I'm feeling very conflicted. My DD is 3 1/2 and recently, her behavior has been pretty awful, pretty frequently. I'm trying to figure out some structural ways to help improve her behavior without being too authoritarian or encouraging her to feel like she has to be "good". (I'll explain this in more detail below).
The big picture is that I feel like she's been acting sort of bratty-- entitled, tricky, and quick to anger. We've been cutting her slack for the past few weeks because it's been a transition time with her starting a new preschool class, a lot of trips and traveling, my teaching semester starting back up (ie: less flexible time) and the fact that I'm 18 weeks pregnant. Still, I feel like we need to make some changes because things are not good right now (DD ends up crying and screaming 4-6 times a day! I end up crying 1-2 times a day and yelling sometimes).
A few examples first of her recent behavior that is driving me crazy:
I've been reading her chapters from chapter books at bedtime. She LOVES this. But, she's never satisfied with how much I read. Recently we've been reading a book with long chapters so I've been reading only 1 chapter (30 pages of text!). When it's over, she screams and cries for 3-5 minutes. Totally undermining getting ready for bed and sometimes pushing me over the limit-- remember I'm pregnant and exhausted and work full time! It's not like I leave her bed after the story is done. We nurse, we talk, we cuddle, rub backs, etc... but any limit makes her crazy right now.
Another example: EVERY night after dinner (sometimes really eating dinner and sometimes just messing around) DD starts her campaign for dessert (ie: ice cream with sprinkles). She'll start by proposing some rule, like "if I eat 5 broccollis, and drink all my water, then can I have chocolate ice cream with whipped cream and sprinkles for dessert". She'll then assume that we said yes, eat the broccolli and announce that she's ready for dessert. If we don't leap up and get it. She screams and cries. Sometimes, she'll look for a parent to confirm but she always does it by saying to DH "right, Daddy?" and he'll say "it's up to mommy" and then I either agree or explain why not and then she screams at me.
It seems to me that the major thing going on is that she wants to be in control of her self and wants to make her own decisions. She has said to me "you're not the boss" and while I agree in principle that I'm not the boss of her in a metaphysical way, I am the boss of the house and I do actually know best about things like not eating too much junk food and getting enough sleep. We give her a ton of choices in her daily life. What to wear, what to eat for breakfast and lunch, what to play with, when to call grandparents and other family, etc... We really encourage her to be independent and treat her like a full person. That said, she has also internalized rules that are important in our house like a) need to help make dinner or set the table; b) need to use good table manners (not eat before everyone is sitting, napkin on your lap, etc...); c)one treat a day; d) need to brush teeth and go potty before bed and before school. But, that's about the whole list of real rules. So, I'm feeling like maybe we need to instill more rules and make them clearer. (At the top of the list is junk dessert every other day, fruit dessert every other day!)
And, that's where my dilemma comes in. I think there are specific things that I can do to improve things like read chaps from chapter book earlier in evening (before brushing teeth, etc...) and then read a short book before bed. And, get sandtimers (they use these at school) to externalize the limits rather than it seeming like my arbitrary rules.
I also am considering trying to make things more visible (and therefore external to me). I am considering a chore chart of some sort that anyone could point to and DD could feel proud of all her good behavior. I feel really ambivalent about this idea though. I personally hate the idea of someone visually evaluating me each day and I don't like the idea of doing that to my DD. It seems bureacratizing and de-individualizing and also somehow petty. It also don't like the idea of rewarding someone in a routinized way for good behavior or punishing for bad behavior. I'm also concerned that it will make DD feel pressure to be "good" all the time and I don't want her to feel like she can't express her own emotions. That said, I think it would work. I think she's a little perfectionist and would respond to it from the start. I think we could agree on chores that are appropriate and rewards that are reasonable. But, even if it would work, is it really the way to raise a whole person?
If you've read this far, thank you. I would really appreciate some feedback here, especially from people who use chore charts and like them and/or people who considered it and rejected it. I know a lot of parents have great success with this approach and I suspect that my objections are overstated-- I'm clearly someone that chafes at being evaluated. I'd really like to hear about successes of this approach as well as alternate ideas. Thanks again!