17 answers

Advice on 3 1/2 Year Old Behavior Problem

I need some advice or some great books I can purchase dealing with my 3 1/2 year old son. He is a big brother to a 8 month old and I run a Small in home daycare out of my house Tuesday - Friday. My older son has been having a problem saying sorry and or apoligizing when he (not on purpose) hurts his freinds (i.e., Playing and will run into a friend his age that he is playing with and acidently falls hurting his friend or takes a toy away and hurts his friend by grabing out of his hands...tears and no saying sorry) I have been really good about putting in in time outs (in his room), taking away special toys or tv until he can say sorry. He refuses and sometimes will stay in his room for hours until he'll apoligize. The other day my husband and I were going to the store and he wanted mommy to sit in the back with him, but I like to drive my car and my husnband likes to sit in the back. My son kicked his dad all the way from the store screaming that he didn't want daddy there...time out when we got home, it took him 3 hours to say sorry to his dad. He will tell me "boys don't say sorry" I don't where he got that idea. All his friends that come to play with us, say sorry when they acidently do something to upset the other friend. I am to my wits end, my son WILL not say sorry. Any ideas with a stuborn boy. He knows when he doesn't do the right thing. I have been consistant, but it is wearing on me. Any ideas or good books. He is really testing my husband and myself lately.

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I recently attended a workshop and the presenter said that just "saying sorry" doesn't make a tot remorseful. It is just words. Rather, make the child make amends for his actions. Make it better. Kiss the other child. Hand the child a kleenex or bandaid for the owie. Hope this helps.


I'm no expert at all. I suggest that you read books that look at the situation differently than you do, just to see if there is another way to see it. You are clearly in a power struggle with him over these words, and it won't do you any good to keep it up. Look for a whole different way to approach the situation. I don't think he has a behavior problem from what you say. He sounds like a normal active boy. I have one, so I know a little. I would skip the insistence on the specific words. Decharge the situation. You say he knows that he has made a wrong choice - that's really enough. The words will come later, and will actually mean something when he decides to say them for himself. If you lay off this word requirement, and instead get him to work on saying something like, "I really wanted to play with that toy" as an explanation then I would consider it victory.

It's not great to set up these long battles -break the logjam somehow. You say he is stubborn, and I would guess that you are very stubborn as well. Not trying to be a jerk - I've gone down this path myself and had big battles with my son - we're both stubborn as well. It's WAY BETTER to sidestep the same battle you've had a hundred times.

Good luck!

More Answers

Dear H., I began my daycare/preschool program when my son was 9 mos. old, always having him be the youngest. It was difficult teaching him to share me with the other children, in his house, with his toys, etc. At around 2-1/2, he began acting out; hitting the other kids, saying mean things, anything negative to get my attention. Also, a very strong willed child, much like your 3-1/2 year old sounds. We started by 2 mornings a week, next door with grandma for his own special time. At age 3-1/2, we finally made the decision to send him to his own preschool to make his own friends, learn to behave for others in a new environment. Fortunately, I had a very dear friend in the same business. It was the best decision we ever made. He was so excited to go to school, play with new friends and make wonderful crafts and projects. He was a totally different child. This may not be in the cards for you either financially or having someone you know and really trust, but its worth looking into. Because of the age difference in your children,he doesn't have a playmate, but someone who takes time away from him. He's wanting your "undivided" attention, which obviously you can not always give. Allow for his own special time ie; an afternoon or two a week with grandma or auntie for one on one time or a close friend with a child the same age. By allowing him to build realtionships with other children his age, he will also learn the important development stages of separation from you, sharing, making friends and learning to behave for others, all very worthwhile skills to ready him for the big step to Kindergarten. I have had my business for 23 years now, and I have seen this proven time and time again as I encourgage other parents to make the first step in bringing their children to me. I have told this story over and over and it has proven to be so valuable. Best of luck to you and your little ones.
Miss M. / Rose Family Preschool / Lakeport, Ca.

2 moms found this helpful

Not sure if someone has already mentioned this book but I HIGHLY recommend Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child by Robert MacKenzie. Perfect for stubborn children. The author lives in the Scramento area and I have heard him speak a couple of times. His methods make perfect sense.

Here is a review of the book.


Read these reviews on Amazon. Scroll to the bottom of the page:

He talks about being clear, firm, and direct. Children want limits and it is our responsibility to give them those limits in a respectful way so that they can learn proper behaviors. The consequense needs to be appropriate and needs to be given immediatley (not later when you get home!) to get the message across.

I can't really even explain it. You just need to read it and it will make so much sense! I am BEGGING you to give it a try! Worth every penny! It is the only thing that worked for my daughter! Such a differnece. The stress level in our house has gone down dramatically.


1 mom found this helpful

Our oldest has ADHD and is the king of strong-willed behavior like that. He also went through a long stretch where he wouldn't say sorry, so I can relate to your frustration very well.

One of the techniques we learned through the behavioral therapist helping him is to take away things. Time-outs don't do much for strong-willed kids (except allow them to cool down when angry). However, taking away a prized possession can work quite well. Make it dramatic, too. "If you don't say sorry, I'm taking away all of your trains." Then don't give lots of chances, do it after the first chance. If you're at a place like a park, threaten to leave if he doesn't say sorry, then do it if he refuses.

Our son knows we're serious now, so we often just have to say the consequences and he'll do the right thing. He even says sorry now, so there's hope for your son, too. :)

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Any book on "Active Parenting" would probably be useful. Or a book called "Love and Logic" is very good.

Sounds like your little boy is testing to see who's in control... so far it looks like HE is. Stop letting him be in charge of the length of the time out (and I'd move them out of his room which should be a safe, comfortable place for sleep or play).

Designate a corner for time out and don't use it for anything else. Limit his time outs to one minute per year of age and end them by going to him and saying "I put you on time out because you _______. In this family we _____." Give him a hug and help him find something appropriate to get involved in.

Good luck.


1 mom found this helpful

I think I'm missing something here. Saying sorry doesn't *mean* he's sorry. At 3 1/2 I doubt whether he really knows what "sorry" actually means. By forcing him to say "sorry" all that's doing is teaching him to say a word that will get him out of "trouble". At 3 1/2 they know how to manipulate in that manner. Making him sit in a time out for extended periods of time is ineffectual in teaching him not to repeat unacceptable behavior. Stubborn mama = stubborn boy - it just becomes a test of wills with no real meaning. I agree with Michelle J. Show him what the consequences of unacceptable behavior are. Take away the toy, leave the park, no desert, no story - whatever he likes to do. Explain to him that his behavior is NOT acceptable and that's the reason that is toy is gone or whatever you decide. Explain what being "sorry" really means. Ask him how he would feel if someone treated him the way he's treating others. Ex: ask him if it would make him mad or upset if daddy kicked and screamed because he was sitting next to daddy etc. I find that sometimes literally showing them how it feels when someone grabs a toy or book out of their hand works well also. They are quite surprised that you did it and they can relate to the feelings. Good luck, it will work out.

1 mom found this helpful

I have a 13 year old daughter that was just like that. It is difficult. I believe in spanking so I used this approach with her. She was stubborn, but I NEVER let her get away without saying sorry. It is so important to be able to admit when we are wrong. A realy good book with creative ways to train is called Creative Corection by Lisa Whelchel. Stay consistant and it will get better.
Something I have used with my 5 year old son is teaching him daily what a good man is and what he does or doesn't do, and comparing his behavior to that of Daddy's. So Good Men save girls. they don't bite, hit, yell, spit or hurt girls. I ask him if he has seen Daddy do the bad behavior which the answer is no. Train him to want to be a good man like Daddy. He repeats the conditions of a good man to me regularly and when he fails I remind him, "Does a good man do this?". He really desires to be like Dad. Hope this helps.

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Hi H.,

It sounds like you must be a very loving and patient mommy :O) Well, just FYI, I have 2 boys, and they can say sorry very nicely, so it can be taught. We just need to help you figure out how :O)

Do you raise your voice to your boys? It almost sounds like you are very "nice" and do not raise your voice to sound serious enough. I don't think your boys are taking you seriously. I think it's time to show them "who's the Boss". You don't need to YELL at them, just change your "mom tone" to be serious.....we all have it in us :o)

It sounds like you have 2 issue's. The first one is behavioral (grabbing, etc...), and the 2nd one is remorse, or lack of. They seem like they go together, but your son needs them seperated for awhile. This way you can focus on the behavorial problem, then hopefully the "sorry" feelings will come naturally.

1st off, find a new time-out step/chair within your eye's reach. Then focus on giving your son 3 reasonable warnings, like "Son, you will not grab toys from other people's hands,you need to use your words and ask nicely to play with it....next time you are not nice to your friends, you will sit in time-out". Then, "Son, this is your second warning...." while you're showing 2 fingers and repeating what he SHOULD'VE done. Always remind him that he is headed for a time-out. This gives him a chance to hopefully make a better "choice".

If the time-outs do not work, then you will need to take something else away, like when everybody else goes out to play, he has to sit and watch in a chair, or whatever you can think of that will hopefully reduce the need to misbehave.

This consistency will take a week or so to see any difference. But your son is almost 4, and needs to learn how to keep his frustrations to himself and not to others. Otherwise, you are headed for the Principal's office in a couple of years.

Simply teach (or re-teach) him how to use his words to express himself. If you are close enough to him, then you can always hear him, and help him BEFORE it gets physical. This will take alot of focus on your son, which will probably be difficult, but it is very necessary.

When he does the "right" things, don't forget to hug him with praise. Hopefully he'll want more of those and choose to be good all of the time :O)

Good Luck, H.. I hope some of this helps you :O)



I just have one comment. It sounds like your son is probably enjoying staying in his room, so that's not really an incentive for changing his behavior. If you're doing a time-out, make it someplace where he can't entertain himself, and then the time-out should be more like 3-5 minutes.

Good luck!

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