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Sunday, 25 March 2001

Over-Empowered Five-Year-Old

Written by  Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

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QDear Dr. Sylvia,

I believe our five-year-old daughter has the empowerment problem you spoke of in your article. (See Foundational Principles Parenting) Now that we've realized the problem, how do we fix it so she doesn't continue to act like a spoiled brat? We set what we believe are the appropriate limits. However, she pushes and pushes us to the point that we have to send her to her room or ground her from her favorite channel on TV. She honestly believes that she's THE BOSS. Any suggestions?


You will have to set clear limits for your five-year-old, but you'll want to be careful not to get on a negative track of constant punishment, or you'll soon find your daughter becoming sad or angry. You can start by telling her that Mom and Dad need to be her boss because you're older, have more experience, and love her very much.

Determine if all the adults guiding her agree on similar limits, most importantly, Mom and Dad. If either of you are the easy way out, your daughter will easily get the power of one on her side against the other, thus making one parent into an "ogre" or "dummy." That only teaches her manipulative skills. For a girl, that becomes most damaging if Dad sides with her to ignore Mom's wishes. Mom will feel powerless and angry -- and she likely has most responsibility for daily activities.

You may need to compromise on your standards, but there isn't one correct way to parent, only a united way.

Also, notice the way you make your requests or set expectations for your daughter. If you're constantly giving her choices, she will assume she should always make those choices. Unfortunately, that causes very young children to act adolescent before their time.

Here's an example of a question you wouldn't want to ask:
But there isn't one correct way to parent, only a united way.

"Do you want Mommy or Daddy to read to you tonight?" If you ask that question, she will learn to play you against each other. Instead, either take turns, or decide which works best for your schedule. A guideline to help you: Only give choices where either choice will be good for your daughter. Otherwise, don't ask, but positively and assertively let her know what's good for her.

For more guidelines, please read my book How to Parent So Children Will Learn.

Dr. Sylvia

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 15:28
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Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

Sylvia B. Rimm, PhD

Dr. Sylvia Rimm is a psychologist and best-selling author with a national following. She is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, and is a clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

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