Need Help for an Unruly 5 Year Old

Updated on November 21, 2008
J.S. asks from Daytona Beach, FL
11 answers

I'm requesting answers for a 5 year old girl who who does not respond to dicipline. She knows how to "power play", such as asking to go to the bathroom many many times after she has been put to bed at night. Asking over and over for something to eat because she "is hungry" a half hour after eating a good sized meal plus dessert. being told over an over to pick up her toys or clothes, etc. It is a daily power struggle between her and her mother. She wants her way and she's going to get it one way or another, or so she thinks. She has fits of screaming and crying to the point that she is completely out of control. Just yesterday she was going to jump out a window determined to go see her dad... he lives in a different state. She is a beautiful little girl, has perfect manners when she wants to and can be very charming. But her terrible behavior disrupts the whole family and her 4 year old brother is picking up her bad habits. Her Grandmother has the children during the day and gets along good with them...then mother comes home and the yelling and crying begins. What can be done to help her and bring some peace to this family.

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answers from Melbourne on

Try explaining some of the discipline methods discussed from other posters, to both mom and grandma. They both need to be on the same page, communicate well with each other, and stay very consistent with both children. If they are both caring for the kids yet the kids are getting different messages from one person than they are from the other this will result in chaos, it can cause confusion if the child is getting mixed messages or mixed rules, the child will respond better to one person vs the other, the child will play one caregiver against the other, and the two caring for the kids will most likely blame the other for anything that goes wrong.

The situation with them living with mom and grandma can be very stressful on everyone. The fact that dad is not around can be very difficult for the child and they can react in any number of very unsavory ways. The 5 year old will probably be affected worse by the situation because she is a little older and feels the negative affects a little more. They are probably in need of some counseling and parenting help to deal with their difficult situation, and to get help with proper communication and consistency. Starting up a set routine for each day that everyone must stick to would probably help also. The two caregivers should talk with each-other, come up with one set of rules, guidelines, and consequences for following and not following them that they all can live with, and let the children know the expectations and consequences. The mixed messages are going to need to stop, they will just continue the chaos and eventually it will get worse, everyone really needs to be consistent with both children, and not change messages rules or decisions. Setting up a good routine, and making rules and consequences that are followed consistently buy everyone can really help head off some of the problems occurring as long as they are done in a a way that really addresses the problems that are occurring, i.e. specific bedtime and potty rite before bed, no more potty afterward (if she says she's thirsty at bedtime maybe offering a small drink of water right before bed and no more afterward.) Setting these up consistently every night and when requested again calmly stating that you already had potty and drink time right before bed now it is bedtime, then leaving the room (yes she may throw a tantrum, so go into another room and do something else so it isn't so bothersome)after several days of this consistent message it should get much better. Children need boundaries, but they also need to know exactly what those boundaries are. If they are given the same message buy both caregivers every time they will know those boundaries.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Send her a copy of "1-2-3 Magic". It is a book on how to discipline without yelling and outbursts (from the parent)... It works.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Orlando on

Advice for mom:

Check out this website
I was blessed and lucky to get actual training from Dr Becky Bailey on some of her theories and methods ("Conscious Discipline) when I was teaching at an "inner city" school and if you give it a chance it is amazing. Her methods are based on the latest in brain research, which sounds ridiculous at first, but it's not.

In the meantime... 2 things that popped into my head when I read your request...

First of all, if she is acting like this (especially only with you) it is a learned behavior. She would not act this way if she was getting nothing out of it. Think hard-- what happens when she has her meltdowns/power struggles?? Do you eventually always give in? (If so, she has learned to just keep at it until she finds your breaking point because no doesn't really mean no.) Do you SOMETIMES give in? (In which case she never really knows if you really mean no when you say it.) Do you yell at her and get mad when she acts this way? (In which case she is getting negative attention-- all children prefer positive attention but will eat up negative attention if it is offered. Don't feel guilty if this is the case-- we all get upset sometimes as parents and you need to learn from the past and learn to control your own behavior in order to change hers.) The key to getting her to stop her meltdowns is to STOP FEEDING THEM. Seriously-- while you have some distance right now and you're reading this, I bet you think I'm wrong and you aren't doing anything to feed her bad behavior, but you are or she would not be acting this way with you. You have to use Dr. Bailey's method of being a broken record. When she wants to go to the bathroom after being put to bed, first of all you need to get in the habit of having her go to the bathroom right before bed to rule out the fact that she may really need to go. Then, when she asks, you very calmly say, "You already went to the bathroom. You may not go again until morning. It is time for bed." She'll ask again, and you very calmly say the EXACT SAME THING in a monotone, calm voice. If your voice escalates, she won. If you yell at her, she won. If you say something different, you are giving her attention (and feeding into a power struggle) when she should be going to bed, which is what she wants and shouldn't be getting when it is time for bed. Dr Bailey said you need to practice this in the mirror to make sure you are not showing anger or emotion-- it should be said as matter of fact as "this flower is blue." You wouldn't get mad and say, "THIS FLOWER IS BLUE!!!!" so practice that matter of fact monotone tone of voice and use it to let your daughter know that you have said what you mean and mean what you said and you will not be changing your mind and giving in to her. It's really, really hard for your own emotions not to escalate while hers are, but you are the adult and need to be in control of your emotions. I guarantee this method will eventually work IF YOU STAY CONSISTENT and always use it. She will get mad that you keep saying the same thing, but it will sink in that you mean what you say and no amount of tantrum will change your mind, period.

The other thing that came to mind was something you can start right away (again, learned from Dr. Bailey's Conscious Discipline strategies) is that if she wants to have her way and make decisions, let her... here's how to do it in a way that you get what you want but she thinks she is calling the shots and making her own decisions... Every time you want her to do something, give her TWO CHOICES. But there is a VERY IMPORTANT catch... the 2 choices always need to equate to getting what YOU want done. Only give two choices, no more than two. And always make sure you can live with both choices because she will pick one and you have to be able to happily accept and allow her to follow through with the choice she picks. The example Dr Bailey first gave when I heard of this strategy sounded so ridiculous, and then I saw it in action with my students and was blown away that it works nearly every time without fail... She said, for example, if you are reading a story to a group of kids and one of them refuses to sit quietly, you can say, "Jack, you may sit quietly with your hands in your lap or you may sit quietly with your hands on the carpet" or something similar. Either choice equates to him sitting quietly but he thinks it was HIS decision because he got to decide where to put his hands. You tricked his brain into thinking he made a choice rather than you making him doing something he doesn't want to do. The hard part is thinking on your toes for 2 choices, but you will get better at it once you start doing it on a regular basis. Here are some examples based on your original post, but feel free to email me with other issues you have with her and I can give you more examples of choices to offer. And by the way, offer the 2 choices in the matter of fact, monotone, broken record tone of repeating the 2 choices calmly until she picks one and follows through.

If she wants to jump out the window to see here dad, "Jumping out of the window is not safe. I love you and don't want you to get hurt. I understand that you miss your dad and I want you to be able to communicate with him. Do you want to draw him a picture we can send in the mail, or do you want to send him an email?" (Or do you want to write him a letter or call him on the phone-- or whatever 2 options work for you)

I don't really see the problem with her asking for something to eat even if she has already had dinner and dessert, but if this is an issue for you, try to figure out what it really is that she is looking for if you don't think the issue really is hunger-- off the top of my head I think it's the attention she gets from you from the power struggle of trying to get you to say yes, or else the attention she gets from you while you stop doing what you are doing to get her a snack. If you are OK with her eating but are too busy to keep dropping everything to feed her, try "You may have a snack that you can get for yourself such as ___ , or you can wait until I am finish doing___ and I will get you a snack." If you just don't want her to have anything else to eat for the evening, then try "You know the rule that you can't eat again after dessert (or this close to bedtime or whatever the issue is), but you can have a few minutes of mommy time. Do you want me to color with you for 10 minutes or play one game of Go Fish?" If there is some other issue with this asking for food thing that I am missing, let me know and I'll give you a better scenario.

Bathroom at bedtime is easy. Be proactive and have her "try" to go to the bathroom before she gets tucked in. If she says she doesn't have to go right now, say, "Once you get tucked in, you will not be allowed to go until the morning. Do you want to try to go now or do you want to wait until morning?" That way, waiting until morning was HER decision, not yours. See how that works?!?! Cool, huh?? And when she gets to bed and asks to go, make it a non-issue and ignore it by changing the subject. When she asks to go to the bathroom, remind her once and only once that she either just went or decided to wait until morning, then say, "So now it's time to stay in bed. Do you want your door open or closed?" (...or do you want the hall light on or off? ... or do you want the red blanket tonight or the blue one?... or do you want to sleep with your bear or your elephant?... or any other 2 choices that basically do not change the fact that she will be going to bed NOW and staying in her bedroom, but give her the freedom and power to make one last decision before the day is over. It doesn't effect your life in any way yet gives her this amazing sense of power that she made a decision as opposed to mommy always telling her what she can and can't do.

Please let me know if this is helpful to you and if it works. Once you get the hang of the 2 choice system, you will be blown away with how few power struggles you have with her. Another easy one to think of on your toes is when you want her to do something and she doesn't want to do it, say, "Do you want to do___ yourself or do you want me to help you?" Don't say it in a threatening way as though if she doesn't get it done that you are going to MAKE her do it-- instead, she will either accept doing it herself because it makes her feel like she is in control or she will accept your help because she really just wanted your attention-- either way, the task gets done so it's win-win!!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I finally bought a "chore chart" for my two daughters, ages 8 1/2 and 6. Your great-granddaughter is old enough to be responsible for her things (picking up her toys, putting her dirty clothes in hamper, putting her shoes away). Start with rewarding her for being responsible. Her "reward" can be as simple as getting a special sticker, a homemade milkshake, or have mom create a "goody bag" for which she could pick something out of the bag for a job well done at the end of the week. While chore chart rewards them for a job well done, she needs consequences too. I have a small dry erase board on my refrigerator and I use tally marks for my daughers bad behavior. 5 tally marks = 1 deduction and these deductions get subtracted from my daughters points earned from doing their chores. Perhaps instead of the mom subtracting points from her chores (as she is 5 after all and her chores will be somewhat limited due to her age) she could take TV away from her. No TV for a day, or two, or more if that is what it takes. If dessert is a regular occurence, then take dessert away. Bad behavior = no treat. The point is to teach the child that there will always be consequences for unacceptable behavior.

As for the bed time routine, mom needs to be firm about going potty BEFORE bedtime. Once the child is tucked into bed, lights out and close the door. IF she comes out, mom needs to immediately take her back to bed telling her firmly, "it's bed time you stay in bed...goodnight." If she complains, cries, or screams that she has to get a drink or is hungry or needs to go potty, mom needs to be firm. Take her back to bed but say nothing to the child. Speaking to her after she's been taken back once only gives her attention that she is looking for. Therefore it's important that mom not speak to her child however many times she gets up. Oh, the child will fight mom on this and will probably get up several times more. Eventually the child will grow weary of this game that seems to be losing with her mother...and will go to sleep. I cannot emphasize enough how very important it is to be persistent and consistent with a child like this. I have a strong willed child of my own. It's taken many trials and errors and I'm still learning. I've watched Supernanny and have been able to utilize many of the techniques in my own household. Once you start a technique, it's important to follow through with it and not give up. Some children take time "adjusting" to the new ways.

You also need to understand that children behave this way for many reasons. Attention is a big factor. If mom pays attention to the bad behavior then the child has the impression that it's working. Mom must remain calm once the bed behavior begins and speak with authority that this behavior is unacceptable. I also use the naughty spot/chair technique. The child gets a warning that her behavior is unacceptable. Let's say she hits her brother. She is told that hitting is wrong and that there is no hitting. She is told that if she hits her brother again, she will sit in the naughty spot or chair (wherever mom designates the naughty spot and it must always be the same place). Once she hits her brother again, she must be taken to the naughty spot and she is told why she is put there. "I'm putting you in the naughty spot because you hit your brother." She then sits there for a minute for however many years old she is. Hence, 5 minutes since she is 5 years old. Once the time is up, mom goes to her daughter and explains that hitting her brother was wrong and she must not do it again or she'll spend time in the naughty spot. She may protest this new technique and poor mom may have to put her daughter back several times. Every time she gets up the time starts over.

Good Supernanny. I think she comes on at 9 P.M. now on Friday.

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answers from Orlando on

Sorry to hear of your frustration. But to be honest, the tried and true method of discipline is always the answer. OUr kids feed off our OUR behavior and discipline or should I say "lack thereof"! This little girl knows exactly what mommy will or will not tolerate and she yokes it for all its worth. I have five kids and my life is blessed.....truly blessed........because they all know how to act....what is acceptable behaviour and what is not! I am trainig a two year old now.....and its not too fun for her because mommy has her on a very tight rope! If mommy allows ugly/rude/undisciplined behaviour....mommy gets it! God created our butt to be cushiony for several reasons and while we are tots...its to apply pressure and consequences for our behaviour! That little girl would have a room stripped down to nothing but a bed and blanket, no toys and no life....until she GOT it..if that is what it takes! But usally, its only 2 weeks of total training that gets them in line! THey respond to discipline if its applied properly, with love and consistent! I promise you that....four down and one to go!
Hope that helps!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

my 5 year old does

there's a dvd & a book that comes with it..not too hard if you start slow...

also: get family counseling...also talk to her school teacher and guidance counselor together...make a unified plan...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Orlando on


I am having the same issues with my 5 year old son, he was diagnosed with ADHD about a year ago. He is in kindergarten and his teacher is constantly having to have him removed. I just met with the school counselor today and she is going to help me with behavior modification. I am also get him re-evaluated because I moved to a new city and want another opinion and also some guidance.

My advise to your friend is to get some advise from her daughter's pediatrician, they may want to have her evaluated for a behavior problem. She needs to get his under control before school because believe it only gets harder, teachers do not want this borden and you don't want you child in a special class. I'm struggling to make sure my son does not get put in a special class, he's very smart.

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answers from Daytona Beach on

Not to be too negative, but if this only happens with mother is around, then it isn't the child who needs training!

Mother does not appear to have the skills she needs to discipline this child. She can learn them. One writer said it best: clearly your greatgranddaughter is getting something out of this behavior! Whatever the rewards, they need to stop. Watch "Supernanny"! I don't agree with the writer who advocates more hitting (spanking). We ARE supposed to be smarter than our kids. We CAN figure this out without resorting to hitting. Taking away privileges? Absolutely. Wholeheartedly. We need to understand our kids. What IS it the little girl is trying to accomplish? More time with mommy? Mommy's attention? (Most likely, I would guess, but maybe it is something else.) Well: it is GOOD that the little girl misses her mommy! It means they have bonded well. Good! And - the young lady deserves a little attention from that mommy, too! So: tight schedule and all, a WIN/WIN solution needs to be found and M. needs to find a way to spend GOOD time with her daughter that her daughter enjoys in exchange for demands for good behavior from her daughter (read a favorite book together, a trip to the playground, walk in the park, etc - not a trip to Disneyland - money should NOT be the object for the daughter). Whatever it is she is trying to accomplish is apparently a darn important goal to her. If she USED to run the family and now is relegated to the role of child, well - she's just going to have to get USED to being a child! But, if she USED to get more attention from M., and now she isn't, then M. needs to adjust her schedule a bit.

So - I disagree with you: this behavior CAN continue. But: then later she'll be in a juvenile detention center somewhere, because she cannot rule society the way she is ruling her mother. But, before the disciplining begins - be sure she is getting her needs met!

Good luck. Things seem to be going pretty well with gramma because the child's behavior is good there. Oh - and M. needs to read some of the books / watch the DVD's suggested, because she is might be inconsistent or some other ineffective thing ... :-)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Orlando on

Hello J.!
Sometimes Children seemed to get confused within different ways of enviroments. I had a sister in law that was taking care of her brother's daughter, and she was the same.
Maybe if all of you met to be able to discuss how each one of you disipline your great grandaughter. Using the same key phrase also helps too. Studies show that a child needs to be told something 50 times before they understand!
We use terms like good choices and bad choices. When our kids get out of line we ask them if they think that was a good choice or bad choice. Using the same disipline like sending her to her room or a quiet place and ask her to think about what she did. Then when she can come out, ask her if she knows why she had to go to her room.
My almost 6 yr old daughter has the same actions at times. When she is "still hungry", I ask her to drink a glass of milk, or make her drink a whole glass a water. Now she knows to ask for that.
Power struggles are not fun. I usually say to her that she is not the boss and that I am the boss. My son is the one that throws the fits now. I let it go and ignore it and send him to his room. Usually too, when they start to act that way, is because they are starting to come down with the flu or something. Good luck and try to take a Calgon moment when you can! :)



answers from Miami on

I just bought a book called "the kazdin method for parenting the defiant child"
by alan e kazdin.
I bought this as my almost 3 year old is beginning to show this type of behavior.
I just got it and have not read it yet, but have heard wonderful things about it.

I got through

maybe check it out..........

good luck and let me know if you find any other helpful insights.

peace to you and your family



answers from Panama City on

Dear Great Grandma,

I know this is so hard to see your granddaughter and great grand daughter go through this. I am reading a great book right now called "Parenting is Heart Work". I am learning so much from this book about the heart of children and how to respond to their hearts. It is so hard today with so many parents separating and children who don't know what to do with their emotions. I really believe from your request that this child has a lots of emotions bottled up inside her and doesn't know what to do with them. At 5 years of age, she has no understanding at all why her mommy and daddy don't live together and why she doesn't have a daddy around every day like maybe some of her friends do. It is very confusing for a child and their emotions can range from anger, sadness, withdrawal, and even depression. I really recommend that the mom try to find out what is going on inside her little heart and even take her to some good counseling for her emotions. If you are interested in the book, you can order it at They also have a lot of other very good books to choose from about parenting. They even have one on single parenting. I hope this helps, I really feel for single moms and the hardship they have in raising little ones and having to work at the same time.

God bless you,

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