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Ask Dr. Meg: I have a manipulative 4-year-old. Help!

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dear Dr. Meg,

I’m struggling with my 4-year-old daughter (she’s my middle child; older brother, younger sister). She is always whining, won’t accept no. Throwing tantrums. And she now gets really sad and shy when she is in Sabbath School or the one day a week kindergarten we attend. She won’t take an item the teacher gives her if it’s not the one she wants. I’m an authoritative parenting style and don’t give in to her and have even taken her out of her class at times but it’s all wearing me down.

I appreciate any help!

– At Wit’s End

Dear At Wit’s End,

This little girl has got your number. She is actively manipulating you in order to get what she wants. You said that she gets shy in Sabbath School which means, I think, that she isn’t throwing temper tantrums at school. That means, she’s only doing it in front of you in order to get what she wants. She needs to learn that whining, temper tantrums, etc, aren’t working so you need to get tough. Here’s what I recommend.

First, when she whines or throws a fit, remove her from the room. I know this is hard and will be a fight at first and she’ll throw a bigger tantrum. But – she needs to know that these will not get her what she wants and that she will be isolated because no one wants to hear her.

Second, tell her teacher not to give her anything if she won’t take it. Most importantly, her teacher should not give in and give her what she wants.

You can break these bad habits that your daughter has gotten into, but it may take a few weeks if she’s really stubborn (somehow, I think she is.) You need to understand that she is doing these things only because so far, they have worked to her advantage. She needs to learn that these will never work and that no matter what, you, her father and the teacher won’t give in and furthermore, that if she wants to behave this way, she will be removed from the family or friends because no one wants to listen to her when she’s behaving badly.

Finally, I would figure out what she really loves to do, what her favorite toy is, her favorite show, etc., and then use that to discipline her. Make it clear that when she whines or has a temper tantrum that what she really wants will be taken away immediately and she will not get it back until she has been whine free or temper tantrum free for 24 hours. Period.

Remember, good discipline is for her own good. And good discipline means finding consequences for kids that sting. She needs to be motivated to want to avoid a consequence. Then, she will fall in line. She is much too old for temper tantrums.

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