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Aggression & Defiance | The Nanny Godmother

Bedtime Battles and Shopping Strife with a Five Year Old

Reader Lea is kept busy by three little ones.  Her strong-willed middle child, age 5, can be a handful whether it’s out on a shopping trip with mummy or bedtime for him and his siblings.  Lea writes:

Hey Nanny Lili,

I have come across your blog at the perfect time, and I think it’s amazing at what you are doing.  I have a couple of concerns about my children.  I am a mother of 3.  A 6 year old, a 5 year old and a 9 month old.

Well, one of my issues is that my 5 year old boy refuses to sleep alone in his own bed, so he always sleeps with his big sister.  No matter what I try or do, it’s a tantrum and he goes right back.  He used to sleep in his own bed, but when I had to move back home with my mom, he was sharing a room with his sis and my mom. (Limited space.)  I have tried putting him in his own room and the baby with the big sister, but he just got right back up and into her bed.  In theory I don’t mind them being together (even if him being alone would be the best), but every night they are up till 10 to 11.  I have tried looking up on this issue and read through your blogs to try and find some answers or advice, but I seem to have hit a wall and am going nowhere fast.

Another issue I am having with him is tantrums in stores, and I don’t mean little ones – I mean the big outrageous, get on the floor, start hitting and screaming at the top of his lungs ones.  I tried to ignore him, telling him no, I don’t want this attitude and it’s going to get you nowhere if you continue, asked him to calm down and we will talk about it, but none of those is working as well as I’d wish it would.  It’s to the point where I try to find a baby sitter while I go shopping just to avoid those situations, or not go shopping until my mom gets home so she can keep an eye on them while I’m gone.

Any advice or strategies that could help out both situations would be greatly appreciated and well applied.


Hi Lea,

Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog.  I’m glad you found it!

As I understand from your email, your 5 year old son actually gets straight into bed with his big sister at bedtime, is this correct?  If this is the case, I would just continue putting him back in his own bed.  Ignore the crying and just keep putting him back if he gets up in the middle of the night whilst everybody is asleep.  There is not too much else you can do apart from returning him to his own bed every opportunity you get.

I think it is a good idea for the two of them not to be sleeping in the same room.  That way, at least he doesn’t disturb her.

As for the shopping, I would not avoid taking your little boy shopping just because he has a tantrum; there are no lessons to be learnt by this.  Find an excuse to go to the shop, even if just to pick up some apples, but take this opportunity (as you know you are not going to be gone long) to take him with you, either on his own or with the others.  If he starts to have a tantrum, continue to finish your little shop.  Give him one warning; then after that, if he continues, just walk away and leave him screaming.  I am sure he is waiting for a response from you.  Once he sees he is not getting one, the tantrums might not stop immediately, but I think they will probably start to be less of an issue.  Don’t worry about the other people in the shop; pretend it’s just you and your kids.  You could try preparing him before you go into the shop, explaining that there will be consequences for his bad behaviour. Do not, however, promise a reward for good behaviour.  If he is good, though, you should make a big deal of it and tell him how proud you are of him for being such a big boy.  Maybe you can give your two older ones some separate little jobs to do in the supermarket, to keep them busy.

Even though by the time you get home you are probably all friends again, make sure that if you have had to warn him with a punishment you follow it through.   If you say “time out when you get home”, then that is exactly what you do; if you say “no special treats for the rest of the day”, then that is what you do.

From what I can see, Lea, you have all had some big changes in your lives and it sometimes it takes kids a little longer to adapt – but they do.  However, this is a reason, not an excuse, for naughty behaviour.  You will have to be strong and just take control – you are Mummy and you are the boss!



Tackling Sibling Rivalries

Child behavioural problems, as we know, require a great deal of patience.  Yet resolving sibling rivalries often requires extra sensitivity on the part of the parent or caregiver in order to accommodate two children’s personalities and fairly balance the interests of both little competitors.  If not handled immediately and correctly, sibling rivalries can sometimes spiral out of control.

The cause of the rivalry can differ, of course, from family to family.  There are  many things that can trigger it.  Jealousy and competitiveness are a big factor. Your children are just trying to find their own individuality; each and every one of them has their own special qualities. Never assume that one child doesn’t need as much attention as the other because they are quiet or never complain.

A child’s maturity can also factor into problems between siblings.  For example, if your only child has always been your “baby”, then a new baby comes along and you expect your  6 year old to behave all of a sudden like a big boy, this can be confusing.  This can also be the case if you have a second child and a third one comes along.  In these situations, try to prepare your child during the pregnancy very gently by giving him more responsibility and independence.

Try not to compare your children to each other.  For example, maybe you have one child who performs better in school than the other; find something that the other one is good at and encourage him along.  If you have one child that excels in most things, then try not to give her the same activities as the one to whom things don’t come quite so easy.

Maybe one of your kids has certain traits that remind you of a relative your child can tell you’re not fond of; please try to refrain from saying so out loud, especially if another child draws frequent comparisons to a favoured relative.  This could not only cause conflict between the children but also have long-lasting effects on your own relationship with them.

Try to avoid having your children compete against each other; encourage them to work as a team.  Although I am not against children being competitive, if you’re having a rivalry problem, put it aside for a while and only have them work together.  Plan family outings or activities where the kids can have fun together.

When trying to resolve or avoid conflicts:

  • Try not to take sides.
  • If something has got out of hand, just put them both in a quiet time for 5 minutes to defuse the situation.
  • If they are fighting about a toy, take the toy away.
  • If one child is laughing or mocking another child because they are in time out, they also get put in time out.
  • There should be zero tolerance for physical violence; it doesn’t matter what they fight about or whose fault it is – if one child strikes another, that is time out immediately.
  • Try and teach them to negotiate and compromise with each other.
  • You can make a rota (roster)  if you find that they fight over little things like who gets the first bedtime story.
  • Don’t argue with your spouse in front of the children; not only is this very unsettling but can also send the wrong message to your little ones.

If you have older children that are just not seeing eye to eye, hold a family meeting once a week.  This way everybody gets their say and everybody has to listen.  “She borrows my shoes but doesn’t put them back,” or “He plays his music too loud when I am trying to study.” Pass no judgement; just talk it through.  That gives you the chance to take part without taking sides.  Also discuss positive things too, like interests, events of the past week, or school.

Mum and dad join in too; talk about current affairs or whatever you want.  Just try to make a place where there is no shouting or conflict.  If one person is talking, let them finish; nobody is allowed to interrupt.

You might want to keep a little journal or mental notes to see if there is a pattern in aggressive behaviour between siblings.  Is it just after school?  Just before meal times?  Just before naptime?  Has there been some change in their family life?   If you notice that the fighting has gone beyond bickering and has turned more into physical bullying, then I would seek some outside advice.  Maybe call the school and find out if there is anything going on at school and what their behaviour is like.  Ask the school also how the children act in certain situations.  This might help you figure out if the problem is a sibling thing or an aggression issue.  The school might give you some advice or help you find somebody who could.

If any readers out there have any reassuring stories to share about overcoming sibling rivalries, please feel free to leave a comment!




Playing Nice With Others

Reader Tracy’s grandson is having trouble interacting with other children without resorting to aggressive behaviours, to the dismay of mum and grandmum alike.  She writes:

My 22-month-old grandson is gorgeous and loving; he was born big (11 lbs) and is still well built.  The problem is that wherever my daughter takes him, he makes the other children cry by pushing, shoving and sometimes pinching.  My daughter has tried telling him off, tried the naughty step … and is now at the end of her tether.  She doesn’t want to take him to any groups because of his behaviour, and I can see her spirits getting lower … HELP!


First of all, I don’t recommend that your daughter stop taking your grandson to kids’ groups.  At this age, your grandson is experiencing frustration, lack of verbal skills, and impulsiveness, which is totally normal.  With the right guidance and maturity, he will learn how to express himself and get what he wants in a different manner.

When they are at playgroup, tell your daughter to keep a close eye on him whilst he is going through this phase and if she sees him about to pounce, grab him quickly.  If it is too late, remove him immediately from the situation and give him time out for 5 minutes.  Then have him say “sorry” and maybe give a kiss or hug to the other child.

If your daughter is worried about what other mothers think, then I am sure if she explains the situation they will all understand, and they will have more sympathy when they see her taking steps to address it.  Maybe some will even have some tips of their own to share with her, as everybody who has had or taken care of small children will know what she is going through.

If the situation is dealt with correctly, although it could take some time, it will definitely pass eventually.  For additional help and support on this subject, I invite you also to consult my posts here and here.  Good luck to you, your daughter and your grandson!



Defusing Tween Defiance

Reader Alma writes:

I have an 11-12 year old daughter and I am wondering if you can give me tips on how to manage her behavior.  She tells a lot of lies.  She won’t listen to me or my partner; she thinks she can do as she pleases. Just recently she walked to the shop down the road without telling us.  She has stolen money from us.  She constantly argues about everything she is asked to do. Almost every morning she bickers with her sister who is 9; she thinks she can boss her around. Also her school work was bad; the teacher has had to call us in more than once.  I really need some advice if you can.

Hi Alma,

I can appreciate that this is a difficult situation which can consume the whole family if it gets out of control.

It probably has already occurred to you that, given your daughter’s age, some of the changes in her behaviour may be linked to the onset of puberty.  She could be struggling with the beginning of adolescence (although even if this helps explain some of her recent bad behaviour, it is no excuse for it).  As women, we understand what is happening to us when we are moody and emotional, but for your daughter maybe it is hard for her to understand why she feels this way, and she probably doesn’t even think she is doing anything wrong.  If you haven’t already, try to talk to her about hormones and periods and the changes that are going to start happening with her body. If you find she is uncomfortable talking to you, maybe you could ask a female family member or family doctor to talk to her.

I think you and your daughter would both benefit from some quality one-on-one time like taking her shopping, having your hair done together or just going out for lunch. This will at least give you both time away from the arguing and help rebuild your relationship.  You should make sure, however, that she understands that it is not a reward for her bad behaviour at home and at school.

Ask her if she would like to earn some pocket money; although I don’t believe that children should only do chores for money, perhaps you could give her some extra jobs to do around the house to earn it.  If she wants to go to the shops on her own, send her to get some groceries for you, but explain that you are trusting her and make her understand the dangers of your not knowing where she is.

Your daughter also needs to learn that behaviour such as stealing is not acceptable and it brings tough consequences.  You can ground her or confiscate her most treasured possessions.  When you confiscate something, don’t tell her when you are going to give it back, just tell her you will return it when you see a change in her behaviour at home and at school.  Another one of my particular favourites is making them copy out sections from the dictionary, for example all the A’s or A’s and B’s, words and meanings!  Your daughter might shout “I don’t care” at any form of punishment you decide on – but believe me, she does.

Try not to get cross with your daughter, because it will only lead to a fight. Instead, try to defuse the situation, although I know that sometimes this is hard when she is being so badly behaved.

When she starts to bicker with her younger sister, just take your youngest away from the situation without making a big deal of it.

I really hope you start to turn the corner with your older daughter very soon. Good luck!



Teaching Your Toddler to Listen to You

Reader Michelle is dealing with a very frustrating situation: a toddler who won’t pay attention to her warnings and instructions.  She sends the following letter:

I came across your blog a few weeks ago and passed it on to my friends.  I absolutely love your blog.  Very insightful and down to earth.

I have a question though.  My son is now almost 2 and it seems he has no ears.  He will do something and I’ll ask him nicely to stop: “Don’t do that please, Mommy doesn’t want you to get hurt” or similar.  He will look me in the eyes and continue doing what he is doing.  It’s driving me mad and time out does not work with him.

I’m at wit’s end and have no idea how to get him to stop and listen to me.  What am I doing wrong?

Please help.

Hi Michelle,

Thank you very much for your lovely letter.

I know that this behaviour is frustrating, but when children start approaching the age of 2 they are becoming little people, and in an attempt to be more independent they feel the need to test their boundaries.   It’s certainly not caused by your doing anything “wrong”; sometimes it just takes a while to arrive at the approach that works best with a particular child.

I recommend that you remain calm and composed when one of these exasperating episodes arises, but try changing your tone of voice so you are firm and you are clearly conveying your authority to your son.  If he responds to you when you ask him not to do something, give him great praise.

If even when using the firm voice he is reluctant to listen to you, tell him “I am going to count to 3”, give him the chance to respond; if on “3” he backs down, just give a very simple “good boy”.  If he is defiant and refuses to obey, take his hand and in a firm voice explain that what he is doing is dangerous or is something that you just don’t want him to do.  This might lead to a little tantrum; if so, just ignore it for a couple of minutes and carry on.  Then go back and distract him with something else.  He is not sad or hurt, just frustrated.

Good luck!  Once you’ve had a chance to see whether this approach produces some results for you, please feel free to let me and my other readers know how you’re getting on by leaving a comment.



Coping With a Little Biter

I have had a few letters from readers who are concerned about the biting phase; I would just like to let you all know you are not alone!  Unfortunately, there is usually no quick fix for this behaviour; you will just have to ride it out – but I can try to give you some help on how to cope.

Biting is usually a phase that occurs between 2 and 3½ years of age.  Children often start biting in order to deal with certain situations where they are unable to express themselves with words.  It could be that another child has taken their favourite toy, or is just standing too close and invading their personal space.  Moreover, it isn’t necessarily an expression of something negative; the little biter could just be saying “please play with me”.

I have found that the key to dealing with this behaviour isn’t figuring out what punishments work best; rather, it’s a matter of teaching the child the necessary skills to communicate properly so they don’t resort to biting.  However, if the biting becomes out of control, you could try to remove your child from the play area and have them sit with you for a few minutes just explaining that it is not acceptable behaviour and that they need a calm-down time for five minutes.  This also shows other concerned parents that you are dealing with the situation.

When your child bites somebody, express to your child that it is not good and you really hurt your friend and if you do that they won’t want to play with you.  Also try to have them say sorry with a big cuddle.  You could pay a little extra attention to the child that was bitten, so that your child can see that one does not get attention by inflicting pain on others.  If it happened at nursery and you were not around to witness it, you could have your child draw a picture to say sorry and take it to nursery the next day.

If you watch your child closely and manage to spot the signs of when they are about to pounce, quickly distract them.  Don’t shout; just remove them immediately from the situation.  Give them a big hug and kiss and send them back on their way.  Whilst your little one is going through this phase, I would try to observe all play times carefully.

Biting is not a simple subject to cover because the motivations and triggers for the behaviour can vary from one toddler to another.  I’ve tried to present here some general recommendations based on past experience.

If you have tips on dealing with biting that worked successfully with your child, please share them with me and other readers by leaving a comment below!



When Your Little Darling Lashes Out

Reader Debbie is struggling with a toddler who is going through a defiant stage.  She writes:

My son is 2 years 10 months and he screams NO all the time, usually with a hit too, if I ask him or tell him anything.  It often coincides with being tired but can also turn on a sixpence when not tired.  He has 13 hours sleep per night.  I’ve tried talking about how sad it makes me when he shouts and hits out.  I’ve tried sending him to his room.  He does say sorry but 2 minutes later he does the same … any ideas please?

Hi Debbie,

It’s quite common for toddler to go through a phase of hitting, shouting or biting.  It can be due to a child’s lack of communication skills and the maturity to express himself correctly.  Also at this age, children try to assert their independence and to test boundaries.  I have a couple of methods for dealing with such behaviour at this age level that I can share with you, because as we know, what works for one doesn’t always work for another.

My first technique involves largely what you are already doing, with a few modifications:  when your little boy starts to hit or shout, remove him immediately from the situation.  Don’t shout back; don’t give him warnings or chances – just explain in a very calm voice that the behaviour is not acceptable.  Then put him in time out.   After a couple of minutes, go back and get him.  Once he has apologised, ask him what it was that he wanted.  When he tells you, show him how to express it in an acceptable manner, and respond positively when he repeats it to you.  Then ask him for a big hug and have it over and done with.  If you repeat this every time he acts out, he will learn that such actions have consequences.

The second technique I can recommend is ignoring him.  When he starts to shout “NO!” or hit you, walk away from him and let him see that he will get no response.  Tell him to talk properly to mummy and mummy will listen.

These techniques have proven successful for me in the past, and I hope that they will for you too.  Best of luck!