Letter to Kate
by Kate Andersen, M.Ed.
My daughter Angela is four years old. She is
very dominant and likes to challenge me when I
ask her to do things, like brush her teeth or dress
for pre-school in the mornings. She is a very
smart kid and she can be so lovely. But most of
the time she is trying to challenge us. It is
a very hard situation for me. I feel guilty and
frustrated because I think that for some reason
she is not happy. She cries so much. I really
need help. She is just four and I do not want
to have a bad relationship with her, like the
one I have with my mom. It really terrifyies me.
I understand that you receive a high volume of
letters, but please answer me.
It's heartwarming to know you want to get along
better with your smart and lovely daughter. I
don't know much about you or Angela so it's hard
to make specific suggestions. However, I can share
some things that worked for me and my oldest daughter
at the age of four. She was a lot like your little
First of all, I learned that it is very typical
of four-year olds to become quite assertive as
they grow out of babyhood and into being a big
kid. At this age even shy children tend to be
more outgoing than at younger ages. I have known
four-year olds to put their hands on their hips
and say very assertively to their parents: "You're
not the boss of me!" Of course, temperament
plays a big role here, too. Perhaps your daughter
is by nature a little "bossy" (what
you call "dominant" but I have come
to see as having "potential leadership skills").
If this is the case, then her temperament combined
with the stage she is going through may be the
reason that you are having so many clashes with
her right now.
A clue that you are getting into too many power
struggles is your daughter's crying. This crying
is probably a sign that your little girl is finding
getting into trouble with you all the time very
stressful. It is also a sign that you need to
turn things around soon. Chances are you need
to improve the "fit" between what you
expect from a child and the temperament she was
born with. But that's why you wrote, isn't it?
How to get a better fit? First of all, learn
as much as you can about temperament. Go to some
of the other sources on information on this Web
Site. And here are some ideas from my own experience.
With my daughter who wanted to be in charge of
everything and everyone I learned to let her have
choices with as many things as I could. Often
those choices were related to her temperament.
For example, because of her low sensory threshold
she was fussy about tastes and textures. She did
not like cooked green vegetables, but she would
eat them raw. So I let her have them raw. She
would not wear the woollen sweaters her grandmother
made her. They were too scratchy, she said. So
I let her wear sweatshirts (and explained why
to Grandma). This way I avoided getting into a
lot of power struggles with my daughter. And this
way I also saved up my energy for dealing with
the "musts"--the very few things she
absolutely had to do, like brushing her teeth.
"This is a must," I would tell her.
"You have to go to bed. End of discussion."
Then I learned to ignore her dramatic displays
of protest (thinking to myself what a great actress
she would be when older). Boy, could she put on
But no matter what a big display they make about
wanting to make all the decisions, deep down,
all children really want to know that their parents
are in charge. It is very frightening for children
to have too much power. But with some children,
because of their personalities, telling them in
words that you are in charge can lead to a head
on collision! It's better to SHOW them that you
are the adult by the way you follow through on
the "musts". It's important to remain
calm when doing this. Getting angry is just like
pouring gasoline on a fire--it makes feisty children
Back to my daughter. You know, as a young adult
she still has very strong opinions on things but
she's channelled this trait into appropriate places,
like her college philosophy classes and her volunteer
job as a disk jockey on a feminist radio program.
She still very much wants to be in charge. And
now she is in charge--of her OWN life. She tries
to influence others but has learned to respect
the boundaries between her needs and other people's.
We are very proud of her.
Good luck. I hope you and Angela come to respect
each other as much as Barbara and I do.
P.S. Barbara is now a vegetarian and eats almost
nothing BUT cooked vegetables!
Best of luck!