Surviving the naughty step. Or how one word has turned our ‘difficult’ little girl into an angel



We have turned a major parenting corner with our little girl.
I have made no bones about the fact that Mia has been a difficult child. And I feel awful for saying that as she is also delightfully spirited, outgoing and full of life. That is something hubby and I would never ever want to change, but she has certainly been a challenge.

From hacking off her own hair, and shouting and screaming “I don’t even like you a little bit” to redecorating the house with lipstick, peeing on the floor because ‘it’s funny’ and swapping the Terrible Twos for the even more Terrible Threes.
Honestly, it’s a wonder I’m still sane.

Her older brother was a model baby. If I explained to him why he shouldn’t do something he would nod his little head and that would be it, he would go off and play with his jigsaw never to attempt said dangerous thing again.
When he was 3 and his little sister had just popped into the world, hubby and I were all ‘this parenting thing’s a lark. Got it all sorted. Don’t know what all the fuss is about’.
Then Mia arrived and we discovered EXACTLY what all the fuss is about.

However, I bring you hope my friends.
My little girl with the big red ‘difficult’ label around her neck has changed.Totally changed. She is a delight to be with and I really look forward to me and her time.

So what changed? What magical thing happened?
Well, we stopped using one word: We stopped calling her ‘naughty’.
I know, I know, it seems so bloody obvious! We never shouted it at her. It was almost an exasperated “Mia, why are you so naughty?” and I think she sucked it all up.
She would be stood there, Biro in hand having drawn all over her legs and her new shoes, almost willing me to get cross.
Also, for some time now she has been at pains to tell us that she is not a baby and that she is ready for the ‘big class’ in nursery school and she hates with a passion anything she considers to be remotely babyish.
So we have taken being good or bad out of the equation.

So now we say: “Mia, you’re so grown up” or “well done, you’re such a big girl” or “only babies do things like that. You’re too grown up for that, aren’t you?”

And I say this to you now, half weeping half laughing: by jimminy jove IT’S WORKED!

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58 Responses to Surviving the naughty step. Or how one word has turned our ‘difficult’ little girl into an angel

  1. Coding Mamma (Tasha) says:

    Hooray! Very happy for you. Unfortunately, we’ve always avoided the N word (very occassionally it has crept in, accidentally, but not much), so can’t try this out at home. Though Rosemary is mostly pretty good these days; she tends to be difficult toward the end of the day when she’s getting tired.

    Anyway, am very happy for you, and hope that this is real turning point (but that she keeps her independent streak, of course!).

  2. Blogger Dad says:

    Wait a second, did I read that right? YOU’RE sane?


    Anyway, interesting post and seems to give evidence to a discussion Sean Platt and I were having on the phone recently regarding children and encouraging words versus crticisms. He was going on for some length how damaging critical words can be to a child’s development and how people should overload their children with positive reinforcements.

    Thanks for the reminder as I attempt to implement this into my own parenting.

  3. Single Parent Dad says:

    Focusing on the positive Tara, kudos.

    I look forward to meeting the results.

  4. Adrenalynn says:

    Ooooh! I’m so happy for you!
    I like the way you think. My three year old is ridiculously well behaved, but he’s recently started ignoring us when we tell him to do something or if he’s doing something he’s not allowed to do. I’ve been going crazy over how to handle it, and though this is SO OBVIOUS, I think focusing our efforts like this might be the way to go! You’re awesome.

  5. Tara says:

    @Coding Mamma: I think it becomes a bit of a habit for most. That's a naughty thing to do, why are you being naughty, it's almost preprogrammed! She is never told off as such. We are talkers rather than shouters! But I think she found a way to play us and by heck didn't she just!Hubby and I had this discussion about the use of the right words to send the right messages and I now catching him saying things like:"Mia, you're so beautiful" swiftly followed by "and clever, of course" like he's just realised he ought to be reaffirming that too!@ Blogger Dad: I was sane. Until I met you and Dave Fowler, and now I can't be sure.Anyway, Sean is absolutely right – encouraging words are so powerful. Even just praising the effort they put into something (rather than just the achievement at the end) can be so rewarding.Not sure about overloading them with positive reinforcements. I don't want my kids growing up all bigheaded like Dave Fowler. @ Adrenalynn: I had one of those, a "ridiculously well behaved" 3-year-old. It must be a boy thing (and now the comments are going to be filled with parents with boys who are trying their patience!) @ Single Parent Dad: The results, my friend, will be a whole heck of a lot calmer mum!

  6. Maternal Tales says:

    OMG I needed that – I really did. Am totally with you on the first child a joy and second child a minx thing. Told Renée off and she never did naughty thing again. Told Edie off and she did naughty thing again and again. And I hate to say it but I do use the word 'naughty' and good and bad too. Right, will totally heed your advice and take those words out of our vocabulary. If it works, I will come back and kiss you. A lot x

  7. Tara says:

    @Maternal Tales: I really do hope it works for you. I know just how much of a nightmare it can be. All kisses accepted! Who cares who talks. @ Nappy valley girl: Oh. My. Goodness. You really are in the thick of it. I say this to my husband if ever he loses his cool and shouts. "Did shouting work?" No. "Did you feel rotten?" Yes. However I absolutely know what it's like to walk in the kitchen to find the floor swimming in water, a plate smashed on the floor and a grubby little girl stood in the middle of it wearing yellow Marigolds and bare feet.

  8. Mum Gone Mad says:

    It's so difficult to remember these things sometimes! The number of times I've caught myself and thern thought OMG look what you've been doing! But you did work it out and well done you, now wonder if that'll work on a nearly six year old boy I just happen to have running rings round me at the moment?

  9. Storm says:

    I understand the lack of sanity. I have two special needs children myself. Good for you for not calling her naughty. What a great lesson for you and her.

  10. Tara says:

    @ Mum Gone Mad: 6-year-old boy? Promise of a packet of Match Attax or the threat of a black mark against his pocket money (3 black marks and he's out!) works every time for mine!@ Alicia: Hello there. I take great comfort from those words Alicia, I really do! @ Storm: Hey, welcome and thanks so much for commenting. It should be you coming over here and telling me how to remain sane I suspect!

  11. It must be such a relief that she is starting to behave better.My Littleboys are being shockingly naughty at the moment – probably as a result of the move. I have to say that I do use the N word. And shout. And none of it does any good. Hmm. Might try your idea, at least on the older one – two year old wouldn't understand, and at the moment trying to control him is a lost cause….

  12. Alicia says:

    Great job! Ya know, I've known several toddler girls who were literally demon girls – but each and every one of them grew into a LOVELY pre-teen and teenager: charming, kind, loving, sweet. I say better to get the brattiness out now while she's little – and she'll be a sweetheart when it really counts!!!!

  13. Urban Panther says:

    Yes, sorry, have to jump in on the boy thing. My boy was an absolute ANGEL. Never gave me a spot of trouble. Until … age 12, when he turned into the MOST charming passive aggressive monster on the face of the planet. Now, at the age of 22, he is starting to show miniscule signs of improvement. MINIscule. But, I hold out hopes that he'll wake up one day and wonder about the 10-15 year vacation from the world he's been on, and join the land of the educated and gainfully employed.But, ya, way to go Tara! 🙂

  14. Betsy Wuebker says:

    Back when mine were pre-schoolers – in the Stone Age, my Robin could have been described as "difficult" or "highly sensitive" or whatever the buzz word. I found great solace in a book called Raising Your Spirited Child – by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka (sp?). Awesome, awesome book. Great perspective. Her point: assigning the negative to these characteristics (persistence/stubborn, challenging/curious, whatever) is easily exchanged for a positive interpretation of their behavior. With my Robin, it turned into, "She'll never have a problem asking her boss for a raise." (If we live long enough to see her get a job 🙂 ) How is the behavior that drives us nutser going to benefit the child in the long run? Your daughter is intrepid, curious, willing to risk, learns by doing, and engaged with life. My Robin self-advocates in a working environment (cocktail bar) fraught with the possibility of discrimination and lack of advantage, and she's making great money and thriving. She's a great kid who doesn't take any $hit with a positive sense of humor. What more could we ask? Great post, Tara.

  15. Momma Sunshine says:

    Awesome! It's all about focusing on the positive, in my opinion. 🙂 Glad to see that it's worked with Mia…. 🙂

  16. Brit in Bosnia / Fra says:

    I can show boys and naughty. We don't tend to say naughty much, but I have to admit to being a bit of a shouter. You are so right though and thanks for reminding me of it today. Note to self for the afternoon.We thought we had the parenting lark (especially the sleeping thing) all sorted as our first was brilliant. Second still (aged 2 1/2) sleep through. He does eat everything put in front of him, unlike No. 1 who exists off thin air and is convinced he has an allergy to anything green. Or red. Just goes to show they are all individuals.

  17. SandyCalico says:

    Well done, you've found the right buttons to push.My toddler is in the terrible twos, he's been there for a while and he's no two yet. Anyway. We try to focus on the positive, praise effort and avoid negative language. For instance it's the behaviour that is naughty, not the child.It's so hard, for me, not to shout at him. Thanks for the great ideas 🙂

  18. Home Office Mum says:

    Yay! We've had those kind of break throughs. And for a while they work but something happens and I end up reverting back to saying things I shouldn't. I will be inspired by your achievement and remind myself that when my little darlings are drawing on the sofa with permanent markers, they're not being naughty, they're simply expressing their creativity. ..Just before I go outside and scream at the trees.

  19. iota says:

    I love it when you find a key that just seems to do the trick. They don't always last very long, but while they do, they're a godsend.When she's in the 'big class', you might be able to get her to do lots of stuff by saying "what would Mrs Jones (big class teacher) say if she knew one of her big class girls did that kind of thing at home?" I could get my daughter to do anything for a while by invoking Mrs Martin, and suggesting that Mrs Martin wouldn't approve.

  20. Tracy says:

    I'm very happy for you! My challenging 3 year old turned into an easier 4 year old and now at almost 5, he's almost always a delight. OTOH, the charming 2 year old is now a terror. There is just something about age 3. Knock wood, I've only got to go through it once more after this.

  21. Tara says:

    @Urban Panther: La la la la la la, fingers in my ears, la la la la la.@ Betsy: "Back when mine were pre-schoolers – in the Stone Age" – I've seen your pic Betsy and you're no cavewoman. Come on, stop being coy!I totally agree with the sentiment of that book. However. Putting that into practice can be so very hard, espcially when you find your darling child tearing up photographs from when she was a baby becasue they're 'boring'.I love your take on life Betsy. x@ Momma Sunshine: Hello and welcome and well, I just love your name!@ Brit in Bosnia: What is it with these second kids lulling us into a false sense of security. Maybe I should have had 3. Or 4. "who exists off thin air and is convinced he has an allergy to anything green" – oh boy. Poor you! @ SandyCalico: I feeeeel for you Sandy I really do. Keep you chin up and soldier on! @ Home Office Mum: Don't you wonder how the hell we are all so sane? By rights we should be gibbering wrecks with 101 issues and a real fear of ever leaving the house. Hmm, is that why you're sailing half way around the world!@ Iota: I like the cut of your jib. I am absolutely going try that. The power of a Miss Martin eh!@ Tracy: All kudos to you. You manage to be a fabulous mother AND sound (resonably) sane at the same time. That's no mean feat!

  22. clareybabble says:

    Concentrating on the positives is the best thing to do, works so well with Little S, although we sometimes say 'naughty' too much. Thing is, he even tells us he's being naughty now!

  23. Expat mum says:

    You read stuff like that in the parenting books (I'm told) and think, "Oh yeah, right", but it's amazing how kids live down to our expectations when we voice them!My Queenager was a fairly high maintenance baby and toddler but is really no bother these days. (Jinxed it.)

  24. Turf Dad says:

    That's funny. Did you write this before you read my "Mia" post?It is hard to always keep it positive. I try my best with my oldest, but I must confess, I could do better.

  25. Tara says:

    @Clareybabble: I think they actually try to live up to the tag you know. You have to say to him: "you're such a well balanced, well behaved model child". See if that works!@ Expat mum: "Queenager" such a brilliant term. And I am holding on to every goddam word in that sentence: "was a firly high maintenance baby and toddler but is really no bother these days" @ Turf Dad: I am choosing to ignore the fact that you have a dog called Mia.

  26. Turf Dad says:

    Hey, my Mia is older than your Mia!Each pup in the litter was named after a famous athlete. Mia was named after Mia Hamm. The other pup we kept, Splinter, was named after Ted Williams, the "Splendid Splinter."

  27. Muddling Along Mummy says:

    Putting that in my little book of priceless Mummy tips – anything that might help navigate the threenager yearsp.s. I've tagged you over at mine …

  28. DCUrbanDad says:

    I fear that I might be in for the same thing. It's good to know that there is a way out.

  29. Reasons to be Cheerf says:

    Do you know, sometimes it's like a light goes on isn't it? Let's try it this way – and bingo! I think it's because we're so immersed in it all, sometimes it's hard to see the wood for the trees. So glad to hear about this – mind you, Mia looks pretty angelic in those pics!

  30. clareybabble says:

    I have tagged you for a very good cause over at my blog x

  31. TuTu's Bliss says:

    My two princesses are the same way..Daughter one was born an old soul and Daughter 2 is a wild thing. I’m glad things are looking up for you. It gives me hope! ;)Congrats on your SITS feature

  32. Your cool friend Cheryl says:

    Happy sits day!

  33. Colleen says:

    Happy SITS day! Totally agree on the "big girl" thing. We used it to get Bea to stop crying when she did not get her way and actually talk to people. After all, that is what "big kids/cool kids" do. Let's just hope they do not put numbers on their heads. 😉

  34. scrappysue says:

    take it and bank it!!! well done you

  35. Little Nut Tree says:

    Happy SITS day. Our boy sounds much like Mia (terrible twos into equally terrible threes, oh yeah.) Hope it keeps working for you!

  36. Reviewer11 says:

    You mean she's growing to fast? 🙁 from a SITSsta. 😀

  37. Tiffany says:

    Yay for finding the trick! I am a kindergarten teacher and completely agree that if you praise a child and use positive words they will act that way as opposed to using negative ones with them. I'm so happy your daughter is doing better, you must be proud of her.

  38. Marina says:

    that's a super way of handling the situation and one I should try when needed here…thanksPS I'm stopping by from SITS. Come enter the 3 giveaways on my blog…you never know, you might win!

  39. Marsha says:

    Happy SITS day!I can completely relate to the whole big girl thing. My oldest is exactly like that. Still trying to figure out what works on the other two though lol

  40. Darcel says:

    I have two spirited little girls. They are 4 and 2.Have you read the book Raising Your Spirited Child?It's a great book. It helped me understand them and myself better.Your daughter is a doll though.

  41. aditi says:

    Hey,You're kid is so… cute. Hard to imagine her so naughty! but I guess dats what kids do 🙂

  42. Pam says:

    So wonderful and true! Yep, tell 'em they're wonderful and good, and they'll want to live up to it!

  43. Mural Maker says:

    Oh, I resonate with your post. I was not able to give birth to children. However, I was blessed to have 3 stepsons (7,10,12 when they moved in w/me & Hubby). That was 18 years ago. I was a terrible stepmom. I admit it. I was so overwhelmed. The mere fact that their birth mother couldn't 'handle' them should tell you what their behavior was like. And I had no experience w/children.But we got thru it, somehow. Then in 2007 my youngest son found out he was a father. I was so lucky to have the baby for 5-6 days a week for nearly a year. Finally! A BABY! But as he grew, became mobile, I found myself falling back into my old negative patterns. I did the same thing as you and just stopped negative talking to him. (at least, I'm trying)It's amazing to see how he responds. Now, it's not easy when he becomes his little obstinate self (usually when he's over-tired), but I'm trying. It all comes back to the power of words. Thank you for your post, as it brought home to me how important it is to choose our words to our children, and grandchildren.

  44. MyRubySlippersLife says:

    I know what you're talking about. We had one of those naughty kinda girls also. The next thing we knew we were planning her wedding. Time flies & little girls change. Sarah turned from a naughty little two year old to a joy to be around for the next 25 years. So take heart – difficult little girls can turn into perfect young ladies. The part that's so sad is that it happens way to quick. So enjoy her – and try to appreciate ALL the stages. And don't forget to pat yourself on the back for being a good parent!Vickie/BellaWeddings

  45. Happy SITS Day! My daughters are close in age to yours (7 & 3) and we have something similar where the oldest was SO much easier! I thought, "Why do people say toddlers are so stubborn? She's not stubborn." I figured people were either exaggerating or doing something wrong. Now I know what all the fuss is about because I have more of a typical (i.e. difficult-ish) three year old. It's not a horrible thing. She's actually loads of fun and a great kid – full of life & energy. But getting through some of these days…..whooooo boy. Sounds like you're doing what you can & blogging can be a great outlet for frustration. Keep it up:-)

  46. Oh Wow! You hit the nail on the head! I'm a firm believer in "What you speak is what you get." Congratulations on the results of beautiful,encouraging, uplifting words!

  47. Equidae says:

    great news 🙂 some times in the heat of the moment we dont think right thank goodness we still have time to change that 🙂

  48. roadrunner201 says:

    Well, there's some food for thought. Something to hold on to as our little guy gets older.

  49. Sula Lee says:

    Wonderful post!! Thank you – my children are the same ages and I have had similiar struggles with my "spirited" daughter. I will definately try that angle! Glad to have found you today!

  50. Stalker v1.5 says:

    It is wonderful you found something that worked for your home and family … and good to hear you get to enjoy your daughter. 🙂

  51. Deb says:

    Congrats on starting your own home business! I'm visiting from SITS and am your 101st follower. :)I try really hard to explain to my 2 y/o that he doesn't go in the corner because he's "bad"–but that when he breaks the rules he needs a timeout. Labeling kids–as shy, quiet, energetic, whatever–reinforces it as part of their identity. I'm happy for you that you've turned a corner with your daughter. My little girl is also turning out to be a lot more challenging than my first.

  52. Laura McIntyre says:

    Im so glad things are working out, i think its great advice and will give it ago with my high needs t year old

  53. Alex says:

    Fingers crossed she's not lulling you into a false sense of security 😉

  54. Yes, I so hear you. I had a "spirited" child, and my daughter is now 26 and married. Still spirited – sometimes too much for her own good. I'm happy she's independent minded – she's a wonderful mom, but still has a mind of her own. I am so thankful for my charming-son-in-law. 😉

  55. Collette@Jesuslovesm says:

    Hi there I too have quite spirited children, it's good to hear that her behaviour is heading in a better direction. Being a parent can be so hard can't it!

  56. Kool Aid says:

    Yay for you, Tara! I remember reading somewhere that when you talk about your children to other adults, you shouldn't use those "labeling" words either, like "This is my wild child," or things like that either because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I'm glad you found something that works for you. That's wonderful!

  57. Working Mum says:

    Ah, the power of expectation and how children live up to our expectations of them. Works like a charm (mostly!) 😉

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