QUESTION: Whenever — and I most definitely mean every single time — I ask my 6-year-old daughter to do something, she becomes very disrespectful. She stomps her foot, yells at me that I make her do “everything,” mutters disrespectful remarks under her breath (which I usually hear), and so on. If I just allow her to vent, she gets over it fairly quickly and does what I’ve told her to do. She doesn’t act this way toward my husband, and he thinks I should punish her for the disrespect. What do you think?
ANSWER: On one hand, you should be grateful that in the final analysis your daughter obeys. On the other, you don’t want to give her the impression that “venting” at instructions from adult authority figures is OK. The general rule of thumb: bad behavior, ignored, tends to worsen. There’s a chance, in other words, that if you tolerate your daughter’s displays of pique and simply let them run their course they will eventually escalate into belligerent defiance. That cascade may never happen, but as, I think, Albert Einstein first articulated in his theory of relativity, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
A technique I call “Three Strikes, You’re Out!” is an effective approach to impulsive impertinence of the sort you describe. The technique is easy for a 6-year-old to understand and simple to enforce.
On any given day, you call a “strike” every time you give your daughter an instruction and she begins to vent her feeling of being downtrodden and deserving of much sympathy. When you call a strike, she spends a certain amount of time in a chair in a relatively isolated area of the house. Use a timer to mark the time so that you don’t have to deal with the second most annoying question in the universe: “Can I come out now?” (The most annoying being “Are we there yet?”)
The first vent of the day results in 15 minutes in the “venting chair.” (You can call it anything you want, even the “bananarama chair.”) The second vent of the day earns 30 minutes in the chair, and the third results in confinement to her room for the remainder of the day along with early bedtime. Assuming you’re consistent in calling strikes when they are due, two weeks is all it should take to convince the Princess of Petulance to control her little outbursts.
Do not be deceived, however. You can bring this under control in a week or two, but you must stand ready to enforce for the next six months, at least. With a child this age, a behavioral snowball that only took a week or two to roll downhill usually takes several months to put back in cold storage.