My 6, almost 7 year old is so strong-willed that it's crushing me and destroying our relationship, as I'm getting to the point that I dread being around her. She can be so fun and nice one minute but then turn on you and be downright hateful at times. Most of the time I can handle the fits to my no's, it's the non-compliance on things that must get done that I'm really struggling with.

Two of her biggest issues are getting dressed in the morning and now homework. Getting dressed has been an on and off issue since she was 3. I have at times wondered if she could have a sensory disorder but she can go months at a time wearing pretty much whatever then suddenly go back into the daily fits where she will pull almost everything from her drawers, trying on a few things here and there, and end up in a fit on the floor. You would think this might only be a problem when she has to go somewhere she doesn't want to but there are many times where we can't get her dressed to go to a birthday party or the beach or a movie. She will lay on the floor and scream that she really wants to go but doesn't want to get dressed. This can last for 2+ hours.

This year for school she has picked out one outfit she wants to wear and has worn it everyday so far (17 days). She puts it on, no problem. One morning it was in the washer (it was a weekend) and she melted down and waited for it to be dry before she would get dressed to go play outside.

Our other issue is homework. She is only in first grade but has had homework since last year. It became an issue for her at the end of the kindergarten school year. It wasn't difficult, some of it was a dot-to-dot for example, but she just didn't want to do it; the same with nightly reading. We pushed through and I was determined to get into a better routine this year knowing that there would be more difficult work this year. We are already having battles. Yesterday it took an hour to complete her homework. 20 minutes of actual work, and 40 minutes of whining. Tonight it consumed our entire evening 2-7pm. Granted we had a snack and dinner in that time but nothing else fun until the work was done. She went to bed with it still not completed. I do think it's too much work for first grade and I'm going to speak with her teacher tomorrow after school but even if she can get by with not doing it this year, I'm worried that it's giving in to her thinking that if she doesn't want to do something she doesn't have to.

I see 1-2-3 Magic suggested here and we already do something similar to that, ignore undesirable behavior etc., but what do you do when your child won't comply with things that must be done, like getting dressed, hygiene, and homework? I am stressed to the max and while ignoring her behavior today she continued to follow me around and at one point sat on top of me and said "I'm just sitting here enjoying watching my mommy be frustrated". Psycho?

I should also mention that while her behavior has generally been contained to our house, her recent behavior during two separate playdates was horrendous. She was so bossy, mean, and rude that both playmates (mind you, this is two separate occasions) asked to go home. While she wanted them to stay she was in no way remorseful for her behavior. She is also complaining that her friends from kindergarten won't let her play. I imagine it's because this behavior is starting to rear outside the house.

Btw. I feel like I have tried everything... bribing, yelling, begging, giving choices, limiting choices, threatening, sticker charts, praise. It all falls on deaf ears. I honestly feel like if my daughter doesn't want to do it, she won't. Is there something I'm missing?

1 Answer 1


Since you mention she said she was telling you she enjoyed seeing you frustrated, I would start there. A child who actually wants to frustrate you is using what little power they have to take back what feels like a loss of control. I would also then look at what the two of you are getting for time together to bond, for fun, unrelated to any school or dressing or whatever.

You give a lot of information here, but there is a lot you don't give. Outside of school does she have any stressors that you are aware of such as anything that has happened with parents, has that situation been stable through this time? Does she have siblings and by any chance anyone under 2? Has your work schedule changed at all, or have you moved?

The trying on a million clothing items and ending up in a crying heap sounds like she is overwhelmed. Is she expected to pick out her clothing and put it on without any help? What happens in that case if she is helped? I would imagine you have tried having her pick out clothing the night before. I have one son who is often difficult in mornings. I am not sure it's the right way to handle it, but if I have to be on a time crunch the following morning, I simply make sure he has a bath before bed & then have him put on tomorrow's clothing before bed. It works great for him, so I just work with that approach.

For schoolwork, there can be several issues and I don't know if one or any apply here. One thing I learned is that when my children find the work hard, they push back. I know you say there was dot to dot, so that seems unlikely. Then also, I watch some kids after school (not mine) and those kids do the homework so much easier if I have them run around for an hour before they settle to do it. So we do snack, outside for an hour, then look at what needs to be done. I have to ensure it's an active hour, not just lazing around on the tree swing, but running, bikes, etc. They need to get that body moving.

Back to control. It's normal and good to want to be in charge of what you do, what you eat, where you go. When a child is really craving control based on things in their life feeling so out of their control, they will sometimes turn to outward defiance to assert it. It may also come about in bossy behavior with other kids. I am thinking, as a fellow mom, that wearing one outfit for 17 days hasn't been your idea of fun and trying to keep it washed and ready is a real pain and another way to exert control.

If I were dealing with it, I would start by finding every excuse to offer control to the child. I would do it over all things, even petty things. Do you want to brush your hair before or after bath? Do you want to put on your jacket first or your shoes? Do you want to help set the table or do you prefer to help clear it? Do you want to start your homework before or after a snack? Do you want to do the homework at the kitchen table or at the living room coffee table?

And you will get crappy answers sometimes like her saying she wants the snack and not to do her homework. At those times I would stop what I was doing and get to her level, look her in the eye and tell her I know she doesn't want to and show empathy. I might even say, something about how it must be a real drag to spend all day in school and then have to still have stuff to do at home too. I commiserate and bond over it. I might even talk about things I have to do I really hate. I might make a game about how we should list off all the things we hate, like cooked spinach and homework and smelly shoes, and waking up early to rush out the door, and icy cold floors when you are chilly but need to sneak to pee in the middle of the night.

I find the more I can relate to my kids and let them know I hear them, I feel their frustrations and that I care, the more likely I am to elicit their cooperation. And I can tell you that getting kids to do school work is no picnic. I homeschool mine and then watch others after school that need to do theirs as well. Some seem to really love it. I didn't birth any like that though.

And a very useful book if you have never read it is "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk". It doesn't tell you precisely what to do so much as helps you understand how to frame things so that better communication can happen and you can get to the heart of what the underlying issues are that may be stumbling blocks you didn't know were there. There are people that advocate for 'putting your foot down" and just making them. I understand why and I understand the appeal. For me that was never going to work though as I am doing this all day every day. I need this not to be a tiring battle of wills. I instead settled on learning how to elicit cooperation because it keeps us all a lot less stressed and there is a less reason for tension to even come up. They still have to learn, but it doesn't have to be unpleasant. I try to make sure they know that I get it that it's not super fun, and they would rather not, but it's much easier if we just push through and get it done so we can move on, than if we drag it out. I am sure that is what you want too if you have a 4 hour ordeal. My eye opening one was a 6 hour ordeal over a single line of work, literally. My son did everything, but one single line. That is all. Then he decided he was going to assert his authority to be done and I freaked out because of fear that I could "let him win" and made us both miserable spending 6 hours trying to convince him to do the one line. He did. I look back now and know that entire thing was avoidable. Today I'd let him make that decision and simply tell him that I trust him to come back and finish it later or I know he will finish it in the morning before he starts that day's work and move on.

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