Care and Feeding

Our Preschooler’s Advanced Behavior Is Making Life Supremely Difficult

Some people might view this as a good thing, but we’re not so sure.

A woman showing support to her visibly frustrated 3-year old daughter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Do you have any tips or tricks for a preschooler (she’s 3 and a half) who insists on doing everything herself and won’t accept help? We are so happy that her preschool has an emphasis on teaching independent life skills, but we would also like to leave home on time. My husband especially is getting really frustrated because he’s the one dropping her off at school and he needs to get to work himself—but if either one of us tries to help her get ready, she has a meltdown. We’re both getting sick of being 20 minutes late to everything with a screaming, sobbing child in tow, upset because we couldn’t wait any longer and wiped her runny nose or helped her get her damn shoes on or her jacket buttoned. There’s got to be something we can do to nip both child and parental frustration in the bud.

— Don’t Help Me, Mom

Dear Don’t Help Me,

If you’re consistently 20 minutes late in the morning because of your child’s insistence on doing everything herself, could you all try getting started 20 (maybe 30, just in case) minutes sooner? I realize that might be tough, but if your schedule can handle it, I’d say give it a shot. If this doesn’t do the trick—if no matter how much time you give her, it turns out she still can’t wipe her own nose and get her shoes on the right feet—then I’m afraid you’re going to have to swoop in and do it for her and endure the tantrum. This dynamic won’t last forever, I assure you: She will both get better at doing things herself and pass through the tantrum age soon.
The one thing I’d hate to see you do is discourage her efforts—I can’t help hearing the ghostly voices of all the parents who’ve written in to complain about their children’s refusal/inability to manage anything on their own. What you have on your hands is a future packs-her-own-lunch, does-her-own-laundry kid. Do everything you can to encourage her!

— Michelle

More Advice From Slate

Two years ago when my son was 10 he became very verbal about hating church and resisted going. My older son loves the teen group at Sunday school and assured his brother that when he made it out of the baby area, he, too, would love it. Well, he does not. Each Sunday morning he yells, pouts, and eventually succumbs to my threats. Then he takes his snarky and unhelpful attitude to Sunday school. He doesn’t believe in God, and his very cool Sunday teacher works with that. I hated my boring church as a kid, and looking back I wonder, had I not gone to church would I have been a worse person? My husband was forced to attend his church when he was little. Now, he sleeps late Sunday morning, then hikes and does other activities. He is supportive of the fact that both our sons’ spiritual development is important to me. Do I force my son to go or give up?