ASK DR MIRIAM STOPPARD – Our Agony Aunt solves parents’ dilemmas

Qualified doctor and UK’s most trusted parenting expert Dr Miriam Stoppard tackles your problems.

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How much does my child understand about being naughty at five? What can I do to make her understand certain screaming behaviour is not acceptable? Alicia, West Hampstead

Good modern parents are careful not to raise their voices, not to frown in disapproval, not to make a fuss over small things and to make light of mistakes and accidents. They don’t sweat the small stuff and carefully choose which battles to fight. They enjoy their role as teacher whether it’s getting down on the carpet to do a jigsaw, point out why leaves fall in the autumn or make space for a five year old to help with the cooking.

I find the present day approach to discipline very attractive where a child is given a clear chance and lots of space to do as they’ve been told or correct bad behaviour. It’s a kind and humanitarian approach to say

“I’m going to ask you again to tidy up your toys”

“This is the third time of asking and I won’t ask again, you’ll go on the naughty step”

“I’m going to count to five then you go on the naughty step”

Then, either

“Well done and thank you for tidying your toys”



“On the naughty step (for as many minutes as her age)


The naughty step routine is rounded off in a wholly sensible way so that a child learns a new lesson in behaving. It goes like this –


“You know why you were on the naughty step?”

“Yes, because I wouldn’t tidy my toys.”

“Yes and because you didn’t do what mummy asked. Are you going to say sorry?”

“Sorry mummy.”

“Good boy.” (big cuddle) “Mummy loves you. Now let’s have tea.”


It’s clear from this re-enactment that an authoritarian parenting style is not in favour. Today’s parents prefer negotiation to laying down the law. Uppermost in their minds is to achieve a sensible, firm resolution to problems without resorting to punishments and certainly no shouting and smacking, while still clearly defining boundaries.


Many good things result from this approach. A child feels a valued member of the family, one with a voice and with choices and who is shown respect. This environment encourages self-discipline, self-esteem and thoughtfulness for others and a sense of responsibility.


Toddler tantrums. I am following a routine and I do everything right apparently according to my friends and family but my 3 year old daughter throws lots of tantrums I cannot deal with. Any tips to maintain sanity? Anita, Fulham

Toddlers between the ages of two and three often have temper tantrums as a means of giving vent to frustration when they can’t do or get what they want. A tantrum usually involves your child throwing themselves on the floor, kicking and screaming.

This is quite normal behaviour. At this stage your child won’t have sufficient judgement to control their strength of will or the language to express themselves clearly, but as their knowledge and experience of the world broadens, so the occasions when their will is pitted directly against yours become less frequent.

A tantrum may be brought on by such feelings as frustration, anger, jealousy and dislike. Anger is brought on by not getting their own way and frustration is by their not being sufficiently strong or well-coordinated to do what they want.

The best thing you can do during a tantrum is to stay calm, since any attention on your part will only prolong the attack. If they have a tantrum in public, take them away from too much attention, without making a fuss. At home an effective technique is simply to leave the room.

Explain to your child that, while you still love them, you have to leave the room because you’re getting upset. Never confine them in another room because this denies them the option of coming back and saying sorry.
My 6 year old boy is very stubborn. Is there anything in my behaviour that I can change to make him change? Siobhan, Twickenham

Stubbornness is a device to claim your attention, he’ll stop if you don’t give it. On occasions when you can (not in a supermarket or in the bath) just walk away if he won’t comply (out of his sight but where you can see him to make sure he’s OK).

  1. Stop all the fights, start all the peacemaking. I can almost guarantee his stubbornness will stop if he gets his own, focussed attention. You must give him a minimum of half an hour every day when you concentrate entirely on him – nothing can interfere – the time and attention are sacrosanct.


  1. At the end of the half hour talk about what he’d like to do the next night – and do it.


  1. Reinforce with positives not negatives. Keep saying to him “I LOVE it when you….. do so and so…. say so and so” and he’ll start doing them. In the final analysis he’d rather have your praise than screaming. Start with little things such as

“I love it when

  • you get out of the bath without a fuss
  • put on your pyjamas quickly
  • get dressed for me
  • get in the car/buggy straight away.”


He’ll glow with pride and blossoming self-esteem.


Dr Miriam Stoppard has developed a range of 21 developmental toys for baby’s first year and beyond with Galt Toys to encourage learning through play.

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