Child Caring

Single South African mom wonders how to control her daughter


I have a four your old daughter. I am a single working parent. My daughter goes to school form morning till about 5:30 in the afternoon. She is a very loving, sweet adorable child. The problem is that she can sometimes be so out of control, I just can't handle her. If she canít get her own way, she will cry and scream at me, throw stuff around, and hit me. If I spank her, she will simply just hit me back or kick me. She is very possessive over me. We stay with family. I have tried everything. Spanking her, punishing her by taking away watching her movies, she doesnít listen to me when I want to put her in the naughty corner.
I donít know what to do any more. Please help

From: Joan, Randburg, South Africa

Continue Reading Below

Dear Joan,

It's possible your daughter is acting out as a way to get your time and attention. Make it your goal to spend some quiet, alone time with her every day, even if it means waking up early or sacrificing something else in your routine. It doesn't have to be a lot of time -- even 10 minutes could make a difference. Label this time as Our Special Time Together, and make a point of showing her that your phone is off, your computer is off, you want to be able to be together without interruptions. Since you live with family, it may also mean telling everyone that the two of you are having your Special Time Together, please don't interrupt us. Do this consistently at the same time each day for a week and see if she acts out less. The theory is that if she knows she will have you to herself, to be together in a pleasurable way (ask her what the two of you can do together; offer to read her a book, or she may want to just cuddle!) she will have less need to seek your attention by acting out.

At the same time, I'm wondering: Does she have routines and schedules in her life? Are they predictable and reliable or haphazard? Does she know who will pick her up each day and when? If there's a different person some days, tell her ahead of time so she knows what to expect. Children this age thrive on consistent routines. That doesn't mean there can't be changes -- life happens! -- but where there are, let her know: Mama has to work late today; Auntie Jane will be here.

Similarly, in her routines at home, try to be consistent and predictable, too, so that there's a bedtime routine that includes not only the same time of evening, but literally a bedtime routine that she can count on. These seemingly small efforts can be huge in a young child's life. One of the reason so many children thrive in day care and preschool is precisely because there is so much routine and consistency built into the day.

As for spanking, I would stop. In my opinion, nothing positive comes from it -- she's hitting you back! -- because it doesn't help children learn to regulate themselves. The naughty chair, or time-out, also doesn't always work. Instead, try these ideas:

1. Give her more control by giving her choices. Make sure they're choices you can live with. For instance, "You have a choice. You can stop throwing peas at the dog or you can leave the table."

2. Separate yourself from her. If you are on the verge of hitting or saying something abusive, make sure your child is physically safe and then leave the room. You can say simply, ``I'm upset. I need to calm down. I'll be back.'' (Avoid saying, ``I can't be with you.''). A toddler may follow you and bang on the bathroom door. Tell her you'll be out soon, but wait until you feel calm. When you emerge, tell her, "We were both really upset, weren't we?" Don't try to deal with the situation until you feel fully in control. When you're ready to talk about it, explain why the behavior is wrong; what the rule about that is; how you'll help her remember the rule next time; and what will happen if she forgets.

3. Be playful. Instead of yelling over and over for her to put her blocks away, make a game of it: "Let's see how quickly we can put the yellow blocks away!" "I'm closing my eyes. I wonder if the blocks can magically disappear?"

4. Enlist her help. If she spills the milk on purpose, instead of yelling, keep your tone matter of fact and impose a natural consequence: Hand her the sponge and say, "I guess you're finished. Let's clean this up." Period.

If you can use strategies like these (for more, click here), and give her that special time together, there's a good chance you'll see a change in her behavior. You may also want to see some professional help. I recommend trying to find a parenting workshop, for instance. If you give these ideas a try and you still see no change, then there may be something else going on with your daughter and she may need a professional evaluation.