My four year old daughter has become increasingly aggressive in the past 3 months. She regularly spits at myself or my partner when we ask her to take a shower or go to bed. Yesterday she pulled my hair while I was helping her dress because I asked her to come to the table and eat her dinner. She is also resistant to attending pre-school 3 days/week, however, she settles with the teachers present and they have no complaints about my daughter’s behaviour in the school setting.
I would like some ideas to help cool her temper at home as my partner and I use calm voices but we are actually quite angry about her level of disrespect. We give her time out and she demolishes her room. I would like to know how to respond to my daughter and how to stop this cycle of anger and punishment.
Laura, Croydon, NSW.
Outdoor play would be a good place to start for the whole family. Your letter suggest everyone is under stress and the relationships within the family unit are strained. The average four year old requires 4-5 hours of physical activity per day and tactile experiences such as playing in sand, climbing trees, rolling in the grass or swimming is highly recommended to reduce family stress.
Your daughter needs to know what behaviour is expected and she would do well to be rewarded when she meets her achievable targets. Use photos or videos to give examples of using a calm voice, listening and following a routine. Where possible, make it visual and reward her regularly with stamps of stickers (ie: 3 times/day minimum) to encourage positive behaviour.
Laura, ensure your home is a calm environment without harsh lighting or loud noise and keep stimulus to a minimum (eg; TV, mobile phones etc). Remember to use affection, humour and gentle persuasion rather than consequences to motivate youngsters and to model respect at all times.
Kimberley O'Brien is one of Australia's most trusted and recognized Child Psychologists with a knack for solving issues from the child's perspective. She is currently Principal Psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic in NSW.