Dear Dr. Meg,
I am a mother of one, so I do not have anything to compare to. My daughter is six and is very smart and loving. However, she has recently begun to do the exact opposite of things that she knows better than and she argues with literally EVERYTHING. For example, I could point to a blue chair and state that it is blue and she will tell you it’s not. It’s every little thing regardless. She is always rolling her eyes and making snarky remarks.
We try very hard to keep her engaged and busy doing things she likes to do, along with structure & schedule. I sometimes feel like I am getting the attitude and personality of a 16-year-old girl, not a 6-year-old girl. She is constantly testing like it’s a full time job. Is this normal behavior of a 6-year-old? Should I be concerned? Sometimes I feel guilty asking others because I feel like I sound like I do not love my child, but I do very much. I feel guilty even asking or thinking something is abnormal.
Her father has Aspergers, ADD, OCD and social anxieties. I too work with adults with special needs and know the signs and traits. I do not believe that anything was passed down and that she is just plain defiant, but her father sometimes worries. Any opinion would be great! Even if it’s that she’s a typical 6-year-old and I am being over paranoid.
Dear Concerned Mom,
Without knowing a lot more about your daughter, it’s hard to say whether her behavior is normal or not. So let me give you some questions to answer in order to determine if she has issues that should be addressed by a psychologist/psychiatrist or if she is just being defiant.
1. The first (and one of the most important) questions is this: does she act bossy and snarky to her teacher or to any of the students while at school? If your answer is yes, she does get in trouble at school, there may be a bigger problem. If she only acts out at home then you have your answer. This is a Mom and Dad issue and you need to work on breaking bad habits.
2. Does your daughter exhibit frequent sadness, fatigue, change in appetite, easily distracted, and falling grades and sleep disturbances? These are signs that she could have depression and you would need help from your pediatrician. These are worth mentioning because in children, depression looks like anger that comes out “sideways.”
3. Does she show signs of being anti-social, like only certain foods, (because of color or texture) repeat certain behaviors over and over or dislike affection? If so, she could have some form of autism.
If your answer to all of these is no, she just gives you and her dad a hard time, then she is developing very bad habits and you need to get them under control, now. You say that you try to keep her engaged and divert her attention and that may be part of the problem. She may expect to be entertained all of the time and get angry if she is bored. Then, she gets nasty with you.
Your daughter is most likely a strong-willed child who has got your number. She knows that she can get away with being nasty and confrontational, so she does these things. Why not? Look around. Sassy children are everywhere and unless you train your daughter how to speak well to you and refuse to allow her to be nasty, the problem will only get worse.
My recommendation to you is to pick one or two things that she says to you that really bother you. Then, figure out what the consequence for her will be if she says these things. Let her know that you won’t tolerate snarkiness any longer. Whatever you do, never let up on those consequences! If she doesn’t learn to yield to your authority now, you will have very serious, life-threatening problems on your hands when she is 16.