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Discipline | 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!



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!



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!



“Because I Said So”: Asserting Grown-Up Authority

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Discipline

I believe it is our job as adults and caregivers to set limits and boundaries for children with a little love, kindness and discipline.  I think it is totally up to the individual when you start, but I’ve learnt from experience that it is never too early to try to set ground rules.

With children under the age of 16 months it is very hard to set the boundaries, but you can try to guide them in the right direction by saying things like “If you throw that again I am taking it away,” and follow it through.  They will soon learn.  But as soon as they start walking and getting up to mischief you can use phrases like “Why don’t you colour on the paper instead of the door” or “Sweetie, please don’t put your farm animals in the DVD player” – then distract them with something more interesting and more suitable.

Try to change your tone of voice so your child can recognise and understand the meaning of your words.  Also try to make eye contact with your child, as this can sometimes distract them.  You should not start to negotiate, as this will turn into an argument and then you’ll end up having to explain yourself.  All you have to say is “because I said so.”  When children are under 18 months their short-term memory is very limited, so the process of correction can become quite repetitive; try to focus a lot on positive reinforcement so your child doesn’t think that everything he or she does upsets the grown-ups.

By about age 2½, children start to understand right from wrong, and you can start using “time outs” by putting them in their room, on the sofa or any place where they are restricted and removed from the situation.  Then encourage them to apologise.  As they get older, children may develop the habit of saying a token “sorry” just to avoid punishment, and there will be no meaning behind the words.  I have found that it is useful to have them draw a picture – or, depending on their age, have them write a letter – to say they are sorry.  In this way, they come to understand better the consequences of their actions and words.

As children get older, you will find it easier to discipline them; you can start to confiscate things and take away privileges (e.g., going to the park, video games, TV).  However, you will have more arguments and battles over authority – just remember “because I said so.”  When taking away privileges, be careful to choose something that is not going to affect you too much, and be sure you can follow it through.  If you start throwing around empty threats, you are fighting a losing battle.