Archived Q&A and Reviews
Am writing to ask for advice--be it books, tips, empathy, etc. My three-year-old daughter, who is bright as a button and as charming as little girls go, is also extremely stubborn. My son, who is almost six, was nothing like this at his most defiant. I realize that all children go through a stage wherein they must assert their independence and saying no is a sign of healthy development. But I have a sense that in my daughter's case, we may have more going on than just toddler independence. She simply takes a contrary position to nearly every rule, request, suggestion, or order. If I say it is time to get dressed, she strips. If I ask her to eat, she gets down from the table. If all the other children are standing up to sing, she sits down. If I give her one ponytail, she wants two and vice-versa. I say pants; she says dress. I say pink; she says floral. And so on.
My mother-in-law says I should pick my battles and only fight the ones I can win. That sounds good at first blush; the color of her underwear doesn't much matter and she should certainly have a say. But beyond the simple things, the advice isn't at all practical. I cannot be her personal chef, hairdresser, etc. There is not enough time in the day to cater to her like that for the sake of peace. I cannot let her go naked and wild and eat only sweets. At some point, I must have some control. And further, it seems like I'd be doing her a great disservice in the long run if I gave ger so much power over me. I believe three-year-olds should not run households. I haven't lost control yet, but am feeling exhausted. Lately I find myself having negative feelings about her when our personalities clash. (The guilt level about that is high.) I don't much care for other people kids who act like mine does sometimes (though I am starting to have more insight and compassion).
It is not a function of her being tired, she can be contrary when she's well-rested. She is simply an independent force. I value this and dread it at the same time. I don't want to break her little spirit, but at some point, she has to learn to mesh with the household. I don't want to fight all the time. I'm preganant with our third and hope to have improved my relationship with my daughter before I am distracted with new, additional responsibilities.
I may not have expressed this too well, but any insights or suggestions will be appreciated. I have a thick skin and so can take criticism if warranted.
Three year olds: first, the sympathy. My grandfather always said about my brother at this age that he could wear out an iron horse and aggravate a fly to death.
I have a stubborn kid, too, still stubborn at 7 although better than he was at 3. Your daughter does sound like an extra handful though. First of all, see if you can get a book (from your local library) called Your Three Year Old. This is part of a series written some years ago by a couple of psychologists and I have found it very useful in dealing with the psychological changes that happen as children grow older.
In the case of my son I am a single parent with no other support, so I really had to choose my battles to avoid getting totally flattened. If my son wanted to eat cereal every night for dinner for two months, that's what he ate. When we got into a fight in the morning about getting dressed warmly enough, I took him outside to feel the cool air, then he was usually good about dressing warmly enough.
The only advice I can offer you is to try to give your daughter a choice as much as possible, but not an unlimited choice. And as much as possible you make her decide, in a timely manner. So when you are fixing her hair, ask her how many ponytails she wants. When it is time to get dressed (and don't, by the way, say Time to get dressed.) ask her to choose between pants and a dress. For dinner, you might offer her what the family is eating, or give her one other easy to fix option, such as cereal, make her decide, then stick with it.
Hope this helps Dianna
For a start I advice that you read Raising Your Spirited Child. I forget the author's name but it is a valuable book for parents of children who have strong personalities and sensitivities. You also may want to join a support group for parents of spirited children. I attended had a campus group that was meeting last summer. We organized through the parents network. I've found that Robi Carmack who organized the group last year is no longer on campus and the group hasn't met since last September. If anyone has info on the status of the group I would also like to know because it is beneficial to talk to other parents who share similar experiences.
I empathize with you because it is difficult to deal with her type of temperament on a daily basis. You become worn down by the constant battles. I think it will get better if you and your family members recognize what is happening and make the necessary changes. Your daughter is really not out to get you although it may feel that way. She has her own reasons for her behavior. The key is finding what works for her and you and that takes time, energy and searching. It is an on-going process. You are beginning a journey that you didn't expect to take so the best thing to do is to educate yourself about temperament issues. You've taken the first step by asking for help. I wish you the best.
Your daughter sounds like she should be my 5 year old daughter's little sister. I would like to tell you that it gets better, but I can only tell you that it does get a little different, a bit more sophisticated, certainly more theatrical. Every event is a potential battle, and I have not found the magic words to diffuse these situations. I did find some comfort from the book, Raising Your Spirited Child, if only from knowing that there are other children out there with similar personalities (the book talks about temperaments). I also try to enjoy the wonderful times when she is being charming, clever, entertaining, loving, and remember them when she is in bed with the covers pulled over her head, refusing my every suggestion for the day's outfit, threatening to drive off without her, knowing I'll be late for work (again). I have an 8 year old son, and like your older son, he is not an angel, but is infinitely easier to deal with. Good luck, try reading the book, and know that you are not alone!
On the issue of the 3 year old stubborn streak, I have one of those kids too, but she's eleven now. One thing I learned early on is to veer away from giving her only one option. For instance, rather than say put on the pink jeans, I might say It's time to get dressed - would you like the pink or the blue pants? It's harder for her to fight you if you are giving her the option. We did form a spirited child group on campus to try to see these children as special rather than awful and there is a woman at Kaiser, helen neville, who spoke to us and does counsel families dealing with this issue. I can look up the information for you if one of the other spirited members doesn't respond to your message.
Yikes! I certainly can sympathize with this as I currently go through many showdowns with my 3yo son these days. I really do think it's the age in combination with strong (& bright) personalities, and control (you've hit it right smack on the head because ultimately that's what it's all about!).
And while, yes, it's true you need to pick your battles, it's hard because you do have to be the parent. We've tried to provide our son with as many choices as possible but even that it hard (a really basic and even lame example: You can wear these shoes or those shoes, but you cannot go barefoot. NO! I want no shoes! Well . . . Here are your choices, you wear these shoes or those shoes. All of this repeated ad infinitum and nauseum.) Sometimes, I have found it comes down to who will cave in first, but since we're BOTH stubborn it can go on for too long. And it's frustrating. Then it becomes more of who will win then what shoes, or clothes or whatever. Yuck!
Just remember these kids are working really hard to establish order and some control in their lives (not that you don't provide any, but they need to own something). A new baby will add even more pressure, but I'm sure you know that already! :-)
Unfortunately, many, many, too many times we have even had to resort to threats, albeit calm ones: Ok, listen to me, if you do not cooperate with me on this than that means I won't read you a story tonight/take you to the park/whatever we know he might be keen on doing. Actually, I think he's beginning to understand this . . . it's working! Though sometimes it takes 5 or 6 tries. We're trying to emphasize that we're all in this together. It's been real important to keep the follow-through, whether it's the punishment or reward. When the calm reasoning tact doesn't work, and he's screaming and kicking and hitting, then we banish him to his room or to go sit on the couch until he can calm down. It's hard on the ears and psyche for us. Sometimes I have even had to sit on the floor forcibly hold him in my lap when the tantrum gets out of hand and wait, blocking out sound as best I can, until the storm subsides.
We keep repeating to ourselves that this age will pass. He's a bright and charming kid. And he's practicing for adolescence. If we can successfully deal with this, then we've got some practice for what may come ahead. A side note: my brother was exactly like this as a child and extremely intellectually combative as a teenager; now upon reflection he says that he never really learned how to deal with his emotions and he's had a hard time as an adult in learning to give up wanting control and running everything around him (our parents always gave in).
Remember we're trying to prepare our kids to survive without us. Sometimes we have to be unfair, but we're the only ones who can really show them. And, of course, each one is so different. I know it's hard. We love our kids, just not everything they do or how they do it. Good luck! You will make it.
I'm sure you will get lots of sympathetic and helpful responses on this one -- it brings up LOTS of memories for many of us, I'm sure!!
First, don't forget the most important fact that you slipped in toward the end of your e-mail: you're about to have another baby. Your son remained the first-born when your daughter was born. She's about to lose her baby status and being the middle child just doesn't offer much cachet. Particularly if #3 is also a girl, it's going to be hard for her to find a new place and she needs huge amounts of reassurance and attention -- more, perhaps, than seems reasonable or evident from her not-very-attractive way of asking for it.
Second, remember the One True Comfort of Parenthood: nothing, NOTHING, about your children doesn't change. It WILL get better, though it sounds as if you'll always have an independent thinker in this one.
Beyond that, it sounds to me like both you and your mother-in-law are right: you can and should give on the little things but there are many big things that you can't give on. When my now-9 year-old went through a phase like this (also when she was adapting to a new baby in the family), I did use three approaches very consistently. First, I almost always spoke rationally to her, no matter how crazy she got. I continued to treat her like a small person with a mind, even though all I was getting back was irrationality and emotion (not an easy task of course!). Second, I was very, very firm on certain things (can't go outside naked, must sit at the table at mealtimes) and always explained my behavior in the same way: that my job as a Mommy was to make sure she was safe and healthy, to teach her how to be the person she can be, and that NOTHING was going to get in the way of my doing that job, that I would be a bad Mommy if I didn't do it. (In other words, I tried not to make it about what I wanted versus what she wanted, but rather about our roles: that my job was to set certain limits and enforce certain rules. Her job was to figure out how to live by those rules, including expressing her discontent if that was what she needed to do. But that in the end, my way would win because I was the grown-up and it was my responsibility.) Last, I always reminded her that she had a choice about her own behavior and reaction to these situations: a choice that came to be known in our family shorthand as the hard way or the easy way. If she refused to sit in her chair, I would explain the consequences: Ellen, you are going to sit in your chair. We can do this the hard way or the easy way, it's up to you. You can kick and scream and cry, in which case I will pick you up and put you in your chair and hold you down if I have to. Or you can get up yourself, and sit in the chair on your own. It's up to you. Of course, you have to be willing to enforce this, which seems cruel sometimes, but must be done. And it does have an effect, particularly if you're very consistent--almost ritualistic--about your language. I think they learn to say to themselves as soon as they hear certain words oh, this is one of those and they stop on their own, which is of course what you're trying to teach them. One wierd side benefit of this is that years later, if the words we can do this the hard way or the easy way slip out of my mouth (which they rarely do), they have an almost supernatural effect -- the kids stop dead in their tracks and re-evaluate their tactics!
Finally, don't worry too much about breaking her spirit. I used to hate forcing my daughter and felt like a monster sometimes (though reminding her that she had the power to stop me, by changing her behavior, helped me at least as much as it did her), but I definitely did NOT break her spirit, as those out there who know her will testify! It seems clear poverty and injustice break the spirit, firm limits imposed consistently and rationally by loving parents do not.
Oh, and don't forget counting (I'm going to count to ten and then you will put on your dress. one, two...). I never figured out why this works but all my friends agree it seems to have some mystical effect.
Good luck with this one and with #3!!
Regarding the 3-year-old Stubborn Streak. -- first, my sympathy. Been there.
In the single-parents support group now going on through CARE, the facilitator lent me a book entitled something like Parenting Your StrongWilled Child (I will try to send you the exact title and author's names next week ... ) Anyway, the book is GREAT! It is very very pragmatic. It has all the theoretical rap, but, much more useful is the five-week practical program for learning new parenting strategies.
I have found this program helpful. Not a cure-all ... nothing will change the fact that my daughter (and yours, it sounds) are very strongwilled. This will help them a lot later in life -- being strong-willed is a very useful trait for adults, for succeeding in business, athletics, finance, etc. ... but a little SHAPING of it is needed! Get the book, really, I bet it will help! :-)
I completely sympathize with you! You could've been describing my son when you wrote of your daughter's contrary behavior. From 18 months old to 4 years, he exhausted us with his contrariness, to the point that NOTHING ever got accomplished easily and everything was an issue. Even if you bypass the battles, it's still draining to be opposed on every single thing every day. I even tried reverse psychology on him, but somehow he always knew when I was doing that and didn't take the bait!
I too began to feel terribly guilty about the fact that, although I loved him to death, I couldn't feel that I LIKED his personality very much. It was just so exhausting.
It often seemed like he acted that way out of habit, and I wanted him to be more aware of how he was behaving. So, I tried talking to him about: 1) how big kids need to act (very effective because he took great pride in being a big kid); and 2) how he didn't HAVE TO be so contrary (like the time that I told him at 2 yrs old that he didn't HAVE TO cry every time he woke up in the morning--it was like a revelation for him, and he never did it again.) I know I shouldn't expect a three year old to be very introspective, but it was worth a try.
I don't know if it sank in, or if he just outgrew his contrariness, but I do have an encouraging outcome. Somehow things just got a lot better when he turned four. He became much more reasonable and AGREEABLE! (Part of that might be due to a desire to outshine his little sister.) Now that he's five, his Kindergarten teacher reported to us that he's doing great and he's a leader in class discussions! Plus, I have newfound pleasure in his company.
So, take heart and be reassured that your little one's independence could be the beginnings of a future leader. Good luck!
I think from what I have just read, a support group on this issue wuld be really beneficial! My daughter will be turning three in August, and already she is well on track with each and every comment I read! She is very independent, strong-willed, intelligent, emotionally erruptive and sweet as sugar (when she wants to be!). She's like a ticking time bomb, and I have no idea what to expect from her on a day-to-day basis. I need HELP!!! Does anyone have any suggestions? Let me know if anyone is interested?
>My mother-in-law says I should pick my battles and only fight the ones I >can win.
Actually I'm prone to agree with your mother-in-law. Let her pick her own clothes and how she wears her hair. Give her choices (within reason) as to what food she eats but be firm on the order she eats it -- real food first, then sweets. No real food, no sweets. Be firm with safety issues of seat belts, etc. Our son has always been included in decisions about his life as well as ours. We also have been clear in that there are some decisions that adults have the final say so but he is welcome to give in put. It wasn't easy to give up control over him especially when we were in a rush and doing it for him was faster and easier and explanations as to WHY things needed to be done a certain way were difficult and time consuming. The hardest part was letting him suffer the consequences of inappropriate decisions like not wearing a coat when it was cold (and we told him he needed one but he chose not to take one). But at almost 7 yrs old, he is much more responsible than a lot of his peers seem to be and makes surprisingly good decisions the majority of the time about his life.
I've just read the summary of other suggestions (which are terrific) and would like to add a few games:
- Get your clothes and come over to my room so we can play a game while we get dressed. Which one do you want to play today?
a. Race. Who can get dressed first?
b. Can you put on something.....blue? Put something on your right foot. Put on something that will be covered up. This works well to sometimes get very silly: Put something on your ear, backwards, etc.
c. Put something on and I'll try to guess what it is. (Guess silly!)
d. You tell me what to put on.
- Opposite game. You say, sit, she stands. You say, open eyes, she closes them. Then let her have a turn to give you directions. Get silly.
- Let her be the boss, perhaps at the playground and she tells you what to do. Eventually, you behave the way she behaves at home: tantrum, run the opposite direction, not doing what she tells you to. Then you model changing your mind and cooperating with her. Verbalize what you are thinking and show her a way to back down.
Another advantage of this game is that she has your full attention. With a baby coming, she needs that. Also talk to her about what having a new baby will mean to her life.
I also talked to my kids (when not in a situation) about why they were behaving the way they were based on their lives at the time and their development. (Two year olds are supposed to be contrary. That's your job.) Then I tried to give them another way to express it (words, code). And then the magic: When you get bigger you'll .....
Any lastly, minimize the problem situation by focusing on the coming activity. After we're dressed, we can go to the park. What are you going to do the first thing?
Sometimes it seemed as if I played games all day. I still remember when my son caught on and named them, Mommy tricks, but they worked for years.
Having fun, being silly, enjoying each other, time will pass. Good luck.
One other book recommendation: _How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk_ by Faber and Mazlish. When I first picked it up I thought they were stating the obvious and patted myself on the back for already doing a lot of what they said; but, after reading the examples and doing the exercises I must admit that even I! had something to learn.
The basic premise is that kids just want to be understood and that the best thing to teach them is how to best express their feelings. I've been putting it into practice with my stubborn 2-yr old and I see it making a difference. For example, one afternoon, while running from one store to the other, getting in and out of the car, being in a rush, and hearing no, you can't have/do that for the nth time, my son lost it when I refused to let him climb out of the shopping cart by mysewf. So I scooped my screaming child off the parking lot pavement and forced him into the carseat, something I really hate doing. Anyhow, as we pulled away and he was crying, I started to say, You wanted to climb out of the cart yourself, didn't you? Crying turned to sniffles, Yeah!, You wanted Mommy to get you a gumball and she said No! You're _angry_ that Mommy said you couldn't have a gumball! More sniffles, much calmer, Yeah! And we continued like this all the way home. A few minutes later, Elie approached my partner and very emphatically said, Daddy, I wanted a gumball and Mommy wouldn't let me have it! Daddy was shocked to hear this kind of talk coming from a little one, but I explained to him what happened and noted that he was much calmer and had been charming and cooperative since the point where his feelings were acknowledged. We also averted a major tantrum.
A friend of ours has a very contrary 2-1/2(?) year old and one strategy they sometimes use with apparent success is to ask her to do the opposite of what they want: e.g., It's dinner time for Mommy and Daddy but you can't have any spaghetti We're going to school now but you'll have to go in your bathrobe and slippers
Two things I didn't really see discussed (so far) in this discussion were: time-outs and playing with power. Time-outs were recommended by the pediatrician; I must say, I have to present it as an option anywhere from 3 to 8 times a day, which seems quite tiresome. But it does seem to work. It usually goes like this: You cannot put your feet on the table during dinner. Your feet belong under the table. See where my feet are? Pause. (sometimes that's enough) (if not) I'm sorry, but if you can't keep your feet off the table, you will have to leave the table and have a time out. (usually that works. Sometimes an actual time out has to be implemented)
ON a more cheery note, we also play around my daughter's need to be the one in control, in very structured ways (e.g. NOT EVER around meals, getting dressed, leaving the house, taking a bath). Remember the old game of statue where everyone has to freeze in whatever odd pose? Well, Alicia saw this on TV awhile ago and even at 22 months, she got it. We put on the radio and I dance and whenever she pushes the off button I have to freeze (with one foot in the air, or one arm flung out or some other silly pose) while she laughs and laughs until she turns the music back on. If she doesn't do it right away, I yell help! help! in a goofy way, while staying frozen This makes her laugh even harder.
We also play with tickling ... where I say I'm going to tickle your neck (or belly, or knee) and she either lets me or says NO. If she says NO I stop. Then she laughs and says OK. ( I think, BTW, this is good training to help kids know that they have a right to set limits around being touched)
Also we sing. That is, I sing. She names the song. Often, I'll be halfway through the first verse and she'll name a different song. I change songs. This can go on for like 15 minutes, with her calling the shots. It's kind of aggravating, actually, but I go along with it goodnaturedly. These little exercises in allowing her a sense of power seem, in some odd way, to make her more amenable when I say, OK. Please go to the table and sit down. Time to eat. or whatever.
Does anyone else out there do this kind of play with their kids?
I'd also like to suggest looking at the book about spirited children. When my child of this type was younger there was a book I found helpful called The Difficult Child. (Notice how the adjective has changed! Both words accurate, I think.) And the parent meetings last fall and the workshop with Helen Neville (private practice and at Oakland Kaiser) were great. I found that connecting with other parents infinitely reassuring. We didn't get (in any organized way) to strategies for dealing with these kids, but I came away with new insights about my child (and myself and my spouse and my other children) that have helped me out a great deal.
I was particularly struck by your comment about other parents and other children. I always say that my child of this type has made me humble. I had thought I was a great parent, my kids were models of adjustment, naturally a result of my sensitive parenting. They were normally independent, stubborn, and willful, but they grew out of it, they responded like the parenting books said they would (should). And, of course, I took credit. Once I began to become unglued by my third child, I naturally despaired of my parenting skills. However, over time, I have come to believe that there really is this temperment difference between kids (and people).
Our family is still not predictably successful in dealing with my now nine year old spirited child. He brings incredible drama to our lives in many ways, not all pleasant. However, I am trying not to take it as my parenting failure (even though it is often embarassing) and I am trying (with more success than not) when I am at the end of my rope to remember the great joy and pleasure he brings us. This seems simple, but it has de-escalated some of the stress around this stuff for me.
(I think the the choose-your-battles issue is what separates these kids from the others: they make EVERYTHING a battle. Even when you let them choose.)
Good luck! (And maybe we can all get together again for lunch time support and stories.)
I need help with my four year old daughter. She is Stubborn! She balks like a mule at every request or suggestion that doesn't involve candy or Dragon Tales. I feel frustrated, out of control, and at a complete loss. This morning she refused to get out of bed. After thirty minutes of reminders, promises, threats, I just left without her (I was 40 minutes late for work) and had her dad deal with it (even though day care is ten miles out of his way).
I have in the past resorted to physical force on such occasions - picking her up and dressing her kicking and screaming, leaving us both exhausted and miserable for the rest of the morning. I'd naturally prefer a less stressful approach. I have used bribery, the promise of positive reinforcement (a good hug, Trix for breakfast, Barney on TV), and other less effective forms of manipulation. I feel like she's in complete control of me. What works? Will she grow quickly out of what I pray is another unpleasant stage? (she's a very bright, clever, and often sweet child, really!). Or was this morning just a Halloween hangover?
I suggest reading the book Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It has helped me in many ways. It gives you different ways of thinking about your child and keys to help in everyday life.
You don't mention time-outs. We don't use these very often, but when we do they really work. The idea is to present them as time to calm down, not as punishment. Also to use a timer, one minute per year old, and sit somewhere where there is nothing else to do (we do it at the top of the stairs). It's hard to get our child to stay, but we persist in taking her back, and she has so far yelled and stamped her frustration out within the three minutes, and made it possible for us to then hug her and talk calmly with her, and move on.
Four year olds are notorious for drawing lines in the sand; four is two with attitude. They swing wildly between remarkably reasonable behavior and irrational and arbitrary demands. My older son tested to and beyond the limit with great frequency, and sometimes just needed to make a demand that couldn't be met so he could blow. (My personal favorite: I want our house to be on the OTHER side of the street!) I think he was struggling with his desire to control his world, the enormity of what that meant, and his need for us to set limits. Things we found helpful: give as much notice of plans as possible, and as many choices as possible without making your own life crazy. So, for example, if your daughter is having trouble with transitions (like getting out of bed) you might try starting on the problem the night before: telling her what time she will be getting up, having her help set her alarm on a digital clock in her room (a good thing for kids this age so your timing decisions do not seem so arbitrary), writing a list (with her input, coloring, stickers or whatever) of what things she will have for breakfast, and picking out her clothes. Put her list on the fridge and her clothes in the place she chooses. We also find that getting an affirmative agreement -- the child's handshake or verbal repetition of the program -- helps. The next morning, she may just get up and surprise you. If not, you might try telling her the race to the kitchen starts in two-minutes, and setting an egg-timer so she can see the time pass; then say (getting her to say it with you if you can) on your mark, get set, go and run to the kitchen. My boys never could resist a race. An alternative is a hide and seek game: Mommy is going to hide in the kitchen. Come find me.... Above all, keep a sense of humor. These four-year-olds really are funny little creatures, and unless we are pressed for time or their behavior is unsafe or unkind, laughter sometimes can be the best detonator. What, you're not getting out of bed? The cereal is getting lonely on the table all alone. The sillier you can be the better; four year olds just love being silly. But in the end, you will have to be the grown up, set limits, and not cater to every unreasonable whim, or you all will be miserable until this stage passes. And it will pass. My older son, now eight, is a great responsible kid, who would think it absurd to demand that the house be moved. Good luck!
I think it's a mistake to label this issue Halloween Hangover -- I think stubbornness is just the fact of life with a four-year-old. I was talking with another mom recently and we were remarking on how popular culture talks a lot about the Terrible Twos but has not a word about how awful the Fours can be. (My own mother used to say that the Fours are parental training for the Teens, not just because of the stubbornness but also the surliness, snottiness, and sarcasm.) I'm sure someone will comment to the list about the dynamic of exploration vs. need for security; I can't remember the whole psychological explanation, just that it's been hell for us.
We use incentives *a lot* and also disincentives, e.g. no Dragon Tales if such-&-such is not done -- but you can't use (5:30 p.m.) Dragon Tales for a morning motivator, it has to be closer in time. I do allow a 1/2-hr video in the morning if my kid is dressed 45 min before time to leave; this means breakfast is eaten in front of the video with 10-15 min following for teeth-brushing, putting on shoes & jacket, etc.
My basic advice, which I only sometimes manage to follow, is to keep yourself in control by using bodily force if necessary but keeping your cool to the greatest extent possible. So, for example, on some especially balky mornings I've had to dress my child entirely by myself -- with him fighting me -- but if I can managge to do it without actually getting mad, at least it doesn't ruin my morning. We do talk about the easy way or the hard way of doing things, meaning: You will be dressed whether you like it or not; if I dress you it will be the hard way and if you dress yourself it will be the easy way.
I also happen to believe that a single pop on the bottom does not constitute child abuse (nor do I believe that this teaches the child to solve problems through violence, what a crock), and I use it in conjunction with time-outs. I seem to be in the minority on this issue, however, so I'll just remind the moderator here to keep me anonymous.
My best advice is to read Children, the Challenge by Rudolf Dreikurs, which is available at Cody's. I've mentioned it on this newsgroup several times in the past and can't recommend it enough for how to deal with young children who have you under their control. (And bright, clever, sweet children are often the most capable of putting parents under their control.)
One thing that caught my eye was your use of promises. These also sounds like bribery to me. Positive reinforcement is best used without the child knowing or expecting they will get it.
I know a preschool teacher who once brought her son to preschool in his pyjamas, with his clothes in the bag, because he refused to get dressed. Sometimes picking up and carrying a child or leading them by the hand (without words or show of emotion) is the best way to deal with a situation where they have to go somewhere and they refuse.
My four-year-old angel exhibited the same type of behavior and I found it very upsetting. You feel like such a parenting failure. We had quite a few show-downs and happily now, we seem to be growing out of it after about six months. For us, the hardest times were when she was sleepy or hungry or when her routine was changed so that she felt out-of-control in some way. I really felt like we had regressed and found that I had to slow down and let her scream/cry/yell it out every once in awhile. I kept repeatin which behaviors I appreciated and was proud of and what I felt like when she had a meltdown (we had the discussions after every had cooled down). It actually seemed to help to explain why the tantrums were hurtful; almost seemed like a light bulb went on a couple times. I believe it's just another one of those darned phases, because the sweet little kid is returning to us little by little. Whew!
I gave some more thought to my reply. Dreikurs doesn't actually say much about rewards, except in the sense of You can [do what the child asked to do] after you [do something the parent wants done]. This isn't considered a bribe because it is in response to a child's request for some special thing, such as eating a candy bar or watching TV. In contrast, I often let my son knows he can have some special treat as a reward for good behavior on errands with me, which I guess can be thought of as a bribe. But I let stand my statement about positive reinforcement: at least in the Dreikursian sense, it is an unexpected reward for good behavior. The idea behind it is that a child will behave all the time if they never know when the reward will come. Dreikurs also mentions a different tactic: when the child is misbehaving, unexpectedly give them a big hug. Dreikurs thinks a misbehaving child is a discouraged child (in some sense -- I've known other parents to get upset at this idea) and by giving them a hug, you're giving them some encoragement. I actually do this with my son from time to time when he's refusing to do something and it's become a match of egos.
My now 12 year old daughter showed the same behavior, and she did not change. That is her temperament, but there are ways of working with it. We also have the complication of ADHD and it can be difficult to separate from the temperament issues. Getting up in the morning and going to bed at night are still two of our most difficult times of day, but any transition is difficult. Threats, yelling, peer pressure, didn't work. Bribes sometimes worked, but not in an ongoing way. We have used a behavior chart with some success, with clear expectations, incentives, and little room for negotiating. We work on one behavior at a time, and we started with getting up in the morning. We relaxed out standards on morning grooming also. I am currently reading a book called Your Defiant Child by Russell Barkley and wish it had been written when my child was younger. Check with your pediatrician, Bananas, the Family Forum, or any other referral source for parenting classes for recommendations on classes on managing temperament Kaiser's classes are often open to non-members also.
I don't have any kids yet, but I have babysat two girls (1-1/2 and 4) once a week since they were born. Their parents don't dress them in pjs after their baths on weeknights--they just put them to bed in their clothes for the next day. Seems like this might be a good way of avoiding one of your morning battles!
I, too, have a 4 year old who fancies himself in control. His manifests itself in refusals to get dressed (still a problem), as well as potty training(now accomplished - finally). I agree and appreciated reading the other responses to this issue. What has worked for me:
a) with potty training - a sticker chart with special treats if he got 5 stickers in a day. The best part of this system was that it immediately converted a power struggle situation to a positve reinforcement situation; from my issue to his. The special treats included such things as - play blocks, play legos, blow bubbles, computer time etc. The best treats were those that we could do together in the evening of a 'successful' day - one in which he got a certain number of stickrs - not necessarily that he was perfect. The goal was set low enough so that he obtained a special treat almost every day. It worked.
b) with getting dressed - sometimes just counting eg. you have until I count to 20 to get these clothes on; when this doesn't work at first, sometimes if I then turn my attention to something else he'll startt to get dressed and ask me to count.
The key for him seems to be providing some direct structure, and avoiding the power struggles for as long as time allows.
Regarding power struggles with young children, this is an issue that almost every parent has. Young children are egocentric and unpredictable, which makes them very hard to live with. Please have hope--things will get easier as they grow up.
Getting ready for school is a classic struggle. At the preschool where I teach, I let parents know that all they have to do is put some clothes in a bag and the children in the car seat and drive them here. We will see to it that they get dressed, and we provide breakfast. This takes the pressure off the parents and makes it clear to the children that the real reason to do these things is not to satisfy their parents, but to meet the expectations of the larger society.
Interestingly, only one child has actually shown up at school in her pj's (yes, she refused to get dressed). I had her stay in an area away from where the action was and told her that when she was dressed, she could play. People at school don't play in pyjamas, I told her. She got dressed pretty quickly and hasn't had difficulty with dressing at home since.