We have a 2.5-year-old daughter and we're fighting over everything. Literally everything.

When she is alone with someone she is good most of the time, however when there are two of us with her, she wants to control who does what. Our main problem is when she says "I want mommy/daddy to do X" and we want another person to do that.

For example, If I attempt to put on her diaper, she will often say "I want mommy to put on my diaper" and it will become a total chaos. We can't explain to her that, for example, mommy is in the shower and I will put the diaper on.

Or who will read stories to her, who will feed her, who will add her something, who will close the doors, who will call an elevator, who will... you get the point...

The thing is that we're fighting over totally bizarre and irrelevant things and for her it does not matter how big it is, she will push until the end, she will start crying and will be on the verge of a breakdown, barely able to talk from how much she cried and screamed...

She is also very "rule-based" and if I don't do something I should have done, she will start crying in a second. For example, if I leave the house without kissing them, or if I flush a toilet and she wanted to do that, or something small like that..

We really don't know what to do, we really feel like we're losing the control over our lives. My wife is with her all day and when I come home she will often want her to do something while I want to help her and it is really frustrating...

One thing to note: She is not doing stuff like "you can't make me to do that" or something like that. She just wants her way and she does not have a reason. If we ask her why do you want mommy she never gives a sound reason, she just says "because"...

  • 3
    Yep, sounds like a toddler to me.
    – Vikki
    Jun 8, 2018 at 15:00
  • We can't explain to her that, for example, mommy is in the shower and I will put the diaper on. Does this mean, you can not explain it (why not?) or she doesn't understand/accept your explanation?
    – Arsak
    Apr 10, 2019 at 6:42

4 Answers 4


My son is the poster child for strong willed children. I remember him first testing me when he was 9 months old. He could not walk but had climbed on a chair and was swinging some pictures that were hanging on a wall. I picked him up, said "no, no" while pointing at the picture, and put him down on the floor a little ways away. He went back there, climbed back up on the chair, and did it again. I again told him no and put him back down on the floor. So he climbed back up, looked at me sideways, and while still looking at me out of the side of his eyes, reached his hand over and swung the picture again. At 18 months, he started hitting when he did not like something we said or did. For two months, it was daily, several times a day having to deal with that. Then he switched it off one day, and the next day started biting. Two months of that. Then he switched that off, and started the very next day making himself throw up. If he asked for a cookie and we said no, he would stick his fingers way in the back of his throat and would make himself throw up. At first, we thought he was just sick, but after a few days of this happening multiple times per day, we realized he had somehow figured out his throwing up really made us concerned/disturbed, so he was using it as a power play. It is amazing how a kid even at that age can really push the boundaries in the most creative ways.

I read a book called "The Strong Willed Child", and it had a lot of examples about things that strong willed children did, but I kept thinking those kids were pansies compared with my boy. For every example the book had, I had three more, and 10 times worse. Fast forward to 14 years later. My boy is still strong-willed, but he has learned to choose how to use that strength, which issues are important enough to set his foot down on. He told me recently I was his best friend, and it does not surprise me, since he is mine. He makes straight A's and is being courted by MIT and Caltech. He, like his sisters, treats my wife and I and other adults with respect. We still see the strength of will, but applied in ways that are awesome to behold.

I don't know that there is one single thing that helps one deal with such a kid and train them properly. It is everything that we do. But I would say there are several areas that are important.

First, the messages we give to any kid, as parents must be: 1) I love you and I will always love you, no matter what. 2) You are awesome. 3) If you do wrong, it will meet with loving, strict, firm discipline. 4) if you do good, we will celebrate with you. Those messages are indispensable to a child. They must know where the boundaries are - that is why they test. And on a bedrock of love and appreciation, those boundaries will be a joy to the child, and the discipline will not be disheartening to them in the long run.

Part of this also has to do with training the child to know what is wrong and what is right. One basic principle that we have strongly pushed on our kids is the idea of doing to others as you would have them do to you - or love others as you love yourself. Fussing and demanding from parents is disrespectful, unloving behavior and is wrong. That cannot be tolerated, for the sake of the child.

One last thing on discipline. Discipline must first and foremost be about training the child. It will have an element of punishment for wrong-doing, but good discipline is not mainly about punishing. It is about training and teaching and reinforcing what is right and what is wrong. Discipline should never be a vehicle for parents to vent anger at what the child did, so when we get angry, we need to take a step back and wait until we can discipline with a cool head. And discipline should never happen for something that is a mistake, accident or something the child did not know. Spilt milk, accidentally knocking mom's favorite vase off the table and breaking it - these should not be reason for discipline. But once having been told something (ex: don't touch mom's vase), if the child then does it, then they are disobeying and that is wrong and should be met with discipline.

And one thing on strength of will. As I was thinking further on this, I wondered if other parents with strong-willed children have a lot more trouble than I did because they are less strong-willed than their child. I happen to be an extremely stubborn person (like father, like son). And this served me well with my son. He needed to learn that he would not just get his way by fussing or acting up until he wore me down. I am too stubborn to be worn down like that. Less stubborn parents may have to stretch themselves into levels of being firm that they are not naturally comfortable with. But be careful, it must be gentle firmness, not harsh stubbornness, or else you could turn your relationship with your child into an antagonistic mess. The child must understand that you can be absolutely firm, for a good reason (explain it), and will be so as kindly and gently as is possible.

Love your child and rejoice in the strength of her will. This is not a bad thing. There are hills worth dying on (I hope you know that English expression), and it is the strong of will who will hold those hills. It is a matter of teaching a child what is worth fighting for and what is not. They need to know what is right and what is wrong, and what is neither - plenty of things where we have freedom to choose - and how to tell the difference in a principled way.

My prayers for you and your family - this kid of yours has awesome potential!

  • 1
    +1 for a really awesome testimonial to good parenting in extreme circumstances. Sep 24, 2015 at 16:36
  • +1000 if I could. I have a "strong willed" sister who has Opposition Defiant Disorder and she really made life hell in the household as a child. This has made me fearful of having kids, less I get trapped with someone like this (basically a maniac who really IS out to get you). The more research I have done the more I realize that a lot of her behavior was encouraged by my parents lack of appropriate discipline. Your answer makes me feel like there is a way to handle these strong willed / defiant personalities without becoming a prisoner to ones own offspring. Do you suggest any readings?
    – user7678
    Sep 24, 2015 at 16:49

Have you tried providing her with more structured choices?

For example:

  • "When we're done with your diaper do you want an apple or a banana for a snack?"
  • "Do you want to stir the sauce on the stove or put plates on the table?"
  • "Would you like to play with play-doh or coloring books?"

Maybe if you answer her "I want other parent to do X" by just asking her another question where she can be in control you could effectively not participate in her grab for power.

By doing this you would -

(A) Be ignoring the undesired behavior thus making it less fun.

(B) Distracting her from her chosen power struggle.

(C) Providing a way for her to feel in control and hopefully release some of this "I'm in charge" desire that comes with being 3.

It's worth a try. Just make sure the question is much more exciting than the diaper dilemma. Hint, fun activity or tasty snack etc.

  • I tried this with my son, he ignored my options and said what he wanted, so me "do you want an apple or an orange?" him "i want biscuit", but I agree with the ignore this issue and talk about brighter future
    – WendyG
    Jun 6, 2018 at 14:20

The two's and three's are years of a lot of contrary behavior (I know this from experience with my kids; three is the worst in my opinion -_-). So while that sort of behavior is generally normal, this seems like there is something really bothering her.

I wonder if she is feeling some sort of discomfort physically? Or perhaps she is having trouble communicating her feelings, which is totally normal at that age and turns into a big deal often. Two year olds get frustrated very easily and they are too young for you to be able to reason with them as well as with an older child.

Do you ever say to her that her behavior is not the way a big girl behaves and that later when she calms down you can talk to her about what's wrong? I find that helps with my kids. My daughter is 4 now, but I remember at age 3 she found that she needed to calm down because she didn't want to be left to cry - she wanted the attention. It helped her focus on showing us what she needed. In the toddler years everything is a big deal to them, no matter how small.

I hope that it becomes easier for all of you. As far as the rule-based behavior, kids thrive on routine and when life deviates from routines it can be very stressful for them. In time she will learn to handle the flow of life that can interrupt a routine at times. I'm inclined to think that this is more of a phase than a long-lasting issue, but if you are very concerned you should consult her pediatrician for more advice.

Also, you can search online for guides on how to manage defiant behavior in toddlers, if you haven't already. Good luck to you :)


It sounds like your 2.5 year old is trying to exercise choice - that's a good thing, 2.5 years is the age where children really start to understand that they have a choice in things, and start trying to exercise it in any way they can.

Unfortunately, as you've clearly noticed, they will choose to exercise their ability to choose when they want to do so - which isn't always convenient for the parent.

For this, you have to set hard limits on their ability to choose - if something is impossible (Getting Mommy when only Dad is around) or inappropriate (climbing up furniture), you have to consistently tell them no. While it may not completely get rid of the behavior, and they will most likely still complain, it will teach them over time what behavior they aren't allowed to do by their parents.

Be sure to be on the same page as your spouse, so that they do not get conflicting messages. And if possible, find a way to distract them with something they can do (playing with safe toys instead of climbing on furniture) or something that will distract them (holding a toy while getting their diaper changed) so that they feel less restricted by the hard-set rule.

The other part of this issue is that your child needs some way to exercise their desire to make choices - so when you can, you should give them opportunities to do so. Safe things that will not impact their health (two options between equally healthy meals) or safety (two clothing options that are both appropriate) so that they have a chance to feel empowered to choose.

Above all, remember to have patience - your child will try to do things they aren't supposed to, and reject things that are good for them, because they are still learning how the world works. It is your job as a parent to teach them those things.

Be sure to check out the links I provided for more details on setting hard limits and offering choices.

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