“She’s just a little monster.”

I tense up. This man is talking about my four year-old daughter. I want to punch him. Hard.

The worst thing is: this man is my husband and he is talking about our child. I take a deep breath, getting ready to explain that she is much more than just a monster (“She is also sweet, and funny. And smart!”), but the parenting coach beats me to it.

“I understand what you are saying,” she says, “her behavior exhausts you both.”

Before my husband and I ended up on Merel’s couch, we had spent weeks in doubt.

We didn’t need help raising our own kid, did we?

If we would just be more consistent, stricter, clearer? But the harder we tried,  the more our daughter resisted. Until we were just fighting all the time. With her and with each other.

We explain to Merel (understanding, humorous, hip cowboy boots) about the event that we started calling “the sleeping drama”: the daily screaming session that occurs when our daughter learns it is bedtime once again.

“She is unmanageable,” my husband growls.

“It makes me want to cry,” I sigh.

Merel nods. She believes in positive parenting: no commanding, no threatening, no punishing. Just positive consequences.

I can see my husband is thinking: “Been there, done that”

I am also wondering myself if this isn’t yet again some soft pedagogic blahblah. But Merel pours us some tea, talks about her own children (hey, they also scream!) and finally asks us: “What is it that a child most wants in the world?”

Ah, we know the answer to that one: candy, ice cream, M&M’s, popsicles, fairytales, playing, making a mess and, oh yeah, love. It turns out we are forgetting the two most important ones: attention and power. Looking at it this way, we see the truth: our daughter is doing anything to get those two things.

Anything

She screams, she hits, and she only does the opposite of what we ask her.

“And what does she get for that?” Merel asks.

My husband coughs. I bite my lip.

Attention. And power. We’re giving it to her every night. On a silver platter.

Because every night everything is all about her. We raise our voice, we carry her upstairs kicking and screaming, we threaten not to tell her a story before she goes to sleep.

“This means,” Merel says “that you yourself are also not contributing to a better atmosphere. Your daughter is copying her behavior from you. If you don’t know how to stay calm and friendly, how is she supposed to know how to?”

This conclusion leaves us feeling down-hearted

But my husband doesn’t give up quickly: “But shouldn’t she just learn to listen?!”

Merel nods and asks: “If your wife yells at you to get the laundry out of the dryer, or your boss screams at you to tidy up your desk, will you go and do those things right away and with lots of enthusiasm?”

“No way!” my husband answers.

Merel smiles.

Exactly.

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