THE PROBLEM: My daughter (she’s 11), will never do what I tell her to do. I’m not particularly demanding, but if I ask her to set the table for dinner, she says “OK,” then nothing happens. I typically have to cajole her to get something done, and when she still doesn’t move, I end up threatening her with some kind of punishment. At that point I’m usually yelling, and it’s a pretty bad scene. I’m sick of this. I’ve gotten to the point where I do things myself rather than go to battle with her. There’s a lot of tension between us because of this.
MARY SAYS: It’s hard to tell what’s going on here. Your daughter may be annoyed by the interruption, she may be passive aggressively ‘punishing’ you for something, or she may have an issue with her ability to stay focused. Your daughter also may be unable to comply due to a biological/emotional ability to do so, in which case she may need an extra dose of understanding and patience from you. Regardless of what’s bothering her, you can still address the behavior in a way that’s respectful to both of you.
The first step is to get her attention. Let’s say she’s reading a book, and you need her to fold the laundry. Begin by asking her to put the book down and look at you, then ask her to take care of the laundry.
Now here’s the hard part.
Because your daughter has a history of saying “yes”—then proceeding to ignore your request—tell her calmly that the laundry must be folded now. She has not yet earned the privilege of waiting until she finishes a chapter before completing the task, because privilege it is.
If you thought your daughter was annoyed before, she’s definitely not going to like this! But explain to her she’s a contributing member of the family, and she no longer has the right to opt out whenever she pleases. Scheduling chores on one’s own time may be earned, but first, she needs to demonstrate the ability to respond as soon as you ask.
Once you’ve established a new routine, you can ask her if she’s ready to make her own decisions about when to tackle a job. Then let her! The key is to agree on a deadline. The first couple of times your daughter may slip into old habits, so you’ll want to immediately go back to the “do it now” routine.
In almost no time at all, unless there’s truly a biological component to her inability to get tasks done (ADD, for example), you will be delighted to find that when you ask your daughter to take care of something, you can consider it done.
ERIKA SAYS: Whether your daughter is doing this to get your attention or to test your boundaries, she must understand there are consequences for her behavior. I know this, because my son is six years old, and we are in a bit of a defiant stage. I find myself slipping into a reactive state every time he deliberately disobeys me. To keep peace in our home, I have made changes that I think will help you, too.
Make It Clear: After giving it some thought, I realized expectations had not been spelled out and boundaries tended to blur in our home. Children thrive off routines and clear expectations; without them, it’s guaranteed chaos. Sit down with your daughter and come up with a chore chart that designates when her chores are to be done—and how. Establish house rules, boundaries, and expectations that leave no room for misinterpretation, and be clear on what the consequences are for not living up to them.
Don’t wait until there is tension between you to express these things. Rather, schedule a family meeting to set your expectations, agree upon a reward system, and outline consequences for noncompliance.
In our home, we meet every Sunday. During this time, I praise my son where praise is due, and we discuss areas that need improvement. I like to give him a chance to explain what happened and why. I notice that when I do this, he is more receptive to what I have to say and any adjustments that need to be made.
Say it don’t yell it: The moment I raise my voice, my son stops listening. Truth be told, neither of us is receptive when tensions are high! To the best of your ability remain calm, but if you can’t, send your daughter to a quiet place to think and tell her you’ll talk about consequences later. Take this time to settle down and think about what you want to say. When you come together again, remind her of the rule she broke, tell her you don’t tolerate the behavior, mete out a consequence, and set a clear expectation for change the next time around.
Follow through: You must follow through on your consequences. Under no circumstances should you cave in or give second chances. The moment you backtrack on your expectations, you create a blurred line, sending the message that you don’t take your own rules seriously. This was a major downfall for me, as I am all for second, third, and fourth chances! I learned I was teaching my son that if he pushed me far enough, I would give in, which gave him power over me. Whether you choose to take something away, cut down time on an activity, or send your daughter up to her room for a timeout, remember that consistency is key to reinforcing the behaviors you’d prefer to see.
Praise her: Lastly, be sure to praise your daughter when her behavior improves. Take time to make observations and give her positive feedback for making good choices, completing chores around the house, and respecting family members and rules. Children thrive on praise, but be careful not to overdo it; a reasonable amount of praise will keep her accountable and her cup full.
Enforcing rules, setting clear expectations, and being consistent with consequences have worked wonders in my home. Our weekly family meetings have become something my son looks forward to. Even when he’s aware he didn’t meet an expectation, he comes to the table ready to accept responsibility for his behavior. We talk about why he made poor choices and how he can make better ones going forward.
Navigating parenthood with a defiant child is no easy task, but there is no doubt in my mind these changes will help you. And if no one told you lately…you’re doing a great job!
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! email@example.com
Read more ASK MOM advice.
Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.