21 answers

Disipline HELP for a 3 Year Old!!!

Hi ladies! I am in serious need of advice. We have a 3 year old boy who is 100% disobedient. He will look at us and say "no" to all of our parenting requests. He seems to be very mean spirited. He is constantly hitting, bitting, and hurting his older siblings, all unprovoked. The older ones know not to hit or respond back to him so they are continually being hurt and I am almost at the point that I want them to start hitting him back (not really!!) but it feels that way. Can anyone recommend some disipline methods? We have tried time outs and after over 100 tries plus each time I can no longer do this. Also we have tried holding him for a 3 minute time out, putting him in his room, no luck! I would love to know how you handle your stubborn toddlers! Also if you know any good books that would be great.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Stop telling him no all of the time! You're the ones who taught him this disagreeable behavior, he probably is just trying to extert some control over his own life. Read Barbara Coloroso's "Kids are Worth it!"

I suggest visiting a behavioral psychologist AND getting all the junk food, juice and soda out of his diet. SOME people experience a dramatic change after they change the child's diet.

More Answers

I had to ground my older son from his younger brother-he was biting him & leaving bruises. They shared a room. He had to sleep in the hallway outside my door-he got 1 pillow, a blanket & one lovey-until the bruises were all gone. I also do what Shawnasie suggests-when one of them bites, I bite back. When they hit somebody w/a toy, I hit them w/that same toy on the hand. It's dramatic & it gets their attention. I'm not leaving marks or beating them to a pulp, it's more the "wow, mom just bit me" or "mom just hit me with that toy" that gets their attention. Then we talk about how it hurt them-or their feelings when I did it to them. One of my boys has ADHD & feelings are a huge part of who he is-when I point out that he's hurt somebody's feelings is when he's most sorry. He's very sensitive & empathetic but he's also the first to fly off the handle.
My mom was telling me about a book for my stepson... something about why people need to hear "no". I don't remember the title though. But she said it split up the whys & hows by age group.
I'd say if he's being mean to them, ground him for a day or two from them. "You are hurting them so you can't be around them today, go find something to do by yourself" or something in that same train of thought. Until I was a grownup with kids, I didn't realize it was such a privilege to have my 3 constant playmates there. I couldn't stand my sisters then but looking back I'm glad I had them!
What are the bigger siblings doing that he wants to do? It could be that he's not able to put into words his frustration at not being able to play with them, or to do things on their level. Maybe seeing it from that aspect will help-maybe that's how he's "voicing" his frustration... look up ideas for how to handle frustration.
Good luck! My problems had a name-deployment-so I knew there was an end in sight eventually.

I have been through this with 2 of my children and am currently going through this with my 3rd. I can give you advice based on what has worked for me personally.

First, you stated he says no to your requests. Do not request your child do something. You tell him to do it and if he doesn't, you MAKE him do it.

As for the hitting, biting and hurting of others, the only thing I found to work when teaching a child not to do that is to do it to them. Not enough to really hurt the child, but enough to let them feel the pain they are causing others. This really works and has been done in my family for generations.

You need to stand your ground, be consistent and don't give up or give in. Your child knows you and your reactions to what he is doing. If he is not getting positive attention from you, he is probably doing all this to get any kind of attention, even if it is negative.

Again, this is what I do and my children all behave very well and I have 4. You don't have to take my advice, but it works for a reason. Good luck!

Make it a GREAT day!


The number one need for a 3 year old is AUTONOMY.
When you meet his needs, he'll be more willing for you to meet your needs.
Look into the book: Respectful Kids, Respectful Parents. It's an awesome book that will change your lives.
Good Luck.

Hi D., I feel your pain. I have a 3 1/2 yr old with special needs (speech, OT, behavior and sensory) so there are a lot of rough days. I tried reading "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" by Harvey Karp and it worked on my other child that doesn't have special needs. One thing I can say right now though is whatever discipline route you choose, BE CONSISTENT. I made that mistake because I was desperate and it failed me.
Good luck to you, hang in there.

I suggest visiting a behavioral psychologist AND getting all the junk food, juice and soda out of his diet. SOME people experience a dramatic change after they change the child's diet.

check out Love and Logic by Jim Fay. He has a website, books, books on CD, videos, classes, etc.. It is great! There is even a book specifically for parents of preschool children.

good luck!

I love some of the book suggestions you've received--How to Talk, Discipline Book, and Happiest Toddler. A couple really small books (fast read, solutions rather than why's) are Love and Limits, and 365 Wacky Wonderful Ways to Get Your Kids to Do What You Want. They are by Elizabeth Crary. A good website for other books is Parenting Press.com. Another one--Time In, When Time Out isn't working.
Time-outs often don't work because they were designed to be a preventative tool rather than punishment. For example, your little one seems to be losing control, you help him find a different, quiet activity like playdo or puzzles, and talk with him about how he was feeling, what might have happened, why this is a better choice, etc. In the long run, we all should impose a preventative time-out on ourselves BEFORE a problem occurs. Our society misuses time out as punishment, and it backfires.
Arm yourself with some books, and maybe have a friend over whose parenting style you admire for some tips, and hopefully it'll improve. Hang in there! You're doing your part by learning more.

I am a bona fide convert to Love & Logic parenting. Try "Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood" -- you can buy it on book or CD, and it is available at the library (but may be a long waiting list). This parenting technique is about being good to yourself while disciplining your child, and there is no spanking. From their website: Love and Logic is a philosophy of raising and teaching children which allows adults to be happier, empowered, and more skilled in the interactions with children. Love allows children to grow through their mistakes. Logic allows children to live with the consequences of their choices. Love and Logic is a way of working with children that puts parents and teachers back in control, teaches children to be responsible, and prepares young people to live in the real world, with its many choices and consequences.

Hi D. - Although I didnt read them all, you've received a lot of good responses - boundaries, limits and consequences etc are all going to be vitally important but it's likely you have already set those and still his behavior is out of line.

I sympathise with your older kids and applaud their patience but at some point the "law of the jungle" is going to take over so figuring out now what is happening is a good idea.

Some people might call this the terrible 3s but a red flag for me is the fact that it's happening all the time and you are having trouble controlling him. Talk to your doc if you havent already. I've found however they tend to be dismissive when it comes to behavioral issues. Consider food allergies as a possible culprit. Preservatives, MSG and other artificial colors/flavors are a good place to start as well as sugar, dairy or wheat, etc. The other possibility is some sort of neurological or developmental issue which often responds very well to treatment.

I have a 3 yr old myself and I know how much I've worried about my son's development. He has a speech delay and several people who know him brought up autism - which frankly scared me to death. I went ahead and had him evaluated by a speech therapist and a Development Psychologist. I found out he is not autistic but does have some significant speech issues. At least now I know what I'm dealing with rather than living with all that fear.

I can imagine you've done just as much worrying, if not more. Rest assured in one thing - there is a specialist for everything and with your assistance, he can get all the support he needs to help reverse these negative behaviors while he is still young. I found the name and number of a good Developmental Psychology practice on an autism resource page for Colorado. I can imagine there is something similar in your area.

Blessings on you and your family!

We are all just doing our best. I have read parenting books, and the ones I most agree with are Alfred Adler's he taught them forever ago, but they still work.
Two books I suggest are
"Children:The Challenge" by Rudolf Dreikurs
"Perfect Parenting and Other Myths" by Frank Main

I took parenting classes locally from Vivian Brault
'Tearless' Discipline was the first class I took from her, it is now on DVD and she helped me put the books into practical use.
here is her web site, you may find other ideas.

mother to Kai

Not YOUR fault! Some kids are more difficult. I have three kids and they all have different issues. I have dealt with a few kids on the school bus that are way out of control. Consistency is a must. Kids love routine and this will also help you. I try to give the kids some control over the outcome of the situation. "Do you want to clean up your toys or go to your room?" Three is a really rough age. I can remember crying with my first child at that age. Make him your special helper and praise him for all of his help. Find out what is special to him and use that as leverage in his favor. Maybe it is hotwheels or legos. Take all the hotwheels away and let him earn them back. Give him some kind of an outlet for his anger. A punching bag, a pillow, the trampoline. Find what makes him click and go from there.

The books I used for my children and recommend to my clients are 1-2-3 Magic and Parent Effectiveness Training.

Consistency is vital. I found that the thing that effected my consistency was my own emotional state. So, I learned to deal with my own issues. Children will push buttons for parents, especially the unfinished business buttons. Also, part of consistency is to make sure the child knows ahead of time what the consequence for certain behaviors will be. Then it is easier to just follow through.

Also, children learn best from modeling. If they are exposed to a lot of violent television, video games, parents arguing, or even covert anger around them, they will learn that that is how you deal with strong emotions. Giving them alternatives to deal with their strong emotions can be very helpful such as pounding on their pillow or tearing up an old phone book. You have to be extremely clear about the fact that there are good ways and bad ways to deal with the emotions.

If your other kids were nothing like that I would say its more that just a stubborn toddler. My boys had a hard time learning what isnt ok to do. They didnt get why they couldnt do something so they kept doing it. I would try everything under the sun from spanking(not anymore and not for a long time they are almost 11) to time outs to taking their stuff away. No tv time or video game time. They would do the exact same things over and over again and while they didnt like getting into trouble when they would hit or bite or tell us no heck even write all over the walls for the 100th time. Nothing ever worked but we stuck at it until one day it clicked for them. Then again my boys have adhd, absence seizures and are high functioning autistic. Not saying that is your sons problem but there are other things out there it could be and with behavior that extreme and that different from his siblings it could be more than a stubborn 3 yo. We didnt find out about the adhd until the boys were 7 and the autism until they were 10. For some reason its easier to deal with them and discipline if you know the cause of the problem. Anyhow I babbled long enough if you dont feel anything I said could apply to your son so be it no harm no foul you do know him te best but if you think there just might be something more going on start talking to his pedi now about it.

I have been an early childhood special educator for 10 years. I think that after you try some of the methods suggested by others, (consistent, firm limits, predictability in his day, natural consequences, etc.) I strongly advise that you have your son evaluated. Some children have legitimate problems that can be diagnosed. With extreme situations as the one you describe, I think you would have greater success if you know why he is behaving the way he is.

my favorite parenting style is love and logic. It is called love and logic magic for 1-6. Good luck!

Please don't listen to people who tell you this is your fault - or that you caused this. I've told all of my kids no and I have one that's an absolute angel, one that's more of a challenge and one that's a bit soon to tell - but probably somewhere in between. Some people just have challenging kids - the kids just came that way. Every kid is different and responds to a different kind of parenting. The trick is to find what works for your kid! That being said, I would highly recommend the "Love & Logic" book that is geared specifically to kids birth to 6 years of age. The title is something like Practical Parenting from Birth to 6 yrs. I found some really great strategies for dealing with my difficult 3 yr old boy. It's about the only thing he responds well to. It's a quick read and gives really great examples to follow. Hang in there!

First of all make no requests, and tell him to do and if he doesn't instant discipline and make him do it. Find out what is important to him and take it away. I found that this is the most effective style of punishment for us. I have taken a whole room of toys away and have made my daughter earn stuff back piece by piece. You could also try heading him off before he does something. Ask if he is making a good choice or bad and help him make the right choice. ( Such as is it a good choice to listen to mom and go get dressed or is it a bad choice to not get dress and loose _____) Make the punishment fit the crime. Make sure you are letting him know why he is in trouble too. Talk about other peoples feelings and how would he like it if his brother/sister hit him. You could try a reward chart too. He gets a sticker for when he can go all day without hitting, or does a little chore, so he is getting positive feedback as well. We have a sticker spot that just says good, so that I can just catch her doing something nice and will give her an instant success. Most of all be consistent, dont give second chances, and keep at it. Do not give a lot of attention to the negative behavior. When he is really bad and needs to calm down, tell him why he is in trouble, walk him to the room and leave. No other words. If he leaves put him back. Keep at it. Some kids take longer than others to get it. I have a pig headed, opinionated, stubborn impish child. Always has been, most likely always will ( if her father and I are an indication) Good luck.

The book "How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk" is a gold standard classic and probably saved my children's lives. It's in cheap paperback, you could find a used copy onine, or it's probably at your library. I feel your pain and suggest you get your hands on this book right away. No mind games, no manipulating, no forcing, just effective communication to get what you want and decrease the drama in your home and save your sanity.
"The Discipline Book" and "Adventures in Gentle Discipline" are also helpful reads about maintaining a good relationship with your children while teaching them self-discipline.
Keeping the kids well-rested and well-fed with healthy food and well-attended-to is my recipe for preventing problems. Good food can do wonders to make a child more reasonale.
Best wishes!

Hi D.,
I am going to jump on the Love and Logic bandwagon just to really drive home that it works for everyday moms just like you and me. My daughter was very oppositional too. Once I tried the Love and Logic techniques, it returned peace to our world. It saved my sanity! I loved it so much, I have even become a Love and Logic facilitator. You can check out their books and cds from the library. So you don't have to spend a bunch up front and then purchase what you want to really hold onto later.
Good luck!

I am also had trouble with my now 4yr old son. He is very violent. We tried time out, restraint, and sometimes spanking with not much success. One thing that still seems to work the best is the consequence of taking a toy away. It takes some time, but is helpful. Good luck. It is also a phase that he will pass through soon with your support.


Stop telling him no all of the time! You're the ones who taught him this disagreeable behavior, he probably is just trying to extert some control over his own life. Read Barbara Coloroso's "Kids are Worth it!"

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