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Pre-schooler is out of control with demanding to have her way.we have tried time outs, talking it out and taking away of material things of hers. Nothing is working

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    How long or how many times did you try each method before switching to the next?
    – Stephie
    Jul 5 '16 at 5:03
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    +1 for @Stephie 's question - consistency is KEY to any discipline method you choose. I'ts actually even more important than the actual method.
    – user7678
    Jul 5 '16 at 14:23
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This is one of those things where discipline (punishment) isn't necessarily the answer.

Your child constantly wants to get her way. I'd suggest there's nothing at all wrong with that. I want to get my way, too. Likely, so do you, right? The difference is that we've learned a few things over the years (some more than others):

  • Everyone wants to get 'their way'
  • Those 'ways' often conflict
  • Thus, it's not possible for everyone to get their way all of the time
  • It is important to differentiate "important" from "unimportant" times to get your way
  • The more frequently you let others get "their way" when it is unimportant to you, the more frequently you will get "your way" when it is important to you
  • Getting "your way" is often a combination of communicating the importance of this particular issue, and convincing others that your way is a good choice

What you need to do is work with her to get to those final two points. They're both very hard to learn at five years old, but they are possible to learn. We work with our almost-five year old on these issues on a regular basis; and he certainly has his moments where he throws a fit. But, on balance those fits are usually limited, because after he gets past that initial moment of frustration, he processes everything and moves to rationally thinking about it, because we've worked with him over and over.

The most important part of this, though, is accepting your child's feelings. The issue is not their feelings, it is how they react to those feelings. It is very frustrating, legitimately, to a five year old if she's unable to have ice cream, or if he's unable to ride that train one more time before we leave. It's not just a matter of throwing a fit to get what they want: it's actually upsetting.

Your job as parent is to help them process that emotion so that it doesn't become disabling, and so they can learn to accept those times when it's not possible to get what they want. Calming them down and getting them to think should be the first goal, rather than creating an adversarial relationship via punishment, which just adds stress to the equation and makes it harder for them to process their emotions. Talk calmly but firmly to the child; tell them that it's okay to be frustrated/upset, and encourage them to talk about it.


I would also say that I don't think a blanket "never give in" is the right approach. I'm not suggesting giving in automatically, or frequently, or because it's easier. However, locking yourself into only having one option is not a good idea in anything (life, parenting, etc.). Part of the skill in dealing with frustration in not getting your way is communicating the importance of the issue and convincing others that your way is the right way, after all; as such you need to leave the door open to your child to do so, the right way.

With us, what we do is once we get our child calmed down from the fit, assuming that hasn't prevented the issue (such as require being removed from the location), we talk to them about why it's important to them. We also talk to them about why it's important to us. Sometimes we learn something new in that discussion - maybe it was promised by another adult earlier, for example. Or maybe it was something he expected because we've always done it before. Or maybe he's hungrier than we realized.

Most of the time we probably won't change our decision, because something else is restricting our choice - cost, time, etc. But if it's possible to adjust, and he's able to calm down sufficiently to discuss coherently what his point of view is, then I've found that it's better to go ahead and allow him what he wants in those cases: because the lesson then is not "tantrum gets you things", but it is "discuss with Mommy and Daddy what and why you want in a coherent and respectful manner, and you get things". By then the tantrum is long forgotten.

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    Truly excellent answer. I particularly like how you take the point of view of the child. It's easy to forget that what seems immature or "childish" is quite sensible from the POV of the child.
    – sleske
    Jul 8 '16 at 23:32
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First off make sure her tactics are never successful at getting what she wants. Kids tend to do what works. If she never gets her way after acting inappropriately you have removed the incentive to misbehave. At 5 you should be able to clearly communicate with her what behavior is unacceptable. After you have made it clear what type of behavior is not allowed, be consistent with your punishment.

This type of parenting is a lot of work, because you can't take short cuts, but in the long run it should make your family more harmonious.

Edit: in response to another answer about blanket "never give in" strategy. Let me clarify My suggestion is to be extremely consistent for a period of time until the child understand what behavior is constructive. A less rigid approach is more useful after the norms have been re-established. This behavior is a habit and needs to be broken like any other bad habit. As a parent you should be patient and supportive of your child's efforts to break the tantrum/complaining habit.

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  • Please respond to other answers in comments under their answers. That makes these kinds of explanations easier to understand, and addressing someone's answer isn't always best done in your answer. Jul 9 '16 at 20:55
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Children will eventually try to push the limits with their parents.

It's important to find a balance between not letting them control you and not fighting with them all the time.

Some tips:

  • Pick your battles. Defuse some situations into a compromise.
  • Use rewards. For example good behaviour earns tv time.
  • Positive reinforcement. Identify and praise good behaviour.
  • If you take away a material thing, give a way to earn it back.
  • Be consistent and don't give up. Good parenting takes time and commitment.

It may feel that you're not getting through with talking, but keep trying. Help the child to identify their own feelings and be ablt to tell you why they are angry or upset in their own words.

At this age we found it helpful to talk about the misbehaviour after the timeout, once they've cooled down from the tantrum - be sure the child knows exactly why they ended up in timeout (sometimes they misunderstand, or don't know) and encourage them to behave better next time.

I always end timeout with hugs, a commitment from the child to do better next time, and some sort of positive encouragement.

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