My 6 year old daughter is amazing in many ways - she is smart, creative, likes school, gets along well at school, is independent...on her good days.

However, I'm really struggling with her at home. Her teacher says "she's a friend to everyone" at school, but at home, I feel like she is defiant, disrespectful, manipulative and a bully. She basically makes my life a living hell when she does not cooperate.

Specifically, she is defiant. When she is in this "behavior twilight zone," she will ignore instructions/requests to follow rules like "stop running in the house" or "stop screaming like a chicken." She will yell "No!" sometimes, if she feels like being defiant, even for perfectly reasonable things. Trying to engage her in a conversation is infuriating because she won't answer even polite questions about why she won't put on her jacket in the freezing weather. She will do things incredibly slowly (it seems like it's just to annoy me) when we need to go someplace. About half the time she behaves like this defiant demon and the other half of the time, she is motivated and perfectly, independently capable of getting out the door for school, for example. That's why I can't figure it out. Who is this child? Is she a nice, smart girl? or a deeply disturbed psychopath?

I know that sleepiness and hunger can be major causes of this type of behavior in her, but even accounting for that, she seems to behave so poorly sometimes.

Whenever I try to respond to her behavior with negative consequences, she has huge meltdowns. Now, I know you're probably thinking: what child DOESN'T have meltdowns when they don't get what they want? Well, her meltdowns can last hours and she is persistent. She begs and begs "Give me another chance" but the whole hour leading up to this point, she was whining and manipulative and then as soon as you give her another chance, it will be another hour of dealing with that behavior (don't worry, I recognize these moments and rarely give in, BUT I'M RUNNING OUT OF STEAM). Also, often during these meltdowns, she will flail around on the floor and make horrible sobbing sounds. She will often tap an arm or leg on a piece of furniture and then use that as an excuse to melt down further. She often drools and lets her snot run down her face for dramatic effect. I know that when she taps her arm or leg it's not serious because I'm standing right there...it could just be a brush against a cup or something that could never in a million years hurt someone, but she uses it to escalate this terrible scene.

To make matters worse, I find that I have an actual physical sensitivity to sound (it is stronger at certain parts of the day) that make the whining and crying and screaming almost unbearable (on top of the regular discomfort of having to listen to a six year old whine non stop for hours).

The worst part, though, is how verbally abusive she is. She says incredibly rude and hurtful things, sometimes without realizing it. However, even when we try to talk to her about it, it's like she doesn't understand that she could possibly hurt anyone's feelings. In particular, she makes comments about my cooking. Every. Single. Night. And yes, we are poor, so we can't afford to eat out EVER and I do actually slave in the kitchen for hours trying to prepare healthy and tasty meals that my husband and children will eat, so it really hurts my feelings when she says the food is "disgusting." (It's not disgusting, but just for the sake of this post, if you don't believe me, just pretend you do). Other times, she just talks to me in very disrespectful ways. My husband and I are pretty good about addressing it right away, but talking to her is not working. It is clear that she is ignoring us while we're talking or distracts herself so she doesn't have to listen. On top of all this, we have two younger kids, whom she is often responsible for "riling up" by chasing them around the house or starting games that encourage rough housing, etc.

I try very hard to squash this bad behavior right away and my husband tries to do so as well, but some nights I have to check out because I'm so upset and I don't want to also become verbally abusive to her. I will just signal to my husband that I've had enough and go watch tv on my computer alone for hours. Those nights, he has to get them bathed and put to bed, which is something we normally do together.

I know that some of her bad behavior developed after I had the twins (they are 4 years old) and I struggled with depression and anxiety and PMDD for 3 years after they were born, but I have received treatment and therapy for my issues and have always been proactive in dealing with her behavioral issues. I even had her in therapy but she was so well behaved that we were "discharged" so to speak. It seems like recently her attitude has gotten intolerable and she has really hurt my feelings a couple of times recently. I tell her that she's being rude and that it's not appropriate but then I end up isolating myself and crying about it and I feel really stupid for that. I'm worried that she is a trigger for my depression and anxiety. To be honest, before I had the twins, she wasn't a super easy child, but my confidence was in tact. After, her behavior has caused me to feel so bad about myself that if she weren't my daughter but just someone I knew, I would cut her out of my life entirely, but I obviously don't want to do that to my own daughter, who I love. I already resent her for some of this. Help me find a way to cope!

  • I need to think about this before I answer, but you might try pretending she is not getting to you. I am not saying ignoring or not speaking to your child, but stuff like redirection or not showing you are hurt or angry.
    – WRX
    Nov 23, 2016 at 2:51

6 Answers 6


You have my sympathy. Your daughter sounds like more than a handful. To answer your question, your daughter is difficult. She might even be defiant, disrespectful, manipulative and a bully.

But she is six years old. You are the adult. Children test their parents. It's up to the parents to decide that they aren't going to fall for that manipulative behavior.

I'm a physician. I made an iffy call on one of my best friends in the ER (it's a long story). Two days later she presented in congestive heart failure from the massive MI she vehemantly wouldn't let me test her for (and I therefore missed.) I cried about it (mostly alone) for weeks. She became what we call a cardiac cripple (a terrible fate of some MI sufferers.) My eldest was a sponge and accustomed to medical talk. One time months later I was rebuking him for something he felt defensive about.

"It's not like I killed my best friend," he said. I looked at him with a mixture of awe and a bit of sorrow. "You're trying to hurt me," I simply said. "it was a good try." I didn't rebuke him. He was pushing. It happens. How often depends in part on how successful it is.

I can't address your daughter's behavior (hopefully others will.) But I believe you may feel things more deeply than is good for both (or all) of you. I would suggest you start in therapy to see why a six-year-old has so much power over you.

When you've explored this with a good therapist (it might mean you "shop around"), I think you'll be better able to understand her behavior, take it for what it is, and set reasonable limits on it consistently that might be more effective in bringing about a desired change. If she can't elicit strong reactions (spoken or unspoken) from you, her tactics will change.

In the meantime, I would recommend a book called 1-2-3-Magic. No arguing, no pleading, no bargaining, just a reward system for self control and time outs for lack if it.

(I also find the idea of a therapist ignoring your concerns strange. Most trust the parent.)

  • 1
    One thing about implementing 1-2-3-Magic from the perspective of a child whose parents tried using it: If the child asks what they did wrong after you say "that's 1" and you refuse to explain it to them, it is possible they will continue the behaviour regardless of progressing the numbers. Nov 23, 2016 at 11:40
  • 5
    I used to tell the child what they were doing wrong before issuing the first warning. Doesn't make much sense not to. Could be as easy as, "Peter, you're still whining even though I've explained why you can't go outside now. That's 1." Nov 23, 2016 at 13:47
  • 4
    +1 for "You're trying to hurt me, good try." Especially given the context. Nov 27, 2016 at 14:38
  • 2
    I remember the exact moment when I did the same thing to my mom. I was a teenager and blamed my anorexia on her self esteem issues. She blatantly refused to accept that or be affected by it. It was such a big lesson in maturity about how you use words. Just because you HAVE ammunition, doesn't mean you should USE it.
    – user30275
    Jan 27, 2018 at 4:42

That sounds awful, and I'm sorry to hear your daughter is being difficult.

There are already suggestions for getting professional help, but I'm going to focus on exploring some options which don't involve a professional. Of course, involving a professional is entirely up to you.

It's okay to be angry with your daughter. Anger is not abuse.

Bear with me here for a second. Children have less nuance than adults. Adults tend to look down on each other for getting angry or showing "negative" emotion. If you're angry, even very angry, show it! Explanations and reasoning with children only go so far, but your daughter will instantly understand she made you angry. But...

Whenever I try to respond to her behavior with negative consequences, she has huge meltdowns.

Those huge meltdowns are part of her misbehavior. Children and adults get emotional when they realize they have broken the rule and are caught. And they often try to talk their way out. Or grovel their way out. And, for your daughter, so far it's worked.

Which brings me to my second point.

Your daughters behavior continues because it's worked so far.

Children are fast and selfish learners, and can be practical to the point of being calculating. This is why you question:

Who is this child? Is she a nice, smart girl? or a deeply disturbed psychopath?

She is a very smart girl, who is sweet and nice at school, because it works to get what she wants there (approval, respect), and is mean at home because it achieves her goals there.

If you take away whatever reward she gains from her behavior at home, or change the means she achieves her goals, you'll change her behavior.

Just an observation, but approval and recognition sound very important to your daughter, and whether she gets it through positive or negative means doesn't sound important to her.

What can you do?

Be direct.

When your daughter tells you she hates your cooking, tell her in no uncertain terms that what she said hurts your feelings.

Change tactics.

Ask her what you're doing wrong, and listen. (Remember this is a tactic, but also be genuine.) Take it all with a grain of salt, she's six, but also consider that, if your daughter is being genuine, she is expressing her real feelings and reality, which may be very different than yours. Ask her why she says/does the things she does. Tell her you love her and you help the people you love... how can you help? If she won't talk, ask her why? Really try to figure her out based on her own words/thoughts.

Simple, firm rules.

Have rules which are always enforced, and you should never feel guilty about. Like:

  1. Tantrum time limits. After so long, say 10 minutes, she's restricted in her room. Count down. Restriction lasts until she stops crying, never before.

  2. Dinner with thanks or no dinner. See rule one of this a problem.

  3. No desert or treats for bad behavior, but cookies for good behavior. It's very Pavlovian, but powerful.

And maybe a strange suggestion, but it's worked for me.

Buy large headphones and a child gate.

If your daughter simply can't be contained, ignore her. I play video games with headphones on, door open, and baby gate closed, until the tantrum is over. This way I can keep my eye on things while they are still distant echoes, literally. Watch TV with the well behaving children and husband, exclude the misbehaving child. This works much like a cookie: she gets your attention only when she behaves well, and not when she's poorly treating you.

I feel strongly I need to caveat that method with, once the child becomes coherent or makes reasonable demands/requests, I immediately listen with my full attention.

Anyway, you can handle this. Don't get too frustrated with yourself or your daughter - you'll get through all this.

  • 6
    I agree with everything except the "dinner with thanks or no dinner" part. I don't think withholding food (or the threat of withholding food) is an appropriate consequence. You could say dinner with no thanks is plain rice and water or something like that, but the child has a right to eat regardless of behaviour. Nov 30, 2016 at 21:17
  • @GentlePurpleRain I have to disagree. While starving a child is obviously not okay (malnutrition can harm development), withholding a single meal as a punishment can be effective if used correctly. Naturally doing it too much and for every little thing will result in a child who steals food or develops an eating disorder...
    – forest
    May 7, 2019 at 3:16

I do think you and your daughter need to get some professional help. I am not saying this to be unkind, but because no one over the internet can give your the answers you seek. We can make suggestions.

I will stick with my comment. When you allow your child to pick the battle, you are in for a fight that may or may not have any basis in reality.

You said she complains about meals. If you know that she is just picking nits -- either completely ignore her comments and redirect the conversation to another topic (I'd never suggest not talking to your child), or provide her with another option. "You can make cereal, if you like." Be careful with food battles. This is an excellent reason to see a professional.

A reward system can work. The child earns a happy face on a chart for every 15 minutes they are acting with a minimum of courteous behaviour. You do not want to be too critical in the beginning because her success is yours, too.This earns her something she likes, like the TV or an extra activity -- perhaps you draw with her without her siblings, or you read to only her. Plenty of parents have had to remove the TV and other electronics from availability. Yes, it is a hassle and yes it affects everyone, but a little peer pressure won't necessarily hurt. Just don't allow a situation where everyone is against your daughter. The sibs can also go on the same reward system -- in fact, they should.

This won't be easy but you have to grow a thicker skin. Everytime you leave your hub to deal, you are telling the kid that she won and punishing the only other person who understands. So try rewards and just not arguing. No audience and your daughter will soon stop. She wins when she makes you mad or upset.

I will also warn you that once you decide on a course of action you have to stick with it and that -- it will definitely get worse before it gets better.

Best of luck.


I would suggest you start by getting a mental health evaluation for your daughter. Ask your daughter's primary care provider for a referral so it will be covered by health insurance.

Your daughter's mishaps with the knee bumping the chair may indicate the need for a sensory profile as well.

Once you know what, if any, mental health or neurological conditions your daughter has, it will be much easier for your to deal with them. Certainly that was my experience with my son.

It sounds like the time-outs you give yourself are not ideally structured; they're not giving you the quick respite you need to be able to re-enter the fray in a better state of mind. Is there something else you could do instead during your time-out? Perhaps go for a walk around the neighborhood?

While you're waiting for the evaluation, I have three suggestions for you.

First, write down a concise list of the behaviors that drive you nuts, and pick at most three to concentrate on at this time.

Second, you will need to temporarily detach yourself emotionally from your daughter. You'll have to play-act the professional caretaker. A governess would not cry when the child says nasty things. Do not allow your ego to be affected by anything hurtful your daughter says. You need to protect yourself so that you can be a strong, civilizing influence in your daughter's life.

Third, withhold all attention whenever your daughter whines. The flip side of this is that when she speaks to you with a voice you want to hear, make sure to tell her you like that voice -- even if she's disagreeing with you while she's using it.

Over time you will be able to add more rules to the collection. However, only add rules you are going to have the energy to enforce consistently.

If she complains about her food, gently but firmly take away her plate. Tell her she doesn't have to eat if she doesn't like it. Be very neutral in your tone of voice if you have to do this.


Your daughter does need an evaluation by a professional. But my friend handled her step sons hatred of meals by not setting him a place at the table. Told him if he didn't like the food, he could fix himself a peanut butter and jelly and sit in the kitchen. He got mad, got his own setting and sat at the table with the family. By pointedly excluding him from something he said he didn't want she found it wasn't that he didn't want the food, it was he wanted to make her miserable. When she started eliminating ways for him to do so he became easier to deal with.


Maybe you are not giving her the attention she used to get before you had the twins. Give her more time, play with her but do not take any bullying from her, Be strict when she is rude or she misbehave. and do not fell for her drama and be strict on your decision.

If you can afford it try living in another country like a middle east country or a developing country like Pakistan, SriLanka, Or India just for a couple of years like before your daughter becomes a teenager. But this is not a practical solution for you.

  • 2
    How would moving the whole family to another country help?
    – A E
    Nov 26, 2016 at 18:09
  • 2
    It does. The third world countries heavily rely on family system and when kids see other kid's behavior then the change their own behavior.
    – wonderwall
    Nov 28, 2016 at 4:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .