HELP! I Feel Like My Daughter’s In Charge!

"HELP! I feel like my daughter's in charge!" // jessconnell.com

This question came in response to my advice about handling tantrums

Q: I have a 3 year old daughter, who I think should just be re-named “stubborn”. I know I am going to have to put my foot down and insist, always, that what I say is followed through with. When my daughter is raging, and refusing, do you just stand there as long as it takes, and insist that they stand up and cut out the attitude? Eventually, it will take less time? Like, hours at first? We have been putting her in her room or time-out on the stairs when she is refusing to obey, but I can see how that doesn’t get compliance.

One thing we are having trouble with is bed. She won’t stay in her room. She wanders around, waking the other kids, or downstairs to us in the living room. I tried cutting out her nap (which makes the late afternoons awful!), in the hopes that she would be so tired, she would go to sleep. But after one time of coming out, we lock her door and she kicks and screams, and wakes throughout the night mad and will do it when she wakes up, hollering out the name of whoever was the one to lock the door. We tried rewarding her for staying in there, removing benefits if she didn’t stay in there, spanks, standing at her door and not letting her leave, sleeping in the empty bunk bed of a brother in case she was lonely, sleeping on our bedroom floor.

It’s turned into such a charade and I hate bedtime. Anytime you tell her “no”, she just gets this grunting-attitude, and it is infuriating. I feel like she’s in charge!

Hey there,
First– let me say, you have it exactly right when you say:

“I know I am going to have to put my foot down and insist, always, that what I say is followed through with.”

Yes.

Then you asked:

“When my daughter is raging, and refusing, do you just stand there as long as it takes, and insist that they stand up and cut out the attitude? Eventually, it will take less time? Like, hours at first?”

Yes. And you enforce it by doing whatever it is you do for discipline. Firm swat on the bottom, stand against the wall, loss of privilege, whatever.

Yes, they will fight back fiercely (increasing in stubbornness for however stubborn/strong-willed the child is) the first few times. The older the child is, the longer this initial fight-back will take, and the fiercer it will be.

But once she gives in (essentially, recognizing your authority and responsibility over her) in one area, it will carry over into other areas. The goal is not just to attack it in one area (i.e., bedtime), but to see to it that she’s obeying you ALL the time… meals, toy-pick-up, time-to-leave-friend’s-house, whatever.

Once she realizes that you really mean for her to obey at all times, then bedtime becomes less of a challenge, because you’ve learned to mean what you say and she’s learned that you really mean it. It’s a win-win for everyone.

As far as bedtime, what I would do is this:

(1) Talk with your husband and determine what really is reasonable.

If you’re not sure, run it by a friend that you respect whose children are obedient and well-cared for. (i.e., questions like, “Is it reasonable, do you think, for her to go to bed at 8:30 and stay there? Or do I need to do something different?”)

(2) Certain that what you’re asking is reasonable, see to it that she does what you decide. 

It’s that simple.

That said, I do not recommend cutting out naps until the child can make it all the way until bedtime with a decent, obedient attitude. That has never happened here in our home before age 4. Many have needed naps (almost daily) clear to 6 years old. Sleep is a MAJOR REASON why kids get fussy. So, possibly, you might want to rethink that.

What you want to do is find a reasonable way to see to it that she gets the rest she needs. So, as you talk with your husband, consider things like:

  • Letting her listen to Bible songs while she falls asleep
  • Audio book while she falls asleep (“You must turn over and quietly go to sleep when the story ends.”)
  • You sit with her, with your hand on her leg, while she falls asleep, insisting (and enforcing) that she do three things: 1- close her eyes, 2-close her mouth, 3- stop wiggling (I say this because this is how we do it with extra-wiggly ones… they need those 3 specific instructions and typically fall asleep very quickly (within 3-5 minutes) of laying down, once they do those 3 things.
  • Put her back in a crib and tell her that she must not climb out or she will get X as her consequence. (An enforceable, painful consequence that she does not like… whatever it is you do– from a spanking, to a concrete thing like “you lose one Polly Pocket for 3 days”)

I would not ever lock the door– you are right, it sounds like she is in charge. You need to patiently, firmly, diligently, consistently, every-day-no-matter-what, with every-instruction-no-matter-what, keep showing her that she is the one who is following you, and not vice-versa.

I’d highly recommend you read these articles, especially #1:

  1. Do Your Kids Recognize Your Authority
  2. 10 Bible Truths to Help You Understand Your Child
  3. When Your Kid Needs YOU To Be Stubborn
  4. Are You Letting Your Kids Walk All Over You?

Do Your Kids Recognize Your Authority // jessconnell.com

10 Bible Truths to Help You Understand Your Child // jessconnell.com

When Your Kids Need YOU to Be Stubborn // jessconnell.com

Are You LETTING Your Kids Walk All Over You? // jessconnell.com

Hang in there, and don’t give up. She needs you to be more patient, more firm, and more for-her-good right now than ever. You can do this.

It will take time to get this ship going in the right direction, but you really can change directions and make a huge difference in her attitude and your relationship in just a few weeks’ time, if you persevere and do not give in or give up. YOU CAN DO IT!
~Jess

IN THE COMMENTS: What would you add to HELP and ENCOURAGE this mom?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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12 Responses

  1. Stephanie says:

    Since she mentioned her daughter waking up at night upset, I thought I’d mention, my son had horrible night terrors and once he was old enough to explain them I could understand why he was so upset, they were really terrible. 3 things really helped, cod liver oil and refocusing on good things, like Bible stories so we had him go to sleep thinking of a Bible Story and if he woke up try to refocus on that instead of his nightmare. His behavior improved greatly when the night terrors lessened and he was sleeping better. He did still require a lot of discipline.

  2. Libby says:

    I have a 3 year old son and it seems like a stage of pushing out their will more. You can do it Momma of this headstrong girl! There are things that I have to be conscious of daily that really help with his obedience. Consistency is hard but necessary. One thing a friend of mine said that helped me to balance this is, before giving an order to your child make sure you are ready to make them follow through on it. That helped me to not enter into battles not worth my energy, so I did have energy my child was truly being rebellious. There will be times that you have to give an order that you know will change a happy child to a whining, screaming monster, but that is an area that you know your child needs you to establish authority. One other thing I have to do daily is make sure I get my son’s energy out! Every morning I try to get him out of the house to do something active. It’s effect on his ability to listen is huge and helps with nap/bed times. Peace can be in your house with a toddler and you can do the work to get there!

    • Jess Connell says:

      “before giving an order to your child make sure you are ready to make them follow through on it. That helped me to not enter into battles not worth my energy, so I did have energy my child was truly being rebellious.”

      Yes, yes yes! Excellent advice.

      “One other thing I have to do daily is make sure I get my son’s energy out! Every morning I try to get him out of the house to do something active. It’s effect on his ability to listen is huge and helps with nap/bed times.”

      Again- yes to this! This is definitely a good thing to try and see if it helps. I’ve found this to be true with a variety of stages– even our oldest 2 are seriously affected by exercise and regularly getting outside– I think it increases self-control (rather than being left with heaps of unused energy). It seems that we all have needs for this, but that need increases from time to time based on age, hormones, energy levels, etc.

      Thanks for speaking up!

  3. Jennifer Collins says:

    Great advice, Jess. 2 out of my 5 children are of the extremely strong- willed variety. They’re the first and last born. The first born is now 27 and loves and walks with Jesus. My eleven year old needs to be reminded daily that she’s not in charge. Thankfully, we have learned a little more about parenting. PRAY PRAY PRAY. Stay calm and sweet. Use calm predetermined spankings for outright defiance . I also recommend the book Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman. Hang in there. Your daughter is a blessing and Jess is right. She needs you.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Thanks for the reminder about that book- I should probably pull it out again.

      One thought I had was– “this thirty-six year old needs to be reminded daily that she’s not in charge.” Haha! Our Heavenly Father drills this same lesson into us, I think. :) So we’re following in His good footsteps when we take on this lesson with our children.

  4. Hi there, I just want to try and encourage you because I understand how draining it is to deal with children’s sin. You’ve been a good mum taking the time to ask for some counsel from a Godly source. Advice can be hard to take I know, and can sometimes leave you feeling very deflated. Try to keep asking God for help, call out to Him in the midst of the intensely difficult times. My 9th child is now 3 years old and I understand how difficult it can be. In the midst of a very busy household looking after many children (and especially when you have to breastfeed for example), it can seem impossible to give a rebelling toddler the time that some of the above suggestions take. In those times, try to still call out to God, because when we are weak, He is strong. I must admit, my management strategy has sometimes been to ignore, and yes, even turn a blind eye, or defer them to when Dad is home, BUT, the things you decide are really important, don’t let them go.

  5. katy says:

    I just wanted to add/suggest to tomato-stake your daughter to your side all day until she has enough self-control to be elsewhere. Google ‘tomato stake your kids’ or something like that – she goes more into it.

    As I have more children, the younger ones like to tag along w/the older ones. It is sweet (and nice to have a break) but when the younger ones cry/scream for something, the older ones give it to them…which in turn teaches them to throw that type of tantrum more so they’ll continue to get what they want.

    I am currently reaping all of that time away from Mama with an unhappy fit-thrower with #5 (who is 3yrs old). So, now, he has to be by my side all day long until I feel that he can act nicely (no yelling, asking nicely, not throwing a fit if he doesn’t get his way). That way, if he does any of those things listed above, it is dealt with THAT SECOND. If I allow him to go play w/his siblings and I hear him yelling or throwing a fit, he is disciplined right away and then has to spend the rest of the day (or a certain amt of time) with me.

    Truthfully, as I am 28 weeks pg with #7, I have to pray the Lord will make me not-lazy so I will take the time to discipline my 3yo instead of him getting worse and worse (which believe me, it will – the child never just gets better on their own). I am already seeing that I am letting my 17mo too much free reign because she is starting to yell and throw fits when she is away from me (knowing that’s when she can get away w/it). Back to the basics!

    Start with obedience in the little things. ‘Come here.’ She doesn’t, immediate discipline. She does, lots of praise and hugs and kisses. There are a million times/day a 3yo needs to obey, not just bedtime. Work on all of the little times so that there is no surprise that she now needs to obey (at bedtime).

  6. Lindsey says:

    Our first daughter did many of these things (in fact, our second daughter did too…haha!) Especially with getting out of bed. My husband or I would wait outside her bedroom door for at least an hour every.single.night!! Exhausting. And when she would come out, which she always did, we would discipline her, take her back to bed, and go back to wait outside the room. She would get in such a fit, she would physically try to scratch or strangle us. Yes, our sweet little first-born three year old.

    I finally called a mother of nine and said “Please, help!” I don’t remember all of the things she said, but one thing she mentioned in passing was that some of her children just NEEDED physical affection from her, much more than some of her other children. It was as if the Lord spoke to my husband and I through that. We needed to snuggle with her while she fell asleep. Her little willful self just craved and needed that physical affection from us, especially right before bed. So even still, and she is 6 now, I lay with her for a 5-10 minutes, pray with her, let her tell me her last rambling thoughts about pony coloring pages, and sing hymns to her until she relaxes. She often falls asleep during that time too, but if not, she is at least relaxed and almost never gets out of bed anymore. And most importantly, her heart (and mine too) is finally sweet at bedtime….it’s no longer a nightmare.

    I now lay with all four of our kiddos, each for 5-10 minutes and sing to them while they fall asleep. This isn’t a solution for everyone, I know. There are many nights when I just want them to be in bed already, but the Lord has encouraged me that during these nights when we have four children who are 6 and under, that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I’m not supposed to be doing all of those extra chores I’d really like to get done at the end of the day, though there still usually seems to be time for that too. I am supposed to be snuggling my sweet kiddos one last time before they fall asleep. I am supposed to be helping their little bodies to settle down and sleep. And though it often feels like my energy is in the negatives by this point of the day, the Lord gives me what I need, each and every night. And in a few years, when they are grown, I am quite sure I will not look back and think, “Boy, that was a waste of time.”

    This has just been my experience, but I will pray for you tonight. Pull your sweet, stubborn girl close, ask the Lord to fill you up with what you need to love her.

  7. Karen says:

    I remember so clearly being proud of myself that we had ‘gotten through’ 2 without my eldest having any tantrums etc. And then 3 hit and I was thoroughly humbled. Clearly our easy year had had nothing to do with my parenting abilities.

    I read an idea once which I thought was good for kids who want to get out of bed a lot. It will only work once the child is at an age where they have some understanding of numbers in a representative form (ie that if you ask for x number of something they understand what you are saying and give you the correct number) – which some three year olds have understood already and some haven’t.

    The mom would give her daughter three tokens (anything would work really) and she was permitted to use those up every night but after that she was disciplined for getting out of bed. For eg if she wanted to go to the bathroom she had to hand over one token. Same for a drink of water etc. I think its a good idea because it gives a visual boundary to ‘the end’ but at the same time allows for legitimate needs to be met without the child becoming anxious that they are going to be disciplined for that. And if they are just ‘making up needs’ they quickly run out of tokens. I remember the mom who posted it saying it had worked well because it gave her little girl some sense of control, but within a boundary. And she rarely used up all three tokens. So far this hasn’t been an issue in our house but perhaps one day it will be :) and your post reminded me of the idea.

  8. I read in a John Rosemond book once about a toddler who was getting out of bed repeatedly every night. Eventually, the parents put a plastic necklace on the door knob inside her door. When she wanted to get a drink/ask a question/tell about her day, she had to present her parents with the necklace. And then they’d keep it, and put her back to bed. If the necklace wasn’t on her door, she couldn’t come out. For that child, it wasn’t a disobedience thing as much as a bad habit that they were breaking.

    We haven’t tried that in our family (this isn’t something we’ve faced), but it seems reasonable to me. In that case, the daughter was generally obedient, but had just gotten into a bad habit at bedtime.

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