Dear David Coleman: My daughter (5) gets really angry and tries to boss us and everyone else around. What do I do?
Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.
Q. I have a five-year-old girl who is displaying a lot of anger. She has been an only child up until four weeks ago, but this issue didn't just start then. She's always gotten cross. She will always put up a fight when you ask her to do anything. If she's playing with another child, she wants them to play a certain way and if they refuse, she might hit them, or in frustration, she will slam doors or throw things.
When we try to talk to her about her behaviour, she will cry and say things like, 'But I think you don't love me any more' and we have to pull back.
Do you have any advice?
David replies: Your daughter sounds like she may have an inflated sense of her own importance! She seems to think that she can assert her will in almost any situation and that everyone else will have to give way to her.
It is as if she just expects to get her own way and then throws a 'hissy fit' if she doesn't. If the hissy fit doesn't work, she tries to 'guilt-trip' you instead. From what you say, this combined approach seems to work most of the time, both with other children and with you. While it is good for children to feel assertive and to act assertively, it isn't good for them to be too powerful, too young. From your description of your daughter, she may have too much power.
For a five-year-old, she seems very clued-in to exactly what kind of approach it takes to manipulate others to do her bidding. Initially, she uses aggression and attempts at domination. If that doesn't get her what she wants, she seems to move on to emotional blackmail. I think you might need to assert yourself more and regain some power in your role as a parent.
Parents always need to be in charge of five year olds. There is no situation where a five-year-old gets to call the shots with their parent, other than in imaginative play.
This is not to say that we can't take the opinion of our young children into consideration in the decisions we make. We can listen to them and what they want, but the final decision rests with us, no matter how upsetting that might be for them.
In fact, when you make decisions in your daughter's best interest, you are demonstrating real love for her. She is incorrect then, to try to tell you that you don't love her. You do love her and that is why you say 'no' or why you correct her aggressive behaviour.
You don't have to cruelly ignore her tears, or her statements that she feels unloved. You can listen to them and empathise with them. You just can't afford to back down from the correction or the limit that you have imposed.
Ironically, when we give way to our children and let them dictate what happens (giving them too much power), it can actually be quite anxiety-provoking for them. Children prefer to know that there is an adult in charge.
It takes pressure off them when their parents (or other adults) have a clear, unambiguous plan and make unequivocal decisions.
While children might not always like the decisions, or want to stick with the plan, at least they don't have the burden or the stress of decision-making for themselves. You may get protest at the decision, but it isn't additionally fuelled by anxiety.
It is also much safer for children to have adults in charge. There is less risk of they, themselves, or other children, getting hurt, physically or emotionally.
If your daughter is experiencing the anxiety of being too powerful, it may be that she is displaying her stress in further anger and aggression.
If you can become firmer with her, establishing yourself as the person in charge, all the time, you will take pressure off her and you may find that her anger subsides.
Alongside your firmness, you can increase your empathy and responsiveness to her. This shows her that you do understand that she might be upset about decisions you make, and yet it allows you to hold fast to those decisions, without backing down or giving way.
If you can curb your daughter's manipulation by not giving in to her, she may become a happier, more relaxed and less aggressive little girl.
Health & Living