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Question from Disappointed in Colorado

Dear Lindsey,
My brother, sister-in-law, and their two children recently visited from out of state.  They stayed with my husband and I for 10 days and during that time, their 8 year old daughter, "Sally" was always "borrowing" things without permission.  It was made clear to both of the children that our bedroom and bathroom were off limits.  One day I found her in my bathroom playing with my designer make-up which she pretty much ruined.   She also took clothes out of my closet, went through my jewelry box, and even took money out of a savings jar I had stored in our closet.  When Sally got caught taking each of these things, her mother made her give them back, told her not to do it again, and did nothing more to punish her.  I tried to talk to my brother about this behavior and he just waffled and told me that his wife does the discipline.  I can't believe they let Sally get away with this type of behavior and do nothing about it.  I'm afraid she's going to grow up to be a kleptomaniac or partake in other worse behavior as she gets older.  How can I get through to my brother and sister-in-law that their lack of discipline is unacceptable?
-Disappointed in Colorado

Dear Disappointed in Colorado,
It sounds like your brother and sister-in-law need a wake up call!  This isn't the first time I've heard this type of scenario, and I don't understand why some parents are so lazy in the discipline area.  Children need boundaries and consequences to their actions.  Some parents want to be their childrens' friend and be a cool parent.  Well, kids are going to have enough friends their own age.  They don't need more friends, they need parents!
It isn't fair to you when your niece steals and destroys your things.  You are trying to do your family a favor by letting them stay with you while you visit and this type of behavior should be unacceptable to Sally's parents.  If they are unwilling to take action when Sally is acting up, then you have the right to discipline her yourself while she's under your roof.  If her parents don't like it, then you can ask them to stay in a hotel during their visits.
Maybe during their next visit or over the phone you can have a heart to heart discussion with Sally about why she is being such a brat and pulling a Winona Ryder in your house.  It may be an extension of something that is going on at home or school that your brother or sister-in-law hasn't told you about.  Many times when children act out it's because there's a bigger issue going on.
Sally is not your kid so ultimately you can not make parenting decisions.  All you can do is tell Sally's parents how you feel and hope they do something about it.  For future visits, tell them they can either keep their kid in check, stay in a hotel, or don't visit at all.  Maybe that will be enough to make them realize Sally's behavior is inappropriate and unwelcoming.
Lots of Love,

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