3-1/2 Yeor Old Is Running the House!

Updated on July 25, 2008
L.S. asks from Madison, WI
16 answers

We have 3 girls, ages 3-1/2, 2 and 3 months. Our oldest is so emotional. Rather than asking for a drink of water, she breaks into tears and starts whining "I'm thirsty"...she is very well spoken, but she has no control over her emotions. Yesterday we noticed bite marks on her 2 year old sister. Of course she denies it and lies about where the marks might have come from. We try to be very consistent, time outs, etc. but it just doesn't seem to get better. I recognize that some of it might be due to new baby and me returning to work, but this behavior is getting to be very tiresome. People often comment on how well-behaved our children are, so I tend to think its a phase, but we just are out of ideas as to how we should handle her...any suggestions?

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your responses. We have really focused on more one-on-one time with all three girls and we're praising for good behavior. We never did respond to whining, which is what made it so frustrating. I guess it seems a bit age related that it takes her some time and a few tries to remember her manners. I'm really focusing on my own patience, too...recognizing that I was so tired that first week back to work. This too shall pass! By the way, I should have mentioned that the bite marks were on the 2 year old's back, impossible to do on her own. THat's what made it so funny when the oldest tried to say she bit herself :)

Thanks again!

More Answers



answers from Lincoln on

I just finished reading an amazing book "Beyond Time-out, from chaos to calm." I know the last thing you need right now is to have to read something, but I highly encourage you to look into it. I found it at Barnes and Noble.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Duluth on

I understand that you are using great discipline, but I'm wondering if some of her acting out is a call for more attention (even negative)? I have a book at home written by a pediatrician, email me if you want the name of it, I don't have it with me... She recommends 15 minutes minimum alone time with each child every day - hard to do I know, and I'm a SAHM! Also, even when you are enforcing disciple for whining, biting, etc, are you also giving a hug along with the discipline? She states that at this age, the kids often need reassurance that we love them even though we are teaching them the rules.

I have a 3 yr-old DD and a 4 month-old DD. Sometimes I think my 3 yr-old gets worried that her needs aren't going to get met (similar to your DD's whining "I'm thirsty" instead of asking nicely). Hopefully if she feels confident her needs will get met if she asks nicely, and if her needs are ONLY met if she DOES ask nicely, she will do so. Also, DD once purposefully poked my baby's eyes (not hard) right in front of us, I think because she was jealous of baby getting our attention (similar to biting) - she will also ask me to leave baby behind or stop breastfeeding if she can't get what she wants d/t the baby. This usually only happens when she is overtired, hungry, or not getting needs met in a timely way - I try to either point out to her that I can only do one thing at a time or chide her and remove her from the situation for this.

I guess I'd just recommend more hugs, kisses, praise when appropriate, and 1:1 attention to her as much as you can. Keep up the discipline, but recognize there might be some jealousy driving all of this. Try to talk as if your 3 yr-old is one of the adults, such as, "Baby is crying, what can you/we do to help her?", and help make her feel some pride in being a good big sister.

Good luck!!!!!



answers from Minneapolis on

Three is a very difficult age, at least it was at our house. It sounds like she is reacting to all of the changes in her life. Try spending some one on one time with her when she doesn't have to compete with the other siblings. I also recommend Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's book, "Raising Your Spirited Child." Finally, if you have the time sign up for a fall ECFE class. They do offer evening classes for parents who work. Good luck.



answers from Duluth on

We're dealing with some very similar things in my four year old, now that his baby brother is mobile and into his stuff. We have tried to consciously give him more mommy time, and he and I have a "date night". Just the conscious effort to spend time and energy on him--even "babying" him (rocking him, holding him like a baby, talking to him the way I talk to baby--it's "pretend" but I think reassuring for him, too) has helped. Also, we are trying really hard to subtly show that being a big boy has advantages AND that his brother is not the perfect baby--babies don't get consequences for whining like big boys do--but big boys get to swim, get to play with friends, ride bikes--and make sure you make time for those advantages (much easier said than done, I know). Even in the last week we've tried to do this, and it's AMAZING what a different kid he's become.



answers from Minneapolis on

My almost 3 year old is like that. He seems to prefer the dramatic cry/whine approach. We talk to him about how he is not acting nicely, that he needs to act nice before we will give him what he wants. If he doesn't then we let him have his fit and not give in. If he does, then we give a lot of praise and give him his request (if reasonable!) At first he always just had the fit...but lately he's been doing better. It's taken A LOT of repetition. From what I uderstand, this behavior is pretty normal at these ages, and it will pass unless you always give in. We need to teach them the correct way to act, and then let them choose if they're going to. With my son, praise is HUGE. But you have to know your child and what motivator works. Have you tried a sticker chart or anything? So many stickers for asking nicely and she get s prize (could be a treat, a small toy, a trip to the park, or whatever works for her.) I've heard of people using tickets as well. They save them up in their special place and redeem them. One mother in ECFE used marbles in a cup! Each time they acted nicely, a marble went in. As they got older, and they acted naughty, a marble came out. Once the cup got full, they did something special. Picnic at the park, etc.

Good luck! It takes incredible patience.


answers from Sioux City on

She can handle her emotions, but it is much quicker to whine it out. I don't get anything for whiners. We stop everything and either you say it with out the drama or you don't get it and if you persist you are sent to your room. The easiest and best thing that I found works for that age is to simply don't give them what they want after you see poor behavior. With my youngest, if she has a tissy, she doesn't get what ever it was that triggered the tissy and she also doesn't get the next five things she asked for because of the tissy. She has a favorite pink cup and after she gives me grief she has to drink from the unfavorite green cup. When she wants grapes with her meal we have apples because she was naughty. Sometimes they just forget who the big people are in the family and you have to remind them. The other children in the family are the biggest gift you will ever give her. You don't get to act poorly when recieving such a great gift!



answers from Milwaukee on

Sounds like she needs a little extra attention. I know how little you have right now, but I think anytime you can spare for just her would do wonders. Remember children will find a way to get your attention, positive or negative!
If it is not attention she is needing, I have found that ignoring tantrum works wonders!
As far as whining and crying for everything, I make my daughter use her words, not whines to get what she needs.
May God bless you expanding family, this time too shall pass.



answers from Minneapolis on

Read What the Bible Says about Child Training by Fugate, ASAP. It's the best thing I've read on managing kids and why they do what they do.

SAHM of seven



answers from Minneapolis on

My daughter is 3 1/2 also and she is doing the same things. I think it is the age. I've talked to all kinds of people that say the same thing. Our kids aren't having terrible twos, but just wait because thermal nuclear war threes are coming. I guess three is the new two. This too shall pass and then repeat later. Yippee!



answers from Minneapolis on

Is your 3 year old getting her baby time each day? I would suggest that you ask her what the tears are about. Ask her, "Are you sad because YOU want to be a baby too?" Babies get all the attention and she is still quite a baby...

Set aside time for her daily L. - just you and her - for baby time. She needs to be cuddled, kissed and cooed over. This time will reinforce that she is still your little baby - something she will need reassurance about for the rest of her life.



answers from Minneapolis on


answers from Madison on

I agree with those saying she needs more one on one time. Have the same issue with my 4 yr old and 7 mo old. Just a few little things to make her feel special, really paying attention to what she says, an extra hug, etc. It doesn't have to be real time consuming to be effective, God knows you don't have any extra! I also really suggest the "Love and Logic" books. (someone sent you the link, probably the same person who suggested it to me!) It has helped alot, especialy when using empathy towards your child even when you feel like wringing her neck! The book 4 early childhood is excellent, and an easy read.Good luck!



answers from Dubuque on

My daughter had the same problem with biting her little brother (whom is 2 1/2 years younger). When she was around 3 1/2 it was getting out of control. My favorite is when he had a bite mark on his cheek and she said he did it himself!

We told her that she needs to use her words to let us know she needs some attention and that the next time she bites we would take away her favorite princess clock. She did bite again so we took it away. She cried but we told her she knew what would happen if she bit so if she chose to bite she chose to have her clock taken away the next time she bit we would take away all her dress up clothes and leotards. She did and so we took those away. We then told her the next time we would take away everything in her room except for a few clothes, one pillow, and an old ugly blanket.

She was good for a couple weeks. Then we had our friends over for supper (whom also is their doctor) and we told them how we were sure she was done with her biting phase and not two minutes later she bit their son! So, we excused ourselves and proceeded to clear out her room while our guests finished their dinner. Our daughter was screaming at the top of her lungs, but we told her she knew what would happen if she bit again and she choose to bite so she chose the consequences. (Our friends are very supportive and have the same parenting style so it did not bother them at all). We then told her every day she didn't bite she would get to pick one thing to get back and after one week she could have everything back. It worked! Two years later she still remembers that experience.

I haven't had as much luck with the running - but the whining I just tell them I can't understand them and they have to ask nicely in their normal voice. You just have to remember to follow through and not give in. If you give in once they remember and will work even harder to get you to give in again the next time. It is soooo much easier said than done, though.

Good Luck!



answers from Grand Forks on

Yes, it sounds like she is reacting and perhaps needing more mommy time. Do you respond to the whining at all? If you do, you are buying into it and it will continue. You can tell her that if she can ask without whining you will "help her" get what she wants. She is at an age where she needs to start helping herself a little as well. Time outs rarely work for behaviors. The child just sits and festers-they aren't thinking about what they could have done differently because they don't have that capacity yet.Also, unless you saw her bite the 2-year-old please don't assume that she did it. Two is an age for biting and I have seen toddlers bite themselves in frustration. Find special time for each of your children so that they can all feel equally important. This is as important now as it will be later. Maybe a special book at bestime or even a special trip to the ice cream store. Children of all ages need, want and should get some special attention regularly. I have raised 4 children and work in a day care center and have seen lots of behaviors when parents getted bogged down with busy-ness. I hope this helps!



answers from Sheboygan on

It sounds like your daughter is having tantrums. I've found that ignoring them work like a charm. As soon as she realizes she won't get what she wants by having outbusts she will stop. When my kids whine we tell them once "I can't understand you when you talk like that." and then ingnore them. My 3 1/2 year old son recently went through a biting stage too. He knows it is wrong so he doesn't get any warnings. He loves popcycles and gets one after lunch and one after supper. When he bites we take a popcycle away. We had to do that two times and he hasn't bitten in almost a week now. I once heard "find out what your child cherishes and use it to discipline them." Good luck!



answers from Waterloo on

Not only is she's going thru the "horrible 3's" but she's also a girl. In my experience (which, keep in mind I have 2 boys BUT I'm around alot of little girls with family and my home daycare) Girls tend to be much more emotional about things. Or maybe it's just the girls I know.....LoL

I would work on getting a handle on the biting and the whining. Put her in timeout for the biting and tell her you won't answer her if she's whining. I bet once this faze runs its course she'll be back to her lovely little self.

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