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DD is 4 years old and we really need some advice please her behaviour is horrible, there is no other way to describe it

(55 Posts)
hereagain99 Tue 19-Nov-13 11:04:26

As I have said DD is 4yo and at the moment nothing seems to work.

A bit of background:

I have been separated from her dad since she was 16 months old so she doesn't remember us living with him. We live with my partner, it has been almost two years now. She accepted him very well and loves him to bits. DD sees her father every 8 weeks (although sometimes more) due to distance, we live on the other side of the country (that has been a blessing). Our parenting skills are completely different, we have rules and routines which go out of the window when she is with him (I am not criticising him for that it is his option and we cannot do anything about it)

Now, DD's behaviour has been very difficult lately. She will shout, scream, stamp her feet and everything else at the moment that she doesn't get her own way. When we ask her to do something she will answer "I am not going to do it". We try to reason with her, explain to her how it makes us feel, tell her that we don't like her behaviour, explain to her that when she ask us to do something we do it and we expect the same from her when we ask her to do something (we don't ask anything unreasonable, i.e. set the table, get dressed, tidy up).

We have always used "unconditional parenting techniques" but at the moment we are questioning if it is working. We are not happy about rewards charts or "naughty steps" or things like this, we believe that she should be doing it not because of the reward she gets but because it is the right thing to do.

Today she has told us that she wanted a "Proud Parent Certificate" for the school and we have told her that at the moment given her behaviour we cannot write anything on it. What would we say? That she only shouts and screams at us, that she is treating us badly. We know that she can behave very well, she does it at school and with other people so the problem must be with us. We don't know what to do at the moment, we need some advice please.


gamerchick Sun 24-Nov-13 19:34:18

I had to keep checking her age.. she's 4? Poor little bugger. Is she just allowed to be a little kid with no responsibilities sometimes?

You seem dead set on blaming her dad for her behaviour. You are treating her far older than what she is IMO.

clearsommespace Sun 24-Nov-13 19:19:14

I get overwhelmed by the choices in restaurants/cafés in the USA!

HoneyandRum Sat 23-Nov-13 12:09:01

I don't know what Unconditional Parenting is but I don't agree with the idea that simple ideas of reward and punishment are damaging to small children so instead what is put in place is a much more manipulative (in my opinion) form of emotional control. I have three kids ages 7, 10 and 13. They are all the typical intelligent, expressive, affectionate kids. They are able to talk about and show their feelings and also understand what their dad and I do and don't approve of. However when they were little, I didn't go through lots of weighty discussions and rigamarole. They want to know who they are, who you are and what the boundaries are. OK! I'm the mum and I'm in charge and here are the boundaries and within those firm boundaries here are choices and freedoms you get.

I saw some friends (especially when we were living in the USA) what appeared to me overwhelming their small kids with choice such as pointing at a huge drinks cooler in a cafe with literally tons of choices and saying "What do you want sweetie?" while I would just say do you want water or milk? I don't mean to be a pretentious super-mum as I am quite the opposite. I just found some parents making everything way, way more complicated than it need be. They would also have all these charts and what I would consider emotionally manipulative happy faces and sad faces "Use your words" and "Are you being PRINCIPALED?" i.e. are you "choosing" to do what I want you to do when we all know it's not a true choice.

Keep it simple. Kids thinking is very black and white when they're so young, the age of reason has always been considered to be around 7 and you are expecting the critical thinking and reasoning abilities of a child way above the age of 4. It's very overwhelming as other posters have stated for a child to think they have this much power over the significant adults in their lives. I had struggles with my kids behaviors like everyone else, but I saw it usually as my problem - what should I do differently. With very young kids it often comes down to simple bodily needs, they are tired, hungry - feeling overemotional and need some quiet time or a nice warm bath. In fact at that age if I had a child that couldn't get a grip emotionally I usually ran a bath and let them play in there while I sat and chatted to them. They are not experiencing the world as we are!

Help your dd with simple comfort and simple consequences.

sesamechoc Fri 22-Nov-13 21:04:02


Reading through all your posts, OP,this might be the best link for you and then you can choose between them

As there seems to be a sort of escalation of behaviour with your daughter , I wonder whether it might be worth you investing in a coaching session with laura markham - she's based in the US but does Skying...

( To keep me going! I get her regular emails and use her site and refer to my 3 fave parenting books - UP alfie kohn, how to talk, and peaceful parent, laura markham)

Have done a long postings to give you some of our real life your question what else can we do instead of punishments and rewards? there really are lots of things.

The reason I would encourage you not to give up is that me and DP are really in quite a minority in the way we parent -and DS1's primary school is full of liberals! - so we're encouraging anyone else who's trying as well cos it's tougher in the beginning.... It hasn't been plain sailing for us , especially when DS1 had the dreaded testosterone increase age 4 when DS2 was 4 months old.

I use a lot of stuff from laura markham's book. E.g. we have weekly family meetings ( v quick of course about 20 mins max ! - we started them when DS1 was 6 1/2 and as DS2 was just under 3, we used to say we're just having a family meeting - join in if you want to but we understand if you just want to play. But he did join in!

Both boys give their choices for the weekly food shop and really feel that their opinions are taken into account just from this small step of getting chicken legs instead of chicken breasts, and about 2 months ago, when we got to the end with AOB, DS2 age 3 said "oh yes daddy, we need a new light for the upstairs loo!"

Because neither of us were brought up this way, a lot of the stuff seemed unnatural and I have been on quite a journey and continue on this journey.....

We have kept going through the sort of difficult times that you're experiencing now by keeping the long term relationship with our children in mind.

It is an amazing experience to see our 2 children learning to emotionally regulate themselves ( DS1 stopping himself thumping DS 2 by saying, when you snatched my toy away, I was really irritated, lets think about what the options are) be thoughtful ( when our washing machine broke a few weeks ago, and I was getting stressed about it DS2 came and gave me a hug and said" you seem frustrated, but don't worry i'll help you calm yourself down, let's call someone to fix it!!!!) ,to hear things about DS1 at his parents' evening like - he gets on with everyone, his problem solving abilities are extremely well developed for his age etc etc.

Wishing you lots of luck - I would really like to hear how you're going in a few months so please think about PMing me in a few months time...

dozeydoris Fri 22-Nov-13 11:10:43

An unreliable DF must be v difficult for her to handle. Poor DD. This is possibly enough to cause tantrums in my nonexpert opinion. But she will learn to cope or find it easier when she is older. Best of luck.

cory Fri 22-Nov-13 10:37:36

I agree with Caro about the emotions thing. For this age group I think keeping it simple works best. "Hitting is not allowed" is a more useful message that a long explanation of how hitting makes you feel.

And don't forget: young children are horribly logical. If I had told dd that hitting made me feel sad, her reply would have been: "good, that's what I wanted". She has not grown into a juveline delinquent or even a nasty, uncaring person. But at 4, her levels of empathy were still undeveloped. She either did not feel it at all or she would feel it far too strongly and get anxious.

So concentrating on behaviour was far better. Not "You have to love your little brother or he will be sad" but "You must not hit your little brother. Nobody is allowed to hit anyone in this house".

hereagain99 Fri 22-Nov-13 10:31:20

Thanks again.

DD doesn't eat sweets when she is with us. We buy instead "Bear Yo Yo" which is 100% fruit with nothing else. She does drink squash but not daily, just as a treat. But yesterday she had water not squash. Her diet is balance, I am veggie so she doesn't eat a lot of meat at home, mainly vegetables and soya, but sometimes she chooses the meat menu in school. She has fruit for snack or cheese/slice of ham, yogurt so I am not sure if it can be diet related. We don't have biscuits in the house but we like baking our own things which in turn is good fun.

She loves magazines so our treat to her are mainly magazines that we can then do together. Although the reality is that she likes them just for the toys that come with them.

DD's dad doesn't call every day and if he tells her that he will call he doesn't always do it. On Monday he called her on the phone and DD asked him to see him on the computer and he said that he couldn't so DD told him that she didn't want to talk to him on the phone. However in this occasion DD dealt with the situation very well and it didn't escalated to any tantrum.

Thanks again

hillyhilly Fri 22-Nov-13 10:30:26

Cory talks a whole lot of sense, my dd is particular hater of the word "no" and I used to try pretty hard to avoid it.
So, "I want to make a star", " that would be great, let's plan it all out while we get ready for bed then we can make sure we have everything we need to make it tomorrow when we have lots of time, what would we need, cardboard, foil, glitter etc etc".
I think that you should concentrate on being as positive as possible - this works for my dd when I can keep it up. So the chicken, "this one doesn't sit, I wonder if there is one that does, maybe you could have a trip to the shop as a reward for 5 smiley faces" (btw I didn't know that chickens have to sit to lay eggs, how does it come out?)
Focus on love bombing and staying kind and smiley even when you feel the rage, our children are like mirrors, when we get cross they do too, but you can rise above it.

CaroBeaner Fri 22-Nov-13 10:22:00

"We tell her that HER BEHAVIOUR makes us feel sad which it is completely different and which teaches her to express how things makes us feel so she can do the same."

The point is that it is for you, as adults, to have responsibility for your feelings, not her as a 4 year old. As a 4 year old she is struggling, really struggling, to manage her feelings and behaviour. That is what life is like for 4 year olds - they feel things so strongly and have a very crude ability to control themselves. Whether it is her or her behaviour - it is too much responsibility for her to feel that her behaviour makes you feel sad or expect her to modify her behaviour on behalf of your feelings. This strategy is more suitable for a much older child, IMO.

You can indicate that her behaviour is wrong - she can see from that that you don't like that behaviour. But to tell her it makes you sad - well, that's your responsibility. And too much for her to take on.

dozeydoris Fri 22-Nov-13 10:16:30

How come DF on Skype could score points by telling her he would make star with her when you wouldn't - much better to not get involved when she is talking to him. Though I understand it was probably not under your control. Sounds to me as if she is trying to please/win over DF, does she speak to him every day?
It all sounds intense, my DCs total conversation with their DF in an evening would be something like, him -eat up your dinner and him - get ready for bed, and nothing much from them (unless something special had happened). One to one on Skype is a lot.

soupmaker Fri 22-Nov-13 10:12:18

Good advice from Steam. It sounds really exhausting for all of you. Having read more I think you are expecting too much of your DD and yourself. I think you need to cut everybody a bit of slack.

DownstairsMixUp Fri 22-Nov-13 10:07:45

Hi hereagain99 she sounds very similar to how my DS aged four to was not so long ago. I could never ever reason with him, he would shout, scream, show me up, just a general nightmare really. He still has the odd tantrum but he is a changed boy, do you mind me asking what kind of diet she has? When my DS was misbehaving and screaming non stop i wondered if it was something I was putting in him that was making him this way. I'd read bits about aspartame and artificial things so decided to radically change the diet. He used to drink robinsons squash in the day (packed with the stuff) and things like haribo as treats, i defintely think this was what was causing the bad behaviour and the attitude he had and the sulking/whining/never respecting us.

Anyway he still gets treats but treats are now things like homemade cakes, raisins, only plain chocolate or biscuits, no haribos or anything chewy like randoms. He never drinks squash, only the occasional ribena or rocks organic squash (both have no aspartame) water and milk. An ideal treat to him now is a slice of fruit loaf, a bit of cheese or ham and honestly, since I did this he is such a different boy. He isn't moody anymore, he says sorry when he has been naughty, he doesn't have the aggresive screaming at us when we tell him what to do.

Anyway i am waffling on but it might be worth a try (unless she already has cut these things then this was a waste!)

Good luck!

cory Fri 22-Nov-13 09:59:09

I wonder if you are possibly overthinking the tantrums in the sense of wanting quick fixes and wondering what you are doing wrong. A lot of the things you are doing sound perfectly sensible- but that doesn't mean they are going to work straightaway.

I would cut down on trying to convey your emotions at the moment, don't concentrate on teaching her that her behaviour is making you feel sad just at the moment, she will learn empathy in her own good time. Just show her that you can and will stop unacceptable behaviour, not because you feel a certain way but because this is your job.

And concentrate on controlling her behaviour, not expressing her emotions. Stop her from hitting, but don't set yourself the target of stopping her actual shouting just atm. Just show her that you will engage with her when she has calmed down. Look slightly bored.

And very much what Steam said: teach her to deal with emotions by showing it. If you get very upset and sad every time things don't go the way you want (e.g. re her behaviour), you aren't really teaching her to brush off disappointment.

Of course, sometimes we have to show dc that their behaviour hurts. But not too often imho. A certain teflon coating is invaluable in parenting.

hereagain99 Fri 22-Nov-13 09:28:51


The chicken and the star tantrums happened while she was with her dad on Skype. We are not in the same room than them while on Skype as it is their time and when DD comes to us to tell us something we listen and then tell her that dad is waiting for her on the computer.

However when a tantrum happens, he never participates on what is going on or reinforce that something isn't possible, he just ends the conversation on Skype which infuriates DD even more.

We will get rid of the smilie face as we agree that it isn't working.

We don't tell her that she makes us feel sad. We tell her that HER BEHAVIOUR makes us feel sad which it is completely different and which teaches her to express how things makes us feel so she can do the same.

Contact with DD cannot be rearrange unfortunately, although I think that at the moment is not working. I may try to propose to change Skype contact to the morning when DD is bright awake and she is not tired and see if it makes any difference.


SteamWisher Fri 22-Nov-13 08:33:48

I also agree with Caro about the contact with dad. Leave her to it, within earshot of course, make it a set time so it doesn't prolong.

SteamWisher Fri 22-Nov-13 08:31:54

The star thing and playmobil just sound like she was expressing her anger in a very "loud" way.
You don't necessarily have to stop her being angry - anger is a normal emotion - its how she does it. My ds is a very emotional child - I think he gets that from me as I do get stroppy (I try not to and am better). We (DH and I) tell him every time that's he's angry, and when he's angry, he should tell us and "use his words" <cringe>

With the star - you say we'll do it in the morning as opposed to not now (all she hears is no). The playmobil - you say, oh no it's stuck in a comedy voice. Your job is to teach her how to deal with things not always going her way - that sounds like the source of her tantrum in that case. She doesn't know how to handle disappointment.

CaroBeaner Fri 22-Nov-13 08:25:37

Sorry, I may be misunderstanding this, but is her bio dad on Skype or similar when all this goes on? The star and the chicken? In which case I think that is adding to her confusion as well as giving her an audience and a potential divide and rule option. If she spends time communicating with her bio dad just let her talk to him one to one, chatting about her day and showing things she has made or whatever. Trying to be interactive and having conversations about making a star between the 4 of you is problematic!

It is normal, you know, not horrible, for 4 year olds to tantrum.

MildDrPepperAddiction Fri 22-Nov-13 08:19:31

As previous posters have said, enough sleep, good diet and eating frequently ( and water) and naughty step or similar as consequence for actions. There is no point trying to reason with a 4 year old.

CaroBeaner Fri 22-Nov-13 08:16:12

X posted with clearsomespace.
I think clearsomespace offers excellent strategies.

CaroBeaner Fri 22-Nov-13 08:13:37

Honestly? I think your whole organised structured regime with it's rules and charts and day long structures is asking a lot of a 4 year old. A day is a huge long time for a very small child, and to have lost 3 smiley faces at the beginning of the day and then be able to do nothing about it, while facing the loss of close intimate bedtime reading may make her feel helpless, hopeless and abandoned. It is quite a cold, calculated regime, if you ask me.

Also, how can a 4 year old, who can barely take control of her own feelings (4 year olds have passion way beyond their ability for self control or cognitive understanding) be expected to take responsibility for the feelings of adults? "you make us feel sad' is guilt tripping an overwhelming.

Is she tantrumming out of frustration and confusion? 4 year olds DO kick off, you know! It is fairly normal.

I would drop the whole structured thing so that she doesn't feel so overwhelmed, pick your battles, work on empathy and closeness, praise her and thank her when she does even tiny things that are good, build her confidence and dissipate her frustration.

But that is how I would do it. I never had punishments or rewards, just working alongside my children, doing jobs through having fun, and a sharp word at the exact moment something that shouldn't have been done was done, and then move on.

A punishment at the end of a long day hangs over a 4 year old and gives them nowhere to go. A whole day ahead during which they must control themselves every minute is a tall order. No wonder she rebels.

IMO. Though I know other people parent very successfully with a completely different approach. I offer my way as a different perspective.

clearsommespace Fri 22-Nov-13 08:10:51

Well I think she had every right to feel angry and frustrated that there wasn't time to do the project that day and that the toy wouldn't do what she wanted it to do. DD would have been the same at 4 and she wasn't also having to cope with a distant Dad letting her down.
I think you need to focus on teaching her how to express her anger in a more civilised way and also when she her anger is justified, do you empathise with her.
With the Christmas star, "that's a brilliant idea, what a shame there isn't time to get started right away, what do we need to make a Christmas star? I know, I'll write the list while you put your pyjamas on then I'll have everything ready after school tomorrow" and if she still tantrums, be ready to make the list with her when she's calmed down.
DD is 8 now and still flies off the handle suddenly but she doesn't get out of control any more. Not using a screechy voice is still a work in progress!
BTW, I don't think the smiley chart sounds very UP. It sounds a bit like manipulating behaviour with praise.
Also she's four, if she doesn't want to do her chore, you could ask 'Why?' It might be that she wants to finish her picture first or that she's tired. In which case you can wait or do it for her. She'll learn by example that you help people when they are tired.

hereagain99 Fri 22-Nov-13 07:45:13

Thanks again for your replies.

We only have 6 rules but decided to make it in a nice poster with different stickers to engage DD on it and to be honest it worked as she was very happy telling which rules to put. We even had to stop her grin

Pansy2013: DD can communicate very well. However I think she may be finding difficult putting onto words her feelings when her dad lets her down. Which lately has been plenty of times.

What any of you would have done different in the examples we have been above? Would you have allowed to do the Christmas Star as to stop the tantrum? What would you have done with the playmobil?


dozeydoris Fri 22-Nov-13 07:22:29

4 is very little. If she is good at school then she def does know what is good and bad behavior. Maybe this is a reaction to the lack of boundaries from her DF and for a 4 year old must be confusing. She takes it out on you because where else can she safely let rip, and you will always love her.

hairymonkey Fri 22-Nov-13 06:58:25

Sorry for mistakes. I'm shagged, kids up at 5 for a week.

hairymonkey Fri 22-Nov-13 06:57:01

When they just start school it can be tough in them. The energy it must require for them to follow instructions all through the school day, while learning and making friends in a new environment can zap them.

I found that there were explosive tantrums and dodgy be behaviour most days in the first term and these decreased over the year. I saw it as a release after the constraints if school at such a young age.

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