Dear David Coleman: My daughter is cheeky and defiant - it gets me down
Q My seven-year-old daughter is extremely strong-willed, defiant and cocky.
She has been giving back cheek, attitude and putting me in my place on a daily basis since she was five. She doesn't seem to be afraid of getting in trouble with me or her daddy. I have taken away things she finds important, but nothing seems to work. I feel embarrassed in front of other parents. It gets me down at times, to be honest. How can I deal with her better?
David replies: There is no magic bullet for dealing with children's behaviour. Simple behavioural systems are rarely effective on their own. Punishment is never the answer, since that usually sets up a more negative cycle of interaction between parents and their children than was there before punishment was being used.
That said, your daughter seems to have gained the balance of power, in that she feels she can treat you however she likes, and that you are powerless to stop her. That does need to be rebalanced. When children have too much power, they can feel out of control, with nobody else steering the ship for them, so to speak.
I'd suggest that you might like to do a parenting course. It might give you ideas about how to respond to your daughter, and, as importantly, it might give you that social support to know that you are not alone in the challenges with your daughter and that there are many other parents with similar problems and sometimes with some great solutions based on their experience.
Ultimately the rebalancing of your relationship will need you to show more authority, but keeping that authority in check with high levels of responsiveness to your daughter's emotions too. Essentially, you need to adopt a "kind and fair" approach, where she learns that she is not allowed to speak to you disrespectfully.
Alongside greater firmness about how she speaks to you, you can focus on rebuilding a more positive relationship with her, as you possibly feel quite cross and upset with her a lot of the time at the moment. That might involve more loving touch, like hugs, foot rubs or back rubs. It might involve more active listening on your part to show her you are hearing what she does say politely. It might involve more play activities with her, like making jigsaws together, painting, singing, storybook time and so on.
Both the HSE and Tusla (through their family support wing) offer lots of different parenting supports that will hopefully build back up the positivity in your relationship with your daughter and help you to get back to steering the family ship.