37 answers

Help with a Contrary Child

My wonderful 3 year old daughter is the apple of my eye, but she has this one behavior that is driving me absolutely batty. She lives to be contrary. Example: she says, "Mommy, I'm hungry." I say, "OK, how about an apple." "No, I don't want an apple." I say OK and put the apple away, ready to offer her another choice. She screams, "No! I want the apple!" I say, "OK, fine, here's the apple." She screams, "NO! I don't want the apple." and on and on. We instituted the "first answer" rule, in which the ONLY answer we will accept to any question is the first answer. We've been doing this for months and she is still pulling this nonsense. She's just not getting it. If I don't figure out how to get her to stop this behavior soon, I'm going to go mental.

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

I would try to offer up choices. "Do you want an apple, or a banana?" "Do you want to wear the pink shirt or the yellow one?" and see if it makes any difference. Most children will pick the second choice, or the last one they hear. So, keep this in mind when you're offering and say what you prefer as the last choice.

1 mom found this helpful

Dear T.,

Sit her at the table or in her high chair, give her a couple of slices of an apple, and sit there and talk to her like she was a dear friend and you are having a 'coffee' time. then, if she refuses, you take a slice and nibble at it. Say, are you finished ? Do you want to play now? When she demands again say no. and let her cry. O.K.? C. N.

While I agree with previous suggestions of limiting the number of choices, not being drawn into protracted battles, etc, here's another possible way to look at the situation. When my spirited daughter acts this way, especially when she was younger, ie 2-3.5, sometimes she means "I want the apple, but I don't like the way it's being presented." When she was that young, sometimes she didn't know how to communicate the details of her request. So, sometimes it is a matter of teaching them the language they need to express themselves more fully - "I want it peeled" or "I want it in slices" or "I want a green one, not a red one".

That being calmly said, going deeper into how to prepare the apple will sometimes lead to the exact same behavior over preparation choices. :-)

Good luck!

More Answers

Sorry, this is normal behavior for toddlers. Some are worse than others. Pick your battles and don't lose your sense of humor. Safety is the priority, after that you can play the game or ignore her depending on your tolerance level at the moment. My worst times were when i was either tired or busy or mad about something else. I raised seven, number two and number five were high-need toddlers and I now have six grandchildren and one is an intense toddler. You might consider food allergies, my daughter swears her child's behavior is affected by them. The test to get is the Igg Elisa for DELAYED allergies. Or, you can try the pulse test. Determine your child's resting pulse. Take it before giving one ingredient (wheat or milk are good to start with), then 30, 60, and 90 minutes following. A rise of more than 10 beats per minute indicates an allergy. Also, Check out Feingold Association regarding the removal of all dyes and chemicals from your child's diet. It can't hurt to experiment, you may get a miracle and prevent later problems, just try not to make yourself or your child crazy over it.

1 mom found this helpful

Instead of asking her if an apple is ok you can say, here is an apple. Or give her a choice between 2 things - wuld you lie an apple or a orange? If she says no, you do the record method "I know you are hungry, (that shows her you heard her, and validates her need) so you can choose the apple or the orange. That's it. These are your choices, or you can have nothing" She will not starve. It is setting boundaries, showing her you are in control. Also, little ones get overwhelmed. They want to make choices, however a choice between two things, outfits, shoes, etc, is about right for their development I am a mom of 6 girls

1 mom found this helpful

It's not really her is "isn't getting it", it's you, I think! :-)

By suggesting answers, you are playing the first gambit in this game. I think most parents do too little asking and listening of their children, and the situation you describe is a perfect example. Either offering her a choice between two acceptable options, or asking her to describe what she's hungry for would be simple ways of side-stepping the conflict.

And (I can't say this too strongly), I believe that side-stepping conflicts is An Extremely Important Technique!

It is unrealistic to imagine a life with your child (or with _any_ other human, for that matter!) that does not contain conflict, and, while it is important to develop good and effective conflict resolution techniques, this little game doesn't need even that.

Learn to misdirect unimportant, fleeting motivations like this one rather than trying to fight them. For one thing, she's three! Let her grow up a little before trying to interact with her as though she's an adult. Roll with it a little. Figure out a way to turn it into a silly game between the two of you rather than a point of head-butting.

Being "driven batty" by your child is YOUR attitude, NOT her behavior. Changing that attitude right there is something that will benefit you more than anything else.

1 mom found this helpful

My sister was the same way. Offer her two things, like an apple and cheese, but only two things. that is my best advise. I looks like my daughter will be the same way. Remember(though it is hard), they are not trying to push your buttons,they just don't know what they want... Good luck
R.

1 mom found this helpful

I would try to offer up choices. "Do you want an apple, or a banana?" "Do you want to wear the pink shirt or the yellow one?" and see if it makes any difference. Most children will pick the second choice, or the last one they hear. So, keep this in mind when you're offering and say what you prefer as the last choice.

1 mom found this helpful

Hey, I have a 4 year old that went through the same thing. What worked for me was that I woudl give him 2 choices. If he said no to them I would just tell him those were the two choices and that was it. If he would cry or whine I would leave the choices at his reach and walk way. The first couple of times he cried for a bit and threw a tantrum. However, if he realized that I wasn't coming back he would pick his choice and calm down. The first times are hard but after that he knows there's no other way. Hope this helps!

First, tell her what you're going to do, and say it hte same way each time..for example she's hungry:
"OK, you're hungry? you can pick something to eat, but if you change your mind and cry, you will go to time out"

I would try giving her only 2 choices (when it pertains to the situation) and if she pulls her schtick, immediately and calmly put her in time out... if she flips out, plop her in her bed and close the door. Be as consistent and swift as possible. It took just a few days with my son...She HAS to know you mean business. And if she says,"Oh good I love time out or I like to go to my room" stick with it! It will sink in eventually but only if you are consistent....Best of Luck!!! I'm still slightly sane:)

HI Tracy
I have two little boys an 8 year old and a 6 year old and my six year old did exactly the same thing. They do grow out of it. I think my guy was 4 when he was behaving like that. I do not think there is an answer. They are just testing the boundaries. I think you should stick to your guns but as it is so exhausting maybe offer 2 choices all the time. and leave them on the table for her to choose and walk away a little distance. Then let her make her decision. I am not sure if this will help you it helped me to a small degree. I feel your mentalness( if that's a word)
good luck >

Sounds like you came up with a good technique, too bad she's still controlling you though. How about this, when she says she's hungry don't suggest something. You choose the snack and say here it is. If she's really hungry she will eat it. If not, oh well! My kids are now 9 & 7 and it took me some time to remember I AM THE BOSS!! No more choices for her until she can make a choice and stick with it. Tell her Mommy is making the choices until she can make the first choice and stick with it. Obviuosly you know which snacks she likes-you're her mom. Pick one and give it to her. I think she will eventually not like the idea of having the power not to choose and will get with the program! In the meantime, YOU'RE THE BOSS, ACT LIKE IT!! Your kids will respect you more in the long run anyway.

My advice is a little bit different. I say, change the subject. Go with her to another room, engage in another activity, whatever. It appears it is a fun game to her and she likes to see a rise out of you. If she really wants something to eat, she'll tell you.

What works for me in the store... is to actually go along with the "game". So if my daughter says, "I want this..." instead of fighting it, I'll say, "Yeah! and this is cool too!" or "no, there's a better one than that." And if she gets real persistent about something, I'll say, "OK, we'll put that on your wishlist." It's worked almost every time. Hopefully it keeps working (before she realizes my scheme).

Good luck. Keep a good humor about it, and don't forget it's harder to deal with their antics when you are sleep or rest deprived.

I had to laugh when I read your concern because 13 years ago I was going through the EXACT same thing! You have a very special little girl there. She will be a leader. There is a very good book out there called 'The strongwilled child' by Dr. Dobson. That book will help. There is another author named Cynthia Tobias but I can't remember the name of her book. All the traditional methods of discipline will not work on your child. You will need to be tougher and stronger in your resolve than her and not play her games. You do not have an easy road ahead of you but your rewards will be great. My son is now 16 almost 17 and is a total joy to live with. He is full of life and energy, knows what he wants out of life and lives life to the fullest. He is headed to a bright and rewarding future. He is graduating one year early from high school and will be off to college next year. My best advice to you is to let her make as many decisions on her own as you can but don't tell her "how about...". When she says "I'm hungry", get out two different things that you her to eat, set them down for her, and tell her she may have the apple or the orange and walk away. When getting her dressed, lay out two outfits for her to choose between. Always have two choices for her so she can have power over her life. Encourage her decision making powers. Cynthia Tobias says, these are the children that will change the world because the world can't change them (or something like that). Enjoy her and be strong.
I will talk to you anytime because I know how crazy making she is.
C.

Try offering her limited choices instead of questions that allow for a yes or no answer --for example "Would you like an apple or a banana?" "Would you like white socks or pink socks today?" If you give her two choices (both of which are acceptable to you), "No" becomes a much less likely answer for her to give and she will feel like her choice matters. I used this approach on my kids, who are now 11 and 13 and it still works except that now I ask things like "Would you like to unload the dish washer or fold this basket of laundry?"

Good luck!

She is having a great time, twisting you around. Tell her to stop playing a game with you, as you will not play it any more. Be firm. Give her a chance to ask for something, give it to her and then ignore the screaming. Or take the apple away if she screams and tell her you will not be treated like this, if she is hungry she will need to be nice to mom, just like everyone else. She is not special. Do not accept the bad behavior. I know she will come around. E. H

Maybe my advice won't seem very helpful...I would act like I coudl care less. Really! Offer one option, if she throws a fit, pretend like she doesn't exist. Maybe still leave the apple om the table or something, but show that throwing fits will get absolutely no response. Good luck!

Thank you Sue! I've actually typed up a response several times then deleted it. I didn't want to come off too harsh but really. I will go ahead and say this now, if someone instituted the "first answer" rule on me, I'd go nuts! Heck, I rarely want the first thing I said. My son is almost three and he has done the same thing but I didn't label it as if something was wrong with him. He has a right to not be sure of what he really wants and it is my job to help him communicate what he is trying to say. For us, we always offer two choices when needed. If my son said he was hungry and it was a snack time I would either tell him, go ahead and pick something out of the pantry (the bottom shelf is stocked with green light foods (foods he can eat anytime) or he can open the fridge and grab an apple, carrots, etc) but if he is looking to me for help or it is a meal time, I'll say, do you want a turkey sandwich or peanut butter and jelly. He as never said, "neither!". Don't make it a battle. This can actually be a lot of fun for you guys.
Best of luck!
M.

Aloha T.,

I am the mom of 3 and 1 grandson who is very similar to your daughter. A lot of times they really don't know what they want when they ask or say sucha statement. What I have found works best and has for my children is to give them a choice. Basic scene can play out similar to this:

Child says " Mommy, I'm hungry,"
Paret or Caregiver: "Okay, what would you like to have, an apple or goldfish?" upon this statement, put both on the table or counter for her to choose.
This will then allow her to make a decision, and this then instills a sense of confidence in her decision making skills because even at a young age, children like to have "control" over their life to a point. She will then be able to choose her snack and feel important in that decision making.
This will also take out the "battle" with the adult becuae she made the final choice for herself. Ihave found over the years and my oldes is going to be 21 this year that as they grown, they tend to be good decision makers and can make a decision for themselve regardless of the situtation.
Whatever you choose to do, stick to it and do not waver. If you give her a choice, let her decide for herself. The biggest thing to remember is when they battle like this it usually is because they really don't know what they want or to communicate what they really need.
Hope this helps!!
~A.
Wahiawa, Hawaii

Hi T.:

I think you would benefit from reading "Boundaries with Kids" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. You would get not only a lot of great suggestions, but also the reasoning behind each one.

Hi T.,

My daughter does that same thing with me. This is what I try to remember to do: First, don't ask her if she wants an apple, just give it to her. If she then says no I don't want it, then you take it away and do not give her any other choices for food. If she then cries and says, "I do want it", then say: "Okay sweetie, I don't understand what it is you are saying, do you want the apple, yes or no?" That way it's her choice and not yours.
It works for me.

Good luck,
E.

While I agree with previous suggestions of limiting the number of choices, not being drawn into protracted battles, etc, here's another possible way to look at the situation. When my spirited daughter acts this way, especially when she was younger, ie 2-3.5, sometimes she means "I want the apple, but I don't like the way it's being presented." When she was that young, sometimes she didn't know how to communicate the details of her request. So, sometimes it is a matter of teaching them the language they need to express themselves more fully - "I want it peeled" or "I want it in slices" or "I want a green one, not a red one".

That being calmly said, going deeper into how to prepare the apple will sometimes lead to the exact same behavior over preparation choices. :-)

Good luck!

Hi Traci, Try giving her a choice of two things, "You're hungry? Ok sweetheart, you can have either an apple or a banana." no explanation why, just 2 choices. If she doesn't want either one, thats OK, she's just not hungry enough. Let her change her mind once, but afer that if she keeps changing, put them both away calmly and say, "when you can decide, then you can have it, but Mommy's not going to play this silly game" and move on to something else. Sometimes children are overwhelmed by too much choice and too much freedom in making decisions. We need to narrow it way down, and then not react if they try to engage us in a power struggle.
Good Luck,
T.

My daughter (who's now 7) went through a similar phase at that age. I found that if I offered her two or three choices it helped to remove the "contrariness." So when she says she's hungry, you could say "Okay, would you like an apple or a banana?" or when it's time to get dressed say "Do you want the blue shirt, the pink shirt or the yellow shirt?" and hold them up for her to make her pick. It gave her a sense of power and really seemed to work (most of the time anyway!) — Good luck!

I agree that children can be overwhelmed by choice. Too many choices make them inflexible. The only thing I have to add is that direct eye contact is very powerful when explaining something importaint to a child.

Hi there, I am a Mommy of a 7 year old and I also teach parenting, Mommy and me and preschool classes. Some helpful advice would be to.. say okay sweetie here is an apple, string cheese and some crackers. Which one would you like? Then if she throws a fight and starts yelling. tell her okay here are the snacks let me know when you are ready to choose one. If for example she chooses the apple then changes her mind and starts yelling again. Tell her the same. Okay sweetie, you told Mommy that you want the apple. When you are done the apple will be sitting right here for you. This works all the time! Well at least 90%!!!! :) Hope this helps :)

I had a 4 1/2 year old who was contrarian too. She just outgrew it. She would use this technique to try to get to me when she was upset. I simply pretended that it didn't affect me. She was like this for months, and then she one day figured out that it wasn't working. Hang in there. She'll outgrow it too, especially if she sees it doesn't get to you.

I had to start telling my son that he had one choice. He could either eat the apple or he could wait for the next meal time. I noticed with my son that it was more of a test to see how far I would go to please him. After a couple of days of that behavior though, I was no longer willing to be tested so I made him chose. The first few times all I got was whining and the same responce as usual, but I realised that if I ignored him after he made his choice to wait that the testing ended rather quickly.
I hope this helps!
H. Stanley
A LITTLE ABOUT ME:
Happily married Navy wife and mother of 3 boys and 1 girl ages 11-1 trying to get my business degree and start a company.

Dear T.,

Sit her at the table or in her high chair, give her a couple of slices of an apple, and sit there and talk to her like she was a dear friend and you are having a 'coffee' time. then, if she refuses, you take a slice and nibble at it. Say, are you finished ? Do you want to play now? When she demands again say no. and let her cry. O.K.? C. N.

She sounds very smart and knows she is pushing your bottons. Treat/food stuff. Give her 2 options, put them both within her reach. Walk away. She WILL choose...banana/apple/nothing. Quit playing her game. If she chooses niether and fusses...ignore her for a few minutes...Do Not Keep Asking her! If she does not choose and keeps fussing...REMOVE the choices for 20/30 minutes and ignore her. She will get it, she will choose or quit. Make it your game, not hers.
Same thing with other choices, If she keeps refusing, REMOVE her options. She will get it. This too shall pass!

T.,
A three year old wants to have choices as she is working toward independence. Try offering 2 choices that she can choose from not one at a time. Just pull them out, cut it the way she likes it usually, and put them in front of her. Don't make a fuss, don't ask questions. You have been doing a dance of sort, and need to break this cycle. My guess is she will increase this behavior (screaming, etc.) but if you ignore and walk away she will calm down. She needs to learn to self-soothe anyway. Good luck, calm down, and stick your fingers in your ears if your need to.

The last comment from Debra is a good technique, giving options is empowering your child. But I would disagree on the crying part where you leave them to soothe themselves. Toddlers aren't like us who is able to understand self soothing, they are very confused and some things for them are just as frustrating. You want to make them feel that your always by their side and if they start crying just be there and say "I'm here". Another suggestion in addendum to Debra's is a very colorful sectioned plate with little bits of her favorite food some grapes over there, strawberries in the middle or corn on the side. And make eating fun for them by giving them their own little messy space, put a mat under the highchair and face it in front of the TV so they could watch Wonder Pets while eating celery. Children love to incorporate play with everything they do because that's what they're built for, things aren't black and white for them or Yes or No. As long as she's fine and eating everything is superb.. thanks mom.

One thing that has worked for me in the past is to give the "illusion of choice". Give her two limited choices that you feel good about and can do - Would you like an apple or piece of cheese - and let her pick. If she changes her mind let her know that it was her choice and she can always choose the other one next time.

You are having a power struggle - the issue isn't the apple or the food, it is in her need to control you and what/when/how you do for her. You as the mom need to be in charge of the choices she has available to her and teach her what it is to make a choice and stick with it. By giving her a limited choice that you are facilitating, it gives her the opportunity to be empowered, but not at your expense. The other side of the lesson if she doesn't like her decision, is that choice is not permanent and she can always make a new choice next time.

this is a learning tool I have used with my own children, in various learning situations over 20 years and if you stick with it, it can be a valuable learning tool for the both of you.

I have a 4 year old who has put us through similar behaviour. We soon found that what he wants is to have some sense of having a choice and having some control of the outcome. We will select 2 or 3 suitable choices for snack and say "Which one would you like to pick? Are you sure? (ie this is your final decision!)" and that helps.

We also are big fans of making lists where everyone can put a choice activity on the list that we will do at some point over the day. So little one can chose a game we will all play. That makes him feel like his input is valuable.

We often get help from older brother! For example, when my four year old insists he doesn't need the restroom, despite that fact that he is practically jumping up and down from needing it so badly.... instead of trying to force him, we create a challenge. We'll say "Who can get to the bathroom first?" and both boys will race off to try beat the other. My older one is in on the secret, but loves to play along with us.

It is a matter of not always battling wills. Try and find creative ways to get the behaviour you want instead on trying to force it. I print out "play money" off the computer, and offer a dollar for good behaviour when things are falling apart. They don't seem to mind that they have not bought anything yet, just collecting it is fun. Making charts that you can add a sticker each day for good behaviour has also helped. After he's collected 7 stickers we can go for ice cream or something like that.

This way you can save your energy for when something is really important, like holding hands in the parking lot, and can just enforce it. It is a matter of picking your battles and finding easier, more fun ways of encouraging desired behaviour. The more we battle the more challenging his will becomes, so finding smoother ways has really helped. Turn the fun things you would have done anyway, into rewards. Sometimes I will even say "If you are well behaved in the doctor's office now, I will play xyz with you when we get home(when I was willing to do xyz anyway!) Sounds mean, but it is more about identifying and encouraging the behaviour you want.

PS At four he is much easier than he was at 3!

Good luck! I hope some of this helps.
G.

I am taking a course with a presenter trained from www.loveandlogic.com
It has been very helpful.
H.

T.,

When your daughter says she is hungry, perhaps you could restrict her choices by saying something like, would you like an apple, celery sticks, or sliced cucumbers?

When you present a question for which she can appropriately say NO, you frustrate her by "failing" to acknowledge her justifiable answer, "NO". If you give her a distinct choice, or simply say that she can have an apple or nothing, it will be more satisfying and fair to her 3 yr. old mind.

3 year olds love ridiculousness. If what you want her to eat is the apple, offer her 2-3 choices, one of course is the apple, the other one or 2 being the chair or the lamp. She will likely choose the apple and feel empowered that it was her choice. There's always the silly one that will insist they want to eat the table. Let her pretend to take a bite, and then offer the apple as a "better tasting" alternative.

Never offer a child that young a choice. If your child is hungry, put the apple in front of her. If she refuses, put it out of reach and let her know that if she is hungry she may have the apple. She will, of course, take the apple at that point. But never give her the choice until she is at least five. She is much too young to really understand choices like that. Just be the parent, give her what you think she should have. No negotiation.

maybe something else is bothering her, like she doesn't know how to talk about it

I would highly recommend the book "The Strong Willed Child" by Dr.James Dobson. Wish I had read it sooner with our stong willed daughter. One quick suggestion...give her a little sense of power over her surroundings by giving her 2 options that are acceptable to you. For instance "Would you like an apple or a banana?" This can work for picking from 2 outfits, bedtime book, etc. Your still in control, but she feels like she has some say in things too. Good luck!

Explore Mamapedia

behavior behavior management
Required Fields

Our records show that we already have a Mamapedia or Mamasource account created for you under the email address you entered.

Please enter your Mamapedia or Mamasource password to continue signing in.

Required Fields

, you’re almost done...

Since this is the first time you are logging in to Mamapedia with Facebook Connect, please provide the following information so you can participate in the Mamapedia community.

As a member, you’ll receive optional email newsletters and community updates sent to you from Mamapedia, and your email address will never be shared with third parties.

By clicking "Continue to Mamapedia", I agree to the Mamapedia Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.