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5 Year Old Mind Games

I really enjoy your site and the wonderful advice you give.

I'm writing because I need help with my 5 year old daughter. I'm not sure if the steps I'm taking are correct. Let me give you the scenario of what usually happens:

My daughter will ask for something (like her blanket) that is just out of reach. I tell her it's right there and if she wants it then she can walk over to it and get it. She then usually complains that she can't reach it and wants me to get it for her, saying things like, "I just can't get it." or "I really wish I had my blanket." or she just reaches her hand out for it and moans and groans like she's "trying" to get it but really isn't.

At this point I usually tell her that she either needs to get her blanket or be quiet about it or I will put her on time-out. Of course, she keeps it up and is sent to time-out.

Now is where it gets tricky. . . .

After I tell her time-out is over and she can get off, she stays on time-out and says things like, "I wish I was off of time-out." or "Why is time-out taking so long." or "Can I please get off of time-out now." When I tell her she's already off of time out, she still stays there and repeats the same questions, whining that she is "still on time-out."

I'm not sure what the next step is. I usually try to just ignore her, but should I send her to her room or something? How can I get her to stop this behavior? It's getting very frustrating.

Thanks so much for all your help. I really appreciate it!!

Comments for 5 Year Old Mind Games

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Why Do Kids Push Our Buttons? - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi,
This is such an interesting question! Your daughter is a smart little cookie, and with this tricky little game you are caught up in, she has found a really good way to get your attention. She has got you hooked in one way or another to get energy from you, and she keeps on and on until she gets it.

The trouble is, this is all negative energy. What she is saying to you is she wants your energy and interaction and attention, but she does this by demanding you do something for her. This then escalates into time out - which I will talk about some more shortly.

When kids start manipulative games, or whining or irritating behavior, we have to ask ourselves - and them, what do they really need? Of course she can reach her blanket herself, but what she is really asking is for you to pay her attention. And in this example her blanket represents security and love. But whatever the demand is, what she is really wanting is your time and energy, and to know you are there for her.

So bring her underlying need out into the open so you interrupt the manipulation, and stop it escalating into something unpleasant.

You need to interrupt her game, and turn it into something positive. You don't want to continue this pattern with her, as your reactions and frustration is helping to reinforce her belief that she needs to manipulate and whine to get your attention.

And negative attention is better than nothing to a child - and lots of adults have learned this way of interacting too!

Part Two Follows . . .

Why Do Kids Push Our Buttons? - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

The quicker you switch the energy the better, so don't get hooked into your irritation, make a joke out of it, laugh and say "You can't trick me, I know you can reach it" "Are you wanting some time with Mommy?" Then either suggest
doing a puzzle, reading a story, or getting her to come and help you do something, but DON'T get into the fight of trying to MAKE her do it herself.

You can even go along with it, but make a big joke of it, "Oh no, you must have got a smooshed muscle and your reacher has broken, let me be your slave for you." Get her what she wants and then bow and ask her "what else can I get for you my Queen?" Turn it into a silly fun game - after all what she wants is your attention, and filling her up is much more productive than getting into a fight about her having to do it herself, you loosing your temper, and reinforcing an unhealthy dynamic.

If you are busy with something else, then ask, "Are you wanting my attention?" "I have to get dinner ready right now, but after dinner let's play with the Lego for a while." Or better still, try to include her, "I could really use your help right now, can you be my assistant chef?"

When we get busy, we think we don't have time to put energy into our kids, that it would be quicker if they just did what they were told and let us get on with what we need to do. But in the long run, having a drama and creating a heap of tension takes far longer, and is much more stressful, and doesn't teach them good skills for relating.

I am not suggesting you give into your daughter's demands all the time, particularly if it is done in a manipulative way. But if you acknowledge what she needs, and make a commitment to follow through with it, then she will learn that she doesn't need to set up a nasty scenario to get your attention.

Part Three Follows . . .

Why Do Kids Push Our Buttons? - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

I'm not a fan of time out as punishment. Save time outs for when EITHER of you need some time to calm down, reflect and get yourself back in sync. Making time out a tool that we can all use to re group and get centered again, is much more
effective than it being a punishment for annoying behavior.

Of course she continues with the game when she is in timeout, because she still wants your attention. So do a deal, use the timer on the stove so it rings, and say, "when it rings you can come out of time out, and we can do something together." "If you want to stay for longer that's fine, just let me know when you are ready."

Make time out a thinking time, not a punishment time. Go along with her game but in a fun way and make it bigger - "mmmm, I think you might want to stay in time out until you grow three more toes." "Your timeout must be such a lovely place, can I come too?" "What shall I bring, shall we have a picnic and a story?"

When she does start with the game, you have the power to totally change the energy. She has learned she can push your buttons, but you actually are the only one that has control over how you react. When you react on automatic with irritation you are not choosing a positive outcome and you are expecting her to change her behavior to make you feel good again. So if you find yourself getting irritated - take yourself off for time out! Say, "I am feeling grumpy right now, so I am going to go and sit quietly until I feel happier." And remove yourself from the situation.

Kids respond to humor, and humor is the best way to shift things when there is annoying behavior or they are not cooperating. The more we get into a fight with them, the more we are reacting as children ourselves!

The more we can show our kids that there are productive ways of getting what we want, or show them how to quickly shift from being out of sorts, to being happier, then we teach them much more powerful skills.

Punishments don't teach much in terms of skills. They might teach a child to repress how they feel and what they need, to avoid punishment, but it doesn't do anything for the relationship, and it doesn't teach them to find more positive ways of getting their needs met.

Part Four Follows . . .

Why Do Kids Push Our Buttons? - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Kids need attention, and they will get it in all sorts of creative ways, and your daughter is an excellent example of that. But it is far better to bring that out into the open and help her to find other ways of getting time with you that are not manipulative, and that result in good quality attention, not negative.

Our kids are also pretty good at showing us when we are out of sorts. If Mom is grumpy, you can bet your life the kids will play up. So if you are running on empty and don't have the energy to be with her at that moment, be honest, and say you need to get filled up with Mommy juice first so you can spend some time with her. Then do what every you need to do to fill yourself up. Moms who run on empty are too exhausted or drained to parent effectively, and we tend to resort to Power Over tactics to control our kids.

So make sure you have ways to get yourself in sync and feeling energized so you are able to be available to your daughter. Being a role model for her about how you take care of yourself, and get yourself feeling good is one of the best things you can teach her.

Enjoy her and find more ways to have good quality time with her, and trust that she will quickly let you know when she needs your attention!

All the best,
Annie D:)

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