Q: I need some gentle parenting advice from you, lady: My five-year-old daughter is willful, needs to test boundaries and be snotty. How do I react to bad behaviour (i.e. snotty faces, mean words, lashing out at sissy or folks) and create consequences? I react, get mad, doesn’t work. I am working on “Rewind. What’s a better choice right here?” This is having modestly better results. Oh, Anti-SuperNanny, what is another path I could take here???
Lady Mama With a Temper.
A: This is a fascinating subject for me! I’ve heard, so many times, that five-year-old girls are among the most challenging children to be around. It seems that around the age of 5, they find their voices, but lack a filter, tact, and decorum! I’ve often wondered why people don’t make similar observations about boys at any age. Is it because girls are perceived to be more socially hardwired? Or is there a gender-stereotype covertly at work here?
Regardless, there is a right way to treat people and a wrong way. And it is absolutely possible to express your wishes in a way that doesn’t alienate the people around you, and that is what we must teach our children – of all genders.
Your “rewinding” technique is a great way to validate her desire for control and expression, while enforcing your own boundaries! Some other techniques that parents have found useful in coping with their fiercely independent children:
- Describe the behavior (not the child): “Oh. My daughter just walked in and demanded I give her a popsicle.” It’s funny how often a child will self-correct and sheepishly say, “I’m sorry, Mom. Um, I meant, may I please have a popsicle?”
- State expectations: “In this family, we treat one another with respect. When you are talking to me, I do not roll my eyes at you because it is disrespectful. I expect the same treatment from you.”
- Use “I feel” messages: “I feel angry and saddened when I am yelled at, especially by someone I love so very much. I feel like yelling back and slamming doors!” Most effective when expressed with the emotion actually being felt.
- Relinquish power: End the power struggle by choosing not to engage. Either “give in” (yes, that’s ok, it’s actually important to “give in” once in a while), or table the conversation for another time when emotions are less heated.
- Natural consequences: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” is not just Newtonian Physics. It’s real life. And many parents use it to their child’s long-term advantage. For example, your child spends time arguing with you about what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. You try several different approaches, but she is adamant that her way is The Only Way. Guess what? Time’s run out. She no longer has the option to pursue the activity after all, because you have to go pick Daddy up from an appointment. How unfortunate.
- Logical consequences: “This stick is not a weapon. If you are choosing to hit someone with this stick, you will have to go inside (where there are no sticks) and leave the stick out here.” Logical consequences are always related. “You hit your sister, no TV!” is not a logical consequence – to a child, there is no connection. “You hit your sister! You need to leave the room now!” is. (Side note: preferably, one would remove the sister and give her the attention, leaving the consequence implied, but sometimes, that’s just not practical).
- Chill out: Naughty chairs are for SuperNanny. When is the last time you told your adult friend, “I really didn’t like what you said to me last night. You need to go sit in the naughty chair and think about what you’ve done!” Ridiculous, right? It’s doubly ridiculous for young children, who don’t even develop the capacity for inner monologue until between the ages of 6-8 years old – meaning they psychologically cannot “think about what they’ve done.” They just can’t. Instead, you’ll often find them play-acting, sorting out their problems in the most unexpected places, trying out different solutions and different scenarios. It is for this reason that I cannot stress the utmost importance of play in a child’s life. Play is one of a parent’s most effective tools. So when the going gets rough, some parents will remove the struggling child from the situation, and send them to a safe place – their room, a quiet spot outdoors, etc. The child is then given a moment or two alone, just to break that cycle of negative feedback, and the parent joins them, offering up an observation and invitation to chat. “I sense that you seem irritable. Want to talk about it?” Maybe the child doesn’t talk – maybe she’ll want to climb something instead. This is where that play thing we just talked about comes in. Go with it. Let her play – maybe something hidden will surface.
Again, these are just a few of the tools other parents have used. You’ll likely find something else that works for your family. And if you do, I hope you’ll come back here and share, so other readers can benefit from your experience.
Good luck mama, to you and your beautiful family!