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My 5-year old daughter is very defiant.

It started getting bad about 6 months ago. She doesn't do what she is told, and any time she hears the word no she throws terribly over dramatic fits screaming ridiculously loud, and in some cases hits.

She refuses to make eye contact when I warn her to stop doing something even when I am down at her eye level it takes multiple orders to finally get her to look at me. She constantly tells me no.

I feel like I constantly tell her no and that she feels this gives her the right to tell her father and I no.

I have tried time outs which are not effective at all she only throws a fit the whole time so dramatically never seeming to run out of wind. Spankings are only effective until the shock of the action itself wears off and then she returns to the same behavior.

My husband and I recently took away ALL of her toys/ possessions being she is a pretty materialistic child ( she loves getting toys and always wants something new ). We told her that if she was good and listened/obeyed orders and stopped telling us no and throwing fits that after three days we would let her choose three boxes of toys to bring back in her room, this worked but as soon as she got those three boxes unpacked, we packed them back up because she went right back to the no's and fit throwing literally within a few hours.

I am mainly the one disciplining her and I feel she is definitely the most defiant with me. I have believed in verbally explaining to her why thing are not ok and why I tell her no but I really don't feel it helps and I never feel as if she listens to what I tell her.

I am at my whits-end and feel like a failure of a mother. She is my first and only child, and the only child on both sides of our family. She is an angel at school but home is completely different.

I need help figuring this out but nobody I talk to really has any advice for me. I am at the point where I am wondering if she or I need counseling because I feel out of options.

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"I am mainly the one disciplining her" that's an issue right there. You both have to be on the same page with all of this. –  DA01 Sep 13 '12 at 6:57
    
We are on the same page but when it comes to doing the actual disciplining it is me because he refuses to be the "bad guy"!! He blames me for her defiance because he feels I am too verbally explanatory in his words and give her too many warnings. He does step in on discipline sometimes more lately then ever because it is so out of hand. –  Sarah Sep 13 '12 at 12:54
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if he 'refuses to be the bad guy' then you are both definitely NOT on the same page. It's not always easy, but it's important. The fact that he's blaming you for her defiance is a sign that the two of you need to come together on how to handle this as a team, IMHO. –  DA01 Sep 13 '12 at 15:07
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He may have a point there. If you're constantly telling her "no", she's trying to beat you at your own game. You'll need to find a way of telling her "yes" more often. –  reinierpost Sep 14 '12 at 11:22
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First and foremost, your husband needs to be on the same page as you. Consistency wins the game. If you and he aren't on the same page, your efforts to teach values, discipline, morals etc will be for naught. (speaking from experience...) –  Chris Sep 18 '12 at 20:40
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10 Answers

I think it is normal and not uncommon for a mother to feel like a failure at times or question herself if she is doing a good job. In fact I feel it is the mothers who care so much about their parenting that often think this if something isn't going right or their children seem to be suffering or acting out in some way. I can relate! I am a single mom and often hard on myself. My daughter is 6.5 and very strong willed! Sometimes I will give her a warning about her behavior tell her she has one chance or else... She now tells me she doesn't care. It worries me this attitude but I realize she is testing me. Our children want boundaries set and need discipline they may act like they don't but they are always going to be testing us and doing their "research" on what they can get away with or how we react.

We have to remember that they will mirror us and our behavior.We have to take a look at how we approach life and circumstances because we are their ultimate teachers. They observe us and feel that is how to be. No one is perfect but when it comes to parenting and kids, self awareness is so important although so hard sometimes.

I have done a lot of good reading lately that has been very helpful in dealing with my amazing high spirited strong willed lil beauty. Here are the books I hope they help you too:

  • The wonder of girls by Michael Gurian
  • How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk by Faber and Mazlish
  • Emotional Muscle strong parents strong children by Novick & Novick
  • Making children mind without losing yours by Dr Leman

As long as we allow them them the freedom to be who they are, learn to make good choices and decisions on their own with our guidance, love them and discipline them without harming them and give them our time they will be just fine. I hope ;)

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It sounds like you are really engaged in a power struggle. After teaching for ten years, I've concluded that some kids are only intrinsically motivated. These kids also like to be in control of their own destinies (don't you like to be in control of yourself?) Recent research has confirmed that for many kids rewards AND punishments are not really the motivators many parents believe them to be.

For kids like this the things you are doing make things worse because all your battles become about control instead of learning, correcting and genuine discipline that comes from within the child in the end. I am not saying just to give in and let her have her way, but I am saying that perhaps a punishments/rewards system could be abandoned for life lessons. If she is throwing a fit, I would say something like, "Wow, you are so frustrated that I can't even make any sense of what it is you are saying - when you are ready to speak like a big girl, I'm ready to listen."

Take on the role of listener and guide with your daughter. If she is speaking calmly, listen calmly. Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase her. by paraphrasing you will let her know you understand her side. Then, you can tell her your thoughts. Obviously, as parent there will be times when you will need to just make decisions for her, but there may be times when you can give a little too.

For example, maybe instead of buying her toys, give her an allowance (not as a reward, just an allowance). Then you don't buy her toys except at important holidays and her Birthday. If she wants a toy she will makes the choice of what she buys and what she doesn't when you are out. If she can't afford something, she can't afford it and it is a true-to life lesson. In the meantime, she will make mistakes and buy some things she regrets buying - empathize, but don't try to help her "fix it" or return the toy or give her money to buy the other thing she'd rather have now. She needs to learn the lesson and by not saving her she is able to learn the lesson as well as learn that while you are there as a support and a guide you are not controlling her either.

For most things, natural consequences like this are much more likely to help better. You might have asked her to help set the table for dinner at some point. As an example of how this style might look if she were to refuse helping is to handle it as follows: If she isn't willing to help get dinner ready, start by asking her why? After you've shown her you are willing to listen, state your needs. Maybe she is saying no because she is going potty, or maybe she'd like a couple more minutes so she can finish the picture she is coloring - no big deal, but she needs to set the table before (set time limit). If she still isn't willing to help, then eventually, she shouldn't get any of the stuff you cooked. I might start with a response like reading "The Little Red Hen" first and escalate from there. No one wants to continue to serve someone that doesn't do her fair share too - including Moms and Dads. Eventually, after you are sure she understands this connection, you can give her a piece of bread and let her figure out how to make a sandwich or toast, but you've put effort into preparing a meal and she needs to share in the preparation some way, if she won't set the table, she doesn't get to participate in the eating.

Same thing with cleaning. If she doesn't put away her toys and you have to clean them up. The toys are no longer available - not because you have taken them, but because in real life, leaving stuff out and around results in those things being broken or lost and the room unusable. Since other family members have to use the room you are just putting the toys away where they are out of the way of the other family members (then tell her how she can earn the toys back. The method should be related somehow to demonstrating her willingness and ability to take better care of her things).

The thing that is super important with this method is that you ALWAYS REMAIN VIRTUALLY EMOTION FREE. Except when expressing empathy. Consequences arise because they are the natural order of things. Consequences (good AND bad) not arise because of your anger, frustration or even because of your happiness in her choices or pride in her successes.

If she makes a poor choice, feel badly with her about it, but don't jump in and rescue her from her own poor choice. Be there for her to talk about ideas that may have worked better for her that she can CHOOSE to use next time. It is a difficult thing to switch to and requires a lot of work but gets MUCH better results in the end. Check out schoolathomeeffectively.com for more ideas about how this method actually works out in a real home.

In regard to the question about seeing some one. Go ahead. Why not? A therapist can help the both of you manage the stress in your relationship and make sure there isn't anything deeper at work here.

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+ 1 million for "battles become about control instead of learning, correcting and genuine discipline" –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 1:33
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I attended a group parenting intervention class (14 weeks) thought by the local university to that I could learn how to better help child with Autism. The class was amazing! It the knowledge and experience of such an intervention can not be communicated in a Q&A site. Your daughters needs are so much more complex and often subtle that there will not be a quick answer that stackexcange was designed for.... so I am pretty much recommending a certain book.

That class I took was not about how to help child not be "wrong" but about helping parents do better. The curriculum was http://www.incredibleyears.com/ and the text can be purchased off of Amazon for less than $5. It was go good I have purchased over a dozen copies for a few friends an my siblings with children - "Incredible Years: A Troubleshooting Guide for Parents of Children".

Far too much good info to repeat, but the use of "no" is negative enforcement and a lot of children to not respond as well to it as to other tools such as redirection. I grew up in the rural Rocky Mnt region with 7 siblings in a very traditional household. I dont want to sound like some new aged quack claiming kids dont need structure.. that not the case. BUT the strategies and lessons in the Incredible years changed both my life and my sons.

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If you are saying that it all started ~6 mo ago, it means before she was good?

It can mean that there is a reason to make her to change the behavior. Sometimes kids rebel to show that they are bothered by something and this something is troubling them.

Think if something major has changed in your daughter's life. May be she is lacking your/father's attention(let's say you are working overtime)? May be her grandma left and she misses her? Or some troubles she is going through at school/with friends that you don't know. Think it over - what has changed?

In addition to awesome advises by Kramii:

  • First of all you are wonderful mother.
  • Second thing - all kids need love and attention, that's the best cure.
  • Third thing, be consistent. Kids need routine and discipline. There are tons of books on this topic. as example Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen
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+1 for positive discipline! :) –  Christine Gordon Nov 21 '12 at 4:30
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Around the age of 4 to 6, all children develop a sense of self and self-efficacy. From the perspective of the parents, children that were easy to direct before now become contrary. At the same time a child that age cannot express her frustrations well without resorting to tears or, if the frustration is bad, a tantrum. Around the age of 6 or 7, children develop the ability to understand and care about another person's wishes and needs. Then the "unwarranted" and extreme outbursts stop. (All of this is a process and not something that happens over night, so of course your child's behavior will slowly get "better" in the coming months.)

So, first of all don't expect your child to be able to suppress her frustration and discuss her wants with you like an adult would. The tantrum is okay, it is her way of saying: I really don't want this. Just as you expect other people to accept that you don't agree with them, accept that your child does not agree with you. She just cannot express it in a civilized manner.

Second, following from your understanding that your child's behavior is totally normal and in tune with her current developmental abilities, there is no need to get upset about your child's emotional outburst. Distance yourself from it. It is not you, who is frustrated and gets upset, but your child. Just as you would be expected to deal with an adult saying that he does not like what you want of him and feels sad or angered, you must be able to accept that your child is of a different opinion. Disagreement is something that both parties have to endure. Stay calm and relaxed. After some time you will realize that your child's tantrums get weaker and less frequent, because,

third, a child is a very adaptable being. Children can grow up under all kinds of circumstances, and still be healthy and "function well". This means, if you turn it around, that much of what you observe in your child is adaptation to her surroundings, and since you are a prominent part of those surroundings, much of that behavior is, in other words, caused by you. If you change yourself, your child will adapt to those changes and in turn be changed as well. Understanding and friendly parents are proven to be the most reliable cause of nice children :-)

Finally, if your child is extremely frustrated by what life and you throw at her, think about if what you expect of her is maybe not really fair. For example, I would say that taking away her toys is just not right. They don't belong to you, and you have no right to take them away. Just imagine your husband would take away all your clothes (or whatever) because you were not in the mood to cook (or whatever). Why do you treat your child in a way that you would never accept if it were done with you?

Expecting her to hold eye contact when you tell her not to express her frustration is degrading. Imagine you must do something, that you really, really find unfair, and you express your anger, and the person ordering you expects you to look him in they eyes and tell them that you will do it and not say anything unfriendly henceforth. How would you feel? I would feel like I want to punch that person in the face. And that is what your daughter does. Again, it comes down to accepting that some things are frustrating to your daughter and that it is perfectly okay that she lets you know of this frustration. After all, your family is not a tyranny, but a family, isn't it? It is based on love and understanding, not on your child performing your wishes without any mind of her own.

I have found that a good strategy in dealing with children is threefold:

  1. Enforce your own boundaries, not those of the child. For example, if you want quiet after eight o'clock, enforce that quiet. Don't force your child into bed. My son -- he is now five -- started going to bed without any problems, after I made clear to him that I won't bend a finger for him after eight. He had to go to bed without me reading to him and tucking him in a few nights, and now he gets ready when I tell him he has half an hour, if he wants me to read a story to him. Of course he cannot fall asleep immediately every night, because some nights he is not tired, some nights there are things that he needs to think about, and some nights he simply wants to look at another book or play with his cars some more. I allow him all of that, but I suggest to him that he do it in bed and turn off the light when he is finished. So some nights he reads a book and some nights he quietly plays with some toys, but I get my quiet and I don't have to do anything for him, and he accepts that. I do the same things with all other things that once were a cause for fighting: getting dressed for kindergarten (he once had to go without shoes in the snow, and he was never dressed late after that), eating what he filled on his plate (he does not get anything else to eat before he eats everything on his plate, no matter how long this may take, even if he has to eat the cold lunch for breakfast the next day (yes, I don't warm it up anymore)) etc. My son, who is extremely strong willed and threw lots of tantrums when he was four, is a nice and easy child today, only because I stopped telling him what to do. The only thing I tell him is what I will do or not do. And he accepts that.

  2. Remain calm and unaffected. If you don't get upset or angry or sad or whatever by the tantrums, the child will understand that they have no effect and stop throwing them. And with unaffected I don't mean simply outwardly cool, but truly unaffected. Children know if they affect you, and they will use it (which is the only power they have, so don't begrudge them it). Your child must have the impression that whatever is happening must happen, because it is a law of nature. It has to go to bed in the same way that the sun has to sink under the horizon. It is not you who want that, it is something that simply happens. Act that way. You would not get upset about the sun, so don't get upset about your child. Make things happen (sit down on the sofa and don't deal with your child, after you said what was going to happen -- if you do this a couple of time, the thing you want will happen).

  3. Be clear about what you want. I don't mean, express yourself in a way that your child understands you, but: You yourself must understand what you truly want. Do you want that your child goes to bed at eight, or do you want quiet and time for yourself? That is not the same, and you can have a quiet time for yourself even if your child is still awake. There really is no reason why a child must sleep at eight. If she sleeps late she will be tired the next day, and that is none of your concern, because she will be in a foul mood, not you. If you explain the effects that she experiences to her, after some time she will understand and want to go to bed early. It is said that you have to repeat things 200 times, before a child learns them, so don't expect one explanation to be enough. Your child is growing up, so give her time to learn.

One final word of warning: Spanking (which is forbidden in many western countries and could lead a parent to jail in Germany) has been consistently shown to be linked to mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and personality disorders. I would strongly recommend that you stop spanking your child immediately.

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That is VERY enlightening answer. Thanks very much. I wish I was born in Germany though. :) –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 28 '12 at 10:57
    
"Remain calm and unaffected." I also recommend asking a child in the throws of a tantrum for a hug. It stops them in their tracks! And you both feel better and can address whatever was causing the tantrum in the first place. –  Christine Gordon Nov 14 '12 at 1:31
    
Wouldn't a hug, in the middle of a tantrum, be a reward for bad behavior? –  Alex In Paris Mar 7 at 8:40
    
@AlexInParis I guess that depends on whether you see a tantrum as bad behaviour or a child reaching out for help to deal with their current feelings. –  jemjabella Apr 7 at 14:51
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Have you discussed her behavior with her pediatrician? I ask because the level of resistance as you describe it seems unusual for a five year old. One might wonder if there may be an underlying physiological cause, such as a parasite, perhaps.

Perhaps it would be helpful to temporarily lower your standards, if you are a perfectionist, to make tasks more achievable for a five year old. In addition to a task being performed, does the task have to be performed perfectly? (I have no idea, just throwing this out there for consideration.)

You mentioned spankings. While there are some situations that merit spanking (such as when the safety of the child or another child or pet is of concern), I think that you have used spankings shows that this situation has gone quite far. I think spankings tend to result from parental frustration rather than as an appropriate response.

It may also be helpful to study up on "clicker training" for pets, just as an exercise in refreshing your understanding of how animals (including little humans) learn.

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From my experience the behavior is well within the limits of normal child behavior. I don't think that the child or mother need professional help. –  user3140 Sep 19 '12 at 19:41
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@Improper - The behaviour as described is absolutely normal at this age. I don't think I know any parent who hasn't at some point had to figure out how to get through it. –  Rory Alsop Sep 30 '12 at 12:10
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Perhaps you are approaching this the wrong way. You seem to want to win, so that she will obey, but it's not about that. Think of it this way, how would you feel if someone was telling you what to do and how to do it every second of the day? You want her to do what you want, when you want it, and how you want it but it doesn't work that way unfortunately. She's not a robot, she wants and needs some freedom and she will fight to get it.

My suggestion would be to back off, and try and give guidance instead of orders when possible. Say what needs to be done, and then give her the time to do it. Offer choices, like "do you want to clean up your toys before lunch, or after lunch". She's going to pick up her toys, but she gets to choose when, and it makes a big difference. It's not always possible, there are times when she will need to do as you say when you say it, but if you're giving her choices and freedom you're more likely to get cooperation when you really need it.

Pick your battles, not every one needs to be fought. If you stop fighting her she'll stop fighting you. Don't think of backing off as backing down or losing face, it's not a loss of any kind.

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This sounds like a good compromise -- choose your battles wisely and grant more leeway when it's not worth putting up a fight. You can still narrow the acceptable limits over time, but starting wide can be healthy for your nerves. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 14 '12 at 13:33
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It's a matter of letting things cool off for a bit, and establishing a relationship based on respect rather than mutual hostility. @Sarah needs a break, but so does the child I'd bet. –  GdD Sep 14 '12 at 13:35
    
This is the answer I was trying to give, only more concise. I totally agree, especially with the first sentence, which to me perfectly explains the core of the problem. Great contribution. –  user3140 Sep 19 '12 at 19:40
    
This is great advice. It is so easy for parents to roll back from dealing with psychological issues to forcing children to comply when that just strengthens the sense of us vs. them. I had similar problems with my 5 year old and my wife and I are not always so consistent but, luckily, we have other adults in the home to help us. When we need a break, we take it. This also gives our girl a break. We always try to build a bridge...but that's hard. We also remember we must build that bridge as a united couple. –  DrJ Apr 21 '13 at 0:27
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Nearly all kids go through a stage like that, it just lasts longer for some than for others. Don't count yourself as a failure yet. Parenting is always a work in progress.

You cannot win an argument of wills with your daughter. She has nothing else to do, and the attention from the argument itself is a big part of what she wants. The only way to win is not to play. Resist the urge to give her attention when she is behaving badly. Your husband not giving her as much negative attention is probably why she is not as defiant toward him.

If you don't want her to throw a tantrum during a time out, tell her the time out doesn't start until she stops the tantrum. Go into another room so she doesn't have an audience. Make it obvious you are paying attention to something else now. If she's still not calming down, go in there every 5 minutes or so to remind her of the rule, and maybe add disincentives like a favorite toy getting taken away. If she gets out, quietly put her back in and reset the timer.

Don't just tell her what not to do, tell her what to do instead. Make it consistent. Instead of telling her not to say no, tell her to say, "Okay, Mommy." Don't tell her over and over. Stand there quietly and don't make eye contact until she says it, then smile and thank her when she does. If you don't engage, the fun is lost and she will give in, even though the first several times it might take quite a while. You have to show her she can't bait you into capitulating anymore. Praise and reward her when she uses those words without being prompted.

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"Tell her what to do Instead" So Important!!!! –  balanced mama Jan 1 '13 at 17:04
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I don't like the last paragraph. As a kid, my mother would do that for me to go and buy bread. She would stay there looking like a victim, and when I felt bad about it and cave in, she'd smile and thank me. It made me feel like I lost and I hated the guilt game! It made me feel like a bad person. –  Patacual Oct 9 '13 at 3:14
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A few ideas:

Start with yourself

You're at your wit's end. You need to fix that as best you can.

  1. You're not a failure. You may have lost some battles, but you're haven't lost the war.
  2. Remind yourself that this phase won't last forever, and that you will get through it.
  3. Look after yourself. Make sure you're sleeping, eating etc. properly and that you have space to unwind. Take vitamins.
  4. Get support where you can. From friends, relatives, teachers, professionals.
  5. Hang in there.

Work with your husband

  1. Give your husband time and attention. If you don't look after your relationship then you'll have a harder time working together to help your child. Also, this will model the kind of behaviour you expect from your daughter.
  2. Recognise your husband's limitations, and respect that his approach may not always be the same as yours.
  3. Agree on a strategy. That doesn't mean telling him what to do, but rather that you work out a solution together.

Deal with your child

  1. Reward each and every small improvement in your daughter's behaviour. Praise every little thing she does right. Constantly say good things about her. Tell her how much you love, that she's a good girl (who sometimes forgets). Give her lots of cuddles and positive attention. (Sticker charts work for my son - he knows that when he's collected enough he gets a prize).
  2. As far as possible, ignore bad behaviour. Avoid showing her that she's won (even if - for now - she has).
  3. As best you can, have a daily schedule of activities and stick to it. Make sure your daughter has enough sleep, food, drink and exercise.
  4. Be consistent.
  5. When she's calm, explain, in simple language, the consequences of bad behaviour. Focus on the non-social consequences: the fact that she won't have time to play, that you'll be too tired to help her etc.
  6. Offer alternatives. Instead of "Brush your teeth!", say, "Would you like to use the pink toothbrush or the red one today?". Not just, "No, you can't have sweets", but "You can have fruit instead?".
  7. Admit to your daughter when you're wrong or when you've over reacted.
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I worry that this isn't just a phase, and if it is, that I won't get it under control and I will just end up with a defiant teenager if I don't... She is so strong willed and has such an independent personality I know she is just fighting for the control, I don't want it to be neverending battle but it is starting to feel that way with the way it just has continued to worsen. –  Sarah Sep 13 '12 at 13:01
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+1 for "When she's calm, explain, in simple language, the consequences of bad behavior". As adults we want to explain things right that very minute, but kids need time to calm down before explaining anything is effective. And then the explanation needs to be simple. Their attention span is not long enough to tolerate much. –  Meg Coates Sep 13 '12 at 13:03
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@Sarah: I understand your concern. However, you must remember that this behaviour has been a problem for just 6 months out of your daughter's 5 years of life, and that you've got 8 years to sort it out before the teenage years. Also, this battle really isn't about control unless you make it about control. Instead, you need to make it about her learning to take responsibility for their life and learning to get along with others. –  Kramii Sep 13 '12 at 13:27
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The perspective on this problem as a "war" does not help it to get better. The problem at the core of this problem is that the mother fights the child, and the solution is that she must stop fighting. See my answer below. –  user3140 Sep 19 '12 at 19:38
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@Sarah - the other thing to remember is that every family goes through this at some point. You are not alone :-) –  Rory Alsop Sep 30 '12 at 12:07
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I would suggest reading through some of the top voted questions under:

Discipline and Behavior

The answers to this question seem particularly relevant to your needs (same age, same problem).

Reading between the lines, it sounds like you're exhausted and may be struggling to get the support you need. Counselling may help, starting with phone counselling, which is available in both the UK and North America.

The most worrying line in there is: "[I] feel like a failure of a mother". You are not. Parenting is hard work, there are no real breaks, and everything is constantly changing. Behavior and discipline are among our most tagged questions. Everyone struggles with this at some point, and reaching out for support is absolutely the best thing you can do.

I hope this helps you.

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I agree with you that Parenting is hard work especially when it is only one parent that is doing the discipline. It can be very tiring and sometime you wish that there is a quick solution that can help you to solve these problems. –  Jack Sep 13 '12 at 8:07
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