How do you 'pick your battles?'

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-31-2004
How do you 'pick your battles?'
Tue, 01-10-2006 - 1:04pm

Good morning Ladies!

I have a problem that I need some opinions and ideas on. It concerns my four year old daughter and I did post this on the Four Year Old board, but it is kind of a slow board and I was hoping for more opinions. So I hope you don't mind my copying it on to this board as well.

I have a question that I am not even sure I can ask coherently... :)

How do you 'pick your battles' when you don't even see them coming?

My four year old daughter is intrinsically stubborn. She has been from day one. And there is a part of me that really admires her strength of spirit. My gut feeling is that I should try to avoid butting heads with her, if I can do so. I think we may be on the road to a tough adolescence if I cannot establish a way to deal with her stubborness without getting irritated.

I know all about the concept of 'picking your battles!' The problem is that I often don't see the battles coming. They are more like sneak attacks then battles. For example, this morning my husband and son went downstairs to start breakfast, while I combed my daughter's hair for preschool. I was already a little irritated with her because first she said she wanted clips in her hair, so I put them in. Then she didn't like them so she took them out. I was irritated because we were already a little late to begin with - I didn't care what her hair looked like, but I didn't appreciate having my time wasted. Although I didn't really say anything to her about her clips, my daughter is very sensitive and I know she knew that I was feeling crabby about her decision.

I said, "Let's go downstairs for breakfast." And my daughter balked at the top of the stairs and said, whining, "I want Daddy." I said, "No problem - Daddy is downstairs eating his breakfast - let's go join him." Nothing doing - she wanted Daddy to come back upstairs and carry her downstairs! I said, "No Honey. We don't have time for that. Either I can carry you downstairs or you can walk yourself. We are not calling Daddy back up here when he is already downstairs." I really did not think this was a big deal.

So then, my daughter starts to cry - throwing what I would call a mini tantrum. So I told her, "Well, I guess I will see you when you are ready to come downstairs." And I walked downstairs, leaving her crying at the top of the stairs. My husband asked me what was wrong and I told him. I said, "Do NOT go and get her!" He didn't. :) She did eventually come down, but it took a long time. She nearly missed breakfast. And there was no way that I was going to send Daddy back up the stairs when she was up there screaming about it.

But seriously. If I had known HOW important it was to her to have Dad go and get her, I might have handled it a little differently from the outset. But once she starts crying to get her way, I don't feel like I can in good conscience give in.

I am not sure what to make of this. My son had the occassional tantrum, but I could always see those coming. My daughter surprises me. She is very smart and very sweet and VERY STUBBORN. I don't know about smart and sweet, but I also tend to be VERY STUBBORN. :) And I have never been a parent to coddle tantrums. So I am not sure how to handle this. What has your experience been with the stubborn ones? Do they eventually give up? Ha! I am afraid that she will slowly build a resentment against me and I don't want this to happen. My son and I have a very good parent-child relationship and I am not worried about what the future will bring for us. I think we will always be able to talk about things. I am not so sure with my daughter. I don't want to shut her down as she starts school. She will need her mother to talk things over with! But I can't just give in to these attacks of stubborness either... Is there a middle ground? How do I find it?


iVillage Member
Registered: 04-04-2003
Tue, 01-10-2006 - 2:35pm

You handled both situations (hair clips and tantrum) exactly as I would have--therefore, you're clearly a fabulous parent--LOL. Seriously, I think maybe you're overthinking this. I don't see any evidence that she REALLY wanted to be carried down by Daddy especially, just that she happened to think of something she wanted, found she couldn't get it, and then dug her heels in about it. My 4-year-old does the same thing. She's just trying to see to what extent she can control you and your husband's behavior. The more she can control your behavior now, the more she'll try to do it when she's older. I'd try to shake free some of the baggage of "she's SO stubborn, I'm SO stubborn" (so you're not subconciously reinforcing her stubbornness) and just try to brush these incidents off as much as you can, just the way you did. The asking for the clips and then changing her mind is annoying, but since the time is gone by this point anyway, no skin off your nose. But there's no reason you should feel badly, or as if she's going to resent you, over the stairs. That sounds really like just a random whim to me--it only meant a lot b/c she couldn't have it. That's different from, say, not getting to kiss Daddy goodbye in the morning--sometimes my 4-year-old really panics if he misses a good-bye ritual. But your DD's daddy was waiting right downstairs.

In other words, you DID pick your battles. The hairclips not worth a battle, but the tantrum b/c she didn't get want she wanted was simply unacceptable behavior. I think you handled it really well.


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-20-2000
Wed, 01-11-2006 - 10:14am

I agree. I don't think it was really all that important to her - I think she was trying to make you feel she wants Daddy more than you, then when she didn't get what she wanted, she got p*ssed. My almost-4 year old does exactly this kind of thing - hairclips and all.
Not like I'm a parenting guru, but I think you did it just right too. She's testing you, you're showing your limits - I certainly don't think this will lead to resentment!

Hang in there!

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Wed, 01-11-2006 - 11:17am
You just described my 4 year old DD! And I am often at my wits end about how to handle her as well. She has done the "Down stairs routine" million times. "I want you to carry me downstairs" or upstairs, or "I want Daddy to do it" if she gets mad with me for saying no to her demands, and then she gets hysterical about not getting her way. She has to have her hair just so, no thick braid, two small ones... And the same for her dolly, the list goes on and on.... And no bumps on her socks or undies. There is something everyday.
She is also very bright girl and also very cuddly, but manipulative, as soon as she knows she is ticking me off(I don't even have to say anyting) she put this "Oh, I am so cute " face on and says "Hugs Mommy" or comes over to kiss me in order to prevent getting in trouble that she is already in.
But, I think you handled the situation very well. I would have done the same and have done the same thing many times. My DD is getting a bit better now that she is four and a half, before at 3 years old she would have fits that would last over an hour, with screaming that sounded like she is being tortured by inquisition. Now she even goes to time out by herself, with attitude but still. She will say, I know, I am going. Not sure if it is effective really.
I do admire her spirit, but when her five year old friends tell me they don't want to play with her because she is acting like a teenager, at that point I wonder what are we going to have to deal when she is a teenager.
Anyway, this helped me share my troubles with DD too, but I am not sure if it helped you any, except knowing that somebody else has the same thing going on all the time. Maybe it is the way many girls are?
Best of luck,
iVillage Member
Registered: 08-31-2004
Wed, 01-11-2006 - 12:34pm

You guys are so funny! :) Who knew that we all had closet monster four year olds? LOL!

Thanks for your thoughts. Ana, I am so right there with you over the bumpy socks! Oh my gosh... I am ready to burn all the evil socks in her drawer. No socks for you! (Think the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, here.)

I guess what concerns me is that the stairs were only an example. This kind of behavior happens a lot! Maybe I have just forgotten what the ferocious fours are really like. Actually, I have just now remembered that when Derek was that age, he would get sent to his room for a tantrum and he would just tear it apart in a black rage. I was so concerned by this behavior that I talked to our ped about it. She told me that was completely normal and to just... oh maaaan..... "Pick my battles!" Argh!

Lynn, I think it was you who warned me not to over think her being stubborn and read too much in to it. I think you are right on. I didn't even realize I was doing that, but I have been. I keep wondering to myself, "How are we ever going to get along when she is a teenager? We are both so stubborn!" But I can see now how that could turn in to a self-fulfilling prophecy if I don't watch that!

Okay, thanks a lot for letting me post about my four year old here! :)


iVillage Member
Registered: 01-17-2006
Tue, 01-17-2006 - 3:44pm
Hi Susan,
I have a 7 year old daughter who is very stubborn also. I am afraid of when she is a teenager. She is very smart which makes it more difficult because I know she knows what she's doing. Some days she will get herself and her sister dressed and some days states that she can't put her own coat on. I think you handled your situation well although it is frustrating when you're running late and have tantrums. A lot depends on your mood for the day. I find that the more patience I have and the more free my schedule is, these things don't bother me as much but some days I just go head to head with her. My other daughter is easy going and we don't have a lot of issues and she's 3. Just hang in there. I try to be firm and stick to my guns and when we get along, there is a lot of love on both sides. Good luck.
iVillage Member
Registered: 11-22-2004
Wed, 01-18-2006 - 2:35pm
i wish i had an answer for you but i do have the same exact prob with my 4yo DD...punishing a stubburn child is extra hard because they will take the punishment to get their way..
i hope you find some answers and pass them on to me ;-)
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Fri, 01-20-2006 - 6:03pm

I'm not surprised to say that I think you handled it beautifully! You DID exactly what you're asking us to tell you how....WOW Was THAT poor grammer or what?! LOL!!

Anyway....I think it was done nicely. Sometimes she just can't have what she wants and you did a terrific job letting her know why it isn't possible and what she CAN do to see

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