Dear Kid Whisperer,
I have a 3.5 year old who treats me horribly. The way she talks to me is awful, and it’s embarrassing. I am 23 weeks pregnant and my husband is military and is often out of town. I am totally exhausted. I feel like I have tried everything and am trying to avoid confrontation, which feels wrong. What do I do? -Anjelica, Austin, Texas
I am sorry that you are going through this.
From what you describe, your kid needs to have a consequence. This is NOT a punishment. I have not punished a kid once in 18 years. Punishment just involves pain. Consequences involve learning. A good consequence for a 3.5 year old could involve practicing the use of nice words. This will be structured in such a way that it involves either improving a behavior through practice or suffering the self-imposed consequences of refusing a reasonable request from an adult. It should happen much later after a rudeness infraction (even the next day) when everyone is calm. It should occur in her room. This is how I would do this with your daughter if I were you:
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. Yesterday you were really mean to me. I’m not mad, though. I just require that my kids be nice to me. I’m going to ask you to come up with three nice things you could say to me instead of the mean things you said yesterday. So as soon as you give me three nice things you could say, you can leave the room, and you can keep on living your life. From then on, you will be allowed to stay outside of your room for as many seconds as you can be nice to me. So, what could you say to me that would be nice?
Kid: Uhh… You look nice.
Kid Whisperer: That’s a very nice thing to say! That’s one. What’s another?
Kid: Mmm… You are a good parent.
Kid Whisperer: How sweet! That’s two. What’s next?
Kid: You have overcome problematic preternatural brain wiring that leads you to reacting to problem stimuli with anger, as well as significant dysfunction in your own childhood to be able to effectively manage and change my negative behaviors. Well done.
Kid Whisperer: Whoa, you really hit the nail on the head there. That’s three. Great work. You seem like an expert at being nice to me. Is that true? Are you an expert?
Kid: I suppose I am.
Kid Whisperer: OK, great! Feel free to go out and have fun living your life for as many seconds as you can act like an expert at being nice to me.
Kid: Fair enough. Adieu.
If she is not cooperative and pleasant (I have no idea why she would be since she’s been getting what she wants for a long time by being unpleasant) just say, “I only talk to people who are being nice.” Then leave (the room, not the city) and tell her that you will be back in a bit (if she is able to be calm in her room) to see if she has come up with any other ideas. Use any safe means necessary to keep her in her safe and tech-free room if she continues to be unpleasant.
From now on, your kid will have the choice of being a pleasant person in the public areas of the house or being an unpleasant person in her room.
You can either put this work in now, and your kid will suffer now, or you and your daughter will suffer a lot throughout the foreseeable future.