3-Year Old Has a HUGE Attitude!

Updated on February 20, 2009
L.J. asks from Du Bois, PA
15 answers

My 3 year old is really giving me a hard time! She doesn't do it so much for her Dad. I try to give her my full attention when we get home in the evening and I listen when she talks to me and play and read with her. She is constantly telling me "I don't want to!!" and "No!" She also sighs and says, "Hmpf! "I leave a lot of extra time before we need to anything because she does not want to do anything I ask her, especially getting in (and out!) of the tub, getting dressed or PJs on, and going to bed. I have looked up positive parenting on line, and have found a few things to try, but nothing for how to respond to, "I don't want to!!" My husband says to her, "I don't care what you want, this is how it is!" or something to that effect, but I don't agree that is the best way to handle it. We give her time-outs, but she sits there and screams as loud as she can. We have also counted to 5, but now that is not effective anymore. She has not always been this difficult. I definately think it is her age and that she is testing her independence. Can anyone help with how to deal with this behavior? Thanks!!

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answers from Allentown on

hi L.,I do not think I can give you any advice but I can relate..I have 3.5year old boy ( both my husband&myseld are working full time)..and he is behaving very similar...phrases like: be quiet,I do not want to,go away etc. Time out sometimes help,when we are trying to reason with him or use "positive parenting" does not help....I was told by my colleagues at work ( some of them have 4+kids) that it is the phase...typical for 3 and 4year olds...but you can not let it go and try as much as you can to control that so that it is going to be a phase and not continue : -)Good luck

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answers from Philadelphia on

I deal with this issue a lot at work! Feel good to know you are not alone. The suggestion I always give is to give choices...this empowers the child, however you are only giving choices that are okay with you. Ex: You have a choice: get out of the tub yourself or I will help you out (if she is stalling then say you have until the count of 3 to make your choice). If no choice is made you calmly and simply say, "Oh- you need my help, no problem, I will help you out of the tub" and pull her out of the tub then DROP the situation (no harping on it! because from the sounds of it you made be doing this for drying off, and putting on the PJ's). Be consistent and remember to STAY CALM. (1/2 way through the process she may choose to do it herself-say put on the pj's- I'd watch the attitude....if there is one you can tell her, "well this time you chose help so I am going to help you, but next time you can choose to do it yourself." By letting her takeover (once again depending on the attitude) you are giving HER the power and you don't want to do that b/c you are setting yourself up for incompletion of task.
Obviously if this goes into eating and other things you can't do for her...well, then the choice is eat or it gets thrown out (with NO SNACKS or anything until breakfast)!
Good LUCK!!!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Wendy wrote: ..."when sending our guys to their room, I really try to make sure that they are crying..."

L., you are getting some very BAD advice here. You do not need to use shame or humiliation to get your child to listen to you. Dagmar also said that using "positive discipline" didn't work for her, but she said that in the same sentence as stating that she was "reasoning" with her kids.

Now I feel like a 3 year old. I'm getting FRUSTRATED. ;)

L., all I can do is BEG you to read this book: "How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk" by Adele Faber. Everyone on Mamasource who read it on my recommendation has told me what a miraculous turn-around they have seen in their children. I cannot say enough about this book!! Plus it's an easy read and even has illustrated cartoons to demonstrate the techniques. I GUARANTEE your little one will do a complete turn around if you buy this book. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

Hey, L.!

My 3 year old sprouted an attitude recently for a little while, but learned almost immediately that it wasn't allowed once we addressed it, and she's back to her sweet self. She got away with the first couple of episodes of rolling eyes, snapping at me or talking in a brand new disrespectful snippy tone, because I was so caught off guard as she had never had an attitude before that. Since it wasn't a tantrum (never allowed) or outright disobeying something (never allowed), I didn't use a quick consequence right away. However, my husband and I saw her taking the cue and doing it more often for the next couple of days, and we feared the slippery slope to bratty childness so we agreed to treat it as defiance and disrespect, which it is.

We gave her a swat the next time she said something with a bratty tone, and once more when she said, "I don't HAVE to mom." When I asked her to pick up her room. This was after we first explained to her that you don't speak to parents like that. That's all it took, since she's always been disciplined, and knew this would be no different. That was weeks ago and she's back to saying only nice things and being sweet. It's not like these were horrible offenses, but prevention is way better than waiting until things get out of hand. No one got mad at her, she just realized that would be what happened if she continued to talk that way. She prefers the positive happy norm. I've used this since she was a toddler. She's never had a full blown tantrum, and never been yelled at or made to feel bad about herself. The consequence comes way before I would try to make her "sad". We both move on immediately afterwords, no grudges or time to "reflect on her misdeeds". No bothering with charts. She only needs discipline very rarely.

Yes it's normal boundary pushing, but it's easy for your child to learn it's not acceptable if you teach them effectively.

Your husband has the right basic idea, that she needs to do what you say, because you say so, not because she decides on her terms that she sometimes feels like it after a bunch of choices and negotiating. But anger or harshness of tone doesn't have to come into it. She shouldn't learn she is doing something because someone is mad. She should learn that there is a right way to behave, and that there is simply an unpleasant consequence, delivered calmly and immediately before anything escalates, every single time, when she does something she has been clearly taught not to.

I don't use time outs, because I don't allow or ignore tantrums, so a child screaming in time out isn't an option. Counting is useless without a consequence at a certain number.

I notice you looking for positive parenting tips, so maybe you don't use spanking, but whatever you decide to use, it should be simple, consistent, and unpleasant enough where your daughter chooses to avoid it. At first because she doesn't like the outcome, but soon in the bigger picture, she has learned what isn't allowed and is proud to act the right way. You should be disciplining 2-5% of the time, not all the time. She'll sometimes try her luck at a new misbehavior as she gets older and passes through phases, like any child, but if your rules stay the same, she'll adjust quickly.

When she gets a little older, and has firm knowledge that you are in charge, you can move to the more psychological consequences instead with explanations, removed toys, being removed from fun things if she's misbehaving, etc. But at this age, you should keep it very simple, and get her used to obeying mommy.

As for positivity and choices, those are for 99% of her life, not during discipline episodes. Don't start offering choices because she starts rebelling. And if you've offered her choices about jammies or something, and she starts having a fit about her bath, give her two calm verbal requests to stop the behavior, immediately implement her consequence upon the third request, take away her pajama choice, and proceed calmly with your night. Don't get ruffled, don't back down, don't EXPLAIN at that time-she's playing for power and making you "deal" with her.

Offer her choices all the time during the day, but when she's disobeying you, you are in charge.

If you do explain yourself, do it at in a totally unrelated venue, like while you're playing together, explain that momma always chooses the best thing for her regarding her bedtime and nutrition etc and you're so proud of her for being a good girl and helping with these things. Ask her to explain what it means to go to bed and take a bath nicely etc. as a matter of normal conversation. Give her lots of praise when she says and does things right. But later on, when she is in the middle of a tantrum, remind her calmly twice to stop the wrong behavior, and then deliver a consequence. If you are consistent and calm, she will catch on extremely quickly.

And watch out-she obviously knows you're the pushover! Get on the same page with your husband, whatever method you decide. Good luck!

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answers from Philadelphia on

Hey L.

3 is tough. My son went through this too, he just turned 4 and we still have some trouble. I tell him what we are doing and give him until a count of 3 to get whatever it is done. There is a definite consequence if I have to count to 3, stated before I start counting. It doesn't matter if he wants to, he needs to. Otherwise I'd be arguing all day. If he doesn't do what I ask, he gets the consequence - usually time out, or loss of toy or no story at bed. Scream all he wants. It's all about testing limits. She seems to know that Daddy sticks to his guns so she pushes you because she can. Just my observation. Good luck.



answers from York on

It appears that you are dealing with a power struggle. You might want to look at how often you can give your daughter a choice. For example, two options for what PJ's to wear. While you can't always offer her choices, looking for the areas where you can will help her with spreading her wings into age appropriate levels of independence.

Also, I challenge you to be willing to really look at your percentage of consistency. Young children are SSOOOO smart. All it takes in one time of not following through on a consequence for them to see the window for avoiding a consequence on all future problems. When consistency becomes consistent, the behavior will shift. You also need to be willing to, if necessary remove her from situations when she assserts a level of inappropriate defiance. You may be in a store, she becomes defiant for any reason, you need to leave and head back home.

Also, be willing to talk to her, after the situation has defused, about the situation and talk about how it could have looked different if she had not chosen the behavior that is no appropriate. Children are never too young to start hearing what your family values are, like respect, love, honesty, etc. This is the age to get your family values integrated for your daughter. These will support her the balance of her life, especially when she hits the teen years and the serious peer pressures that she will face. You can send me an e-mail if you would like to learn more about doing this.




answers from Pittsburgh on

Rest assured this is a phase and your loving child will return. At 3 years old they do realize that they are capable of doing things on their own and in control of many choices, so yes they test the boundaries. When my daughter turned 3 she drastically changed for the worse, but after some advice from our doctor, the child I remembered quickly did return. When this method was suggested to me I thought "yes nice idea but this will never work", however within the first day, I noticed a change for the better. Our doctor advised us to really compliment our daughter on her positive behavior and I mean over do it, even when she is doing things well that she normally has no issue with. If she always does a nice job putting away the toys, as you see her doing it make a big deal about how nicely she does it. Or if she can retrieve an item from the pantry to "help" you, let her know what a big girl she is that she can do that. Wow, you put your shoes on great job. I like how you put your doll away. Thank you for bringing me the book you are a great helper. Another example when she is getting into or out of the tub, as long as she is not actively fighting you, compliment her, "I like that you are getting out of the tub now". Even if she has just given you a screaming fit or if she is still crying, now that she is complying praise her. You can follow it with "I know you didn't want to get into/out of the tub, but you did a nice job, thank you". . No matter what find the good that she is doing and exaggerate it, even when it follows the negative. As for the screaming in time out, don't acknowledge it, only give her an audience for positive behavior. Obviously, you can't be blind to the negative but don't place a lot of emphases on it. I agree with a lot of what Lori H had to say as well, when you are giving her choices make sure that the end result is what you are looking for. If you want her to have some choice in her life present it so that she feels victorious. As an example when going to bed let her choose, "would you like to read a book in bed before going to sleep or would you like to sing two songs in bed with mommy before you go to sleep. Both choices let her know that she is getting into to bed and will be going to sleep, but it is her choice of activity prior to going to sleep. If she says "I don't want to" let her know that you will give her one more chance to choose or mommy will choose for her. You have to follow through with your choice if she does not choose, because she needs to realize that even by not making a choice the routine will continue. I also found it helpful to give my daughter a countdown, obviously at 3 years old she has no concept of time, but she likely knows how to count. I always told my daughter "in 7 minutes we need to leave to go home", then "in 6 minutes we need to leave to go home" and so on. It gives her time to finish what ever plan she has for what she is doing and prepares her not only for leaving but an expectation of what will follow that. It does take a lot of effort on the parents part to compliment your child after they have just frustrated you to no end, but the exaggeration of the positive will show results immediately. It is also helpful to acknowledge her feelings and if need be teach her what they are. Ask her are you screaming because you are angry? It is okay to be angry but it is not okay to scream as loud as you can. Are you crying because you are sad? It is okay to cry, but it is not okay to tell mommy NO. Children are eager to please you and it will not take her long to realize that she pleases you by making the right choice (when the choices you present have the desired outcome).
Good Luck



answers from Allentown on

Your challenge isn't necessarily getting her to do what you want, but getting her to want it, too, and understanding how she sees the world.

Try enlisting her in planning. If the "getting ready for bed" routine is an issue, ask her what she doesn't like about getting ready for bed, and don't dis any answer she gives you, just listen and be understanding (like you would with a girlfriend). Sometimes they surprise you!

Then develop, with her, a list of the tasks that comprise this schedule (let her list all the parts of the routine; you might suggest or question--"is there anything else to do before jumping in bed?" but try not to take over. Then give her choices: does she want to make drawings for these different parts or take pictures? One evening's routines might be her taking pictures of her toothbrush, potty, blankie, etc, or you taking a picture of her, showing it to her(hopefully you have a digital or phone camera), then doing the next one.

Try to make the project as fun and as full of hugs and tickles as possible, so she'll remember this part as something good, too.

Then post the list of drawings or pictures (she can decide where to put them up, put them in the order she chooses, etc. Again, let her make as many decisions as possible, even if some of them are a little odd. Giving her some choices and letting her lead once in a while (surprisingly!) might go a long way to reducing conflicts.

My adopted daughter is now 12; I've always enjoyed letting her be in charge of some projects, even when it means I have to "hold my tongue" quite a bit--I learn how her mind works, I learn how to follow rather than lead all the time (I'm a teacher, so the leading part is easy, following less so!), and I definitely learn patience. And she learns that there are times when she leads, times when I do; she also learns that sometimes Mom knows something (especially when I'm not forcing her to do it my way).

Best of luck; let us know how it goes.




answers from Erie on

Your husband is right. She doesn't have to want to, she has to DO. It's just like obeying the laws of the country. We have to file tax returns and pay taxes. It doesn't matter if we want to or not. It matters that we DO IT.

I would use your husband's response to her, because you stated that it works. The bottom line is that she thinks you care what she wants, so she's making her voice loud and clear to you, whereas Daddy outright tells her he doesn't care if she wants to do it or not. She HAS to.

You aren't going to change her wants, and she's entitled to "not want to", but she is not entitled to disobey. Because she is in daycare during the day, she is probably busy all day, and when she gets home, she may want some down time. So let her decide what she wants to do in the evening, let her know early on (like 30 minutes) before pushing her to do something you already know she doesn't want to do . . . (bedtime, bathtime, etc) if you use time out, ignore the screaming. That's just a tantrum. You can even walk out of the room on her. But you have to let her know that there are some things she can control, and some things that she can't. And it's harsh, but guess what? When she's an adult, there are some things she can control and many things she won't be able to control. And we all have to cope with those realities every day.

You don't drive down the wrong side of the street because "you want to", or drive drunk because "you want to". Even Mom and Dad live by rules, and if she doesn't start getting used to some of that reality early on, she will have a hard time butting up against society's rules later on.

But you are also right -- kids go through stages -- generally every other year -- one year they'll be pushing at the limits and trying to be more autonomous, and the next year they'll consolidate their position and enjoy it. (and so will you).

Hang in there ! It'll ease up after a while. :-)



answers from Pittsburgh on

I have a 3 year old and 4 year old and know exactly what you are talking about. Something that works for us is using the principles in the book "Magic 1-2-3". It clearly details how to make counting to three effective. If you stick with it and follow through on the consequences she should come to know that you mean business and she will also know what to expect if she doesn't comply. It didn't happen overnight and we sometimes regress a little, but I have found it to be mostly effective. (I used to work for a children's behavioral health agency. The therapists used this book and recommended it to parents.)

As far as what to say to her in response to "I don't want to", I try to give explanations. My thought is to use that opportunity as a learning experience that will hopefully be remembered when the situation arises again. Sometimes my answer includes "because I said so" to remind my children that it is my house and my rules and as parent they are to respect me. However, I quickly follow up my response with a sentence about my expectations and consequences for not following through.

Here are some other things I do to deal with various situations.

When I see or sense that trouble is brewing I remind the kids to make good decisions and review rules.

If possible, I give choices so they feel they have some control (choice of two different desserts, etc).

I do a countdown before transitions (10 minutes until X, 5 minutes until X, 2 minutes unti X, time for X).

If something needs to be done in a certain amount of time I set a timer. If goals are not reached by the time the timer goes off, consequences will be handed out.

I praise them when they comply with my directions, are respectful, use kind words, etc.

I use a behavior chart. There are 2 columns for each day. One column has X's for misbehavior and the other has smiley faces for behavior. I log X's and smiley faces accordingly. At the end of each day, if there are more smiley faces than X's the kids get a sticker on the chart. At the end of the week if they have "X number of stickers" they get a small prize from the prize box.

After a timeout is completed, I sit down with my children and talk about why the timeout was given and what better choices could have been made to avoid the timeout. I give them a hug and tell them I love them.

Good luck to you!



answers from Pittsburgh on

Hang in there. For us, 3 was WAY worse than 2 ever was!
I would handle it more like your husband does. After all, not every single event needs to be negotiated at this point! She's manipulating you and obviously knows how to push your buttons. Hang in there. It will get better.



answers from Philadelphia on

Sometimes, this can be prevented in how you phrase the request. I used to think it was polite to sort of phrase my statement to my children as a question, like, "Could you stand up and come here so I can dry you off?" or , "Could you please pick up your toy?"

I found that as my children got older, they felt that the way I as phrasing things did not seem like a polite request, but an actual question (which meant they had the right to say "no" to, which they did not). Now, I state the request such as, "I need you to pick up your toy." or "In 10 minutes, it will be time to dry off and get ready for bed." Your voice can still be quiet and kind, yet firm. Then, of course, you have to follow through. You cannot get busy and allow them to play for 20 more minutes in the bathtub instead, for example.

Now, after I have kindly, yet firmly, stated my intention for the child, if they responded with a "I don't want to." my answer would be, again, calmly yet firmly, "I understand you're having fun in the bathtub, however, in 10 minutes you WILL dry off and get ready for bed."

Sometimes, a small validation of their feelings or frustration, the idea that you are understanding of where they are coming from, and yet asserting your authority, gives the child confidence and security.

At other times, what you are asking really is (or can be) a question. You can give them more choice over things like what they would like to eat, what they would like to wear, etc.

Also, giving a child plenty of warning that a change is coming is always a good idea. Even if they are not able to tell time yet, you can still give them the "heads up" that you are going to be expecting a change in direction. Such as, "when this show is over, we are going to take a bath." or "after breakfast, I need you to put your shoes on." just helps them to anticipate what is expected next.

With my teens, I still do this. For getting ready to walk out the door in the morning, I say, "I need us to be on the road at 7:30. You need to be ready then." or , "Today you may play video games, but tomorrow I'm going to expect your help with such and such".

I also want to say that my kids have all gone through phases where they were more "attitudy" than at other times. One of my daughters definitely went through it at age 4! So, just stay calm, loving, and firm, and this too shall pass, with time and patience, she'll be on to the next phase!

Hope this helps,


answers from Allentown on

Hi L.,

The problem seems to be between you and your husband. I feel that you and your husband need to go to some family mediation so both of you can get on the same page for the discipline of your child. When two parents don't agree on parenting styles, the child will become a behavior problem.

Boundaries have to be set. Your child needs Consequences for her disrespectful and inappropriate behavior.

Look at your attitudes and motivations about setting standards. Co-dependency and enabling are big words for women and difficult to deal with. Hopefully you are able to
look inward to discover what it is you need.

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.

All the best. D.



answers from Reading on

Go to the library and get the book, Bringin Out the winner in your child by John Croyle. It's a wonderful read and I'm sure it will offer much value in raising your children. Best of luck




answers from Philadelphia on

Hi L. - This is not advice - just how we handle things at our house... It may not work for everybody - and it works most of the time with us.

We get attitude from our son who just turned 4. I am the stricter parent, my husband is more lenient. I just really want to raise my kids to be Good People. I realize that it is my job to make sure that they know what is expected of them and to make sure that they know what is not okay.

When my son is dis-respectful to his parents or is just simply behaving badly, he gets 1-2 warnings then I take action. We tell him the proper way to speak to us, what he said that was wrong, then a warning of what we will do if he does not correct himself. Punishments are being sent to his room, favorite toys are taken away or the big one right now - we do not let him play his V-smile game. This actually works.

Also I noticed that my husband becomes stricter with the kids the more time he spends with them - like by the end of the weekend - he is more likely to use my ways of disipline rather then being Mr. Good Cop he is in the few hours he has with them after work on weekdays.

One last thing, when sending our guys to their room, I really try to make sure that they are crying, so my voice is perhaps meaner than I would normally speak to them - otherewise if they aren't that upset about being banished to their room, then the punishment isn't as effective because they start to play in their room rather than think about why they are there. We usually call them back down in 4-5 minutes when they are calm to talk about why they were sent to there room etc. I noticed my husband did this one day too, my MIL happened to be on the phone and heard her son speaking harshly to one of the boys and he explained my theory and she laughed and said she wished she would have thought about doing that when he was little, cause he just played in his room when she sent him there.

One more last thing - we have started talking to the older boy about right and wrong - while we are in the car or just hanging out we have discussions like - the grass is purple is that right or wrong? then we lead into a behavioral right/wrong - is it right or wrong to disagree with Mommy about when its bedtime etc. is it right or wrong to refuse to wear your coat when we are going outside in the cold. Then when my son is starting to head into wrong territory at other times - sometimes a simple: Patrick is this behavior right or wrong? this is all it takes to get him back on track.

Good luck

Hi again L. - after reading Suzie's comment I feel lower than low. Please know that I don't send my boys to their rooms crying for just simple bad attitudes. I guess I got to thinking about how punishments were handled at our house, instead of answering your question about how we handle attitude. I can see that I answered your question without much thought and didn't really make a lot of sense or acurately represent myself and my husband's style of parenting.

A punishment for 'attitude only' is much different from me sending my child to his room for something severe (something that might endanger him or someone else - which is usually what that punishment is reserved for!!!) Mostly, it is setting limits and consistant rules - these limits and rules are tested regularly by our kids, and warnings are given and toys are taken away temporarily. 'Attitude' happens as a child is growing older, learning more, expanding their skills. in most cases 'attitude' can be handled in a loving way, showing the child the right path is respect for their parents, family members and all.

However, when warranted, when the action is severe, I do send my kids to their rooms, and I do try to make sure that my voice is strong and they know that they have done something wrong - it causes tears, which in my opinion gets the message through where my other methods of taking away toys and privleges did not. After a few minutes up in their room, I call them back and we calmly discuss what happened, what would have been a better/correct way to behave etc. Its not all about making sure that they are crying when they go up to their rooms, it is about making sure they know that they crossed the line, & they need to get back on track.

I also am a strong believer in reading parenting books. I am sure that those recommended are well worth the read for the skills and information that they contain. Ones that I like are by Linda and Richard Eyre whose books on teaching values, responsibility and joy are some of my favorites.

Again, this is what works in our home. I am sorry for my thoughtless response before. I do hope you get through this and learn some good techniques.

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