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How do I deal with a demanding child?

This is the question we received.

Hi Robin, thank you for all the updates and reminders. I am currently having a problem where my child always wants her own way – she is 6 and a half.

An example is:

We are in the car and she wants track 4 to play on the CD, but track 5 is playing, that finishes and you put track 4 on but she does not want that now – she also sulks badly. 

I think it is just trying to deal with her not getting her own way?  Help it is driving me mad!

And this is the answer I gave.

Here are my thoughts on your question. Some of them you may not agree with, or like, but just look to see what might be true for you, and work for you. I am not saying this is the case but this thinking has helped me deal with similar instances.

The most empowering understanding I have about the behaviour that I see in my child is that by the decisions and boundaries I have put in place ( or not), results in what I see.

We have come from a society where our parents just told us what to do and there was trouble if we didn't do it. There was not much space for negotiation.

Our current society view seems a bit more enlightened that we say we wish for empowered children (and we believe we do), but we are no way prepared for the results of an empowered child (like you are experiencing). By definition, an empowered child is a child who believes that their opinions,  wants and needs now have a right to be fulfilled (or at least heard).

And we create this sense of empoweredness when we give our children choices, or when we ask them questions about what they want, or what they think. Every time we change our actions after havening listened and considered our children's requests, we create an experience that if this happens this time, it will happen the next and so they will continue.

Now this I think is great from a sense of I want my child to be empowered. But it is useful to understand the following two points very carefully:

1) On the journey to being a considerate and empowered person,  you will always go from being disempowered, through to destructively empowered first ( i call this the vomit stage as they just vomit their demands and opinions with little tact or consideration of others). And then with skills and intelligent parenting from you, you can develop their skills in being constructively empowered. So the fact that she may seem bossy, arrogant or brat like is part of the process. But the length of time she stays there will depend on your skills on successfully guiding her back to being constructively empowered while not crushing the sense of empoweredness she has just developed.  (and that is where all my skills and training comes in, and your levels of emotionally intelligence to work with what comes up for you)

2) The sooner you take responsibility for your child's behaviour, the sooner you can do something about it.  And what I mean by this is that the sooner you see that her "expression" of the behaviour is a result of how you have modelled, taught, and interacted with her, then you will see that you can change some of your skills, and you will see the immediate result in her. In other words, she is not to 'blame'.

For example, I recently spent some time with a family where they are really trying to get their daughter to be polite and be respectful.

They had had a great conversation with her about saying please and thank you. One of the skill they chose to use was if their daughter asked them for something without saying 'please', then they would rub their head as a sign that she needed to rephrase the request. This avoids the blame and accusation of "You didn't say please. So I am not going to give it to you etc"

But within 2 minutes, when she asked them for something and forgot to say please, the parents had also forgot what to do as they themselves didn't even hear that their daughter had not said please. So maybe 1 out of 5 times were they aware that she did not say please.

Now my ears are finely tuned to 'pleases and thankyous' so I heard every time they didn't. So it was quite easy to see that their chances of getting their daughter to learn to be consistent in saying please and thankyou is limited to the awareness of her parents. Now there is no right nor wrong in this. But it shows that if they want to really get to grips with this, they themselves need to take what they are wanting more seriously.  

I have also learnt over time that there is a big different between what we say is important to us, and what our behaviour shows is important to us.

If this other family says that being polite is important, but they themselves don't even hear it when someone is being impolite, then I don't really get that being polite is as important to them as they SAY it is. So out of this I have a formula which says that children will only take boundaries as seriously as their parent takes it.

Now although this may not apply directly to your situation, the point of my story was more about taking the responsibility for the results you see with your daughter.

Once you have done that, then let's see what you can do to change those results.

My core suggestion to you is to see how you interact with her in these situations (both when not getting her way, and when she sulks) in a way that does not trigger your emotional roller coaster (ie look to responding opposed to reacting). Also, keep sharing what you are needing (or wanting her to do, or how to ask you for something, or how to ask you for something such that you are more likely to meet her requests).

Look at this distinction:

"Don't interrupt me when I am talking. That's really rude of you."


"I get upset when I am interrupted and I haven't finished talking yet. Please can you wait until I have finished."

The second phrase is far more emotionally intelligent, less accusational and is more general (ie I am upset when ANYONE interrupts me, not just YOU".

Always look to see how it is your responsibility to re-train her in what you are needing.

Components which I think would be useful to you:

  1. Acknowledging and working with emotions
  2. From punishment to Guidance
  3. Problem Solving

hope that helps.



Please share your insights, your inspiration or your comments below:

This is the question we received: My daughter is very clingy when I drop her off at school. She doesn't want me to leave her and when I do, often cries and begs me not to go. I end up sitting in the car crying myself. This has been going on for a long time now and nothing seems to be changing.

When her dad drops her off she doesn't play up. Am I doing something wrong here?

Robin answers in the following video clip:

Length:6:46 minutes

If you have a question you would like Robin to answer, then This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. here and he will look to answering it on his blog.