Rebel Angel

December 23, 2008

We have a discipline problem in our house, by which I mean to say: discipline, we have none.

We try, we really do. We bargain, we barter, we cajole, we threaten. We will bake cookies, Emilia, if you will just please listen to Mommy! We will bake cookies and have hot chocolate with marshmallows if you will please, please listen to Mommy! Mommy will take cookies away if you do not listen to Mommy! There will be no more cookies, ever, in this house, if you do not this instant start listening to Mommy! Mommy will destroy all the cookies in the world and angels will cry if you DO. NOT. LISTEN. TO. MOMMY. NOW!

But we never prevail. She is stronger than are we, and she knows it. She is patient: she knows that even if she does not get cookies today, there is always tomorrow. And she knows that if she does not get cookies tomorrow, there will be cookies some other day. And she knows that even if Mommy did try to destroy all the cookies and candy and treats in the world – which Mommy would not, because Mommy loves these things too, and she knows it – she would still have a stash, somewhere, to tide her over until the next solicitous neighbor or little old lady or shopping mall Santa slips her a gingerbread man or a candy cane or some other non-holiday-specific confection. Or she will just get the cookies herself, when we’re not looking. She knows how the world works. And she knows that it works in her favor.

She is only just – just – three years old.

She is three years old, and a near-perfect angel when in the care of other authority figures (with the notable exception of my mother, whom she identified early on as possessing a spirit akin to her own and therefore as a potentially dangerous antagonist. Their relationship is loving, but fiery) and, for the most part, when in public. We spent three days at Disney World and Sea World and I – alone in charge of the girl and the infant boy – had very little trouble keeping care: he remained strapped to my chest, and she dutifully (if boisterously) remained within a shout’s reach. But at home, when the only authority is my own and that of her father, and no witnesses are present, all hell regularly breaks loose, and we are helpless to stop it.

Every evening is the same: a battle over the when, where, how and why of dinner, and over the why, how, where and when of bedtime. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say that she uses her wits, her charm, sheer force of will and, sometimes, fists, to forestall sitting still, consuming food, bathing, changing for bed, and getting into and staying in bed. The morning is a variation of this struggle (reverse the order of obstacles), and afternoons, after preschool, are another. The weekends sometime erupt into epic battles, wherein she charges, naked, from room to room, cackling madly, slamming doors and diving under tables, evading our reach and our calls and our pleas for compliance. Please, sweetie, we must get dressed! We must eat lunch! We cannot see Santa/build a snowman/bake cookies unless we are dressed/have had lunch/have stopped pummeling our mother. Sometimes, it is not her physical will that she imposes upon us, it is her will-to-independence, her psychic will-to-power – her willingness to simply ignore whatever it is that we’re saying and go, find a piece of furniture, push it into the kitchen and up next to the cupboards and go in search of cookies on her own, ignoring us as we stand, hands on hips, voices straining, hissing no, Emilia, we said NO. NO. Did you hear me? NO! Emilia, if you DO NOT CLIMB DOWN from that stool THIS INSTANT you are going into your buckle chair (the Stokke knock-off that functions as a naughty seat – which, yes, we strap her into because not even a team of SuperNannies could keep her in there with just a glare) and you will not have ANY cookies today, none at all, and WHERE ON EARTH ARE YOU GOING YOUNG LADY? and in the time that it takes to ask her to get down she’s snatched her contraband and has done a base-slide under the dining room table to make fast work of it.

And we are left, scrambling, pursuing her into corners, sweating and shouting and stumbling gracelessly, two Yosemite Sams to her Bugs Bunny, helpless and ridiculous.

Children, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, are tyrants from the first. Struggling against their natural helplessness, their natural, almost slavish, dependence upon us, they strain to exert their will. Thrust into our world, entirely dependent upon us, they must either dominate us or serve us; according to Rousseau, they invariably – they naturally – choose to dominate. Their every impulse, from their very first wail, is to dominate, and by dominating, compel us to become their servants in turn. Which in so many respects we do. This is why, for Rousseau, mothers are always and necessarily imperfect authoritarians – that is, at least, if they are what he understood to be good mothers, which is to say, unconditionally loving mothers – because they are always, in some important way, subservient to their love for their children, and so less capable of imposing the harshest boundaries and teaching the most difficult lessons.

I love Emilia’s domineering spirit; I truly do. But it frightens and intimidates me and – in some strange, confusing respect – shames me. She is powerful. She is fearless. She looks at the world around her and, for the most part, sees a world that can and should and will be conquered. That is a wonderful and terrible thing. It is wonderful (and this is the part that shames me) because it it is a remarkable, empowering thing, to regard the world as conquerable. It is something that I struggle to recognize for myself – that most of the obstacles that I see, or imagine I see, before me are conquerable. How extraordinary, to view the world through a lens that remains very nearly entirely unfogged by fear! But it is terrible, because – as Rousseau well knew, as we all well know – our children cannot advance into the world in that way, convinced of their utter entitlement to whatever it is that they desire, convinced of their ability to obtain it for themselves, convinced of their invincibility. They need to understand limits, boundaries. They need to understand that they must bend, give way, let go, listen, obey.

Emilia knows these things, at least as they pertain to the public spaces of her world – the spaces of school and neighborhood and friends and family. She is a remarkably polite and courteous and considerate little girl in spaces where authority emanates from some broader sphere or principle or institution, where everybody is expected to bend and give way equally, where everybody gets cookies if they say please (such are the cafes in our town, full of cookies for small children) and where everybody must wait their turn and where everybody must obey the traffic lights regardless of whether they are three feet tall or six. But in the private space of her home, where her parents loom over her like dictators – loving dictators, but still – where rules are issued that it seems only she must follow (no candy before bedtime no cookies before bedtime no playing after bedtime bedtime bedtime bedtime turn out the light put down your toys time for bed time for school time for dinner are you listening?) (she does not see that we deny ourselves – usually – cookies at bedtime. She sees only that we stay up later, and can and do reach the forbidden cupboards whenever we please) she resists. She resists, like (sometimes literally) a tiny little sans-culottes, or a tiny little Robespierre, or some explosive revolutionary hybrid of the two. She resists, and we cave to her resistance, and like France of the late 18C, we go down in flames.

It is, I don’t have to tell you, exhausting. I have, in recent weeks, invoked the coal-delivering incarnation of Santa too many times (a topic for another post, another time: Santa here replaces God, watching us all to see if we are bad or good so be good for goodness sakes) and in so doing broke one of my writ-pre-parenthood Rules Of Parenting (thou shalt not threaten thy children with retribution from Higher Powers, seasonal or otherwise); I also, just yesterday evening – OH THE SHAME – slapped her tiny hand – I did, I did – not at all hard, but still – after taking one too many punches from her wee flying fists (thereby breaking my hardest and fastest rules: thou shalt always endeavor to not react in anger, and thou shalt not ever, EVER hit thine children.)

I feel like the worst shit. But I also feel like a helpless shit, one who is fighting a losing battle.

What do I do? What do you do?

For what it’s worth, and because some of you have asked – we do enforce our threats. Time-out in her buckle chair is time-out in her buckle-chair – no negotiations. But she almost invariably, after time-out is over, bounds out of the chair and back into whatever she was doing that warranted the buckle-chair in the first place. We do physically stop her when, for example, she is stealing cookies (after giving her the opportunity to cease theft on her own), and our bargaining efforts escalate because she always raises the stakes – no cookies? She doesn’t care. No cookies tomorrow? Doesn’t care. NO COOKIES EVER? Whatever. She knows that there’s no such thing as a world devoid of cookies.


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    derfina December 23, 2008 at 1:08 am


    ScientistMother December 23, 2008 at 1:10 am

    As one who does not necessarily prescribe to the never spank child, I say don’t feel bad. Hit hurts when she smacks you. She needs to understand it hurts. I was spanked as child. Not much and I am not suffering. My parents love me. I know that with all my heart. Emilia knows you love her. Its that knowledge that gives her the courage to push the boundaries

    ScientistMother December 23, 2008 at 1:11 am

    Oh and SLEEP woman! If the boy is sleeping, SLEEP.

    Petunia Face December 23, 2008 at 1:11 am

    I hesitated to comment because I’m so very afraid of jinxing myself… but my 2.5 year old responds well to the threat of the time out. I have only had to actually invoke a time out 2 or 3 times, and I admit I didn’t really know what to do. I put her in her room for 5 minutes while she writhed on the floor like the demon seed gasping for breath. Then I went back in and she was more than ready to calm down. So that–just the threat of the time out is enough. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, I’m just crossing my fingers she never figures out that being left alone in your room for 5 minutes is hardly a punishment (and to me, is a treat).

    If this comment does jinx it? I will have only you to blame and will bring my writhing demon toddler to your doorstep. ;)

    just beth December 23, 2008 at 1:19 am

    I just have to tell you that this was a wonderfully written post.

    I think you might want to slow down a little. I have a tyrant myself, and most things are a battle. My husband almost never battles because his first instinct is to say ‘why not’ when mine is to say ‘hell no’.

    Sometimes, if I can just say to myself, ‘ok, why not have naked time. the (insert not crucial appointment/lunch/activity here) isn’t THAT important.

    My Sally is two and a half, and I have found that if I just sit still and let her run around and throw her fit, she will eventually come back to me. Our biggest struggle is diaper changing. Has been since she was born, honest to god. I’m getting better at not fighting her, and not even moving from my spot. She wants a cookie? OK, have a cookie, it won’t kill her. If it stops being a victorious thing with your Emilia, maybe she won’t have the need to fight for it. For my Sally, it’s ‘no, Momma is not getting up to get you anything or play or whatever until you come here and get your diaper changed’.

    I’m late a lot. But my stress level is down, so I count it in the positive.

    Good luck!



    P.S., And/Or Drink. ;-)

    Bianka December 23, 2008 at 1:42 am

    Mine has only just turned one year old, but I can already see in her the stubborn personality and independence that my parents told me I drove them nuts with when I was a toddler. I guess it’s pay back time for me. :)

    Check on me in a year or two and let me know what you’ve learned from your experience. One of my hard and fast rules is also to never ever hit my child(ren). I pray that I can stick by that. I don’t want to hit out of anger like my folks did.

    Ernesta December 23, 2008 at 1:54 am

    I hold my breath and tighten my fist and then explain calmly that it’s not all about me, me, me (her, her, her) and that there are other people in the family that we need to be consdierate of. Sometimes it works!

    Hall December 23, 2008 at 2:49 am

    Three is the hardest. Our strong willed daughter became more reasonable at about 3 1/2. She’s still strong willed at nearly 11, but it gets easier and easier. Just do the obvious, like don’t give in when you make an ultimatum. And wait. It will get easier.

    Fear and Parenting in Las Vegas December 23, 2008 at 2:55 am

    I feel you and wish I was there to give you a hug. I went through the same thing with my now five-year old daughter Boo, and my 18-month old boy (Doodle) is just getting into this.

    It's tough on kids at this age. We're sending them a lot of mixed messages. We're teaching them to be more self-sufficient (e.g., self-feeding, potty training, etc.), but we want them to perform these feats in our time frames and at our pace. They get frustrated because a) they can't express their feelings in a coherent or constructive way and if they can b) they're realizing that merely expressing their desires does not guarantee that they'll get what they want.

    Boo and I get into these battles all the time. When I step back, I often realize her rebellion is because her pre-k and home life are overstructured and overfull. I have to force myself to let go of the crap that I won't remember next week (e.g. did she just cheat at candyland?) and focus on making sure she's safe and healthy (e.g., no, you can't dive bomb the cat by jumping off the couch).

    We even have a "No No" day every once in awhile, where she gets to call the shots (within reason). PB&J for breakfast? Sure. Cereal for Dinner? No problem! You want to ride your bike to grandma's? Great! And if you see that band of gypsies on the way, be sure to stop and say "hi!"

    Good luck.I'd love to tell you it gets easier. It just gets different.


    Mommy Melee December 23, 2008 at 2:56 am

    I wish I knew. My son is two and a half, has the vocabulary of a four-year-old, and is REALLY SUPER INTO pushing boundaries and being a stubborn pain in the ass. Especially since baby brother came. I find myself yelling at him a lot and it makes me crazy because I don’t want to be that yelling mom. A lot of bribery goes on over here as well.

    MemeGRL December 23, 2008 at 3:19 am

    Oh, I wish I had something useful to say except that three sucks. Two needs a better PR agent because we found three to be the real problem age for our first and now, alas, for our formerly sweet-as-sugar second.
    Here’s the other thing, though; in an amazing lecture by a legendary professor who teaches a course called Managing People, I remember hearing that humans are at the peak of their manipulative powers at ages 3-4. At that point, they know enough of the social rules to know how to game them, but haven’t internalized them enough yet to be truly impacted by them (which is why a 3 year old is more likely to be mouthy/have a tantrum than say, a five year old is. The five or six year old is starting to realize that some of his/her friends might be there and might not be impressed by his fit-throwing abilities.
    Which is all to say this too shall pass.
    And many of us resort to the swats, even those of us who never had them happen to us and swore them off completely pre-parenting. I’m not proud either and I don’t condone it, but I will say that it happens and by resolving to try harder not to next time, and being public about it with your child, there is at least a silver lining to that.
    End of screed. Thank you for sharing your family and your life with us in this way. I have enjoyed your writing since I found you this year! Happy holidays, and may Santa bring toys after all.

    Elizabeth December 23, 2008 at 3:57 am

    That age, that age. I have a friend who calls it the “fucking threes.” I remember sitting my raging, defiant son on my lap and weeping and rocking with him, crying, “Work with me. Work with me, honey. Please.”

    It’ll pass. Eventually.

    Backpacking Dad December 23, 2008 at 4:48 am

    How am I supposed to write a blog post about discipline and boundaries and tyrants and dead philosophers when you’ve already done it?? And when you’ve done it in a tone and with a pace that read like it was coming straight out of my head?

    I think I quit blogging. Sans-culottes. Fucking hell.

    We got a call from Erin’s daycare teacher on a Sunday night to talk about the very serious problem of her chemistry with a little girl who I dub Victim, because Jesus, my daughter runs straight for the edges and if no one tells her they are there she runs right them. Every eyeball is hers; every hat is hers; every neck is perfect for throttling, precious, and all done without emotion, to provoke emotion.

    Well, you’ve saved me a post. Now I can just read your comments.

    Veronica December 23, 2008 at 5:30 am

    She reminds me of my daughter, who is TWO and oh so very TWO and she just doesn’t stop and people don’t GET that she just doesn’t stop, or listen or STOP moving ever.

    And I love her independence and her TWO and her spirit, but she still doesn’t sleep through the night and she is more stubborn than I am and she watches and waits to see if I am paying attention before doing whatever I said not to and some days? I’m just worn thin and wondering if anyone else’s kids actually are like this. Amy is also incredibly good (if boisterous and energetic is considered good) out in public and with other people, but with me and her father? Not so much.

    We have a baby gate on her bedroom rather than a door and when her behaviour gets too bad there are time outs. Also, our house is incredibly small so I can generally grab an arm or a leg as she races past me, even if I am 9mths pregnant.

    Aside from that, I don’t think there is much I can do. She is independent and stubborn and a force all of her own. I try and involve her as much as possible in whatever I am doing so she is ‘helping’ and I try not to sweat the little stuff. She doesn’t want clothes? Fine. She doesn’t want to eat? Fine, but when she says she is hungry later I offer the same sandwich/snack that I offered the first time. I let her make choices that don’t matter (noodles or sandwiches for lunch?). My big thing though, is trying to limit her sugar intake as much as possible because otherwise everything revolves around chocolate/cookies/sweets and it’s a struggle to get her to do anything without them.

    (Heh and apparently her TWOness causes me to write in run on sentences. Sorry)

    Beck December 23, 2008 at 7:33 am

    I’ve got a passionate fireball of a three year old, too – and one thing I’ve figured out is when her trouble spots are during the day (while her brother and sister are getting ready for school and while I’m getting supper ready). Knowing that those are grouchy times for her helps in advance – I can adjust my expectations accordingly. I’ve done the toddler and new baby combo twice now, and yeah, it’s not easy, but responding consistently pays off in a surprisingly short while.

    I don’t repeat myself with my kids. Ever. She doesn’t listen to mommy the first time? She doesn’t get to bake cookies. Miss a pleasant experience often enough and it’s funny how quickly they’ll start to listen. As for her climbing into the cupboards: get some cupboard locks. Use ‘em.

    The fact that she hits you guys has to be nipped in the bud right now – hitting parents is taboo for a reason. And you don’t want to send her out into the world thinking that it’s all right to hit people that she’s intimate with, either – and horribly enough, one of life’s hard lessons is that IF YOU HIT SOMEONE THEY WILL LIKELY HIT YOU BACK, and it’s probably better to learn this now from a light slap on the butt from mom, who loves you, then from someone who will punch you in the face at 10.

    Rayne of Terror December 23, 2008 at 7:59 am

    1) You don’t want a totally compliant child because you don’t want to raise a totally compliant adult. I’m not perfect, my kid is not perfect, but I do a good job at discipline without hitting.

    2) That said, assert your authority. If she’s climbing a chair to get to the cupboards and you want her to stop, don’t stand there with your hands on your hips begging her. Physically remove her. She’s only 30 lbs, right? My 3 year old is 43 pounds and almost 4 feet tall and I still restrain, remove, and physically redirect.

    3) Does she get enough gross motor activity? Instead of taking her to a cafe where she has to be relatively still and gets sugar, take her to McDonald’s playplace (or the like). You must have indoor playgrounds in Canada. I find my son is a much more willing participant in errands and and bedtime and sitting at the dinner table on days he’s had lots of movement.

    4) Does she eat much protein? One of my best parenting tricks is the scrambled egg. A scrambled egg (or three!) is like a switch for my son. He can be a wild child, eats a scrambled egg, then 2 minutes later is playing trucks nicely on the floor chatting away.

    For example, this weekend my son was behaving in a very bratty wild manner. He woke up that way. Hitting with lightsabers, terrorizing the cats, hanging up the phone while his daddy was talking to his nona, etc. So I cleared out everything fun from his room. No toys, no books, no pillows or blankets. Then he was jumping on his bed, so I removed his mattress too. I made him stay in his bare room for awhile, until my husband hollered up that he’d made eggs. I told Henry he may go down for breakfast but if he didn’t straighten up he would be coming straight back to his room until his attitude improved. Well he ate his eggs up and behaved much more calmly. Over the lunch hour we went to the indoor playground where he climbed and slid and made moster faces for 90 minutes. The rest of the day he was quite well behaved.

    For me it boils down to authority, following through on real punishment, exercise and diet.

    Fairly Odd Mother December 23, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Well. . .I thought living through my daughter’s 3-5 year span would prepare me for anything. . .and then my son hit the age of 4. Holy moly, he can be tough.

    I was of the “time outs are bad” camp, believing that punishment is not teaching the kids how to behave but to be mad at the punisher. But here’s the thing: I need them to take a time out. Because, if I don’t, my blood pressure rises, I get angrier, and then I blow up. When I try to put myself in time out, they fling themselves at the door of the bath/bedroom kicking and hitting and screaming, and this does not mellow me. A few minutes of them sitting on a chair in the hallway, screaming and yelling before quieting a bit, usually gets us in a better place.

    And, one other thing I’ve learned is ‘don’t chase’. Turn and walk the other way. Ignore them even if you are freaking out. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees and being naked in the house may not be so exciting, especially without the chase. (chase her for fun when you think she needs to work off extra energy; make sure you have a little trampoline toy, bring a ride-on toy onto the 1st floor, etc—they need to get that energy out of themselves in some way).

    Mealtime which used to be lovely, was turning awful with my ‘never eat anything’ son, so he is allowed to excuse himself when he is ‘done’, even if he eats nothing. He goes to bed hungry and wakes up to eat 3 breakfasts. He doesn’t seem any worse for wear and I have learned to let it go. He’ll eat if he’s hungry enough.

    And, hang in there—my two girls (lovely, wonderful girls) could be absolute monsters at 3-4, and possibly 5. I remember reading books about “explosive children” for my oldest, which seems laughable now.

    And, you can do it. Believe that.

    Vic December 23, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Here I was, thinking I was the only one dealing with a kid like this. May have to try the eggs trick.

    Syko December 23, 2008 at 8:27 am

    You have to follow through. Cajoling, threatening and begging don’t work.

    I feel fortunate to have had my kids in an era when spanking was okay. I think a lot of what’s wrong with the world today is that we don’t spank. As you say, threats of no cookies don’t work because they know there’s going to be another day when cookies will exist. But a threat of three or four smacks on a padded backside works.

    You don’t have to be abusive. It’s possible to spank kids without abusing them.

    daysgoby December 23, 2008 at 9:00 am

    We thought we were getting off so easy because the so called terrible two’s never really *scarred* us in the bloody way we were expecting. We relaxed and laughed a bit scornfully….and then THREE arrived, haughty, impetuous, willfully deaf THREE, and life was never the same.

    She’s four now. I like her a lot better now.

    Maria December 23, 2008 at 9:06 am

    We are on #2 out of 4(HITTING THE TERRIBLE AGE OF 3)and I swear #2 is trying to kill me. But my husband reminds me (frequently) that #1 was exactly like this and 3 and 4 will soon follow. (My children are all less than 18 month apart and yet as each one passes out of a stage I forget that the next one will instantly go through this same thing)

    I have no advice, everything I do fails. They can run circles around me and the 3 year old is smarter than me (and SO sneaky).

    For now I will keep cleaning up the messes and putting my hand in poop as the 3 year old thrashes about the floor during a diaper change. And I will fall into bed with the knowledge that this can not last forever!

    Her Bad Mother December 23, 2008 at 9:10 am

    BP Dad – she is named after Rousseau’s Emile. That is either perfectly ironic or perfect poetic justice. Or both.

    Her Bad Mother December 23, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Okay, so I have 1) drinking, and 2) eggs. Anything else?

    (We do follow through on our threats. They just don’t seem to phase her.)

    Mamalooper December 23, 2008 at 9:13 am

    First of all, my condolences – this is HARD, this parenting gig. And second, kudos to the sans culottes reference! Although Emilia might have more in common with la petrolouse instead….

    Now for the assvice. The fact that she is an angel in other situations is a good thing – that means that she CAN do it. That she knows full well “how to be”. I’d be worried if she was all Tasmanian Devil in every situtation. This is good. Hang on to that “phew” feeling.

    It also is “good” in that she is secure enough in your love to know that she can be a complete monkey with you.

    I’d take it one step at a time. You can’t change it all at once – it’ll be too confusing for her and you and the man will never be able to be consistent with a zillion changes at once. Then it won’t work for sure.

    Pick the first thing that is driving you crazy the most. And chip away at changing that.

    Now her motivation. What’s her currency? Is it a fave show? Is it a fave toy? Is it being with you? That’ll be key to motivating her to change. That and consequences – i.e. if she isn’t dressed in time, then she doesn’t go to the playdate/out in the snow/museum/whatever. If she doesn’t put on her jacket, then she will get cold outside.

    I second and third those who said above about the diet – not so much that the sugar makes them CrAzY necessarily but that the arguments/stalemates over it are so tiring. I know it’s hard this time of year but I’d reduce the amount of treats so that they are a real treat (i.e. more rare than common).

    I find too that distracting through humour helps avoid a huge confrontation. I can’t force the girl to get dressed fast but I can give her choices of what to wear and ask her to decide what I should wear. It’s all a distraction and then she is dressed without realising it. How fast can she put on a shirt? You get the idea.

    Hang in there. It’ll get better.

    mek December 23, 2008 at 9:20 am

    My own 2.5 year old daughter frequently explains to me that she *wants* to listen. Making it even harder to understand why she doesn’t. We have some similar issues, and it seems like the same thing will rarely work twice in a row. My girl has also somehow learned my youngest brother’s trick of embracing the punishment. “Do you want a time out?” I warn. “Yes!” she answers with delight. Even if the time out is sitting in her little chair facing a blank wall she will often run to it. But then, time out becomes a breathing space for me, a bizarre treat for her, and it isn’t a punishment, but it does seem to change the atmosphere. And sometimes that is enough.

    Badness Jones December 23, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Oh honey – it sounds like Emilia could have been separated at birth from my 2-year old Sam. They must never, EVER meet, or the world as we know it will be over. Hugs!

    (And I don’t know if it helps, but my daughter didn’t have terrible twos, but the threes were a NIGHTMARE. She turned a corner at four though, and is now a perfectly charming five – except when she is possessed by the devil, of course.)

    April December 23, 2008 at 9:32 am

    wish i could help. mine is headed on the same path :-/

    Ms. Moon December 23, 2008 at 9:38 am

    One of my four children was a tyrant. From the moment of conception and I am not kidding you.
    My advice- hang on and love her, love her, love her. Discipline as best you can as required, moment by moment. She is not going to be an easy teenager, either.
    BUT, if your daughter turns out like mine, when she is about twenty she will turn into the sweetest, most hard-working, focused and loving individual you will ever know.
    That has been my experience. Never easy, but now so sweet.

    Kelly December 23, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Don’t feel too bad about the slap. I am filled with an unseemly rage when my daughter accidentally hurts me (real PAIN) and have been known to grab the offending limb a little too hard. I apologize. We kiss each others boo-boos and move on.

    Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 9:51 am

    First off I have to tell you my son watched the Sunday Morning Music Show and is convinced that Emilia is his sister. They do look a bit alike, blonde blue eyed and fair. But he is quite taken with her.

    He will be three in January and reading your post, you could be talking about my son. Let see, here’s a typical night at our house. Get home from work, “eat your dinner please” NO NO NO NO”

    Mommy tries some sweet talking, which then turns into begging. We don’t give him any sugar in the evening, regardless he sometimes still runs through the house screaming as if he were being chased by an axe murderer.

    Then there is the fight for the bath, the crying the screaming never seems to end and then he does not want to get out of the bath because he’s having such a good time.

    Then there’s the naked 100m dash between his bedroom our bedroom and needless to say I always come in second. We fight about p.j.’s I even bought p.j.’swith robots on them thinking this would bribe him into putting them on. Nope.

    And brushing teeth I have to hold him down and tickle him under the arms, to get him to open his mouth at all. I can only imagine what my MIL will say this Christmas.

    I feel for you Catherine I REALLY do, I just keep telling myself four has to be better than this.

    tara December 23, 2008 at 10:05 am

    I have no children and probably no business butting in, but a friend of mine had such a hard time with her children that she finally went to a counselor. The counselor told her to explain three rules to her children.

    1. We use kind words.
    2. We use kind hands.
    3. We do as Mommy and Daddy tell us to do.

    Any violation of those rules results in a time out. No exceptions.

    My friend found that those three rules encompassed everything and gave her the power to begin to control her household again. She also implemented a sticker chart as a reward system. Her children are now better behaved than ever. And they did start this system when one of the kids was three.

    Good luck to you. I will go back to lurking now!

    Jezer December 23, 2008 at 10:18 am

    What do I do? We do not spank. But I do take advantage of the fact that I’m still bigger and–yes–stronger. Gentle advantage, that is. Granted, I have 15 years of experience of coercing little children to behave, and those 15 years have taught me one thing–discipline is nothing without consistency.

    Which means that yes, when Alex was put in time out and refused to stay in the spot, I picked him up–crying, screaming, spraying snot and saliva everywhere–and placed him back on the spot. No less than 73 times in 2 minutes. When he does not want to take a bath, I ask “Do you want to get in the bath yourself like a big boy, or would you like for Mommy to put you in?” We have had a few nights when I had to put him in and then bathe a wriggling, screaming, thrashing boy. But he got bathed. And he understood that I meant it.

    My MO has become one of choices. Both choices lead to the same outcome–”you pick a shirt, or I’ll pick a shirt,” “walk like a big boy, or I’ll carry you,” “help me clean up your toys, or there will be no television,” “eat or don’t eat (I honestly don’t care about this one).” The key is to make sure both alternatives are something that YOU are willing to accept. Also, if Alex cries, he cries. Being unhappy is the consequence for not cooperating.

    Sorry this was so long. Al is stubborn, moody, and would love to be in control–just like his mama. Good luck, my friend. And know you’re not alone.

    Jezer December 23, 2008 at 10:21 am

    I just reread. “Walk like a big boy or I’ll carry you,” is for when we’re going somewhere he doesn’t want to go–like AWAY from preschool. In that situation, he does NOT want to be carried. Hope that makes sense.

    Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 10:26 am

    my youngest boy was the same. i’d tell him if you do this i’ll give you candy. the little rat would just reply with, i don’t want candy anyway. he could make me cry he’d misbehave so bad. i swore with a vengeance i would never spank. that kid broke me and i spanked him on the bottom one day. it wasn’t hard by any means, but it caught his attention. watching my two children i have learned some kids need to be spanked. my oldest one, i can snap my fingers and point at him at what ever behavior it is is stopped. the spankings have not ruined my youngest spirit or made him mean. he’s still my more loving kid and full of spunk. a firm i will spank you, i don’t want to and it will break my heart, but i will spank you.
    no i don’t beat him, i remind him after he’s sat for a few minutes to think about what he did wrong and that no matter what i love him and he’s an awesome kid that is capable of so much more than the bad choices he’s making.
    i’m sure i will get hate comments, but my son has been much happier since i’ve been able to give him boundaries by spanking him.

    Mandy December 23, 2008 at 11:16 am

    You’ve got tons of advice above me. I’ll just say that I noticed that Nate’s behaviour gets worse the more tired we are (kids sense weakness) and on the days where he does not get some full time, one on one attention from us.

    Good luck with the battle. :)

    Joy December 23, 2008 at 11:31 am

    OH! I do love your writing!

    I hear your pain, and sheer frustration. I used to joke/cry that I was being held hostage by a three year old all day.

    A friend’s friend had these words to say about the ages of children: terrible twos, trying threes, fucking fours, fabulous fives… Mine entered these stages about six months ahead of time.

    The other posts on giving choices (both lead to the desired outcome), diet, not chasing (waiting while appearing bored with it all), the three rules, and easing up on some things (naked lunches are just fine, as is any food they want for breakfast, as long as it’s not candy), are all fabulous tools that we implemented in some version or another. In fact, not sweating the small stuff (and oh, I despise that cliche) is a saving grace of parenting intense and ferociously intelligent children.

    Another thing that worked for my intense, hated to transition son, was to (a la Dora the Explorer) go through our day in stages for a while. First we do this, then that, then the other. Once they were achieved, onto the next trio of steps. Annoying for us, yes, but a lifesaver, too.

    And what helped ME to calm down, was to snuggle with my little guy at the end of the day (being careful to not miss his 7 minute window for going to bed well, and even then it took 180 minutes until he was 4 1/2), and go through the things he did that day that I appreciated. (Mommy really appreciated it when you listened and helped pick up toys! It was soooo helpful, and you were such a good big boy…) And I didn’t mention the negative. He went to bed hearing positive reinforcement of his actions. And I remembered that he WASN’T a complete shit all day long. So, I was able to be a bit more positive in my actions with him each subsequent day.

    I hope that you can find some inspiration from all these posts that you can tweak to your family’s benefit!!

    Trillian December 23, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Ok, so here’s my assvice and it agrees with Mamalooper. Give her choices on everything you can. Does she want to wear the pink shirt or the blue shirt? Does she want a bath tonight or not (kids don’t need one every night, so let her choose)? Does she want the footy PJs or the striped ones? If you allow her to control certain aspects of her environment, the rest will go easier. It worked for Scooter but he had significant communication issues, so his frustrations occurred over every little thing imaginable. If she doesn’t want to wear her coat, take it with you and let her “enjoy” the lovely Canadian winter air for a bit. As for cookies, have few to none in the house. If she refuses dinner, let her go without. She won’t starve.
    I think if you give her some choices about the truly irrelevant things like what she wears, you’ll find her more interested in compliance on other things. We learned with Scooter that we just had to let go of rigidity about certain things. That way when we truly needed him to listen (do not run into the parking lot!), he was more likely to do so.

    Mac and Cheese December 23, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Three is kicking my ass too. I’ve been trying to implement the teachings from the book, 1-2-3 Magic, and it kind of works. I actually believe that it would work better if I followed through every time, but alas, I am a slacker. I do recommend that you read it just in case.

    twelvekindsofcrazy December 23, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    I love your honesty.

    I honestly have no good advice for you. Derfina said “drink.”
    I second that.

    Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    If it’s still bad in a couple years, you might try a therapy called PCIT. It works wonders. Most kids grow out of this stuff and don’t become motorcycle hooligans, but PCIT may save your sanity in the mean time.

    Amy December 23, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    My dear sweet daughter is the same. We have survived to 11 but honestly it has been a long road. It is just her. Thank God for organized sports. It has kicked her butt physically, wore her out and made it easier to attempt to bend her will my way. But the fight is always there. They can’t help it, it is who they are. And honestly when I see the other little prissy girls I am so thankful she is the strong personality she is. And she finally started wearing her shirts around the house about age 8. Good luck.

    kittenpie December 23, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I felt like a bad mom for much of the age of three – it’s a tough year, with constant testing of limits. I raised my voice more often than I would have liked and yes, once hit back before I realized what I was doing, out of sheer reflex. If there was one thing I would say you need to nip in the bud, it would be the hitting – they need to respect you at least enough not to hit you, and you as a person SHOULD feel justifiably angry and outraged at being struck. But yeah, three is HARD. Know that it will get better eventually if you stand your ground – that helps. that, and three was also the year I started shrugging off the little things to save energy for the big ones!

    Cat December 23, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Oh dear lord, I have no idea what to tell you. I was always terrified of real/imaginary authority figures as a child, and the worst punishment I could imagine was to make my mother/father/teacher/stranger angry or disappointed in me. I don’t know how my parents did it, but I do know my mom was a spanker. That was never a deterrent though, her being angry enough to spank was the deterrent.

    Hang in there! And drinking never hurts.

    Sarah December 23, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    I can help. My son, who is now 5, is exactly this way. Or can be. Here is what will help.

    First, the book Raising Your Spirited Child by mary sheedy kurcinka. I don’t recommend books casually because I understand the investment that goes into reading one, but you will find this book helpful and practical. It will help you understand yourself and your daughter. Love and Logic for the Early Years is very good, too.

    Secondly, when you are telling her to do something and want to offer an incentive like a cookie, using the word WHEN changes it from being a bribe into an incentive. “WHEN you do XYZ you will get [insert what the child wants].” It assumes that she will listen to you and then she will get what it is she wants. My kids loved string cheese. Often I would struggle getting them out the door and into the car. I would say “When we get our coats and shoes on and are buckled into our car seats, then we will have some string cheese.” Worked like magic without compromising our authority.

    In any case, the book will help you develop strategies to work with your daughter so you don’t feel so powerless.

    maybaby December 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm


    I’ve been an early childhood educator for 12 years and I have a daughter who’s now a lovely 14 year old but she was a very similar three year old to your strong-willed girl.

    It sounds like your daughter is not just strong willed but channeling a lot of “baby-brother-itis” energy into making defiance an art form.

    I believe you that you guys are following through…are you following through without repeating yourselves? As in, say it once and then follow through with no more nagging or reminders. With kids this age it can be helpful to give them a choice (“Would you like juice in the red cup or the blue cup?”) and if they try a third choice (“Green cup!”) then there’s no juice (or whatever).

    If she’s hitting, I would say to wait until she has another “rampage” or goes on a spree of defiance. Ask a friend to take her out of the house for an hour or two and when she comes back, make sure there’s nothing in her room but her bed and the most essential clothing. If she hits, she goes to her room for the rest of the day (coming out for family mealtime). Her bedtime gets moved up an hour. If she refuses to eat with the family, that’s fine. Back to her room until lunch. Most kids this age don’t refuse to eat for long.She can earn back a toy for each day of being kind and respectful.

    I know this sounds harsh, but believe me, at this age, “might makes right” and if you don’t make sure she has an understanding of you as an authority figure, you’ll have a hell of a time when she’s a teenager.

    Or when she laughingly defies you in public and slips out of your grasp and ends up out of your sight and lost…or worse.

    I remember very well the utterly helpless feeling of having this tiny little human totally wreck your image of what parenting looks like.

    The fact that she behaves well for others means that she thinks you guys are pushovers and that you don’t really mean what you say.

    Hang in there and make your word really mean something. The good news is that she won’t be three forever…it just seems like it!

    heather w December 23, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Usually I just lurk, but I wanted to say Honey I feel your pain. My kids are older now, but they still like to challenge the balance of power.

    It sounds to me like you are doing the right things with her, she is just testing you. You are a great mom with an excellent head on your shoulders, and you will definitely find something that works for your family.

    In the mean time, there’s always drinking. And eggs.

    Sharon December 23, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    From my own experience, being consistent is the #1 priority. You and your husband need to sit down, work out a plan, and then stick to it EVERY TIME there is misbehavior. So, whenever she does xxx, this is the consequence, every single time.

    I also had a hitter. The thing that was the most powerful with her was that if she hit me, I walked away and locked myself in a room where she could not get to me. It helped in two ways – she learned if she hits (or bites, which she did a few times, too!), she does not get to be with me. And it gave me a minute to calm down. I made it a significant period of time for her – say 4 or 5 min, which is an eternity to a 3 y.o.

    As far as the cookies go one idea: take them out of your house altogether. Now, I could not do that but I would at least move the cookies to another cabinet when she is not looking then show her the next day that the cookies are gone, and they are now a special treat for when you are out. Period. End of story.

    Or, you could tell her that she can have a cookie 2x/day (i.e. with her lunch, with her dinner) and no matter what her behavior, then she gets it. Its become a currency and there is no use debating it anymore b/c it won’t work. We’ve used Ellen Satter’s (Child of Mine) philosophy at times and put the cookie on the plate w/their food. Its the only thing they can’t have seconds of, but my son will take a bite of cookie then go back to his chicken!

    Have you tried a reward chart? That has worked wonders for our almost 3.5 y.o.

    But 3 sucked, sucked, sucked. I spent way too much time that summer crying. I know it is hard – I have a similar 3 y.o. Hang in there. Get yourself some time to yourself – that was huge for me, too.

    LAVANDULA December 23, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    oh catherine you need to pick your battles wisely with your little firecracker…my daughters are each very stubborn but the 4 year old outsmarts me on a daily basis.but i am also stubborn determined willful etc so i have only my self to blame…its good to give her choices as much as you can…you don;t want to break her spirit.but some days it would be so wonderful if they would just do as they are asked…good luck my friend

    Jeni December 23, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Same kinds of problems here. My 2 year old girl is developing a sneakiness & selective hearing that I DO NOT WANT. Some days I feel like I spend my life reprimanding/cajoling/time-out-ing/spanking.


    KayleighJeanne December 23, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Stop cajoling. Stop bribing. Stop threatening. Stop asking more than once. If she can’t do what she is told the first time she is asked, she goes immediately to time out. No warnings. If she goes right back to doing it, she goes right back to time out.

    Find someone who is willing to do that for you, and who can also make a mean margarita. Once everything is straightened out at your place, send them around to the rest of us. Who doesn’t need a margarita?

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