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My 4,5 year old daughter asks about every little thing to do for her, e.g. pass her glass of water which stands 3 meters from us and it's the same work for me and for her to do that. Another example is to pick up the fork which falls from the table to the floor.

It's annoying to me. In my opinion she should do those thing by herself and not even think to use me to do it for her. I want it to stop but I don't know how as when I refuse then she turns to the other parent around and gets what she wants.

I don't think she is lazy or she is afraid of doing something wrong (I encourage her). I think she fights for leadership in the family ... or she won already and she just does not want to lose it. I already talked to the other parent about this - sometimes she say "no" (or "no with some justification") and it ends up in a fight. Sometimes she says "yes" because we can't be so tough on the kid or because she needs to decide sometimes. I on the other hand don't like to be commanded so I rather always say "no" which is as you can imagine also bad because it ends in a fight.

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    Does refusing mean that you tell her "No, I won't pick the glass for you." or do you phrase it more encouraging, as in "I'm sure you can get it your self. Why don't you try?" And can you identify the underlying issue? Is she just lazy? Is she afraid to do something 'wrong' (e.g. spill the drink while getting the glass)? Something else? – Arsak Nov 5 '18 at 21:03
  • my question was edited to address those comments above – Marian Paździoch Nov 6 '18 at 7:30
  • "it ends up in a fight." Can you be more specific ? Is the kid doing a tantrum because you don't pick up her fork ? How long does it lasts and how does it ends ? Who finally picks the fork ? – Evargalo Nov 6 '18 at 8:43
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There are three basic ways to deal with this behavior (there are variations on a theme, but still - imo - three basic responses.)

The 'adult power and authority' approach

You are the adult, and you can say, "No, get it yourself." You can say it matter-of-factly or empathetically and kindly, but that's what you're saying, and she can obey or do without. No reason to argue (it takes two to argue). If she raises a huge stink, she can get a time out. This will teach her that she can, indeed, do things for herself, and with much less conflict.

This is a common and direct way to solve this problem, and has been used probably since language began. We all do it to some extent. When my mother wanted some peace and quiet, she'd sent us outside to play. If we complained that it was rainy, she'd remind us that we weren't made of sugar and that we would not melt.

Much of life is like this. We deal with employers and other people in a position of authority over us. We really need to get used to it.

The 'all feelings are created equally' approach

The way to deal with an unwanted behavior is to find out what your child is actually experiencing when making the undesirable requests and deal with that core issue. It's more labor-intensive, but it's also very affirming to the child.

If she is asking because she feels the need for validation ("prove that you love me/that I'm worth loving by doing what I ask/tell you"), then you need to see to it that she's getting the validation she needs in a more appropriate manner, e.g. you show her that she's important to you by taking time out of your day to read to her, to play with her, to do things that matter to her and make her feel loved.

If she is testing her social structure and her ability to control others (for whatever reason), that needs to be addressed. There are appropriate and inappropriate requests in social structures. To reduce people who love you to a servant status is hurtful and, in the long run, unproductive to both parties (it is an anti-social behavior, so to speak.) As you yourself stated,

In my opinion she should do those thing by herself and not even think to use me to do it for her.

There may be other reasons for her behavior. The point of this approach is to deal with the underlying issue in an empathetic manner. Maybe she is mirroring behavior she sees elsewhere. Who knows unless that is explored?

The 'I'm not going to deal with this now/life is hard, and then you die' approach

No one gets their way all the time, which is an important lesson to teach, and the sooner we make peace with it, the less conflict there is in life. This approach is best for those with an iron will and a good sense of humor (not sarcasm, unless your child loves sarcasm.) Examples of this approach might include

Child: Mom, my fork fell.
You: Isn't gravity amazing? If you drop your fork, it will fall to the earth 100 times out of 100! The story goes that Sir Isacc Newton was asleep under an apple tree...
No, I mean, would you pick it up for me?
What will you give me if I pick it up for you?
What? Why should I give you anything?
You: Because nothing is free in life. (Life is hard, and then you die.)

Though this approach doesn't validate your child, it's often interesting and makes a point in a non-threatening way. It's not directly "Do what I say, I'm the adult," nor is it as labor intensive as "What are the feelings that are driving that request". I recommend judicial use, and only if you know for a fact that your child feels much loved by you 99% of the time.

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My approach to this kind of request is to ask her why she's asking me instead of doing it herself in the first place. That way I can already filter out the obvious "lazyness" reasons and refuse or accept to do it, always with a justification:

Well you can perfectly do it yourself and I don't feel like doing it myself, so no I won't do it for you.

Well OK for this time as it's not a big effort but next time I would apreciate if you do it yourself as you're perfectly capable of doing so.

If on the other hand the reason is not related to lazyness, I would assess if the argument she gave is indeed relevant, and then see if I can seize this occasion to have her learn something. Depending on the context, the exact same request may have different answers. For example if she wants a glass of water, the response will not be the same if we're in a hurry (=> I'll do it myself for speed reasons) or if we have plenty of time for her to do it, clean up possible spills, etc...

I know it's not easy but you should try yourself. Don't worry if [whatever negative consequence] happens, you won't be punished.

I anyway try to assist her as little as possible as I think she needs to learn not to rely on anybody and as I also witnessed how proud she was to be able to do something "like a grown up". I also re-enforce this pride if she succeed:

You see, you did it all by yourself, congratulations!

Or try to encourage her if she failed:

OK you failed, but it just means you need to practice more cause I'm sure you can do it. Failing is not an issue, abandonning is.

This is of course only possible because me and my wife are quite aligned on this education. Of course we're not consistent 100% of the time but most of the time certainly. If you're the only one in the couple with that approach, things can get trickier, as it is with any big difference on any education principle.

  • We had success with a similar approach to our son, who was constantly asking us to fix very small problems with his toys (for example, a train going off his track): Him: "HELP! HELP! My train is off the track!" Us: "Okay. What have you tried so far to fix it yourself?" It changes the conversation from one about us helping him to one about ideas he can employ himself. – notanengineer Nov 6 '18 at 18:47
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Stay consistent with how you decide to approach these situations. We've seen a lot of cases where at school the kids are amazing little helpers and at home they could give less care about helping out. We've told the parents to encourage them to help out and to build that independence now (don't wait). Consider letting her know that you're busy at the moment and maybe she can help you out by doing it herself. A lot of times we just have to guide them to be more independent instead of "forcing them". Times have changed.

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