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Apparently, I'm doing something wrong or I don't know how to connect with my child properly...

I have a lovely 5,5 years old daughter, who is an absolutely cute and non-problematic girl at a kindergarten, with my boyfriend, with my parents, but not with me. As soon as I appear, she becomes very whiny, ego-centric and defiant. She wants something, she wants it now, and she keeps repeating it constantly. She can't accept that something is not like SHE wants it to be. No matter what form we choose to deliver our decision, doesn't accept it.

When I ask her to do something or remind her that soon it's time to do something, she refuses. I have tried everything:

  • listening and mirroring her feelings -> she just keeps saying "but I want this" or refuses to do what she's asked ("No, I won't clean my toys)
  • removing the privileges and explaining why they are removed and how she can get them back -> she calms down, does what she is asked, promises not to do so and after some time misbehaves again
  • give her warnings and timeout -> she throws a tantrum, hits the door, yells, then does the same as in 'removing the privileges' point
  • spanking -> I guess, no additional commentary on the efficiency of this method is needed
  • asking how she would feel if I behaved the same way -> she says she wouldn't like it and it's not good to behave that way but still does it after some time passes
  • giving her choices -> she simply chooses what is not listed, e.g. I ask "will you clean your toys before lunch or after?" and the answer is "I won't clean them, I don't want to". And if I say that such an answer wasn't among the offered options, she will respond something like "But I don't want to do it anyway".
  • explaining the consequences in various situations, even the consequences of her own choices (and letting those consequences become real) -> no effect whatsoever

I have a feeling that she simply doesn't listen to me and literally doesn't hear me (though her hearing is ok, because unwrapping the candy or chips pack gets her attention even from another room). If I ask her what did I just say, she can't answer to me, she stares silently or says she doesn't remember or says something completely different.

She also likes to be in control of everything, when we are doing something together and I try to correct her even in a very mild manner or simply say that this should be done differently, she acts very emotionally and wants that we do it her way. Same goes with role-playing or any games that have certain rules, she doesn't want to follow those rules.

We are not able to go out with her anywhere, because every time it's a horrible experience for everyone - she doesn't listen, she keeps repeating what she wants and it drives me nuts. I am seriously thinking if I need to be checked, because I get very angry with this behavior. Sometimes I even don't want to come home from work, it feels like battlefield for simple routine things like eating, cleaning her room, going out, etc.

I understand that I am a control freak myself and I have worked on that to be softer with her and not to demand so much, to lower my expectations but is it too much to expect if I say "Please walk slower, you're running and the dog gets too aroused" or "I can't play with you now, I'm busy, we'll play when I finish" and want her to understand that I really mean it and I need this behavior at this particular moment?

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2 Answers

Let me begin by reassuring you that you are far from alone. Many kids are far better behaved for their teachers, day care workers, other family members etc. etc. They test the ones that are with them most, love them the dearest etc (they know your buttons better than anyone's after all). At five and a half, your daughter is also experiencing a big year (if in the states) starting K at 5 can be quite a change in academic expectation and exhausting on top of everything else.

Additionally, for whatever reason, it is reasonably common (at least in my experience) for mothers and daughters to rub each-other the wrong way while the father of the same daughter will make everyone that sees them, sick with envy at how well behaved the daughter is (and vice versa for mothers and sons). I think in reality, the problem is really that we have the hardest time with the kids that are most like ourselves.

So, give yourself a break and don't compare her behavior with you to her behavior with others. It isn't just you that is different, but the combination of the two of you with your own unique relationship.

Having said that: you start out by questioning how connected you are.

Make sure you haven't lost your sense of humor

Moms get chained in as the main disciplinarian quite often these days. We keep everyone (including husbands/boyfriends) on schedule, healthy, clean, the house cleaned, fed. . . and it can be easy to get too serious. However, kids need us to laugh and have fun with them too - often, the best way to win over a difficult kid is to start laughing with them again. I wrote this blarticle, How to Be the Coolest Parent in Town, a long time ago (I'm not even keeping the blog anymore) but maybe the "Silly Things" part of the article will have an inspiring idea for you.

Take a Day To Reconnect Since it also appears you've made an attempt at just about anything that would normally be suggested I suggest a "clean slate day." Take some time out to go have some fun, just the two of you to get re-connected. Spend all day together, starting with a breakfast out. Do some silly things during your day as well as some serious. Take a walk in the park, go to a matinee or your daughter's favorite sporting event, go have a spa experience together (even just get both of you a shampoo and trim, but make it feel like a big-girl spa experience) or whatever seems it would suit your fancy as well as hers. While you are out, at a relaxed moment, talk about it.

"honey, I've been feeling like we've lost our connection and I want to get it back because I love you so much and want everything that is best for you. What do you think about that?" (or something like it) See what she says - you may need to be quiet for some time. She is probably feeling the frustration too so when she does share, just listen and paraphrase.

When You Get Back To Reality It is time to be consistent. Pick one method to use with her (or an appropriate combination of methods) and then stick with it. Getting used to a new type of discipline often takes time, so switching from one to another abruptly or too often can actually be confusing.

Giving Choices I recommend combining choices (as in the Love and Logic Method) with natural consequences. I know you've already tried each of these, but both can be a bit tricky - especially to do consistently - and tough to switch to. If you give it time - especially with the support of others around you though, I think you will find it will work wonders. Spend some time really getting to know the Love and Logic Method. You can probably find these books at the library if you don't want to buy them but there are some commonly made mistakes (like giving one choice and a threat that isn't really a choice) and things to avoid that can undermine your efforts.

I did offer my daughter one additional layer after she hit five and started to do the same thing as yours for a little while - "but I don't like either choice." I felt it was a good transition and everyone should know how to compromise so I taught my daughter about "win-win solutions." You can point out that if she doesn't like the choices you have offered, she can offer another win-win solution, choose the option she can tolerate most, or continue to whine and let you choose for her (which officially would fall into that "threat" category, but it worked for us). With my daughter, if she simply whined about her choices, I just said, in a matter-of-fact tone, not with any frustration or anger, "well, what would you offer then?" At first her ideas were often she wins, I lose ideas, but I'll give you an example of how an exchange like this went:

"But mom, I don't like either of those outfits."

"Well, what would you choose?"

"this shirt (short-sleeved), A skirt and my flip flops"

"That would be really cute if it was going to be an 80 degree day, but as it might snow today, I can't be on board with that choice. Can you find a win-win solution?"

"What if I wear leggings under the skirt, and a hoodie?"

"That sounds alright by me if you also add warmer shoes and keep the hoodie on."

another example

"but mom, I was in the middle of a game and don't want to set the table, or feed the dog."

"I understand you are in the middle of a game. You choose which chore you want to do (set the table, or feed the dog) and I'll give you two more minutes to play before you have to actually do the chore - that way you can get to a good stopping place."

"but mo-o-ommmmmmmm."

"I've offered a win-win solution so at this point, you can offer up an equally good compromise, take my suggestion, or I'll choose one of the original options for you. You may not continue to argue and whine."

When she forced me to make the choice, I always chose what I knew would be her least favorite option. Once she learned that she probably wouldn't like my choices, she had motivation to choose something more of a compromise. Eventually, I was able to say, "What's your win-win solution?"

Obviously, you can't always allow for choice - in those moments, if you have honestly offered plenty of opportunities for her to choose things at other times and be in control at other times, you can pull the parent card, "honey, I let you choose a lot, you're just going to have to trust me on this one."

However, I see the love and logic method as more of a preventative than a total discipline solution. By offering your daughter ample opportunities to be in control (respectfully and with her developmental status in consideration), you diminish the number of arguments and fights over-time, but there are still times when kids make mistakes, are outwardly disrespectful, or need a lesson. This is where the natural consequences come in.

Natural Consequences

With natural consequences it is critical not to warn!!! Commonly parents warn their kids about the inevitable consequence of their actions. Then, when the consequence is apparent, the child sees it as a punishment offered up by the parent rather than as a consequence of the child's own choices. It may seem cold to simply allow a child to suffer X consequence when you saw it coming and might have saved them the trouble, but it really is a form of love to allow them to reasonably learn from their own mistakes.

For example, with teens, parents frequently warn their kids, "If you don't get your report done during the week, you won't be able to go to that party Saturday Night." (or something akin to it anyway). Instead, something like, "How is your report coming?" followed by, "Oh you haven't gotten started yet? Hmm. I hope that works out for you" will remind your child kindly of what it is that needs doing, without making any threats. Then, when Saturday comes and the project isn't yet finished and the child misses out you can honestly just say, "Bummer - I wish you could go too, I know you were looking forward to that party. I'm so sad that you didn't get the project done." And honestly know you are sad with your child but standing by the value of getting first things done first and allowing your child to suffer the consequences of their own choices.

Along with Love and Logic, I also almost always recommend "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families" for situations like this - not because it outlines a specific discipline plan, but because it offers a really helpful outlook on running the business of a family - including discipline and structures the whole thing around seven habits critical to success (like working well with others through seeking out win-win solutions).

In regard to dealing with the tantrums - she will throw them for awhile even after swtiching tactics with her. Kids are resistent to changes, and despite the fact that they crave and need structure - they resist it too - it is part of the job of being a kid it would seem. In terms of dealing with the tantrums, there a number of great resources right here on parenting so let me refer you to these question and answer sets:

Dealing with Tantrums in the Older Child

How do we get our five year old to control his temper and behave?

12 year old with temper tantrums - help needed

How do you Teach a Stubborn Eight Year Old, Mum and Dad are in Charge This one is less about tantrums and more about how to speak with your kid - I'll grant it is for an older child, but again, may offer some more helpful ideas as well.

This last one is on a different topic and refers you to my answer to the question, but it directly addresses tantrums in the child in the question and may also have some useful info on apply natural consequences to tantrums when they arise as well as a small amount of prevention.

Seeking Help from a Professional

Last but not least, there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help family counselors can be an amazing resource and whether you use your sessions to reconnect or to get to the bottom of behavioral issues (or both) it certainly won't hurt to go see some one.

I wish you well, and please let us know how it goes.

I'm sorry this answer is so long, but I hope it helps.

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Thank you so much, I was really looking forward to your answer. I do use humor often to shift the mood when she is about to enter the whine ship, often I just mimc her and act like parrot, so she starts laughing and forgets to whine. The idea about reconnection seems nice, but I'm thinking of seeking professional help at first, because right now I feel so tired and empty that I don't want to do anything with her, just be on my own. I don't want it to progress further and worsen our relationship, after all, everything starts with me and my reactions, she is just mirroring all this. –  sleepy owl Jan 7 at 8:38
    
Mirroring in a mock way like that often works really well with toddlers because it clearly communicates your understanding of their feelings, but your daughter may have outgrown the usefulness of it and it may even be hurting her feelings a little. Instead, I'd try humor at other times or even a little self-deprication now and again while acknowledging her feelings in the moment of boarding the "whine ship." I'm glad you are thinking about professional help - it should help and I hope you'll keep checking in and let us know how things are going occasionally :-) –  balanced mama Jan 7 at 20:50
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You can be certain she's getting something out of this behavior with you that she doesn't get or she doesn't want from others, because she continues to do it to you and not to them.

You can also be sure she's not thought out her actions and her reward, it's just a pattern of behavior that she's fallen into that works for her. That's what you've got to change.

I would implore you to remain calm. It's likely that setting you off is part of her reward. It's also likely that you don't see what's happening as clearly when you get emotional, so you can't judge what works and what doesn't.

Think about what you'll do the next time an issue comes up. Run through it in your head so you're not flying by the seat of you pants. I find that lower level punishment usually works better. Try simply removing the child from the situation and placing her in a state of boredom. Tough to do at first, because she will not cooperate, so you'll have to remove yourself with her. Take a book, so you can very pointedly be involved in something that is not her or anything related to her while you enforce a good, long 15 minutes of boredom. Be consistent, and do it every time, but don't hold a grudge. Close the event with the punishment and move on.

On the other hand, think about what you'll do when she's behaving appropriately. Time with her, smiles and hugs, maybe take turns brushing each other's hair while you watch "My Little Pony", whatever works between you, do that as often as you can. The more good times you have, the easier it will be to deal with and solve the bad time problems.

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Being calm is the hardest part for me in it, actually. And I think that you are right about her finding the reward in setting me off. –  sleepy owl Jan 7 at 22:22
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Staying calm is only easy when it's advice you're giving to other people. It's still good advice, though. –  Marc Jan 7 at 23:30
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