Discipline for BAD behavior??

Avatar for loveysmommy
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Discipline for BAD behavior??
Wed, 09-10-2003 - 11:35am
Hello everyone,

I need some advice because I am at the end of my rope.

My 7yr. old daughter treated me SO badly this morning that I spent 20 minutes crying after letting out a blood-curtling scream to relieve some of the anger I was feeling.

I don't know why (Other than the usual "I don't want to get out of bed" anxiety), but mornings have been really bad for us lately. I started putting my daughter to bed 1/2 an hour earlier (7:30pm) at night so she could get more sleep because it has been rough getting her out of bed at 7:00am. I know my child needs a lot of sleep, but that is over 10 hours and I just can't see any reason for her to be SO SO SO nasty in the morning.

All I had to do was say "OK, Laura - you have got to get out of the bed now." and she just went off on me. She talks to me so .... NASTY that it takes my breath away. She lost tv for the day before she even got out of bed!!!

Finally, I calmly asked her for an apology for the way she treated me and she would not do it. (unless you count the huffy "FINE!" - which I don't!!)

I was so hurt and angry. I went into the office, let out a loud SCREAM and started to cry. I must be the worst mother in the world for her to treat me so badly at times. I don't know how to get her to speak to me the way she should.

Finally, I got so angry with myself that I went out to the den (where she was sitting), in an extremely low, too-calm voice said "I am not going to give you the power to make me feel worthless. You are a 7 year old child and this is what is going to happen....." "You will brush your hair, I will put your hair up, you will look me in the eyes with love and caring and you will apologize to me for treating me so badly. We will hug and kiss and you will never treat me that way again. Is that clear?? Nod your head yes."

Well, The hair got brushed - no apology. I gave her cereal, a bowl, milk and a spoon and told her to pour the milk herself and eat breakfast.

I told her that I would provide for her, take care of her but that she is not to speak to me. The only "punishment/discipline" I could think of that might mean anything to her - was to take ME away.

Still - I have received no apology.

I have not handled this situtation well. But screaming, yelling, etc... is not the answer. So.... I will continue to do my motherly duties - with no emotion and not allow her to speak to me unless she needs something and HOPEFULLY, she will miss me. Hopefully, this will have some small impact on her and she will bring herself to simply and with feeling - APOLOGIZE to me.

I'm sorry for the long rant - I just didn't know what else to do. I am feeling so inadequate right now as a mother. I am feeling worthless as a person. Isn't it amazing what a small child can do to a mother??

Thanks for your understanding and for letting me vent.


Debbie :-)

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-11-2003
Thu, 09-11-2003 - 1:30am
Dear Debbie:

Not every child is an easy child, and it's clear that Laura is not an easy child.

Still, there are things you can do.

At some point, Laura has learned that being emotionally abusive is effective. She is using this as a way to take the power in your relationship. When you give way to your emotions in reaction to this, she has won, and she knows it. When you said this to her: "I am not going to give you the power to make me feel worthless," you told her she just had made you feel that way, which meant she had won, and she knews it. Doing nothing more than emotionless child maintenance again proves she has gotten to you, and she has won, and she knows it. She will never apologize to you because she is not accustomed to losing, she doesn't like losing, she knows that if she apologizes, you will win, and she will not allow that to happen.

Here's the first thing you need to do.

Don't allow your daughter to rule your emotions. She is a seven year old child. Greet her misbehavior with blithe and cheerful indifference. Smilingly and cheerfully tell her "Oh, I'm sorry. You don't get to talk to me that way." If she gets mad, smile cheerfully and say, "Oh well." If she is abusive when you get her up, ask her if she would prefer you to rip off the covers and dump a glass of water on her to wake her up. Your job is not to care what she says or does, because when you can blithely sail past it, it tells her is a) you are way to strong an individual to be ruled by a seven year old child, b) none of her behavior is enough to sway your emotions unless it is positive behavior and c) you run this household, not her.

Reward the positive. Be sublimely indifferent to the negative. If she acts out, screams, hits, throw tantrums, isolate her. Put her in her bedroom. If she sits and sulks, fine. You are the mom, you are the strong one. Go do something you like to do like read or knit or whatever. If she screams and howls, turn the music up a bit louder. If she destroys her stuff--well, remove whatever you consider a keepsake and then let her destroy it. Let her live in the destruction; don't you clean it for her. If she asks you politely, clean it with her. Besides, it's her stuff she destroyed, she is hurting herself, not you. Sooner or later she'll wake up and realize it.

If she destroys something of yours, confiscate something of hers that she really likes. If it's a first degree misbehavior, allow her to earn the possession back. If it's a second degree misbehavior, keep it for a while. If it's a third degree misbehavior, keep it or give it to charity.

Big rule: Always give fair warning. Tell her "If you do this, then this will be the consequence." Then, if she does it, follow through. Do not be swayed by tears, screams, abusive speech, whatever.

Big rule 2: Make it very clear that you like her and you love her, you just aren't going to tolerate poor behavior. When she behaves well, notice it and say something. Be specific. Say "I liked it when you gave me that hug." Or "you sure were great with Mrs. Smith" (the old lady next door. Or "You sure are creative. What an original thinker you are!" When she does something that is on the "no tolerance" list, immediately provide the promised consequence.

Big rule 3: Give her a forum to air her grievances, with the condition that she has to be polite. One little girl I knew would carry on horribly, even though she had something valid to say. I would tell her "Okay, that was pretty badly done, dear. Start over, nicer voice, please." She would try again, still sound horrible, but a little better. I would say "Okay, that was better, but still needs work. Please try again." Sometimes she got pretty frustrated, but usually by about the fourth try, she sounded fine, I would listen carefully and respond respectfully and politely myself. It didn't take more than twice before she noticed that when she spoke reasonably and respectfully, she didn't have to repeat herself over and over and something good came of it.

These are the good reasons behind all of this:

If you allow her to sway your emotions negatively, you are telling her that she is stronger than you. As much as it seems that she likes to feel bigger and more powerful than you, the truth is she knows perfectly well she is very small. If you aren't powerful enough to stand up to her, if you allow her to bully you, then obviously you are not strong enough to protect her from the dangers of the world, which on some level, children find absolutely terrifying.

If you have the self-respect to calmly refuse to accept mistreatment either she will grow up not to take mistreatment if she would have been so inclined to take it from people or she will learn that bullying does not work and will not carry that bullying behavior out into the larger world.

As for the immediate problem: the apology. You threw out an ultimatum to a child who is accustomed to winning. You did so in a way that told her that you are vulnerable to her behavior and hurt by it. She's not going to want to lose face here.

I am just guessing about this, because I am not there, but I would probably try this:

I would sit her down and say "I am a person, I deserve to be treated politely. I don't talk to you like that, and you're not going to talk to me like that. And if you do, you will go to your room and you will stay there until you think you can behave yourself. You can decide when you're ready to come out, but be aware, if you aren't ready, you'll go right back there again." And stick by it. She goes to her room, she comes out, she says something nasty, back she goes. And back she goes. And back she goes, until she realizes she's in there until she can talk to you like a human being. She decides when she comes out, so she isn't entirely disempowered; in fact, this is telling her that her freedom and privilege is entirely within her control and that it is her responsibility to decide on her own behavior. When she decides to behave, she can come back out from isolation. But you have made it absolutely clear that you a) will not tolerate being treated like that and b) you are the strong one. Again, the key is not to ever allow her to hurt you; your role is to be blithely indifferent and even slightly amused. (I have had children tell me "I hate you!" with all the sincerity of an ax murderer, to which I grinned and shrugged, "Oh well" or "Oooh, I'm SO scared." I have had kids throw HUGE tantrums, to which I respond "Oooh, a tantrum, can I watch? Aw, c'mon, you can scream louder than that. Wanna see how loud I can scream?" Shocks the little darlings right out of it.)

Here's the irony, of all the really spoiled and impossible children I've dealt with, a) I really just dote on them and they know it and b) rather than wanting to avoid me as a person who is pretty tough, they want to be with me all the time because they know that while I tolerate nothing, I really just adore them. Once we've established the ground rules and they know I'll do everything I said I will do if they break them, we go on and play and spend time and have a complete and total blast--and this is been completely consistent over 28 years.

Once you've done the groundwork, the minute you catch her being just the person you dream she'll be, go out and do something really really special. When you tell her why, don't bring up any of the negative stuff. Just tell her it's because you've just enjoyed being with her so much (and don't use the word "more," either) lately.

And last but not least, do things for yourself that recharge your mommy batteries. It will help give you the strength to see this through :)

Trust me on all of this, not only have I been a mom for 28 years and I know this works, but I've specialized in unspoiling children for about as long.

If you want to talk, please feel free to e-mail me.

Good luck.

Maya (nanomous@aol.com)

Avatar for loveysmommy
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Thu, 09-11-2003 - 2:55pm

When I posted my "vent", I never expected to receive such a blunt, direct, inspiring, insightful and proactive response. I am so thankful to you for your careful consideration of my situation and of the response you gave me. What an amazing person you are. I am grateful that you read my post and cared enough to help me. I have printed out your response and I will comb through it and commit it to memory. I will put into practice as much of what you said as I possibly can. You are so right and it was really wonderful to see your words and absorb them in a way that I can grasp and actually put to use.

After I picked Laura up from school that day and we got into the car, I broke down in tears. I couldn't help it. I had been sad and tearful all day and in my heart I just couldn't wait to see my little girl and hold her so when we finally were alone I just broke down. And then we had a very long talk. Much like what you said in your response to me. That I am a person who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We even came up (Laura came up) with a hand signal to use when Laura is getting out of control. This way no words need to be said and hopefully she (or I, if it is me that needs to stop) will use that visual signal as a way to retreat and rethink the situation. We had a wonderful night and the next morning Laura was ready to walk out the door 1/2 hour early!! She was cooperative and pleasant and we even had time to snuggle.

But you are absolutely right - she never did apologize. Not really. And I didn't push for it. What you said about losing face - I already came to that conclusion in my own head. Very very true.

So... now that we are back on an even footing and life is good for the moment. I am going to read and re-read your note and work very hard to remember and use what you said the next time things heat up (and that should be in a day or two!!!).

Thanks again. I am profoundly thankful for your reply. You are a caring, insightful and wonderful person. If you are not already in this profession, you should really consider it!!


Debbie :-)

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Fri, 09-12-2003 - 7:41am

Thank you so much for your insight. I also printed off what you wrote and will study it and use as much as I can.

Thank you for taking the time to answer a difficult question for all parents.


iVillage Member
Registered: 09-11-2003
Fri, 09-12-2003 - 9:20am
I am deeply honored and pleased that I have been of some help.

The thing I've noticed is that many people (not the parents, usually, although I've seen that, too) dislike the child rather than separating the child from the behavior. Since the kids generally have no idea what they are doing is wrong, they are tremendously confused and hurt by the adults' dislike.

I always felt I wanted to raise kids who could go out into the world and be welcomed anywhere. The most notable kids (okay, the most challenging) that I unspoiled would not have been welcomed many places, and truthfully, they would have been just crushed and devastated by that response from people. I simply cannot bear the thought of these kids' pain; I experienced it as a difficult child. I had to outgrow it as an adult, because I had been raised to feel that my behaviors were acceptable.

I've also noticed that difficult kids are generally being raised by intelligent, loving, well-meaning parents who often weren't given any parenting tools by their own upbringing.

My daughter wasn't spoiled, but I certainly had no tools as a parent, having been raised by difficult, demanding, abusive parents (well-educated, financially well-off, adoptive parents, so go figure). Much of what I've learned I've either had to learn the hard way as a parent myself, or I've learned by watching the process by which difficult kids become more so.

I think the ultimate tool in all of this was best put by something I taught the children in my Beginning Hebrew class: "I will expect respect FOR you, but I will also expect respect FROM you." I can't begin to tell you how much those kids loved that.

If I can be of any help, please do not hesitate to e-mail me.

Maya (nanomous@aol.com)

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-05-2003
Mon, 09-15-2003 - 3:28pm
Debbie, my heart goes out to you. What you describe is almost exactly what it can be like with our 7 year old sometimes. Last night, for example, she was being so deliberately rude, disrespectful and disobedient. I wound up screaming at her that she was NOT going to act this way. Then I felt guilty for screaming, but it winds up becoming the only thing she'll listen to.

I don't demand the apology later. Instead, I focus on showing her I appreciate it when she acts more respectfully. I may refer back to what she did, but I don't want there to be bad feelings on her part about being made to admit and draw attention to what she did wrong.

What I'm trying to learn to do is to avoid getting sucked into endless debates with her. The other day I was trying to get her to do her reading homework and she was resisting. She says "why do you want me to read." I say "because I want you to be as smart as you can be." HER: "YOU DON'T THINK I'M SMART?!"

I'm an attorney myself, but its unbelievable what lawyers seven year old girls can be. Sure I can answer her question--but it becomes one logical quagmire after another and ends up getting us nowhere.

I think the basic problem is that she doesn't have a sense that parents are in charge. For some reason there seems to be no concept of a hierarchy of authority. She thinks she has just as much right to determine what is fair and right and how her time should be spent. I don't remember that at all as a boy. I may have not always obeyed my parents, but I accepted that they were in charge, still.

Anyhow, please know that you are not alone. And I guess we all survive it in the end, right? :-)


iVillage Member
Registered: 07-27-2003
Fri, 09-19-2003 - 2:16pm
I just want to say "thank You" for your insightful and loving advice. I am a single mom with 2 girls who are completely different in every way. I have suddenly become my 9 yr olds worst enemy and I truly have no idea why. We started seeing a counselor last week because it seems as though every thing I try only makes things worse. Reading your realistic and common sense post has given me such a sense of relief and hope.