28/04/2010 21:45 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Ask Joanne: My Eight-Year-Old's Out Of Control

What's your dilemma about any aspect of life as a parent? Our experienced life coach Joanne Mallon is here to answer your questions. Send your questions in here and say if you'd like your name to be changed.

Tanya asks:

My husband and I are at our wits' end and just don't know what to do. We have an eight-year-old daughter, and she is just out of control.

It all starts at 7am each morning, when she won't get up for school. I can't get her out of bed, she won't get dressed, she's stroppy and has tantrums. Eventually I do manage to get her dressed and off to school and then at 3pm when she gets home, here we go again. If I have grounded her because of the way she has been that morning, she tells me she is going out to play. When I say she's not, and then she waits till I'm busy doing something, she will sneak out. So then I have to get her back in, she's becomes moody and tells me she hates me. She also says it to her dad, and says she wants to move out.

And now, because of her behaviour, her youngest sister who is five years old is starting to copy her, as they go to the same school. So every morning both of them are doing it. I don't know how much more me and my husband can take. I have
tried everything, from grounding them both to making rules, talking to them or taking their Nintendo DS away from them. Nothing we say or do works, they just don't listen. I just want them to be good kids.

Here's the life coach's reply:

Dear Tanya

If you need to punish a child, it's essential that it can and will be carried out. So grounding is not working because your daughter knows that she can get round it. Children are very good at sensing empty threats, so there's no point in saying you are going to do this, if it proves impossible for you to carry out.

And the punishment must also have meaning for the child - it must involve some sort of sanction that they are less likely to risk. So what is your daughter's favourite thing or activity at the moment? What would she really miss if it was gone?

The other way to approach this is via the carrot rather than the stick. You don't mention any of your daughter's good qualities, so what are they? What is she enthusiastic about?

All of children's behaviour boils down to wanting attention, so start to give her more one-to-one attention and praise her positive qualities. I know this can sometimes feel wrong, as if we are rewarding a child who's behaving badly. But sometimes when our children seem to be pushing us away, what they really want is to be held closer.

So make a point of having some mother and daughter time together. It doesn't have to be a big day out, it could be something simple like combing her hair or painting each other's nails. My daughter is of a similar age and loves reading, so sometimes we read the same books. I did end up overdosing on Harry Potter, but it was good for her to have a special shared activity that she chose. Ask your daughter what she would like the two of you to do together.

Also beware of blaming your older daughter for your younger daughter's behaviour. This will only fuel your eight-year-old's sense of being victimised. Deal with your younger child's behaviour as a separate issue. Also look to your own reactions - if you want your daughter to be calmer, then start by being more of a role model for calmness yourself.

As for mornings, my daughter is pretty similar, I think lots of children are not exactly in a rush to get ready for school. I have tried many different approaches to this, and the thing that seems to work best is simply getting everybody up a bit earlier. Girls of this age are complicated and challenging, and also amazing. With puberty on the horizon you may be in for a rocky few years. But give your daughter the chance to show her good side and it will re-emerge.

Good luck and best wishes to you and your family,


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