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Jennifer, School Psychologist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 397
Experience:  Collaborative parent consultation on everything from modifying behavior to child development.
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My three almost four year old has been driving me up and down

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My three almost four year old has been driving me up and down the wall, potty training is none existent, she takes her diaper on and off herself, refuses to let me help her with anything and at times she is up and she is down. It’s driving me to the edge! I ask her to do something and her automatic answer is “no” “no, thank you.” “ I don’t want to.”
Time out happens often, but when she is confronted it’s to run off into a corner and pout, glare, point at us in a domineering manner, talk back and scream at an ungodly high pitch, and throw tantrums when forced to do something.

I have been married with a very supportive husband, we are not having anymore kids, she is our only one. I would expect this kind of behavior from a child with siblings. She is far from spoiled; she doesn’t get what she wants, and when she does it’s a rare occassion. She seemed to have formed no real attachment to anything, but some of her tv shows which she only gets to watch for a small amount of time, and even then when its over and the channel is onto something me or my spouse wants to watch, she’s nagging us. Stealing food from the pantry, trying to hide it, and lies often about going peepee in the big girl pants. She only goes poopoo in a diaper when she is down to bed at night.

I seriously cannot handle my daughter anymore, whenever we go out she is all about it, leaving some place, such as the park or roller skating rink even a friends house is a down right out and out fit, that I have carry her out of. I just don’t know what to do anymore. Bribery doesn’t work, time out doesn’t work, taking her toys away, keeping the tv off. Nothing works.

She communicates okay for an only child, but she just doesn’t want to do anything she’s told. I try not to micromanage her, but when she refuses to do something I am asking I am left with no choice in giving her the free will to do something as simple as putting her shoes on when we leave a place.

Help, please.
Hello and thanks for using!

I feel for you in this situation... Not only because I'm keenly aware of the developmental tasks at this age, but because I have a toddler myself!

Your toddler is trying desperately to establish herself as an independent being. It's VERY common for parents of toddlers to hear, "No!" more than any other word as their little ones try to make it well known that they are making decisions for themselves. This doesn't, of course, mean they're ready to make all of their own choices.

It sounds like you're getting sucked into repeated power struggles. Instead of asking her to do something such as put on her shoes (a question with a yes / no answer), stick with questions that require her to make a choice between two acceptable outcomes. For example, "Do you want to put your shoes on or do want my help putting them?" or "Do you want to put on the red shoes or the white shoes?" If she refuses to put them on, that's not your problem -- It's hers. There's a natural consequence for not wearing shoes when we go outside -- Our feet get cold! It would be worth taking her out without shoes & socks and planting the notion in her head... You could say, "I sure hope your feet don't get cold. Here are your shoes if you decide you want to wear them." All of this allows her to feel some level of control and allows her to learn there are natural consequences to her behavior.

A great resource I recommend to parents of young children (and use myself) is "Love and Logic: The Early Years." L&L is a parenting / teaching philosophy that relies heavily on logical consequences. They emphasize the need for consistency, frequent positive reinforcement, handing over the problems to eliminate stress, and steering clear from long-winded explanations for why something is not o.k. Toddlers aren't quite old enough for logic and our actions speak much louder.

I'm glad to hear you're already familiar with tools such as time-outs and removing privileges. Perhaps they just need some fine tuning in order to be more effective. Time-outs should be short -- a general rule of thumb is one minute per year of age. Remove her from the situation without anything more than a key phrase such as, "Uh-oh" or "Oh, how sad..." Take her to the time-out space (preferably someplace away from attention and entertainment). The same rule applies to taking away privileges -- Make sure it's a logical consequence and immediately follows the misbehavior. For example, if she were to play with a toy inappropriately, you'd say, "Uh-oh," take the toy away without explanation, continue on with what you were doing and ignore any tantrum that follows. She'll quickly learn that your key phrase is an indication that she's done something wrong.

As for the positive reinforcement, I often tell parents and teachers to do a period of 5:1 ratio. This means for every 1 thing they are redirected for, try to catch them being good 5 times. Pour on the praise, hugs, encouragement, and high fives for any positive behavior you see. If attention is motivating her misbehavior, this may significantly reduce the problem.

That brings me to your assignment. Identify 1-2 specific problem behaviors you'd like to work on. People (even kids) only do behaviors that work for us because we get something out of it in some way. Common motives include attention seeking (e.g., screaming b/c it makes people stop what they're doing to look at you), a need for control (e.g., arguing and back talk), and sensory stimulation (e.g. pounding a toy to the ground b/c they like the sound / vibration it makes) among many others. Analyze what is happening immediately before and immediately after the behaviors. What could she be getting out of it? What other ways could those needs be met? Look at how you can change what is happening right before / after the behavior to change the outcome (those are the things you're in control of). Hopefully she'll find acceptable replacement behaviors that will meet her needs. Bear in mind that some teaching may be needed here. For example, she's not old enough to know how to handle frustration on her own. Model it for her by demonstrating how to take deep breaths, count to 10 slowly, and "take a break." Ask her to practice (pretend) those techniques when she's not angry. The next time she's mad she'll have more in her toolbox than pointing at you and screaming.

This is a lot. I hope I haven't put you into information overload! I wish you the best of luck! Hang in there! It will get better.
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