Question: My six year old is controlling our lives with her demanding attitude. If she doesn’t get what she wants immediately, she melts down, usually in public. I can’t stand the embarrassment, so I usually give in to her. How do I stop this cycle?


It is the nature of children to test boundaries and limits. It is the job of parents to establish, maintain and reinforce those limits. Many parents, however, worry about how other people perceive their parenting. We want to appear to have "control" of our child and consequently we let them get away with behaviours we know are not appropriate.

Don't give in

Children sense this and use it to their advantage. If Janey knows that she will get her way by crying or screaming in public, she will continue to do so. Giving in to her only reinforces her belief that she is in control. 

Break the cycle

How can you break the cycle? Determine next time this happens that you will stand your ground, no matter what she does. Set your limits and stick to them. Don’t worry about the embarrassment! Imagine ahead of time the worst she can throw at you and picture yourself calmly letting her carry on as you firmly but quietly assert your limits. Repeat your position and if she continues to act out, take her by the hand and take her home stating, "You cannot be out with me when you behave this way." 

What to do

If the behaviour continues the next time you are out, arrange ahead of time to have her taken home by someone else (spouse, grandparent, friend) while you stay and continue to enjoy the activity you were engaged in. Usually, by repeating this practice once or twice, children realize that their acting out is not getting them anywhere and they change their ways. The key is to be consistent about refusing to give in to the negative behaviours. 

Your daughter’s security depends on your ability to say no and mean no. For her to develop healthy boundaries, it is important for her to learn to hear and accept limits. If you would like a resource to encourage you further, I recommend Kevin Leman’s book Have a New Kid by Friday

Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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