In this episode: A mother of three kids writes that she’s irritated and confused by her six-and-a-half year old daughter’s constant demands for attention and her refusal to cooperate. She believes that her daughter is old enough to comply with simple requests, but “she won’t listen, and she won’t do it until I shout or scold her.”
Transcript of “Demanding Behavior Makes Mom Shout and Scold”
Hi. This is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today I’m responding to an email from a busy parent. She’s got three children. She says that her eldest, who is six-and-a-half years old, demands so much of her attention that she sometimes becomes irritated and ends up shouting or scolding her. She describes herself as confused and upset.
Here’s the email I received:
“Hi, Janet. I have been following you on Facebook for a few months. My children are aged six-and-a-half, four, and two-and-a-half. My question is for the six-year-old. Her behavior sometimes irritates me. She always wants me and always wants to cuddle. She won’t see what I’m doing or how tired I am.
I don’t expect my two-year-old to know, but surely a six-and-a-half-year-old should know a little bit or understand when she is told. Am I right? If I agree to nine of her things and I ask her to do one thing, she won’t listen and she won’t do it until I shout or scold her. If I don’t listen to her or refuse her for something, she starts crying.
I’m so confused and upset. I don’t know how I should respond to such behavior. Please help.”
Okay. I love this question because it brings up an issue that I can really relate to. Children are not fair. Parenting is not fair. They don’t treat us fairly in terms of giving us a break when we’ve been giving them a bunch of stuff. As this mother says, she agrees to nine of her things and then the one one thing she doesn’t agree to, her daughter still won’t listen and she won’t do it.
There are a lot of reasons that this six-and-a-half-year-old might be behaving as she does. I would guess that one of them is really a need to complain, a need to share feelings around this situation of having these younger siblings that have taken so much of her parents’ time and focus away from her and all that goes with that.
What this mother is seeing as unreasonable requests are actually, I believe, her daughter’s way of pushing to the point where her mother will ideally say a confident no. It’s fine for asking me, but the answer’s no. I’m not going to do that right now. Then her daughter will have the opportunity to vent. The venting can make us feel very guilty if we aren’t seeing the bigger picture, which is there’s a lot of reasons for a six-and-a-half-year-old with two younger siblings to complain and to share feelings with her mother.
That’s what she needs to do here.
Understanding that it really isn’t helpful or fair to get to the point where the parent is irritated with the requests. This is where we have to have our personal boundaries and feel really good about expressing them and feel really good about the choices that we make. If we decide later we didn’t make a good choice, we change it. We can change our mind. But in the moment, children really need leaders who feel good about their choices and don’t feel like they have to do whatever their children want them to do, and that they should feel guilty if they don’t.
This is particularly hard around something like cuddling, which is one of those things that we all read about. You can’t ever cuddle your child too much and hugging is the answer to everything. Gosh, cuddles, how could you deny your child that?
Well, if you don’t want to cuddle, it’s really not healthy for that child for you to cuddle because, inside, you’re not there, you’re not with them, you’re not into it. Now they’re getting this experience of being with someone who’s showing them physical intimacy, but emotionally, they’re not there.
I actually see this as the most important type of self-care, not doing things we don’t want to do with our children. Whether that’s playing with them, cuddling, them, saying no, understanding that it’s not a need for our child to cuddle in that moment. They can have their needs for touch and physical intimacy a little bit later. It doesn’t have to be right then. We’re not denying them something important. In fact, we’re giving them something important. We’re giving them honesty. We’re showing them ourselves and that we are a person with our own needs and wants that will often times not match up with theirs.
At the same time, we’ve got to show them that we welcome them to be unhappy about our personal boundaries and our personal decisions. We want them to share that. We welcome that. We accept it all the way. We’re not timing it. Ideally, it’s not grating on us and making us feel worse and worse. That’s going to get us into trouble. That’s going to get us into yelling and shouting. Because it’s not fair. We could cuddle our child all day long and they could still ask for more or they would still yell at us for going to the bathroom and not cuddling them in that moment. Then we’re going to start to feel like a caged animal. We’re going to start to feel like we’re ready to lash out at any moment. That’s not loving and that’s not being the parent that we want to be. We also don’t want to give children the impression that it’s okay to be cuddling with someone that’s not really into it. We want them to have really healthy, good social awareness.
This mother says, “She always wants me and always wants to cuddle.” Yes, that’s her prerogative. She’s allowed to always want you and always want to cuddle. That’s got to be okay. But we still have to be honest in our boundaries.
“She won’t see what I’m doing or how tired I am.” Right. In these moments where she really, underneath it all, wants to express something to you, wants to express her pain to you, she’s not going to have empathy for your perspective. She’s really stuck in hers. She’s stuck in something she needs to express. She’s not going to give you a break here, so you’ve got to take care of yourself.
She says, “I don’t expect my two-year-old to know, but surely a six-and-a-half-year-old should know a little bit or understand when she is told.” It’s not that she doesn’t understand that she’s being unreasonable. She probably does understand in that moment that she’s being very unreasonable, she’s being very unfair, but she still has the impulse to keep pushing because she’s not feeling a comfortable stopping point there coming from her mother. Children have to keep pushing until they find that. They’re not going to say, “Thank you for giving it to me” when we do. They’re going to scream and cry and yell at us. But underneath that, that is what they want. That is what they’re pushing for.
She says, “Am I right?” Yes, you’re right that she should understand and does understand, but that doesn’t mean that she’s going to let you off the hook. That’s just the way children are.
She says, “If I agree to nine of her things and ask her to do one more thing, she won’t listen and she won’t do it until I shout or scold her.” If it’s something that she needs to do, this mother doesn’t give an example, but I would help her as if she was a younger child. I would take her by the hand and help her to do it. If it’s about her wanting something from you that irritates you, don’t do it. Trust the feelings. Yes, it is unreasonable. That’s because it’s emotional. It’s not reasonable.
“If I don’t listen to her or refuse her for something, she starts crying.” Right. That’s what she needs to do. That’s what she wants to be able to do with you and for you to be okay with that, for you to welcome that grieving, that pain.
I hope that helps clarify this. This mother says she’s confused and upset. Yes, I think her expectation is that her child should understand her, and should not have these feelings, and should be fair, and give her a break. Her daughter is showing her that right now at this time, she can’t. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have the ability to other times, but in these situations, she can’t. She can’t right now because she needs something from her mother. She needs that calm, confident leader with self-care in every moment with her daughter, who isn’t afraid of her crying, and isn’t afraid of her strong feelings, that doesn’t feel guilty having personal boundaries.
This is so vital and basic to parenting, to being able to be leaders in our house, and to give our children that social awareness and intelligence. I hope that clarifies.
For more, both of my books are available on audio at Audible.com. No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, and Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting. Also, my exclusive audio series sessions is available at SessionsAudio.com. That sessions, plural, audio dot com. These are individual recordings of private consultations with parents, discussing their urgent issues. You can order individual episodes or get all six in the series for about $20.
Thanks so much for listening. We can do this.