I’ve mentioned a few times on Twitter about our recent banging-our-heads-against-the-wall frustrations with Maggie. Now, she’s not a bad kid, overall. She’s good for everyone else. She’s good at school. She’s even good when we take her places. But at home, lately… things have been less than stellar, let’s just put it that way.

And it’s not like she’s lighting the house on fire or playing with knives. It’s mostly normal kid stuff- not cleaning up toys, not eating her dinner (OMG. THE FOOD BATTLES IN THIS HOUSE.), talking back with major attitude (where I swear my mother would have slapped the taste right out of my mouth if I had EVER talked to her like that!), having major fits over tiny little things, lying about having POOP in her UNDERPANTS even though a) she’s been potty trained for months and b) um, we’re TOTALLY GOING TO FIND OUT, YOU KNOW.

So yeah. It’s been awesome.

I know that it’s partly her age (THREE YEARS OLD CAN BITE ME.) and partly the new baby in the house. That’s obvious. She sees me drop everything for Audrey multiple times a day and I tend to make Maggie wait for things (which- judge if you must, but she’s old enough to wait 3.4 seconds for her graham crackers while I finish peeing or wiping her sister’s butt or cleaning up the mess in the kitchen or switching a load of laundry or… the list goes on.) As you moms of multiple children know- it’s just really, really hard to take on more than one kid at a time. It just IS. Especially when one of those children is a needy, helpless newborn baby.

And of course at age three, that’s hard for her to understand. I get that.

(Dan has actually had quiet, rational conversations with her about all of this. About how it’s hard for Mommy when the baby is fussing and needs fed a lot, and how it’s Maggie’s job to help Mommy by just being a good girl. And are you upset about your baby sister being here? [No, she says, I love her!] but of course, you know there is some stuff going on there. I don’t blame her, really. I’d be mad, too.)

A few weeks ago I decided to try a behavior chart, and after a few modifications and trying a few different variations on the theme, we’ve come to the conclusion that our daughter just does NOT respond to positive rewards. It didn’t work for potty training and it’s not working now. Like, it’s cool for 5 minutes, but then she’s over the present or whatever it was she got as a reward and she starts being a little shit all over again.

Sorry. But it’s true.

Her behavior is all very classic ‘I’m looking for attention any way I can get it’ type stuff. So I have tried to make a conscious effort in the past week to NOT make her wait for every little thing. Paying more positive attention to her, trying to make more of my attention towards her positive instead of reprimanding or telling her to do something for eleventy-billionth time. I’ve tried to play more games and do more active things with her during the day, especially now that the baby is getting a little bit easier during the day and I have more time to play Pretty Pretty Princess for the 7,298th time since breakfast. I even go so far as to stand there, baby in the swing, and say ‘Maggie! What would you like to do right now? ANYTHING YOU WANT! Let’s play!’

For example: on Tuesday, we watched The Wizard of Oz after breakfast, at her request. Then we played the Wii together (which consists mostly of her watching me play, but she LOVES watching me jump around like a lunatic on the balance board, so whatever. Exercise for Mom!) Then we had some lunch, and she helped me hang wreaths on the windows (I know that sounds boring to a kid, but trust me, she was alllll over it. She had fun playing with the string. She’s like a cat.) Then we made a paper chain as a countdown to Christmas. Then we played Chutes and Ladders and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember.

Then it was dinner time and the roof nearly flew off the house. Basically… I was trying to make dinner and she was watching Tinkerbell and I asked her to NOT drag her plastic table and chairs into the living room while her sister was on her playmat (out of SAFETY, for goodness sake) and she said no and after repeating myself five times, I finally moved the table for her and she YELLED AT ME. AND POINTED HER FINGER AT ME. She said “LEAVE THAT THERE! BRING THAT BACK RIGHT NOW!”

I’m sorry, but no. No way, kid. I am your MOTHER.

I sent her to her room and then the baby threw up all over herself and started crying and I may have slammed a drawer and screamed in frustration and then mercifully I heard the garage door and knew Dan was home and ZOMGMYHERO.

The rest of the night was a disaster and ended with me eating chocolate on the couch and Maggie being sent to bed without books and her dress up clothes hidden away (that was because of ANOTHER bathroom incident.)


The next night, I made lasagna for dinner- which she LOVES! YAY! Something besides mac ‘n cheese! Except you would have thought we were asking her to eat dead rat or toenails or something because she was making SUCH a big deal out of eating every bite. And yes- I know some people think that you should never force kids to eat things they don’t want and we should just let her eat yogurt or cake or ice cream or potato chips for every meal. But I’m so tired of it. Seriously. She’s almost 4 and I think it’s time for her to start eating normal food. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. I won’t make her eat everything we eat every night, but come on. LASAGNA. Something with NUTRITION, for the LOVE.

It got to the point where Dan was counting down the minutes she had to eat the little pile I separated out, and if it wasn’t gone, she was going to her room for a timeout, and that night for bedtime there would be no books and no watching The Grinch (she’d been really excited about that all day). She had a chunk on her fork and was LICKING IT like a lollipop and turning around in her seat and making a huge mess and basically doing anything but what we were asking her to do. (She also has a bad habit of completely ignoring us and not looking at us when we’re trying to explain what we want her to do. SO. ANNOYING.) Finally time ran out. Dan scooped her up (calmly!) and carried her upstairs. She started shrieking and crying and…



You are KIDDING me with this, right? AM I BEING PUNK’D?

These are just some anecdotes to paint a bit of a picture… I’m sure you can fill in the rest.

Really, I’m not looking for advice (or assvice, especially. ha) We have tried just about everything except for electroshock therapy (for me. not her.) We’ve done the time outs (FAIL.), the positive reinforcement, the stickers, the toy rewards, the yelling, the calm explanatory conversations about how to behave, the taking away of toys for a few days. Nothing really works for more than a couple of days. And I think it’s mostly because she’s so smart and figures it out and is all PSSSSHT, BITCH, I’M IN CHARGE HERE.

That’s not good, you guys.

And look- she’s three. I know that. There are going to be tantrums and fights and DAYS. We don’t AT ALL expect her to be 100% perfect robot-child all the time. In fact, I think a little testing of boundaries is good for kids to do- it shows that she’s smart and trying to figure out where things stand. But this recent insanity is just not her. I KNOW my kid. She’s not acting like herself and it makes me really sad because we used to have so much fun together, back when she was two (aaah, Age Two. How I miss you!) Lately she just exhausts me and I find myself looking forward to her days at school WAY too much and I don’t like that. I don’t want to wish away my kid, you know? And I know she can behave- she does it at school! We get raving reviews on how well she eats and plays and shares and follows the rules. But at home, it’s like a freaking frat house. With more princesses, of course.

So we’re on a mission. To find what makes her tick. To find her currency. To figure out what exactly it is that will teach her the habits of respectfulness and listening and just being a nice person, dang it. I don’t know how long it will take to figure it out, and how many times I’ll cry in frustration over my kid being MEAN TO ME (how pathetic is that, you guys?) but we will get there. Yesterday was a good day, until she decided NOT to go on the potty again and lied about it. (She had her dress up clothes back for 30 minutes. Back on the shelf they go.) And dinner was a minor battle, but nobody had an all-out tantrum (myself included) so we’ll count that as a win.

My currency in the meantime? CHOCOLATE. Lots and lots of freaking chocolate.

Or maybe that’s called a coping mechanism. Whatever.


  1. OverMom

    December 3, 2010 8:26 am

    Oh Jen, we feel your pain. Dominic is super smart and has been challenging us since he was 2. (you know when he started to say the wrong color on purpose because hey older people look at you funny when you do things wrong on PURPOSE!) One of my degrees is in psychology and I have read every book, studied case studies and I CANNOT for the life of me figure out my own kid. Its hard and as I read your post I get tears in my eyes as I see my own frustration in your words. I can tell you that for the most part it gets better (although I will say it took Dom till well into 8 for it). He still has the attitude of a 16 year old girl most of the time and oh the eye rolls from that kid…but its just a certain from of normal I guess. I will say that my patience is gone and I do not think that returns easy. I just PRAY that teen years are okay for us girls since we have had rough toddlers/preschoolers :)

    • Jen

      December 3, 2010 8:51 am

      HAHA OH YES. The wrong color on purpose thing- Maggie did that!

      And dude. If YOU studied this in school and still don’t have answers… I guess that makes me feel better. LOL Or worse, because maybe that means there ARE no answers? ;)

  2. Kristy

    December 3, 2010 8:26 am

    Love you Jen!

  3. Sunshine

    December 3, 2010 8:41 am

    Yes. To all of this. I mean, somedays all I can say to myself is at least this is NORMAL. Because it is. She’s gonna push your buttons because that’s just what 3 year olds do — it’s how they figure out boundaries and who they are. And how parents end up grey-haired drunks. :)

  4. Emily

    December 3, 2010 8:44 am

    I swear I could have written this WORD FOR WORD. Down to the lasagna, I KID YOU NOT. We had the exact same experience last week when I made lasagna. (Except for the string. My kids won’t play with string. “She’s a cat.” That cracked me up.)

    I am so in the same boat. I don’t know what to do. Asher doesn’t pay ANY attention to us when we’re talking to him about things seriously either. And there are times when he is PHYSICALLY HURTING Dave (he gets excited when he comes home from work and jumps all over him and knees him in the groin regularly) but even us telling him we are HURT doesn’t seem to do anything. I told that to my sister-in-law and she said if her daughter ever thinks that mommy or daddy is hurt, SHE CRIES. What?! My kid has never shown remorse over any punishment WHATSOEVER.

    Positive reinforcement never worked for us during potty training, either.

    Wish I could bring you a bottle of wine and a straw!!

    • Jen

      December 3, 2010 8:57 am

      Glad to know my kid isn’t the only one eating Lasagna Lollipops. (WTH??!)

      The not paying attention when we’re trying to be serious is MADDENING. I feel so helpless! We (thankfully) don’t have too much trouble with physical stuff (mainly because she’s like 30 pounds so couldn’t do much damage anyway, and girls tend to be more emotionally abusive than physically, HA) But the blatant disregard and lack of remorse… I KNOW. I mean, she’ll say ‘sorry Mom’ for whatever we ask her to, but you can totally tell she doesn’t mean it. We’ve explained that simply SAYING you’re sorry isn’t enough, that means you won’t do it again. But of course, that doesn’t happen.

      I’m driving to Virginia and we’re having some wine. AND ICE CREAM. And hey! Maybe some lasagna!

  5. Kate

    December 3, 2010 8:45 am

    just think jennifer I’ll be home in a little while to help you out as well! i think i’m in pretty good jungle gym condition right now haha. could always do it the army way but i don’t think that is looked upon well for 3 year olds haha. can’t wait to see yunz!

  6. Cari

    December 3, 2010 9:42 am

    Do you live in my house?! This was Year Three with my oldest. Total nightmare, too. We also had the potty issues and he was so stubborn about it that he wasn’t fully potty trained until AFTER my second was born when the oldest was FOUR.

    They only thing I can offer in terms of the reward system is to find something REALLY BIG she has to work toward. We, too, tried the little presents and such – no go. In the end, the big carrot was Star Wars. He’s obsessed and we told him if he could poo in the potty every time he needed to for a whole week (that was his issue at the time), we would let him watch the next movie. If he did it for another whole week, he’d get to watch the third movie. It worked like a charm. We had a chart so he could see his progress and it solved the issue.

    I’m not saying it will work for Maggie and it certainly took us FOREVER to find the right incentive. I hope that you guys can work it out.

    Also, I’m still working on the attitude problems with my almost-6-year-old. It’s better – yes, it is better – but he still backslides sometimes. You’re not alone!

    • Jen

      December 3, 2010 10:27 am

      I think you might be onto something with the Big Reward thing. Right now with Christmas we’ve got the whole Santa thing to work with (Elf on the Shelf is ON THE WAY RIGHT NOW!) so I’m going to see how well that little trick works. Then maybe after Christmas we’ll figure out another carrot to dangle.

      I feel like I’m constantly searching for some way to TRICK my kid into being a Normal Human Being. But, I guess that’s parenting. heh

      • Cari

        December 3, 2010 12:15 pm

        We have an Elf and it *does* work – for about 3 weeks. Then, the week right before Christmas they just cannot contain themselves any more and everything starts to fall apart. We have the food issues, too – sometime I’ll tell you the saga – and it always, always, always becomes more of a battle around the holidays because he gets so excited he can’t contain himself. It’s like food is the only thing he can control so we have epic battles of will over it (while trying to avoid having epic battles of will to start with).

        The Holidays are so entirely the wrong time to fight about it, though. It just doesn’t work and it only makes you and them more frustrated. Try to maintain as best you can and then work toward better behavior after the New Year. This time of year is stressful enough!

  7. Jayna @ Yankee Drawl

    December 3, 2010 9:55 am

    Hi, yeah, totally my house as well. Except, the new baby has been here for a year and a half, so she can’t blame anything on that.

    The only thing that works for a little while around here is spending some quality alone time in her room . . . which is completely empty, save for her & MJ’s beds. She lost all the books and toys and has yet to earn them back. And she doesn’t care.

    We’ve done rewards and extra time and strict punishments and simple taking things away, but really, I think we’re all just going to have to ride it out. Which is really hard to remember when it’s 9 at night and she’s screaming from her doorway that she’s still hungry in a ploy to stay up late, despite refusing to eat any dinner all night.

    Just keep on with the chocolate, for you, of course.

    • Jen

      December 3, 2010 10:29 am

      It is so so hard when they just don’t care. It leaves us with very few options!

      And I have to say- with all of her ridiculousness during the day, she is fabulous with bedtime. I count my lucky stars for that every. day. Even last night after some drama, she settled into bed and was asleep in no time (probably EXHAUSTED from the insanity. ha) and Dan came downstairs and said “AT LEAST SHE SLEEPS WELL.”

      And what is up with them claiming HUNGER when we put perfectly yummy food in front of them and they refuse it? gah.

  8. Karen

    December 3, 2010 10:01 am

    When I read your post I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry in total sympathy! At least we’re not alone. Benjamen does a lot of the same stuff and he’s only 2 1/2, so I’m guessing it’s not going to get better anytime soon? He is so smart that he knows OUR currency. Paul always says he doesn’t know whether to be terrified of him or proud of him for being so manipulative already! He asks for things differently depending on who he is talking too. I don’t think that lots of grandparent time always helps… Timeouts and rewards have never really worked too well for him, we have to take things away instead, usually specific trucks (but sometimes books or trips to the library, talk about feeling like a bad mom!). Sometimes I wish that just one simple request could be followed up on without a threat or punishment…I’m talking about things like getting dressed in the morning or basically transitioning from any one activity to another, I’m not hoping for hours of quiet coloring at the kitchen table or anything! I think it’s just a normal stage of development that parents have survived for generations and we will too. I keep telling myself that when he’s older and out on his own more I’ll be glad that he has his own opinions and can stand up for himself! (Spending lots of time with teenagers helps me convince myself of that!) In the mean time, have a glass of wine for me and know that we all have our desparate, frustrated moments, but then they do something cute or loving and it melts away, for a split second!

    • Jen

      December 3, 2010 10:38 am

      YES. EXACTLY- I’m not looking for 4 hour quiet playtime! Just, you know, brushing her teeth without World War Three breaking out. Geez.

      And I completely agree with being glad for an independent, strong-willed kid later in life. She’s a lot like her mama (AHEM. I’ll admit it!) and i always tell Dan that we’ll be happy she’s like that when the boys start coming around ;) HA But right now, it makes me want to duct tape her to the wall and leave her there.

      It is very very frightening when they know how to manipulate us so young, though. I don’t have any recollection of EVER doing that when I was little, but I guess maybe I would have been too young to remember? I’ll have to ask my mom… or maybe she’s blocked that stuff out now that she’s a grandma!

      Hang in there girl- being PREGNANT with an obstinate kid isn’t easy either. You need all the breaks you can get right now!

  9. domestic extraordinaire

    December 3, 2010 10:26 am

    I know that my now nearly 16 year old was like that when her sister came along when she was 3. It was rough. I started watching some kids at the house for some extra money and all of the sudden when we had a rigid schedule, it seemed to help. Now we still had our moments but it was better.

  10. C @ Kid Things

    December 3, 2010 10:32 am

    My 4 year old is the kind who gets into everything for attention. He’s been like that since he was 2. I was hoping there’d be some magic age that he calmed down, but not yet. There’s been so many times where I just wish someone could take him for a day and give me a break, because seriously. Every day, if not every 10 minutes, there’s something with him.

    Then there’s my 7 year old, who is a perfect angel at school. I know he is, his teachers have even said so. He’s terrified of getting in trouble at school. Once he comes home, though, it’s like we get everything that’s built up throughout the day. His attitude has just skyrocketed with us this year.

    Then there’s my 2 year old, which yeah. She’s 2. Enough said? And as I now realize, it’s just starting. And probably won’t ever stop now, because soon she’ll be 4, then 7, then a teenager. Each age has it’s own disadvantages, I’m finding out. Clearly, we’re just screwed.

  11. Melissa

    December 3, 2010 10:52 am

    I find myself apologizing to my own mom a LOT since Oliver turned three and four… lol.

    I’m wondering if it will get better or worse as Andrew gets old enough to play with Oliver? It will probably help prevent boredom, but then there will be fights to deal with. I suppose it’s always something!

    Until we all figure out our kids’ currencies (which change daily! FUN!), just know that we’re all in the same boat. Pass the chocolate and wine! :)

  12. Carmen

    December 3, 2010 1:21 pm

    Things are the same at our house; I could have written this post almost word for word. Lexi’s been around for 2 year now, but at times his behaviour is definitely rooted in sibling rivalry. Kieran won’t look at me when I’m trying to talk to him about something. The defiance when asked to do something has reached epic levels now. I’m beyond frustrated and honestly don’t even know which battles to pick anymore because everything has turned into a battle. Kieran also doesn’t really give a hoot about rewards (as was clear during the horrific potty training months) and also doesn’t seem to mind having things taken away. I haven’t figured out his currency yet. As Melissa said above, pass the chocolate and wine. Although, maybe make mine a tequila.

  13. Laura

    December 3, 2010 1:55 pm

    I seriously laughed out loud at the description of the little pile and the countdown. So true, omg.

  14. Life with Kaishon

    December 3, 2010 6:32 pm

    Oh man. That is such a pain. Seriously. I have a headache just remembering those days…
    Three was so much worse for us than two. Don’t worry. Four will be a breeze compared to this : )

  15. Jane

    December 3, 2010 9:26 pm

    Oh painful. We have these cycles too. Started around the time Charlie came into the picture. I think consistency and follow through with any threats is important. Also talking about it when things are calm help (although it is hard to remember to do it when things are going good). it will get better. If not distract her with words like poop and buttcrack. That often works on “refocusing” Maria.

  16. Jenn

    December 3, 2010 10:32 pm

    Dude we as RIGHT THERE, except with a 5 year old and a 3 year old. They are super good kids and love their baby brother but they about kill each other within 5 seconds of picking Anna up from school! Seriously, we’re not even pulled away from the school before she’s got Jacob screaming at her. UGH! and the normally oh-so-sweet and compliant Anna has become a defiant, sassy, moody lil’ thang! She has NO problems adjusting to things when Jacob was born. She was 2, had just been potty trained…NO set backs or any behavior problems. This time, HOLY CRAP. The worst part is the tiredness of having a 2 week old, on top of dealing with the emotional wreckage every day from her. We’ll get there. She needs a lot of snuggling and I’m not good at making sure she gets that every day. Now that she’s older and in school half days, I forget that she still needs that. This transition to 3 kids has DEF been harder than 2.
    We’re all in this together! :)

  17. Kim

    December 4, 2010 10:14 pm

    Ok, I never comment, but I had to because THIS IS SO MY THREE YEAR OLD TOO. We have had a really rough few days. I don’t even know what to do with her. Even though it sucks, it is nice to hear that I am not alone in wondering who switched my awesome kid with this one.

    • Jen

      December 6, 2010 9:45 pm

      You’re right- it DOES suck, but at least we know we’re not alone, right? :) We can all share a padded room at the nuthouse!!!!! LOL

  18. alison

    December 4, 2010 11:26 pm

    I’m chiming in to say that we are SO THERE too. I was at a point where I felt like Lily was making me miserable 75% of the time with this exact same type of stuff. Just recently (knock on so much wood) she has gotten a little better. I will say that with Lily the threats have to be two steps higher then you would think. (For example we had to reverse the lock on her door and lock her in at night for a few nights to get her to stop coming out of her bedroom constantly at bedtime.) The only things that sort of worked was having the talk of “responsibilities, privileges and consequences” and using that language. Remember, THIS TOO SHALL PASS!!!!

    • Jen

      December 6, 2010 9:48 pm

      I’ve been surprised too at how drastic the threats have had to be! Like, not getting a treat after dinner is like, meh, WHATEVER MOM. Then she just does whatever she wants. GAH.

      We have adopted a more zen approach the past few days- instead of yelling (which does NOT work), we just methodically threaten and then take away/do whatever it was we threatened to do. And I *think* it might be working a little bit. Tonight at dinner was AMAZING, she ate everything without us even asking and then had seconds! It was shocking! But, I’m not getting my hopes up, I know things can change pretty quickly ;) Just enjoying it while it lasts!

  19. Dave (Scrumpy Daddy)

    December 6, 2010 11:58 am

    Wow, I, too, could have written most of this word for word – Abby has been defiant about everything lately; from eating her most favorite food ever, to brushing her teeth, to not going to bed – it’s like we suddenly got a new kid a short while ago and she’s cranked it up to the max with the attitude lately. Nothing works. Not calm explanation, not yelling, not positive reinforcement, not negative reinforcement… *sigh*

    And it’s tough when you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, get into better shape, and it’s already the holidays (hello, EAT SEASON!) and then you have this attitude on top of it that just makes you want to eat & drink more at night…ugh.

    Yes, I think a lot of it is just them trying to find their place, and can’t determine when to and when not to push the parents’ buttons, so they do it 100% of the time, but seriously, there has to be SOMETHING to make them take it down a notch!

    And I think a lot of the reasons still come down to that “trying to get a reaction” and attention seeking behavior. I think calm reactions, almost cold reactions at times, will work best…if only b/c we don’t allow ourselves to get too riled up that way. Ha!

    I wonder if Elf On A Shelf would work for us…we played the PNP Santa video for her last night, which didn’t have any immediate effects, really, but maybe it will sink in…or maybe with the addition of the elf, we can push it with the whole “He’s really keeping tabs on you…” thing.

    Good luck. Enjoy chocolate…wine when it becomes reasonable to do so.

    • Jen

      December 6, 2010 9:52 pm

      CHOCOLATE AND WINE. Breakfast of champions ;)

      It is a comfort to know we’re not alone, obviously. Doesn’t make it any easier, but at least we know it’s not something we’re doing wrong! (unless we’re ALL doing something wrong?? heh)

      I agree about the ‘cold’ reactions! We recently started trying that instead of getting angry and yelling (which is SO. HARD. sometimes!) and it really does seem to work better. At least for now until she figures out a new tactic… ;)

  20. Andrea

    December 8, 2010 3:27 pm

    ZOMG…. I shuttered in fear of what’s to come when I read “aaah, Age Two. How I miss you!”

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