under a lot of stress, but she is also not open to doing therapy, or any other kind of self-care, other than stress-eating.

I apologize if this sounds so uninformed, and I am grateful for any advice or input.

– Clueless Aunt

Dear Aunt: I am not qualified to diagnose any particular issue with your nephew, although some of what you describe would be familiar to a person on the autism spectrum.

Your nephew’s behavior could also be explained by many other factors and dynamics in his household, including his diet, sleep schedule, as well as the inconsistent direction he might be receiving by a stressed and tired parent.

If your nephew is 4 1/2, I’m assuming that he has not had any consistent in-person schooling yet. The pandemic has interrupted so many childhoods, and this little guy’s life could be transformed by regular contact with other children his age, as well as skilled teachers who would help to guide him – and his parents.

Most of us learn by trial and error, and your nephew might be exiting a stage where tantrums “worked” for him. Early childhood education is vital in guiding children toward pro-social behavior.

You could help by taking him to the playground for lots of fresh air and exercise, introducing him to the wonderful world of bugs, dinosaurs, and building things with blocks and LEGOS. You would learn more about him by spending one-on-one time with him, listening to him, reading together, and encouraging him to explore in his own way, without too much judgment or correction from you (unless he is hurting himself or another child).

Your concern and willingness to stand up for this child is commendable. Your dig at this mother for her own lack of self-care is not.


Dear Amy: I have a large group of friends. We all have kids between the ages of 18 and 30 that technically still live at home for financial reasons. They are either in college or out in the work field.

Our friends’ adult children stay out several nights a week and sleep at their partners’ homes – and all of them are still living at home with their parents.

No one in our friend-group allows this at our homes, but our kids say that we’re old school and that everyone does it.

There seem to be a lot of parents out there that allow this, but our group agrees it doesn’t feel right to shack up in your girlfriends’ or boyfriends’ childhood bedroom, having sex with the parents next door.

What is your opinion?

– Old-school Moms

Dear Old School: Whenever I hear the phrase “shacking up,” I know someone has been listening to Dr. Laura.

My attitude toward this depends on the situation. If an adult child is in a long-term relationship and I know their partner, I welcome the partner to visit, and they can sleep wherever they like.

However, one surefire way to coax an adult toward independent living is to limit their friends’ access to the bedroom and refrigerator.

Dear Amy: “Mourning in Montana” was a woman whose husband of 46 years abruptly told her he was leaving her.

I thought your advice to her was compassionate and helpful, but you may have missed something: this man could be experiencing the early signs of dementia.

– Concerned

Dear Concerned: Several readers raised this possibility.


(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

©2022 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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