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Today I dropped my little 4yr old girl at school and she just didn't want to eat because from what she says, she "stuffed her face with popcorn" when I wasn't looking.

The problem: All of her friends and her teacher were all sitting at the table enjoying breakfast and I asked her to sit down. "I'm not hungry and want to go to the carpet". I told her, no one is there yet, just sit with your friends and you can go when it's time. She completely shuts down, which is her way of giving me a hard time. I take her out into the hallway and ask "am i not your dad?" she says "yes", then I ask "you don't listen to your dad anymore". More shutdown time for me. I tell her "then no surprises (treat/toy randomly given once in a blue moon) when you get out of school". She responds with a whiny "yes (like come on man)".

I take her into the class band shuts down, with head in her lap and young teacher looked at her asking if she was okay with a look in her face as if she thought i took her outside, did some abusive crap and sucked out her little soul. I had to go to work so I had to leave her like that, because I just did not know what to do.

I've noticed that when she's at school, I'm a powerless nobody, that will not do anything at school. I am very passive when with her at school, because I don't want to embarrass her at school and don't want come of as a complete jerk, which I can tell one of her teachers already thinks I am.

What do I do. Trying to be a good dad...smart kid.

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First off, I agree with arved to some extent: once in preschool, let the preschool teachers handle things - if they're willing to. The dropoff exchange is a tricky thing though, and sometimes the teachers will prefer you to make sure she is (somewhere/doing something specific) when you drop off. Most I've met are happy to help manage it, though; but talk to them and find out what their expectations are.

Second, some specific pointers about how you handled this.


I told her, no one is there yet, just sit with your friends and you can go when it's time.

This is a good start. Think about this from her point of view: you're asking her to do something she apparently doesn't want to. Explaining why she should do that - or gaining her buy-in - is important to getting her to do it. The reason is almost exactly what you said above: because that's what everyone else is doing (and what they're expected to do). I would expand on this, and particularly if she's smart, she may well be able to understand why she should do it. My almost-four year old can. He doesn't always want to, but he can understand, and will listen usually when he does.


She completely shuts down, which is her way of giving me a hard time.

Your daughter almost certainly does not want to "give you a hard time". What she does want, though, is to gain some control over the situation, and to express her feelings. Do you object when she "talks back"? She likely doesn't feel like she has a way to express herself and have some control over the situation, so she shuts up.


I take her out into the hallway and ask "am i not your dad?" she says "yes", then I ask "you don't listen to your dad anymore".

Not entirely sure where you're going with this. The latter - "you don't listen anymore" - seems counterproductive, and undoubtedly is an exaggeration. (My almost four year old, yesterday: "You never take me to ice cream anymore".) She's four years old, so for sure she's not going to listen to you as much as when she was one or two: she has a brain, and wants, needs, desires, and is learning how to satisfy those on her own rather than through you.

One good rule in parenting: it's fine to express frustration to your children, but do it in the right way. Be specific, be timely. Your child isn't of an age to have a concept of "across time". Tell her about this frustration, not all of your frustrations - tell your wife or your friends about those. For example:

It makes me frustrated when you didn't listen when I ask you to sit down at the table. I want to drop you off and follow the instructions your teachers gave me, and then be able to go to work on time, so when you won't do what we've been asked to do and make dropoff take a lot longer, I'm late to work. That makes me sad.

And then include something actionable.

Please follow your teachers' instructions and sit at the table with the other kids. It's okay if you're not hungry, but your teachers need you to sit with the other kids so they can watch everyone.


I tell her "then no surprises (treat/toy randomly given once in a blue moon) when you get out of school". She responds with a whiny "yes (like come on man)".

She's not old enough yet for a promise of something later to have a huge affect on what she does now. Add in the randomly once in a blue moon part, and you don't have nearly enough of a tie between cause and effect for this to have any value. People behave well when rewards have a clear, direct tie to actions - no randomness, every time gives the reward, and close in time (reward given within a few minutes or less of the action). If you give, or don't give, her the reward later on, since it's random she won't know why she didn't receive it - did she behave well, and just randomly didn't "win" today, or did she behave badly? And since it's hours later, she won't remember it anyway.

What can work in this regard is a regular minor reward based on whole-day performance that is coordinated with the teachers. "Every day, if you get a clean sheet, we can go get a fruit after preschool." The teachers keep track of her behavior, and if it's clean, she gets the fruit - and is reminded through the day of the reward. But all of this is needed - not just one thing early in the day.


What you've got is a "strong-willed child". I put that in "quotes" because it's a bit of a misnomer - most things that are recommended with strong-willed children are good for all children, and all children have elements of strong-willed children in them. Look up some parenting books on the subject, and find one that works for you.

They've got a few things in common:

  • Don't shut your child's expression of opinions and emotions down. Encourage appropriate expressions, and teach her how to do so. "Talking back" is one of those things particularly old-school parents fight, but it's not a bad thing as long as it's done in the right way. My son "talks back" all the time, but he does it usually in the right way, and so we get to a better result than if he hadn't talked back.

  • Find as many ways as possible for your child to have control over her life. Nobody likes other people controlling their every move. Often "strong willed" expressions are simply children wanting control over their life. Find ways to make that happen that don't inconvenience you too much - and keep finding new ones. If she expresses an opinion over something you can reasonably grant, grant it. Have days where you go out and let her pick what you do - and let her make all of the choices that day.

Those two things are pretty much universal in dealing with children like your daughter. Aggressive, controlling parenting styles usually don't work nearly as well. Cooperative styles tend to work much better - and yield better outcomes. Even if your general style is more towards authoritarian, you can find ways to mesh that with a child like this: hard limits which are clear and consistent, and explain why. If she knows where the boundaries are, and knows why, she'll cooperate more.

Go over to Amazon or your preferred book retailer, search "Strong willed children", and look at the selection - find one or two that appeal to you. I won't list them here (because that would be another post the length of this already too long post), but there are plenty of useful ones - if not for following their exact rules, for helping you think about your approach.

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    Thanks for your response: You make some good points. You have a good grasp on what's going on in a kids mind at 4, which I lack. My main issue is how to handle things right on the spot (anywhere). When I was growing up, I would have just gotten an old school spanking or would have gotten yelled at (including "cuz i said so"), which I refuse to do. Sadly that's my only reference and I have nothing. I have an issue understanding the whole let teacher handle it thing. I'm her dad (wherever we are). Shouldn't she always just listen to me? Please help me understand that. Researching books. – Alcantraz Jul 22 '15 at 17:37
  • Totally understand. My childhood was the same, and my child seems very similar :) Reading (several) books helped my wife and I quite a lot, and I can tell you that even with all of that, we still make mistakes and have problems - that's unavoidable, nobody's perfect, neither you nor your daughter. But reducing it to a rare occasion helps a lot. Also - if I didn't emphasize enough above - talk to your preschool teachers about this. Especially if they do feel like you say they do about you, it will help them understand you better and help you get a different perspective. – Joe Jul 22 '15 at 17:39
  • Yes, you are her dad wherever she is, but if the rule in the preschool classroom is that kids who are eating sit at the table and kids who are done sit on the carpet, insisting that she sit at the table when she's not eating and making a big deal about it (by arguing with her in the room, then taking her out to the hall) is only going to embarass and confuse her. – Aravis Jul 22 '15 at 20:50
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My suggestion is to let the preschool teachers handle the issue. Their house, their rules.

If she doesn't listen to them, then of course it is a different issue. But I found out, that my daughter is usually accepting the teachers words easier.

Maybe in the evening recapitulate the issue again and exchange how you both felt in this situation.

  • Doing what you said is exactly what I do when we get time to talk...find some time alone and discuss, issue, effects, why, etc. Works 95% of the time. My main issue is how to handle things right on the spot (anywhere). When I was growing up, I would have just gotten an old school spanking or would have gotten yelled at (including "cuz i said so"), which I refuse to do. Sadly that's my only reference and I have nothing. I have an issue understanding the whole let teacher handle it thing. I'm her dad (wherever we are). Shouldn't she always just listen to me? Please help me understand that. – Alcantraz Jul 22 '15 at 17:33
  • Well this is just my personal opinion and some people say i am too relaxed, but: There will be more than enough opportunities for power struggles. If I can reasonably avoid one that is more of my energy for the next one. I will make sure that she will get my point and how i feel about her behaviour. – arved Jul 22 '15 at 18:01
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    @Alcantraz In essence, the teacher sets the rules in the teacher's classroom. If a class rule is that everyone must sit at the table even if not eating, then the teacher is the first step of enforcing it, and your job is to support: "you need to listen to Teacher when you are in the classroom!" If there's a conflict between your rules and Teacher's rules, for example you say she must sit but Teacher doesn't mind if a student reads quietly instead of eating, have a talk with Teacher to ensure you're on the same page and applying consistent rules. – Acire Jul 22 '15 at 18:19

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