My Child Isn't Spoiled, Why Does She Act like It Around Other People?

Updated on June 21, 2015
E.A. asks from Vancouver, WA
16 answers

My DD just turned 5. She has a few behavioral issues, but to keep it to the point I'm just addressing this one right now.

She is very intellectually mature but emotionally immature... cries every time she is told no, but is otherwise obedient unless she's really tired/hungry/etc. She rarely blatantly disobeys me (less than once a week).
At home she is pretty happy, very into reading and coloring and playing. She is rarely sassy or rude or bratty at home.

However, if there is anyone at our house, or we are out in public she acts like a different child entirely. She is willful and belligerent and generally acts like an entitled, spoiled little brat. I don't understand why.
We don't spoil her. Unacceptable behavior gets consequences in our home. She has never in her life gotten her way by throwing a fit. If we are out of the house and she acts like a brat, she gets 2 warnings and then we go home. Discipline takes place wherever we are. Our rules are consistent, simple and have been the same for as long as she's been old enough to understand them.

Her behavior around other people is that of an undisciplined child who is used to always getting her way and given everything they want. This is NOT the way we raise her and not the way she behaves at home.

Example: We were at the park with a friend who brought some chocolates to share. My daughter ate a lot of them and I told her she'd had enough. A few minutes later I see her sneaking a chocolate out of the bag, I tell her to put it back because she had already had all of hers. She sneered at me, told me "NO! I want it!" and stuffed the chocolate into her mouth.

If we were at home, she would have whined when I told her no, but she wouldn't have gone back to take more and would certainly not have sneered and been so willful. She simply doesn't act this way at home.

***EDIT: We go over the rules and expectations as we are getting ready to go out, and again as we arrive at our destination. There is no room for confusion there. I always remind her that "Our rules go with us wherever we go" and she knows very clearly what is expected at all times. 'The Look' does nothing for her.
Depending on the severity of her misbehavior, she may not get multiple chances before we go home. If she is throwing wood chips near others or not taking turns on the slide, she gets a warning. Hitting/tantrums/etc, and we go home immediately without a warning because she knows that it's unacceptable.
I consider myself a fairly strict parent. I absolutely do keep her on a short leash when she acts like a jerk and it has never worked out in her favor.
Ordinarily I do intervene much earlier to prevent poor behavior, to the point that I might even be considered the bossy mom at the playground. With the chocolate, I let her have a few because it's a rare treat and I thought I'd see how it played out. Not a common occurrence.

I am running out of ideas to address this. Please help!

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So What Happened?

Thank you ladies for all your answers.
I think it's important to mention that when I remind her of the 'rules' when we go out, it's less focused on what we shouldn't do and more on what we should; i.e. "We play nicely, we take turns, we respect the people around us". A warning from me usually is more of a reminder of our rules, not a "stop that or else". I don't expect perfection from her so that's why I like to give her a couple of chances to get back on the right track instead of just immediately bringing down the hammer.

Laurie A, the hand on the arm thing instead of interrupting is a great patience tool that we do use. Thanks!
Nervy Girl, your answer really struck a chord with me and I'm going to try some of what you advised.

A lot of the reason I feel I have to keep her on a short leash is because she doesn't seem to absorb things. This is one of the behavioral issues I mentioned in the post. Natural consequences don't faze her.
For whatever reason, she cannot make the connection between cause and effect, except as it relates to a punishment.
If she tipped her chair too far and fell and injured herself, she would know that A) she tipped the chair and B) she was injured, but wouldn't connect the two things. I could let her fall out of her chair a million times and it wouldn't help her understand, so I'm left with "sit properly in your chair or take a time out." This is a weak example, but it's the general idea.
Regarding her emotional immaturity: her pediatrician and a child therapist have told me that she is not within normal limits for her age and is about as emotionally mature as the typical 2 year old. Her intellectual maturity is more like an 8 year old so there's a huge disparity there.

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answers from San Francisco on

My 5 year old tries to pull the same thing sometimes. When it's gotten bad in the past where she would blatantly not listen, I've found holding her face with my hand and literally bending down and making her maintain eye contact with me, while I verbally reprimand her to be very very effective. With the added bonus that you don't have to yell in public. :) (these incidences are few and far between when she needs to be treated this way, but they do come up) I always follow up with, "do you understand me? What am I telling you?" I wait for her to respond before I'll let her look and/or break away.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Personally I think you are doing fine...she is five. You give consequences, you stick to them. Hang in there. This too shall pass.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

I hate to say it, but this is pretty typical behavior for the age. It sounds like she's in a season of testing you, so do your part in staying very calm (what I like to call 'emotionally neutral') and following through on the correction.

I would also ask: would redirection work better than a warning? I feel, in many situations, redirection is better than a power struggle. I also think that, sometimes, we are quick to react and 'rein in the child' because we feel other parents are going to think poorly of us. The problem with constantly using warnings and threats is that it doesn't give kids a chance to find out *why* something might (or might now) be a good idea. Take the chocolate situation. What happened after she defied you? I might have shook my head and then waited until another treat/sweet was asked for later that day. "Oh, remember all the chocolate you had at the park? That was your treat for today." Matter of fact, the consequence is delivered more naturally.

I will say that I didn't come around to this way of parenting (delaying a consequence to a later moment) immediately but I find this is rather useful. It doesn't mean I let my son do 'whatever', but in limiting how many times he is told "do this or else", it makes the situation less intense. "No you don't have to clean your room right now, but it does have to be done before you get any tv time. Oh, tv time came and your room is still a mess.. bummer. Better get on that, huh? What, you missed your show today? Bummer." Lots of empathy for the fact that they are still learning how to get it together and less discussion of rules, they are just a matter of fact. Didn't do your homework and now Charlie's mom calls for a playdate? "Well, thanks so much for the invite, maybe another day, Kiddo has homework to do."

Do you see where I'm going with this? If we rule our children with threats in the moment, they just learn not to get caught when they are trying to misbehave (the sneaking chocolate is a great example).

For what it's worth, I used to keep Kiddo on a short leash, too. If he didn't do something, it was a time out until he did it. Now, though, he knows that if I ask him to do something and he refuses, I'll just say "never mind" and walk away. He knows that the "never mind" means that something may be in store for him later. "Oh, yeah, remember when you didn't want to help me with XYZ? Well, I'm not interested in helping you with (example) getting the art supplies out right now. Maybe another time." "Oh, remember when I folded your clothes and you complained at me because you had to put them away? I have a pile of clothes for you here-- since you were mad that I had clothes folded for you, you can fold them yourself." At the very least, it will likely spark a conversation.

Some things (like, say, wearing sunblock or a helmet) are non-negotiable. This is for safety's sake. But a lot of conflict with kids isn't about safety but more about respect. There is still a mythology and belief around parents being able to 'control' their child, when we all know how silly that idea is. Would we ask someone to 'control' another adult? I mean, they are people, not dogs. On one particularly argumentative day, my son wanted to go to the park and I told him no. I was just tired of arguing and wanted pleasant company if we were going out, so we'll do it another day. Simple. There were no previous warnings, just simple logic: you are being unpleasant and going out with an unpleasant person is no fun. Start letting her LEARN why it's in her best interest to get along instead of making everything a 'do this or that will happen' power struggle.

Oh, and PS-- The Look used to do nothing for me, either. Until I changed how I managed this situation-- now The Look is highly effective, because he knows that, sometime later, what he is doing will bite him in the butt if he doesn't stop.

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answers from Austin on

She is 5. Her attention span is 5 minutes. A more mature child it could be a bit longer but a minute per year, is the goal.

She gets excited having other people around, but at the same time, if your attention is on an adult, another child, or whatever is going on,, Ex; at a museum, you are trying to read the plaques etc.. she is not used to you admiring and not engaging or including her.. Normal, but it is also a test to make sure you know she is there. Maybe mention to her. "Hold on, I want to read about this painting." This is information she needs to know. It helps her understand what is going on and that YOU deserve to do what you want or need to do.

She will be in school in the fall? This is a good time to help her build up her attention span. Spend more time with others. Remind her that when mom is speaking to another adult, she needs to wait until you are finished, unless it is an emergency..
I used to have our daughter put her hand on my arm. I would then place my hand on hers. This was the signal that I knew she needed me and I would be with her in a moment,

When I found a moment in my conversation I would say "Excuse me, daughter needs to tell me something." Then I would turn to my daughter and say. "I like how you waited patiently, what do you need to tell me?"

The more positive you are about her GOOD interactions and behaviors, the more she will want to please you. The candy situation. "You may have 2 pieces but no more." "Thank you for only taking 2 pieces!"

It is a constant every interaction reinforcement. It will seem staged at first, but soon it will just be your normal to acknowledge when she does well and then she will just do and make the right choices.

"I like how you did not get upset , when I told you no."
" Thank you for your patience."
" Thank you for using your regular voice."
" I know that hurt your feelings, let me give you a hug. "
"Thank you for not hitting that little child when they hit you. You used your words and I like that."

"Thank you for putting down the wood chips when I asked you too. Remember we do not throw things at people."
"What is a better way to say when you are upset?"

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answers from San Francisco on

Maybe you're keeping the leash TOO short?
And when she gets out around other people she exerts herself a bit more than she's allowed to at home?
I don't know, it's hard to say without observing, but based on your description you sound more like a warden than a parent. Of COURSE young children need rules and expectations but if, at five years old, you are expecting her to act like a perfect young woman, well then I think you need to adjust your expectations.
Stop focusing on results and start focusing on the process, a child isn't raised in five years, you have at least another ten to fifteen years to create a functioning well rounded young adult. She's going to push limits and break rules many, many times, that's how she will learn and grow. And you'd better be prepared to help her navigate her choices (with patience and understanding!) not just punish her every time she does something wrong or judge her for being "spoiled" or "bratty" when she's simply trying to understand why she can't have something she wants :-(

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Your description in the park is pretty worrisome. Sneering at you and stuffing it in her mouth with that kind of defiance at 5? That's pretty bad.

I think that you need to try a different tactic. If I were you, I wouldn't give her ANY second chances this summer when the behavior is over the top like this. I would say "We are going home" and mean it. I'd get her strapped in the car and tell her that she doesn't get to have her privileges because she did "x".

I know you say that said you take her home when she hits and has tantrums, but that's not enough.

I wouldn't try to reason with her so much. I'd just tell her point blank that she may not act that way and here is the consequence. You'll have a lot of time home this summer, but it's better than your child always being thought of as an awful child by everyone.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

it does sound as if you're handling it well, but since your daughter isn't responding well, obviously you need to change it up.
i'd crack down. lower the boom. make this whole situation unbearably uncomfortable for HER.
i'd start by sitting her down and having a very serious, look-me-in-the-eye talk with her. 'flora, you've become rude and disrespectful when in the presence of others. we're not going to have it. you will behave as courteously and pleasantly when we're around people not in our family as you do otherwise or there will be consequences you don't like.'
and outline what those will be. make them dire.
for starters, you need to intervene earlier. instead of letting her eat a ton of the chocolates and then defy and sneer, i'd do the eye-contact thing with a stern face BEFORE she dipped one pudgy fist into the bag and say 'you may have two.' and if she went sneaking after one more i'd have her up by the short hairs and in the car.
don't sigh or waffle. and keep the reins very, very short until she snaps out of this pissy phase.
and if what you say is true, and she's a generally nice little girl most of the time, she will.

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answers from San Francisco on

Why?: Because it's her personality.

Sometimes you need to know why, if behavior is unusual or extreme, but in this case it's really not important. I'd say she's probably showing off.

What's important is how you handle it, and it sounds like you are handling it fine. The main thing is that you are consistent, which it sounds like you are.

You can't worry about what others think, if that concerns you, and mostly they will only think poorly of you if they see you giving in to her behavior, which you are not.

Keep up the good work!

ETA -- Are you giving too many warnings, perhaps?

ETA#2 -- Are you perhaps too strict? Too strict usually backfires ultimately. Look up "authoritarian" vs. "authoritative" parents. The latter is the way to go. Praising and acknowledging positive behavior as Laurie suggested is very useful and important.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

If you aren't consistently giving her the same consequence while out that you give her at home she may be testing you.when your response is different some of tye time she continues to test you.

I suggest, also, that she knows you're embarrassed. You react differently when out. So she reacts differently too. Children pick up on parents feelings so she might be anxious just as you are.

Being away from home, in itself, can change dynamics. You said emotionly she's more like 2. She knows home, what to expect and how to act. A 2 yo is less able to make a smooth transition away from what is known to what is unknwn. I suggest you may need to anticipate behavior to prevent the misbehavior just as you do with being too tired or hungry. I would specifically tell her she can have 3 chocolates and then remove the candy from her reach. I still have to do that with my teen granddaughter and preteen grandson as well as myself sometimes. lol Chocolate is too big of a temptation.

I would try monitoring her more when you're away from home so that you can redirect before she gets cranky, or feels entitled. Teach her how to behave away from home as you taught her at home.

I would not describe her behavior as spoiled. I would say she is disrespectful.

Another thought. Are you more lenient at home? Would you not notice her taking another chocolate. Or would you respond more calmly. It makes sense if you do. I wonder if your concern about what another parent might think is part of your reaction.

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answers from Boston on

I agree that she's 5 and learning to negotiate "public" space, that is, social rules in the presence of others.

I think 2 warnings may be too many at this point - they are giving her permission to keep misbehaving. And I wonder if you are talking about things too much - reviewing the rules before you leave and just as you arrive. She's tuning that out, because she can do what she wants and still get 2 warnings. By the end of the 2 discussions and the 2 warnings, she's tuned you out. And her ultimate consequence is also her "reward" - she gets you all to herself, even if it's in the car on the way home. She's probably gotten an earful from you by then, understandably from your part, but overload on her part.

Some kids don't have the verbal thing worked out yet - the old "in one ear, out the other" thing.

You are doing the immediate consequences for the hitting/tantrum thing, and I think that's excellent. I wonder if, instead of the nice car ride home with you explaining to her what went wrong and/or the quiet time to calm down, if she would do better in total, miserable isolation. Even if, by the time you get home, she's restricted from fun things (TV, whatever you take away), it's too far separated from the "offense." What I used to do with my son (at inconvenience to me, but with great effectiveness), was take him off the playground or out of someone's house, put him in the carseat/booster, buckle him in, and leave him there. Alone. Bored. I stopped engaging with him in any way, and I stood where he could see me but not where he could talk to me. I stood outside the car, maybe 20 feet away, and read a book or did a crossword puzzle (I keep a small book in my purse or in the car, great for waiting times and so on). The point was, I wasn't bored and I wasn't involved with him. He had nothing to do, no one to talk to, no place to even walk because he was strapped into his seat. It became completely nonverbal - no discussion, no reprimands, just a quick "We don't hit, we don't throw things. Into the car." Then silence, stillness, nothing to do but think about it. The inconvenience to you is definite. You have to be very patient and sit there, enjoying your book. And obviously this doesn't work if it's pouring out or 10 degrees. But most of the time, it's doable. It worked for us.

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answers from Chicago on

It's the age. Just be consistent. Don't take it personally. I know it's hard to not take her behavior as a reflection on you, but it isn't.

Also, check out Ahha parenting and dr laura Markham. It might seem not strict enough for you, but loving guidance is amazing as a discipline approach, it's actually discipline! Teaching them what to do.

So, in the taking chocolate incident. If it was me, I would have had a talk about how we can't steal from others. I would have begun with some empathy: you really like those chocolates, don't you, I know it's tempting to just take things you really like, but we can't steal from others.

it's really hard to talk sweet to kids when they are "misbehaving," but I have found that the less confrontational I am with them, the less oppositional they are with me. The less they fear getting in trouble, the more honest and well behaved they are.

Your daughter is only 5. She isn't trying to misbehave, she just wanted another chocolate and didn't know how to get one. So she solved her problem the only way she could.

Kids really want to please us, but sometimes we have to set up the conditions for them to do so. They really are in training here, so we have to teach them how to act in lots of different contexts. What your daughter is doing here is trying to figure out how rules apply to different contexts. Not all rules work in all contexts, and sometimes you can get away with things in new contexts. You can't really blame them for trying. They are still mostly giant IDs moving about trying to get what they want. They haven't learned to naturally limit themselves yet, but they are now finally starting to learn self-control. It takes time, but this literally is all about learning self-control in the world.

This is age appropriate behavior. If you want to address something, look up ahha parenting. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with your child. I'd suggest you need to work on your approach and your connection. I can tell you that I tried the bossy approach with my oldest and it failed. Once i let up controls, I saw radical improvement in her behavior. Check out loving guidance. I'm amazed at how much better it is as an approach. You still remove the child unable to control themselves from the park, but it isn't a consequence for misbehaving, it's an attempt to help them learn self-control. Sometimes we all need to stop what we're doing and do something else, until we are in a different head-space. But little ones are in training, and instead of punishing them, we need to guide them.

So, i guess I will be the weird one here and say, stop putting her on a short leash and start teaching her how to make good decisions by herself. And let her eat chocolate!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

My kids are 12 and 15. My husband thinks that we should be able to tell them ONCE and they immediately do what they are told. This makes me laugh because, well, they are teens. They are pretty good most of the time but you do have to tell them more than once and there are consequences if they don't do what they are supposed to.

Your daughter is only 5. She is going to act up as she grows. You will have to keep doing what you are doing for many years to come. lol Good luck.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Your post is kind of like my daughter never sneaks ice cream unless I have it in the house, why does she disobey when I actually have the temptation here. That would indicate what you are doing straight up doesn't work with your daughter and you need to find a new way to discipline her all around.

I often found it interesting as my kids grew up that those that claimed to be the strict parents had the worst behaved children on earth. All their decisions are not is this a good idea but will mom let me get by with this. Well obviously mom can't stop them at my house, I do not discipline other people's kids, I just never allowed my kids to invite those kids back. Some of the kids were smart enough to figure out they weren't invited back because they were behaving differently than my kids and when given a second chance behaved very well. I assure you that had nothing to do with the parents being strict. I would talk to other parents who would ask how the heck did I get her to behave at your house, they are holy terrors at my house?! I would shrug.

I could go on about how these kids really messed up their lives as teens and young adults but this is already getting too long. My point is you are not strict, you just have a ton of rules and no effective way to enforce them. Just because your kid doesn't break any rules when there is no opportunity to break them doesn't mean she is obeying them at that time.

Like with the wood chips, I wouldn't stop my kids from doing it, I would watch the other kids walk away from my kids, not want to be around my kids, and when they asked why won't anyone play with me I didn't call the other kids mean or bullies or any of that nonsense parents today do, I would say kids don't like to play with kids that throw wood chips at them! Then my kid would apologize and they would play again. Easy as pie. Then again, I am not a strict parent, I just have good kids.....

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answers from Austin on

She is 5..... that is a lot of it.

She is pushing the boundaries now, trying to see what she can get away with when you are out in the public.

How did you discipline her with the chocolate incident?

She knows she will get 2 warnings, and then you leave.... so, she pushes to that point.... why give her the warnings? Her behavior OUTSIDE of the house should be better than at home.

Sit her down and explain the new reality. Her behavior in public better be BETTER than at home, or you will go home. Having to leave a preferred activity a few times will tell her you are serious.

Practice "the look" .... she will get it. The "look" can serve as her "warning".

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answers from Norfolk on

It's a work in progress and will be for awhile.
It would be nice if we could go over these things once and consider them settled but kids are the ultimate boundary pushers and they try to see how far they can take it.
Going over expectations is good.
I'd try fewer warnings before consequences/going home.

When things DO go right (she behaves, uses manners, is playing nicely with playmates, etc) - lavish her with praise and tell her how proud you are that she's behaving so nicely.
Sometimes the attention they get for misbehaving is the goal they are looking for.
For some kids ANY attention is good even if it's negative/punishment.

I'd mention her behavior issues to your pediatrician.
You want to make sure there aren't any medical reasons for it, and if there are, the doctor can help you to find help/coping techniques.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Asheville on

She's five. Of course she's emotionally immature! This seems completely normal to me. She's just establishing her independence by defying you in public, and it's a necessary part of growing up. Stretching her wings, so to speak, to see what she can get away with. Just be consistent, but try not to intervene too early. Part of the process is letting her cross the boundary, and then correcting the behavior appropriately with the consequences. Intervening too soon doesn't really let her learn the cause and effect, especially if you are helicoptering her every move for the slightest infraction.

3 moms found this helpful
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