Ask Bubbe: Why is My 5-Year-Old So Obnoxious? – Kveller
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Ask Bubbe: Why is My 5-Year-Old So Obnoxious?

Dear Bubbe,

What should I do about my sassy 5-year-old daughter? I tell her to do something, she responds, “NO!” She’s been getting increasingly defiant lately, despite our efforts to discipline her.

Jody, California

Hi Jody,

I will preface any comments here by saying that, whatever you think a 5-year-old can get up to is NOTHING compared to what a 15 -year-old can get up to. So in the face of whatever your Miss Sass can throw at you, try to maintain perspective. (Little children, little problems, big children, big problems–old Yiddish proverb, sounds better in Yiddish.)

Children are mirrors; children are sponges; children have friends, but the grip of the peer group is unlikely to be driving her behavior at this stage. If you want respect from her, you need to show her respect, too. This does not mean that the relationship is democratic; you are in charge. You want her to WANT to please you but it is natural that there will be some desire on her part to differentiate herself and to test the limits.

Let’s look at the background here. Is she getting enough sleep? There’s a whole world of poor behavior triggered by lack of sleep, overstimulation, lack of fresh air  and exercise, and poor diet, too high in processed foods, etc.

Let’s assume that things are all OK from that angle.

Is the behavior ALWAYS bad? I doubt it. Perhaps you’ve picked a time when she is tired or hungry and is just unable to cooperate. (One of my daughters, now a mommy herself, was like a destructive force of nature when she was hungry. She still has to carry snacks with her. For herself, not the kids!)

So remembering she is only 5, pick your times to ask her to do anything complex; ask her nicely, say please and thank you. Just as you would like her to do. If it’s a chore such as emptying the dishwasher or taking her dish to the sink or making her bed or dressing in time for school, things that she is perfectly capable of doing, then the star chart is indispensible, because it appeals to her self-interest. So when she DOES do the right thing, you praise her, not excessively, and add a star to her chart. The terms of the chart should be explained to her–if you do what Mommy asks, you get a star! When you get 5 stars, you get a treat! Whatever, as long as it matters to her. DO NOT REMOVE STARS if she is naughty! The chart is only a positive reinforcement tool. If she spontaneously does something nice, express your pleasure, again, not excessively, but so she knows you noticed.

Similarly, unacceptable behaviour should be punishable by some sort of time-out. One minute for each year of age means a 5 minute stint in the designated naughty corner, or somewhere boring, where nobody is to interact with her and she is to reflect on what she has done wrong,  and you set the time on the kitchen timer. I don’t think she should be sent to her room at this age as she will find all sorts of good stuff to play with, and where is the lesson in that? And smacking generally does not work and will only show her that it’s OK to hit someone smaller that yourself! So express your disappointment in her behaviour but don’t fly off the handle.

Also, you can express it in terms of doing a mitzvah, Kibbud Eim, respecting your mother, and make it exciting for her to do a mitzvah! And write her a little note to take to school, about what a good mitzvah girl she is, to show the teacher, who should also be on board with this. (Of course, she is probably an angel in school, and saves up all the crap for you, right?). And if she doesn’t do the mitzvah, well, you’re disappointed. But tell her, next time you know she will do the right thing. So there is always hope, optimism, respect, and that adds up to her feeling loved and cherished.

And it is most important that Daddy is on the same page here, as well as any other carers; a united front will give her a sense of security and thus she won’t feel she HAS to constantly test the boundaries, because she knows where the boundaries are.

Darling, it’s a big job, parenting, and endlessly challenging. There is so much more to say, but I hope my little two cents worth will help.

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