Dear Barb—Acting like a Child

Dear Barb:

I don’t know if you can help me with my problem, but I thought I would write in anyway.  I am a single parent of two daughters, six and four years old.  It has been hard being a single parent but, so far, I am doing okay.  The kids’ father is an addict, so he is in and out of their lives.  Personally, I would prefer he stay out of their lives until he can straighten out.  Fortunately, my parents have helped me a lot. 

My children have been pretty good until recently when the youngest became defiant.  Everything I ask her to do she says “no,” and usually has a major temper tantrum.  My oldest is still well behaved for the most part.  I do not know how to handle this behaviour.  I don’t know if the situation with her father is affecting her.  She has always been a handful and I have tried to accept that this is just who she is, but this open disobedience is overwhelming me.  Most of my friends are saying this is just a phase and it will pass, but I wonder if it is something more.  Do you think I am overreacting? Should I just let this play out and see what happens?  Thanks, Frazzled Mom!

Hi Frazzled Mom:

Your four-year old’s behaviour is pretty typical.  I do not think it is anything serious at this point, but you should probably keep an eye on it and if it escalates you may want to discuss this with a counsellor, who may be able to give you some tips to help manage it.  Below are some guidelines that I have found.

Each of these points can be expanded by going to the link above.

  • Make eye contact
  • Never ask something more than twice
  • Pick your battles
  • Know your child’s triggers
  • Practice prevention
  • Be consistent
  • Don’t get emotional
  • Listen and repeat
  • Keep it brief and simple
  • Make sure they understand what you said
  • Offer choices
  • Use a time-out

These are just a few of the points that are mentioned in this article.  Children at this age are attempting to exercise their independence, so it is important that you don’t stifle them.  However, they should not be allowed to exhibit rude behaviour.  They must be taught what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.  It is most important that you maintain your composure and remain calm during these episodes, as your child learns from you, so be a good role model.  I hope this information is helpful, and thank you for your email.

Email your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality; your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.