Our 5-year-old daughter is a very smart, sweet, and usually well-behaved girl. She usually hates to get in trouble and responds well to correction. However, lately she has been getting into some trouble at school for not listening and refusing to participate one day, and has been not listening to us and getting very angry about having "rules". She is going back to her younger behaviors of having trouble leaving places, such as family get-togethers, grandma's house, etc. She gets mad and STAYS mad, will pout and carry on for quite a while before she finally comes around and usually apologizes.
I do not know where this has come from and have tried to figure it out. She likes school, and says she likes her teacher and friends. My DH (spouse) teaches at her school, so he is pretty in the loop about her days there, and he states that she is most always happy when he sees her, she plays with pretty much anyone.
There have been no changes at home, other than I started working full-time in June, but that coincided with her starting kinder, so she wouldn't be home anyway.
She is very moody, and the littlest thing can cause so much drama. She had been sick a couple times right in a row and her tonsils are still swollen, but not red, so I don't really think she is sick or anything that would be contributing... I kept hoping it was just a growth spurt or something because she has sprouted up recently and all her pants are short.

I have gotten some great insight and advice from other posts on here, but the biggest question I still have is what to do when she doesn't listen while we are out, or it is something time sensitive. For example: We are at a family function and when we let her know it's almost time to leave, she says "No!" and is defiant, and ran away from DH. This turned into over an hour of issues where she was saying she didn't care if she got in trouble, no one ever helps her, wishes she didn't have a mommy & daddy, etc. To me, that is just unacceptable behavior, and I don't want to let her "get away with it". I find it hard to ignore because we are GOING to leave at a certain time, and so at some point it becomes a matter of force. Or sometimes I tell her it's bedtime and again, "NO!" and won't come, the consequence has been losing a bedtime story. But of course, telling her that just warrants more drama crying and anger.
I feel there must be a consequence to defiant, disrespectful behavior, is that wrong? So many posts here say to ignore it. If I just ignore it, she will not be in bed. Do I just say "I am available to read stories and tuck you in now, later I will not be"? I know it is getting to be a power struggle, and I want to nip it in the bud as it's new behavior. I am all for "positive parenting" but it's so hard for me in the moment, when she is being so rude!

  • 1
    How did leaving the event get drawn out over an hour? At what point do you just pick her up and leave? Also what was her punishment for being disrespectful? If you tell us what you have tried (what, how, and how long) then we may be able to give you some ideas.
    – user7678
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 22:58
  • 1
    What is a DH? Does that mean spouse?
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 12:49
  • Hello, the hour was not at the place they were leaving, but when includes when she got home she continued to be angry pouty moody etc. Her punishment that night was no books at bedtime as it was right before bed.
    – RL99
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 21:04
  • Yes DH is spouse sorry
    – RL99
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 21:04
  • She has only been doing this a few wks.Today we were on our way home (3 hour trip) from a weekend w/ g-parents, &she was whining having a bad attitude in the car. I know she was so ready to be done with it, but I feel like she needs to learn she can't just act that way even when she's frustrated. Just a rude tone of voice and said "will you stop bothering me". In the car, I felt like, what can I really do. My mom was driving and she was obviously miserable I didn't want to stop & draw the drive out even further. I want her to know it's ok to be mad, sad etc but acting a certain way is NOT.
    – RL99
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 21:10

3 Answers 3


I will disagree that you have to "win" the power struggle--as with thermonuclear war, the only way to win is not to play. But yeah, you do have to end the struggling in a way that is predictable and dependable for her. Particularly, she has to know what she will and won't get in trouble for, and why the things she will get in trouble for are not okay. It has to be things that she can observe and the getting in trouble should be about the same every time, not suddenly worse because of a bunch of other stuff. Now, I'm not saying I know exactly what you should do; far from it. I'll just say that our approach is to focus entirely on the specific unacceptable behavior and why it's unacceptable, and it needs to have a concrete reason. Forget about defiance or disrespect--that may be the message you're getting from it, but that's not why she's doing it. Running away isn't okay because you need to be able to keep her safe, and if she's going to run away, you won't be able to let her walk on her own. Not wanting to leave is okay, and even being mad or disappointed about it is okay, and, to some extent, yelling or crying is okay (at least for now--she's got a lot of years to learn different ways to handle it). What's not okay is her not coming with you, because time to go means time to go. If she won't come with you when you ask (which, generally, I've heard as "don't ask any more times than they are years old"), then you have to pick her up and put her in the car yourself. For my daughter, particularly, I try to give her a couple of chances to do something for herself. Like, when we get to the car, I'll ask, "Do you want me to put you in the car or do you want to climb in yourself?" Even if she's mad, she can do it herself. But if she just says, "No, I'm not leaving!" I say, "Okay, I'll put you in" and I do that. The whole time, I'm not yelling or talking like I'm frustrated (usually) because, usually, I'm not actually frustrated. I understand she's disappointed so much that she doesn't know what to do with all that emotional energy, and it's bursting out of her. If it drags on, obviously, that's going to wear you all out, though, so something that I've been reminding my husband of a fair bit lately is that you give the kid the chance to do it themselves for just a couple of seconds and then you just rip the bandaid off.

On a possibly related note, do you think there are areas where you could expand her agency? Like, sometimes, I'll ask one of my kids, "Do you want to do this now or in 5 minutes?" They always say 5 minutes and they're always still bitter about having to do it, but I do see some positive effects rippling out. Or maybe she could be in charge of some part of leaving, like making sure everybody has their wallets and keys? Or, finally, would it help if you talked ahead of time about not only the time to leave but also where you were going to go afterwards and what you were going to do when you get there? Like, "Okay, we're going to leave in 15 minutes, so you have a few minutes left to play but then we'll go get in the car. When we leave, we're going to go straight home, and then I'll give you your bath while we make dinner."

  • 1
    +1 for the surprising, but absolutely true, comparison to thermonuclear war.
    – Easy Tiger
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 11:47

I know it is getting to be a power struggle This is entirely on you. If there is a power struggle between kid and parent, the parent is responsible. Do not make it a power struggle. Everybody loses, some just harder/more than others.

I feel there must be a consequence to defiant, disrespectful behavior, is that wrong? This is a dangerous question to be asking about a kid. I don't think she is disrespectful. I think she may be

  • frustrated (she had built up an expectation of the future and then something happens that shatters that construction and she has difficulties in dealing with this (this occurs most prominently around two years of age, but I don't think this is ever fully outgrown)),

  • egotistical (every kid is, empathy is not fully developed until end of teens, this is why teenagers are "teenagers")

  • sad and a whole range of other feelings that she has to deal with.

What happens is that you perceive this to be disrespect, but this is only your interpretation of the situation through your experience and belief that she is acting the way you have learned a sensible human behaves. She is not an aduld. She is not disrespectful. Quite the opposite, she probably harbors more respect and love for you and your co-parent than for any other human. She can have troubles expressing this, and will have for several years to come. You should remember this not only for the times she actually shows you this but all the time.

Or sometimes I tell her it's bedtime and again, "NO!" and won't come, the consequence has been losing a bedtime story. Try to do this in advance. Give her options. Try this: Tell her you think it is bedtime now and that you have time for three stories if you start now. Then give her the option to delay a bit but then there will be time for only two stories. She can also choose to wait even a bit longer, but then there will only be time for one story. Accept her choice, maybe remind her of the consequences, and calmly stick to the plan. If she chose to stay up longer, be calm and firm in bed that there will only be two/one stories. Tomorrow she will get the same choice and can make another desicion if she wants more stories.

Lastly, being a parent is hard. Sometimes it is better for all in the longer run if the parents can get some time off from being parents. Try to use family if some are close by. Good luck!


Hmm. It seems you've got a definite change, at a fairly well-defined point in time.

"There have been no changes at home, other than I started working full-time in June, but that coincided with her starting kinder, so she wouldn't be home anyway." Ah, but SHE wouldn't know that. From her point of view, that could mean that you weren't there (even if in the background,) and available.

I don't minimize your concerns, but to some extent it sounds like the "I sent this perfectly lovely little kid to school. Who is this screaming maniac I got back?" (And my total sympathies; I had two ADHD kids.) This would lead me to suspect some influences at school (beyond the usual "I'm a BIG kid now!") Do you have any contact with other classroom parents? That might help you to track down any social factors--bullying comes to mind.

As far as what to do when she throws a tantrum in public---leave. Immediately. Do not tolerate that, even a little bit. If you're in the middle of grocery shopping or something, it will probably be a massive inconvenience for you, but in my experience, it's the shortest path to the kid learning that actions have consequences.

My guess is that you're correct; it's a power struggle. If the child is to have any sense of security, you have to win that struggle. The most insecure & miserable kids I ever met were those who had become the 'rulers' of their families.

Best of luck to you!

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