Discipline Problems in 9 Yr Old Dd-need Advice from Moms Who Have Been There

Updated on May 18, 2011
S.A. asks from Chicago, IL
12 answers

Hi Mamas,

I am seeking more advice about my 9 yr-old daughter's behavior. She has been one of those defiant type kids since she was a toddler. I am kind of at a loss right now. I have read so many books and tried so many methods and programs, but nothing works. As long as things are going her way, she's happy and well-behaved, but the minute she feels like she's not in control of the situation, she gets angry, aggressive and defiant. She is always trying to be in control and we have done battle over this since she was tiny. I did the whole thing where I said you can pick the pink bowl or the red bowl, but guess what??? She wanted the green one. She has never wanted to be told what to do. Fast forward eight years, and the issues and drama are a lot more complicated. My blood pressure rises the minute I pick her up from school, and by the time she goes to bed I feel like I'm going to have a panic attack. I feel like I am losing all control of her and she's only 9. She ignores me, she talks back, calls me names, hits me, spits at me, runs outside when I tell her it's homework time then refuses to come back in.

These are the things I already know: (1) She doesn't get as much attention as she needs. She has always needed/craved tons of one-on-one attention, and has to be entertained or stimulated all of the time. However, she is the oldest of three kids. The youngest is 21 months old who needs constant attention and supervision. My husband works long hours including weekends so I am solo most of the time and cannot give her all of the attention she needs and wants. (2) I am inconsistent with discipline because I am trying to do anything that will work (3) I yell at her and ground her too much (4) None of it is working and I'm miserable.

So, what approach should I take now? I really like positive discipline and am all for rewarding good behavior, but she almost never wants to do her part to earn her rewards. And how do you address the really bad behavior using positive discipline? Parts of the Kazdin method made sense, but his approach to consequences just seems too light to me. Ignoring her bad behavior or giving her a short 5 minute time-out doesn't seem like enough of a consequence for her spitting in my face when she's mad at me or punching her brother in the stomach. I am currently just grounding her from her privileges, but that clearly isn't working.

My mom suggests I clear her room out completely and make her earn each item back one-by-one. Has anyone done this? Has it been successful? What happens when they earn a few things back, then start acting up again? Do you take those things away again, or just not give them anything else back until the behavior improves?

Any advice is appreciated, but criticism is not welcome. Please, I've criticized myself enough already over this. I'm not trying to be the perfect mom, I just want some shalom in my home. I want my daughter to be happy. I wish I could devote every second of our time together to just her, but she's not an only child. She is also not ADHD, and not a behavior problem at school. She gets straight A's and her teachers have never had an issue with her. She saves all of this joy for me.

Thanks in advance (and sorry this was so long)


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So What Happened?

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses. To answer some of your questions, I like positive discipline because it's positive. I have tried the super strict authoritarian style (like the way I was raised) and this doesn't work with my daughter. She isn't afraid of anything. Right now I am yelling at her all the time and grounding her, so I'm not afraid of discipline, I just need to find the right method that will work for her. Every child is different. In response to the question about her Dad, he's a big softy and gives in to her all the time. Since he isn't home a lot due to his long hours he wants their time together to be happy and fun so he lets a lot of things slide. It' so frustrating to me because I'm the one home dealing with her. She senses that we differ in styles and plays that against us too.

Nicole, your gold star system sounds great. I think I will implement something like that. Thanks for the suggestion. I talked to my husband about it last night and told him I want to start working on it so it's in place and we can start ASAP. I told him he'd have to follow it 100% and not give second, third chances etc...The most important thing we can do is be a united front. I can't have him coming home and the whole system going to heck. He said he would commit to it, so I'm looking forward to working on getting it ready today.

Because she is very good at school (and trust me-her teacher is uber strict. She goes to a Catholic school If there was the slightest issue with impulse control or temper, I would hear about it) and because she treats her friends and other adults with respect, I know she is capable of behaving. I think she enjoys getting a rise out of me. I just have to stop letting her control my emotions and this household.

Thanks again!

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answers from Denver on

I am no expert... however I have learned that consistency is key. There is no RIGHT way to discipline all kids... but they all need to know boundaries and consequences. If it were me, I would identify the behaviors that are intolerable now (hitting , punching, spitting, talking back ) and the consequences. Is she old enough to help you set those consequences... might be a 10 minute time out away from what she wants to do. May be loss of TV or doing extra chores. Once they are set , stick to them. Remain calm (my challenge) and keep reinforcing the consequence until she knows you won't budge. Make her own her behavior. If she knows the consequences, and chooses to act a certain way, she CHOSE the consequence - she's in control. Finally, when she does behave well - nice to her brother or helpful to you - give her some attention and praise. Good luck and hang in there : )

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answers from Allentown on

When a child of that age hasn't outgrown hitting and spitting, I would recommend getting a professional involved.

I've had a 9yo boy, and have a dd turning 9 in 2 weeks, with another dd a year behind her. Yes, they have some snotty, controlling episodes here and there, which I would consider normal, but extreme defiance like that is something I haven't experienced since they were testing boundaries around 5/6.

I wouldn't risk tinkering with lay-people's advice at this point in the game if I were you.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I am not trying to criticize here but I really think you have no idea how bad your daughter really is because you have been around her for so long. Honestly-spitting and hitting?? For real? You are going to have to lose your aversion to real discipline fast here because if she is this bad at 9 I shudder to think about 13. Your mom has great advice-take it. Your daughter knows that you won't punish her and she takes advantage of that. I almost wonder if she is actually LOOKING for the line she can't cross with you and since she never finds it her behavior escalates. Please show her that line.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Okay, deep breath. I was at a similar level of frustration with my 7 year old not too long ago and I suspect that it was partially because he wasn't getting positive attention to the good things he does. My blood pressure would be up right before school would let out and until he went to bed. I got to the point where I didn't want to be around him and I hated that. He didn't get much attention from me as a result and acted out more just to get any attention. That's when I decided to change some things.

1) I realized that I needed to, for his sake and mine, start focusing on the good things about my son and the good things that he does. Out of that, was born the idea of a reward system on the good behaviors. That way, I was acknowledging the good behaviors daily, which I hoped would help me to feel better about my son and help him know that I saw these things.

2) I needed to put a consequence system in place so that I could discipline the behaviors that were not acceptable and I had something to turn to when the behavior was bad. Having something to turn to allowed me to not get so passionate about things. I was able to discipline matter-of-factly and not raise my blood pressure

3) I involved him. I had him set up the reward system. That way he was involved and knew what would happen for good behavior and what he would lose for negative behavior.

Things turned around very quickly for us and I am happy to report that we are all thriving today as a result. We are pretty consistent. I do still tend to parent loosely in that I take situations into consideration but the system is in place and we use it as our main method of operation. I am sure that there would be even more compliance if I was more strict about it but then my son isn't hitting or spitting on me.

For your situation, I would make things very dramatic. I would do as your Mom suggested and clean out her room but before you do, understand what motivates her. If things motivate her, what things? I would do it while she is at school. Have her come home and explain to her that things cannot continue and that life is changing today. Talk with her about how things are going to go from now on, talk with her about the reward system (talk about the positives) and how negative (don't use "bad)) behavior will impact that. Try to have an open dialogue with her about how you love her but not her actions. Let her know that you aren't happy how things have gone lately and how things are going to change, including your behavior. Let her know that you won't be yelling as much anymore and how you will not tolerate her mis-treating you. Then, walk her up to her room and tell her that you guys are starting over. With every positive behavior she shows, she can earn her things back. Once she has her things back, then she can start earning new things (again, what motivates her?). Be prepared that she is going to throw a fit. Tell her that you will give her space to process this but that you expect her to step up to the plate and turn things around. Let her know, matter-of-factly, that she needs to keep herself under control or she will lose her bed and her pillow (and yes, I did this once...it only took once, my son used a stuffed animal for a pillow and clothes for a blanket...before you feel too bad, it was a nice big cozy stuffed animal and the the clothes were big and comfy too. I made sure that he was fine but I needed to send a message to him that he couldn't control me.)

So, here's how the reward system works in our house. There are certain behaviors/ expectations/ chores that my son is responsible for. Those do not get stars. It's everything above and beyond. In particular, I reward for the corrected problematic behaviors. If I don't like how my son goes to his room, for example, after being disciplined, I will start rewarding him for when he goes upstairs without throwing a fit. So, this works for behaviors that you see becoming problematic that you want to quickly change too. He can earn stars for doing extra chores around the house, helping his sister or by doing the things that he needs to do but has trouble doing. He loses stars for negative behavior but he can always "earn" them back. It's important to help your child by predicting the behavior and giving them a reminder when you know that they struggle with a certain behavior. For instance, when I send my son to his room, I remind him to not throw a fit on the way to his room or he will lose another star. I try to do so before he loses complete control and just loses the star...which he hates.

Our reward system is that he gets a prize for as little as 5 stars but as many as 75 stars. He can choose to "cash them in" at 5 or he can save them up. The prizes range from a couple pieces of candy to a set of pokemon cards to a sleepover to a new video game. He chose the rewards and it's important that they do this. Otherwise, the rewards aren't motivating to them.

We just use plastic cups and I have cut out gold stars. I have my son put the stars in his cup so that he is touching and feeling each success. I also have him take one out or if the behavior is bad, he will lose 5 or 10 stars at once.

The other important thing is to use this system always...it's easy and has worked wonders for us. And it's important to not yell. Just calmly say "that's one gold star" and with each problem goes another one. Again with the throwing the fit up the stairs, I will tell my son that he has just lost one star but if he continues, he is threatened with losing another star if he doesn't straighten up. The threat is enough to change the behavior. :)

I realize my response is long winded. I hope that this helps you. Feel free to message me back if you have more questions. Whatever you do, you have to get control of this and fast. The teens are fast approaching and if she is this angry now, it's really going to get bad soon. :(

Good luck.



answers from Portland on

I will preface this by saying: I am not a mother of a 9 year old.

I have, however, been the nanny of the family for a few nine year olds and understand that some of this is "9", and some of this is your daughter.

I'll try to keep this short: in the long time I've worked with kids, I've come to the conclusion that positive discipline is often most effective proactively. Those tips for asking our children to consider the effect of their actions beforehand are great.

I'll give you the title of two books I love and use for kids from 3-13 (that's the range I've worked with). First, "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and How to Listen so Kids will Talk" by Faber and Mazlish. This book focuses primarily on effective communication and helping to incorporate our children in problem-solving, when appropriate.

Second is "Taking Charge: Loving Discipline Which Works at Home and At School" by JoAnne Nordling. This book asks us to observe our children's behaviors to find what's at the root of them, breaks down the TYPES of misbehaviors and provides a variety of corrections for each misbehavior. I also see that there are some very serious aggressive behaviors going on, and this book does address this very directly. This book has saved my sanity on several occasions, both as a preschool teacher/nanny and as a mother with my own children. JoAnne founded the Parent Resource Center; here's a link:


I think, given what you've written, that you have some very reasonable expectations of your daughter and you sound like you understand her needs fairly well. I hope someone gives you something here on this forum that works for you and that you can take away. I know you've read a lot, and I just wanted to offer these two books: they have been enormously valuable resources for me.

Added: I really agree with Carrie's suggestion of counseling. I think spanking or clearing her room is only going to elevate the level of anger she is feeling at present. One of my standard rules of thought: you can't punish a child into good behavior. (My parents tried, so I know this firsthand. :))



answers from Chicago on

Dan Peterson(____@____.com) .....please contact this man ....you need professional help......Dan holds parenting workshops that I really would like to go to but haven't been able to yet, but he also does individual counseling and accepts insurance. His office is out of Naperville. My friend went to one of his classes & said it was great & that she highly recommends it. I spoke with him on the phone & I really like his approach on dealing with *extra* difficult children (I have one too). My husband just got home from a month long work project, but I plan on contacting this counselor to see when the next parenting workshop is. Best wishes



answers from Salt Lake City on

I have a son who has always been a challenge, so I know how you're feeling. It does sound a bit more extreme, as being firm and consistent (soooo hard, I know!) has mostly worked with him. Although, as I think about it, things were still nightmarish even a year ago (he's 10 now), so it was, and still is, a long process.

Talk to the pediatrician about it. He may suggest some counseling for her (to find out what is going on and see how to deal with it), and may have some advice for you. You may also want to see about getting a bit of help for you. Not that there's anything wrong with you - there isn't! - but having someone to listen and give suggestions on how to keep yourself calm, if nothing else, could be helpful. Not necessarily a counselor, but someone who can listen.

**HUGS** It may feel like there's no end to it. But hang in there! You can get through this!



answers from San Francisco on

Well, she sounds a lot like I did as a child. She sounds very mad. I was diagnosed with depression around that age, after seeing many counselors for behavior problems much like you daughter. I was finally put on antidepressants around 15 years old, and they completely turned my life around. I am still on them. I have tried going off several times and I find myself depressed again. It is something chemical.
Now I am not saying that you should put you daughter on medication, unless totally necessary, but I might take her to a counselor and get their opinion.
She will be starting to go through puberty soon and I am sure there is a lot on her mind.
My parents regret taking my behavior issues seriously, so I encourage you to have her mental health checked out.
keep reassuring her that even when she is a little snot you still will NEVER stop loving her and that she can always come to you for help.
one last thing. If your daughter is behaving well in society, treating her friends with compassion, and is a good person, just ride through the rough stuff and she will come out wonderful on the other side. :)



answers from San Francisco on

At her age she needs more than a short time out -- she could do a couple of hours easy for spitting in your face.

I think your mom has a good idea. Her behavior is extreme (and that doesn't mean I think there is anything wrong with her), and you need to show her who is in control.


answers from Biloxi on

I have stripped my son's room down to furniture, clothing, and books and made him earn back his things. He was younger than your daughter - but it really did work. At almost 15, he knows that when I "threaten" him with a punishment that I will follow through. It is not always easy, and sometimes, I just don't want to - but I force myself to be consistent.

If I remove a privilege for a certain length of time, return it, then he misbehaves again, I will just yank the newly returned privilege for an indefinite amount of time. Last time this happened I took the PS3 controllers for a month.

It so easy for me to sit at my computer and tell you what you should do - but I know, the reality is not so easy.

I would suggest that you try family counseling with her. If she is this oppositional with you now - it may help you both learn to relate to each better.

Also, I understand that your Husband works long hours, but what is his take on this? Does he discipline her when he gets home?

You could also look into Big Brothers/Big Sisters or another mentoring program. It may be able to provide her with the one-on-one attention that she craves.

Edit: I need to add, that about a month ago my pediatrician agreed to start my son on Zoloft. He is ADD and exhibits some Oppositional Defiance. It has truly helped with the uncontrolled bursts of anger. Even my son sees a difference in himself and admits to having increased control over his emotions.

Good Luck
God Bless


answers from Williamsport on

You are asking what you could do that is firmer than a brief time out or ignoring that is more effective than positive discipline. She is 9. Have you ever done anything firmer than positive discipline? Positive discipline is often "code" for "no discipline", since it tries every way until Sunday to avoid any (gasp) seriously negative consequences for SERIOUSLY WRONG actions. Like spitting and hitting. Really? good parents should ignore that? When will these authors be sued for creating totally out of control kids? When difficult kids never have a strong deterrent from wrong, they then never earn the rewards that the whole system is supposed to be based on.

I would say scrap the whole positive parenting idea and get tough until this is under wraps, at which time your whole style and home life can be positive EXCEPT WHEN she needs discipline. But she's 9, not 3. She needs boot camp and A LOT of discipline. She's screaming for all the boundaries she never got.

Why do you like positive parenting? Because it seems nice and it seems like being nice would encourage your daughter to be nice? These theories are selling hope to people who want to be the nicest parents, but you are not alone and these results are not uncommon. Get the Book Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson and see if you could consider using straight up clear discipline. Everyone I know raised this way, including my own kids, are well behaved and happy with a little tough love in the mix. Kids need these boundaries and will love and respect you more for them. You would have to be firmer and more diligent than the book recommends since she missed the early learning windows and is very set in there ways, but the method would be the same, just MORE of everything.

The whole "doing it for attention" thing is only if A: you're not giving her attention, and B: She doesn't mind the consequence, so she seeks it. If she gets plenty of attention but her consequences are clear, calmly delivered and FIRM ENOUGH, she won't seek the results to bad behavior.



answers from Washington DC on

I'm not going to address specific techniques -- others have done that and yes, you need to try something new, consistent and serious. I just want to add: She sounds like -- on top of being sure she will get away with these things because of lack of consequences -- she might also have other issues: Lack of impulse control and anger management problems.

Does she hit or spit at her siblings like she does you? At her dad? You say she's an angel in school but I wonder if you have delved into this with her teachers -- it's not unusual for a child to be one way at home and another way at school, but the hitting, spitting, name-calling etc. seem extreme. I wonder if her teachers see different elements of anger and lack of impulse control that they just don't see as bad enough to tell you but which are parts of this bigger picture -- if only you knew about them.

Talk not only to her teacher but also to the school counselor. Her problem does NOT have to be a "school-related" problem for the counselor to help you! The counselor should be able to direct you to some outside help like possible evaluation for your daughter. If the discipline does not work, I would get her evaluated for anger issues. I'm definitely not saying that every kid who "acts out" has a medical problem or needs medications; I'm saying that sometimes, a kid temporarily needs some help learning to deal with his or her feelings appropriately. That help can be as simple as some sessions with a counselor. Sometimes kids will listen to an adult who is not a parent better than they will listen to a parent.

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