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The Dreaded Bratty Phase

Photograph by Getty Images

This past weekend, my stepchildren and I were outside playing when I noticed my 7-year-old stepdaughter, Chloe, sinking the leaves we were collecting into a puddle of mud.

“Chloe,” I said, “please don’t put the leaves in that mud puddle. We’re trying to collect them for a craft project.”

“OK, Sammy,” she said, nodding. Then I watched her take the leaf she was holding over the mud and crumple it up into her hands.

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“Chloe! Why did you destroy that leaf?”

I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal and there are a million more in our yard, but the problem we’ve had lately with Chloe is that she often destroys and ruins things because she can. She likes to shred paper up, she likes to take scissors to cardboard pieces and she likes to pop the heads off of her little Polly Pockets. My husband says he was the same way as a kid; he liked to take things apart to see what was really going on in there.

But because I was a kid who couldn’t stand for something to look any differently than the day I unwrapped it, it literally makes my skin crawl. Chloe’s leaf destroying also rubbed me the wrong way because her little brother and I had been out there for about 15 minutes collecting the best leaves we could find. To watch her try to ruin it made my blood boil.

I waited for Chloe to answer, but instead, she just shrugged her shoulders and tossed them down. I took a deep breath. “Please don’t do that again. Just because it doesn’t seem important to you doesn’t mean it isn’t important to anyone else. I’ve also asked you not to destroy any of them, so being disobedient is being disrespectful, OK?” She nodded her head, gave me a thumbs-up and went on her away.

She couldn’t stand being told “no,” so she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Her 4-year-old brother, Trey, and I started collecting more leaves to add to our pile. “LOOK, SAMMY!” He shouted. “Red! Red means STOP. I gotta find a green and yellow one now.” I smiled at him and just as I turned around to add the leaves in my hands to our pile, I watched as Chloe snatched one out of the collection and, without hesitation, dunked it into the mud puddle.

Oh, you guys. This is where I feel like the “parenting instincts” I should have fail me. Because when she deliberately disobeys me, but there’s no danger and no one has been hurt in the process, what am I supposed to do?

Of course I said something to her. I asked her what in the world she was doing and she just stood there. It’s maddening because, unfortunately, Chloe has had a huge disobedience issue the last few months and there’s really nothing else we can think to do. We’ve taken away her television, we’ve taken away toys and we’ve sent her to bed early. She missed out on a big family outing with my dad and had to stay home with me instead. She’s been in more time-outs than I can even count, and we’ve lectured her until we’re all blue in the face. She just doesn’t seem to care anymore.

So I told her what I knew would work. I told her that I didn’t think she was a bad kid, but if she continued to act like this, everyone was going to think she was a brat. “That was bratty behavior,” I told her. Immediately, she started crying and ran back in the house.

I felt like hell afterward for saying it. I knew she was in her room, crying because I had called her a brat, but I could think of nothing else to get through to her in that moment. She deliberately disobeyed me and purposely tried to ruin something Trey and I had. She couldn’t stand being told “no,” so she decided to take matters into her own hands. And, because she can’t justify it or give me a reason as to why, I have to assume she just does it because she doesn’t care about anything I’ve said.

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I know all kids are different and it doesn’t mean she’s going to be a terrible citizen, but really, what are you supposed to do when your kid just doesn’t care about what you’ve said?

In any case, at least I’m living up to the stepmother stereotype, right? And I guess she’s just being 7.

How do you handle a stubborn kid?

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