My wife and I are having trouble with our 2.5/3-year-old daughter. We have a newborn (1 month old) that we believe is the reason. We are guessing she is jealous of the attention that her new baby brother is getting, when she used to get all of the attention.

She is now starting to act out in a big way, but only to us parents. We have a nanny who watches her Monday through Friday and she's an angel to her (our daughter acts just fine for the nanny).

Just today, (wife just texted me), she was throwing a very big tantrum, not doing anything that her mother asked her. Then, the nanny goes over to her and asks her to stop and she does, immediately.

Why is she only listening/behaving for our nanny, and not her actual parents. It seems to be getting worse each day. We try and stay calm, and give her timeouts when she's really naughty, but they don't seem to help. We bribe her some, but that doesn't seem to help either. The next day/hour she'll be acting out again.

Any help is appreciated here!

4 Answers 4


Acting out for parents and not for others is very common. Your children feel safe around you; they know that you will love them unconditionally, and they know how you'll respond to their actions and behavior.

What all that means, is that they know you won't leave them if they misbehave. You'll act in some consistent way - which might be not something they want, per se, such as telling them to stop - but it'll be consistent, and they will know how to deal with it.

Others, people at daycare, school, nanny, whatever, are unknown quantities. They don't know exactly what will happen if they act out. So they are more compliant. They don't feel as safe - not to say they feel unsafe per se, I'm sure your nanny is perfectly nice and they love her dearly. But, they don't have three+ years experience to draw on.

That said, what do you do about it? As far as her behavior with you goes, treat that as you would without the nanny's existence. Find a strategy that is consistent with your beliefs and seems to work, and stick to it. Your child is in a complicated time in her life, and it's not surprising that you're having some difficulty; most of us do at somewhere between 20 and 40 months, and many of us do for that entire period. There are quite a few questions on the site both on how to deal with behavior issues with a toddler of this age range, and how to deal with a new sibling; use those for your inspiration.

It's probably stressful that your daughter behaves more poorly for you than for her nanny, but realistically that's not a problem - it's a good thing. Be happy she behaves well for others - that's really hard for some children. Also makes it a lot easier on you - you only have to work with her on behavior at home, not behavior at school/etc.


I agree to all that Joe said and can only give one additional hint: Maybe you have the chance to give your daughter some mommy-kid / daddy-kid time in which she's in the center of attention again. A walk though the park or half an hour of lego-castle-building without interruption from the newborn can show her that she will still get mom's/dad's attention for herself (just not all the time). She might accept more easily that at other times the baby gets attention as well.


A new baby takes a lot of time for mum and dad and also friends and relatives come and think the world of the new addition, so we all understand why the older sibling(s) feel put out. It is perfectly normal. Only very few children do not try tantruming as a method of control, and just because your child has or has never tantrumed does not make anyone a worse or better parent.

Give children as many choices as possible from things the parent or caregiver has pre-chosen. That way the child get some control in their everyday life. It can prevent tantrums over time.

This is the why -- negative behaviour is always noted and so the tantruming or naughty child is given attention, and any attention is better than no attention. This doesn't have to be logical. S/he may in fact be getting plenty of attention, but there's jealousy tipping the scales in the eyes of the child. She knows exactly how to make you 'see' her.

Nanny is probably experienced and never makes an idle threat or changes her mind or gives in once she's made a decision. It is easier for her. She has time away from the situation, breaks, hours off, she doesn't worry about getting the child to an appointment the way a parent does/has to. Mums and dads do not get time off unless they can do it for each other.

The child may love the nanny, but this is not the same love as parental love. This is why children will listen to nannies/caregivers or grandparents or aunties over mum some of the time. The child knows she owns her parents. (That is actually a very good thing.) The 'upside' of these tantrums is that she trusts you and feels safe enough to have one. (Yay!)

Tantrum Prevention Tactics from WebMD

Instead of having to stop a temper tantrum after it starts, prevent it by following these tips:

  • Avoid situations in which tantrums are likely to erupt. Try to keep your daily routines as consistent as possible and give your child a five-minute warning before changing activities.

  • Communicate with your toddler. Don't underestimate his ability to understand what you are saying. Tell him the plan for the day and stick to your routine to minimize surprises.

  • Allow your child to take a toy or food item with her while you run errands. It may help her stay occupied.

  • Make sure your child is well rested and fed before you go out so he doesn't blow up at the slightest provocation.

  • Put away off-limit temptations (for example, don't leave candy bars lying on the kitchen counter close to dinnertime) so they don't lead to battles.

  • Give your toddler a little bit of control. Let your child choose which book to bring in the car or whether she wants grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch. These little choices won't make much of a difference to you, but they'll make your child feel as though she has at least some control over her own life.

  • Pick your battles*. Sometimes you can give in a little, especially when it comes to small things. Would you rather let your child watch 15 extra minutes of television or listen to her scream for 30 minutes? Distract**. A young child's attention is fleeting and easy to divert. When your child's face starts to crinkle and redden in that telltale way, open a book or offer to go on a walk to the park before it can escalate into a full-blown tantrum.

  • Sometimes, humor is the best way to distract. Make a funny face, tell a joke, or start a pillow fight to get your child's mind off what's upsetting him. Teach your child other ways of dealing with frustration.

  • Children who are old enough to talk can be reminded to use their words instead of screaming.

  • Praise your child for getting it right. When he stays cool in a situation that would normally have triggered a tantrum, tell him he did a good job of controlling his temper.

*Give in immediately if you are going to ultimately give in. The longer you make her fight, the longer she is willing to fight the next time if you've shown her you will give in. So if you must be somewhere or do something and have no time for a tantrum -- give in right away. Don't even say. "No."

**Redirection is magic. It is a method of parental behaviour management that simply changes the subject. You redirect the child to something else. It is something you work on together until you get this method working.

(I added the bold type and the notes (*/**).)


Kids are smarter than you think. They know how to manipulate parents. Ignore the tantrums. Demonstrate that her tantrums hold no power and they will dissipate. Establishing dominance is key. Children must understand the hierarchy in a family. Mom and dad first, then the children. One good tip is to establish Mom and Dad time in front of the child to make it clear that the parents do not revolve around the child. Something like sitting on the sofa and chatting while giving the child a separate activity is a good example.

here's an article on the concept of an alpha child http://macnamara.ca/portfolio/reclaiming-the-lead-with-an-alpha-children-in-the-lead/

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