Help! I’m at My Wits End.

Updated on February 16, 2018
L.S. asks from Omaha, NE
12 answers

I’m at a loss for how to handle my two daughters. One is 10 the other is 6. They constantly fight, they do NOT obey, they don’t take care of their things, they talk back - bottom line: they do not respect my husband and me. I don’t know what to do. More often than not, I feel like I want to give up and leave (though I never would...). I feel like I’m constantly yelling at them. Don’t hate on me for being a yeller, I can’t help it to an extent. However, they push me to the edge that I instinctively yell out of frustration. I know there are other ways to deal with it. Believe me when I tell you that we do parent them. But obviously we’re dou something wrong. We’ve tried positive reinforcement, bribery, grounding them, taking electronics away, etc. nothing sticks. I know siblings will fight. I know 10 year olds will be sassy. But the defiance and disrespect I witness are beyond my feeling of normalcy. They’re very sweet girls, but at home they’re so difficult. I don’t want to hate these years of their life. I know that go quickly. Any advise would be great!! Thank you!!

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answers from Washington DC on

I have two boys - 17 and 15. I can yell. I have yelled. I don't think I've ever met a mom who hasn't yelled.

I count down from 5. **IF** I hit "1"? The stuff hits the fan. They know it. I started counting when they were 8 and 6. If not a tad bit earlier. Told them it was time to clean up. Told them if it wasn't cleaned up - any toys I touched were mine. They didn't believe me at first. Boy. Did they learn otherwise. They had to EARN all their toys back - LEGOs, Kinex, etc.

I told them my expectations. I told them what would happen if my expectations were not met. I used to yell - A LOT - not proud of it - but I did. Then I started counting. It helped me. It showed them I was serious. Hell, even my dog knows when I am counting to get with the program!!

You're doing too many things. Stop changing it up. It takes AT LEAST two weeks for a behavior to change and at least TWO MONTHS to make it "work". You're changing things up without giving them a chance. Nothing is working because you keep moving the goal posts. STOP MOVING THE GOAL POSTS!!!

Family contract. Family Rules. ALL Must abide. Give them their list of responsibilities. Give them the consequences for each responsibility that is not met.

Now that my kids are older? A senior and a sophomore. Driving. Driving is a privilege and NOT a "RIGHT". They have to EARN IT. My youngest is getting his license and learning behind the wheel.

I have and WILL take away their cell phones. I have made it to where they can ONLY call 9-1-1, me or their dad. NO ONE else. I've restricted their usage to 0% because they were missing homework and playing on their phone instead. They KNOW I'm serious. They MIGHT try and test to see if the goal post has changed, but overall? NO.

For the longest time, we had a chart in the kitchen of everything EVERYONE in the house was expected to do. Laundry, dog walking, setting the table, pouring the drinks, trash, recycling, humidifier, making beds, changing towels out, putting soap in the soap containers...ALL of us were on the list. Now it's a routine. NOW we don't need it. Routine. Goal Posts - NOT MOVING THEM! Set your expectations. Make sure they know it. DO NOT change things up after a few weeks. GIVE IT TIME. And enforce the rules and expectations. Count down. Set a timer. Do what works for you. Counting works for me.

You can get control.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

They are learning how to sass from somewhere.
Get over expecting 10 yr olds to be sassy.
Expecting it is almost like giving permission for it to happen.
Not in your house!
Our son tried that just once - I asked him why he thought he could talk to me like that.
I told him I don't care what anyone else does - we do not talk like that in our house.
Take a look at what they are watching.
If they are picking up bad habits from the shows they watch then turn the tv off and keep it off.
Let them watch something on dvd that you can control - but only if they'e earned it.
If they don't earn their perks by good behavior - then they get none.

As for sibling fighting - divide and conquer.
Put them on separate ends of the house, different floors - minimize their together time.
They don't have to like each other - they just have to treat each other as well as they'd treat any other acquaintance.
It's really hard to squabble when they are not in each others space.

Something that use to work for my mom when my sister was pitching a fit - was leaving the room.
My sister was a little younger than your 6 yr old, but if the audience was gone - the performance was over.
When ever you feel the urge to yell - give yourself a time out, close your bedroom door, lay down and de-stress.

You might want to start having some regular family meetings to discuss what is acceptable and what isn't.
Explain that you are not going to tolerate things going on as they have been.
Lay out what you expect and what the consequences will be for going off your plan.
And then be consistent in following through with doing as you said you would.

If they follow your plan - life can be sweet.
If they fight against you - life will be miserable.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

First off, congratulations on recognizing you have a problem. That's tough.

Can't hate on you for yelling. None of us are perfect and these are trying times!

Stop yelling. When you feel yourself wanting to yell. Stop. Breathe and whisper. Yep. Whisper. Tell them what you expect from them and the consequences of not doing what they are told. You MUST follow through. If you don't? They will know the line can and will be moved.

They already know how to push your buttons. That's what kids do. You need to get to the root of the problem. WHERE are they learning this behavior? Once you learn where the behavior is coming from? You will be able to remove that influence from their life. Doesn't mean you move. It means you keep control over the kids.

Stop changing the line. Stop trying different things. Sit down with your husband and make sure you are both on the same page and expect the same things. Then you sit down as a family and you talk about your expectations and what will happen if they are not met.

The consequence has to "fit". That means no electronics. No cell phone. No TV. Write it out. Just like Nanny Jo would do. Make a contract. This is not going to happen overnight. They will need to see you are serious and the lines are not moved. It will take about 4 to 6 weeks for this to become your new normal.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

They're getting some sort of payoff for the behavior. You have to figure out what that is. They are running the show, and you're allowing it. They push YOU to the edge, and you lose patience. It's supposed to be the other way - with you having control and them learning the rules. I might stop short of the objective that they need to "obey" I get that you are so totally frustrated and you resort to yelling - we've all done the same thing. But it's not working for you, is it?

You need to be more decisive and, i fear, more dramatic - but without the yelling. Now, if you are taking away the electronics and they don't care, it must be because they have too many other things to play with. I'd take all the things they don't take care of (whether they leave them lying around or are destructive with them), and put them away. No yelling, no participating in the argument, just matter-of-fact statements that they don't care about X and Y, so you're taking them "until you are older and more responsible." They'll rant and rave, which you calmly remind them that they are confirming your judgment of them.

I think you're engaging in too much argument and too much negotiating/threatening. They aren't complying, and you get into the yelling.

I learned 2 things from good educators: the first is, you don't have to go to every fight you're invited to. They might want to argue and harangue, but you don't have to listen. The second thing is to learn the phrase, "How unfortunate for you." This phrase lets the kids know that THEY have made the choice to not have the item they want - that could be their favorite shirt that they just insisted you wash for school tomorrow, or some electronic device, or a toy, or a preferred snack. You let them know that it is their decision to do without, just as we might let our kids get good and cold outside because they refused to wear gloves even when we warned them. "How unfortunate for you" puts the onus back on the child to take care of things. If they don't get dressed in the morning, then they go to school in their pajamas. It's very simple when you don't get sucked into the drama and respond with anger.

Now, does this take a lot of discipline on your part? Absolutely! You have to be willing to not resolve everything at the moment, but to let the consequences of their decision come in time. So, if you say, "Clean your rooms or I'm taking stuff out of there," then don't keep repeating it. Wait until the deadline has just passed, and get in there with some cartons or black trash bags and take stuff out. They'll scream, at which point you respond, "How unfortunate for you that you didn't follow my rules." If they don't put stuff in the laundry, then their favorite jeans aren't going to be washed. They'll scream and yell, but you respond, "How unfortunate for you. I put my dirty clothes in the hamper, and so they got washed." Once the kids see that it's their choice to put themselves in these situations by refusing to do what they were told. You must, however, not cave in by "doing the laundry just this once."

And by the way, it IS okay to leave for a while if you have to.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i'm glad you recognize that this is not healthy and want to change it. that's a great start.

you've got an uphill battle because this is now a long-established pattern in your family. it's the only dynamic your girls have ever known. this is their normal. they're not hardwired for this, it's simply what has been permitted and accepted, so you've got to be firm AND patient going forward.

yeah, that means that yelling needs to stop.

i'm not sure you can tackle all of this without help. you need to identify a pretty broad spectrum of unacceptable behaviors, figure out what's triggering them, and work out simple yet flexible responses.

it starts with modeling the behavior you want, which is extra challenging because your default response is what's got you here in the first place. all of the changes need to start with you and your husband.

i know counseling is the endless yawping go-to in this forum, and it's a PITA, but i really think it will help you. it's not just about stopping them from being rude and belligerent, it's about replacing those behaviors with better responses, and encouraging their natural sweetness.

it will never happen if you allow them to push you to the point of reactivity, frustration and yelling. you must understand that their 'sass' is simply a mirror of what you're showing them.

it's simple, although difficult to implement. you need to start showing them better behavior so they have something positive to follow.

good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

The bottom line is that rewarded behavior will increase, ignored behavior will decrease. As I've written here before, the rewards are best if they're not tangible, like money, toys, electronics, etc. The rewards are mom and dad's attention, interaction, eye contact, conversation. It doesn't have to be full of glorious praise. Simply something like "hey, I'm going to take a walk, want to come with me?" or "how about that game of chess we've been planning?" or "let's make cupcakes for dessert - you can choose the flavor". Or "did you hear about that new park they're planning for the town? What do you think they should include? I hope it has a dog run area, do you agree?"

And the ignored behavior must be complete lack of eye contact, complete calm (no giving away that you're stressed or frustrated, and I know, that takes an Academy Award winning performance).

When your daughter says that she hates what you made for dinner, ignore her completely. Go on eating and chatting with your husband, and your other daughter if she's not complaining. When your daughter stops complaining long enough to take a drink of water, smile at her and ask her a simple question: when her next soccer practice is, etc.

And, this is important to remember: when you're trying something with the plan to decrease undesirable behavior, the behavior will get louder and worse at first. It's like ignoring a toddler's tantrum: the little kid will come closer to mommy and scream and kick louder, as if to say "NOW am I bothering you?" or "How about this? I can get louder!". The mother continues to ignore the tantrum and gradually the kid tires out and the kicking and screaming subside. At that point, the mom should turn her attention back to the kid and now that there's quiet, give a gentle hug or otherwise interact. It's the same with 6 and 10 year olds. When you thought something wasn't sticking, because their behavior was getting worse, that's when they were responding - testing you to see if you meant what you said.

Never bribe for polite behavior. Grounding for talking back isn't logical. Taking away electronics is only appropriate for when electronics have been abused. What your kids need is to know that their unacceptable behavior will not get mom or dad's attention (and yes, the yelling and punishments and anger are a form of reward in the kid's mind - they have mom and dad's complete focus, even if it's yelling). So make sure that your kids get your interaction, hugs, eye contact, and attention when their behavior is appropriate.

And make your standards clear. Don't say vague things like "stop mouthing off". Say "you will not use the word [ whatever it is they say]". Or "you're not listening to me". Instead, say "I am telling you that the tv will go off at 7 pm, and if you do not obey that, there will be no tv for the rest of the week", or something like that, that is very very clear.

Be clear, be consistent, and you will see results.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

My sister and I were also 4 years apart. We fought 80% of the time. Some kind of weird sibling rivalry is what I suspect now that I reflect on it.

One thing for sure is that kids like to get their parents attention. Do they only get your attention when they act up? Might be something to think about.

If you intervene on them every 15 minutes or so and give them fun things to do such as helping prepare meals, giving you ideas for the grocery list, talking about a movie or cartoon you recently shared, etc. You have to be a parent and not another child in the house by yelling and trying to get attention. They may be mirroring what they have grown up with which would be no fault of their own and is something that can be changed, but it starts at the top.

Sadly, my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was only 9. And she passed away. You might have a talk with your daughters about something like that... You miss them and feel bad for fighting with them when they are gone :(

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Separate them. They can't be together if they fight. It's that simple.

The advice to take stuff out of their room is spot on. If they won't take care of their stuff, they lose it. 5 shirts, 5 pairs of pants is enough to get through the week. If they don't take care of THOSE, then they wear dirty clothes to school until they start taking care of them. When they have almost nothing in their room, they will start trying to earn it back.

The yelling you're doing is telling your girls that they can ignore you because you're just out of control and THAT'S how you will handle things instead of taking anything away from them. You give them NO incentive to listen to you. And if you just excuse your behavior with "I can't help it to an extent", then you're just going to continue to handle things this way instead of doing the HARD work of managing your kids.

Listen to the advice you have on this thread. And separate your kids every time they start this stuff.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

It seems like you know you've hit your limit and are open to help, so good for you. I really like Parenting with Love and Logic. IT IS HARD but it works. You have to hold yourself accountable, be consistent and calm. And that is not easy. If you google it you might find that there's a class in your community. They have on line resources as well as lots of books.

I also suggest maybe some counseling/therapy for yourself. Maybe if you honed in on some personal issues, it might help you be more patient and know how to handle difficult moments. Trust me, I yell too sometimes, but we all know this is not the model and the more often it happens the worse things can get.

Bribery won't work to change to behavior long term. Neither will arbitrary consequences that don't fit the crime.

Also, I'd like to ask about their sleep and eating schedules? Personally, I would start here. This is a thing that is totally in your control and can change immediately. I know it sounds simple but if kids aren't getting enough sleep then they are a mess. Kids, even 10 year olds, still need 9-12 hours of sleep/night. Maybe you have a strict bedtime routine, but if you don't, make one asap. It helps everyone to stay calm and happy and gives you time to decompress before going to bed yourself.

10 year olds are sassy. I too am learning this the hard way. I feel you. However, if you have all the other stuff in place, it will be MUCH easier to deal with the sass and command respect when you're not feeling like the rest of your days are so out of control.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I use 123 magic and for the majority of time it works. Check your local library for the book about it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

In these cases what helps a lot are clear home rules, clear consequences and consistency. If you look online for "if/then chart" you will find something useful for that. Then there are different very good books to look for excellent parenting tips, reading them could make the difference, but there isn't just one good for all the parents and kids so you need to find which one works the best in your situation.



answers from Los Angeles on

Watch Supernanny. I took a parenting course and that was basically what I learned lol. So I watched and continued to watch the shows on YouTube and now apply what I've learned. You could of course take a parenting class as well. Just find one that actually teaches something!

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