3 Year Old Behavior Modification

Updated on January 19, 2011
J.B. asks from Mount Pleasant, PA
14 answers

My son is a 3 year old only child. He is also the first grandchild on both sides of our family. He is a mommy's boy and very attached to me, causing problems if I need to leave him anywhere. I always thought that my son was relatively well behaved and was just being 3. Well, tonight I realized we needed to make a change. We proposed the idea of starting karate classes to my son, who was very excited about it. I really thought he would enjoy it and get involved. We went for the first class to see how he would do. He would not get off of my lap. Eventually he started throwing a fit and crying. I felt like I had a 2 year old again and was extremely embarrassed that he was behaving this way. It was at this point that I realized that my son behaves like this on a regular basis every time something does not go his way or he is asked to do something he does not want to do. I've decided that it is time for this to change. I can't handle the tantrums and the clinginess every time he gets in trouble any more or the outrageous fits when things don't go his way. I'm looking for some suggestions on what to do to change this behavior. To give you a background on my family, we use a variety of punishments depending on the crime. We use timeouts, removal of privledges and we do believe in spanking. My husband is a full time student with a part time job. It basically translates into he is home long enough to sleep. I work full time from home. My son is currently at home with me for the summer, although during the school year he goes to day care and his grandmothers' during the week. Most days are spent with him watching TV in my office because he will not leave the room. If I turn off the TV he has his toys on my desk or he is on my lap interferring with my work. He does not seem to respond to punishment. He will laugh at you regardless of what you do to punish him. If you tell him to do something that he does not want to do he tells you that his tummy hurts, that he is dizzy, or that he is cold or hungry (all which I know are untrue...I've warned him and talked to him about lying like this). He will also scream at the top of his lungs to the point that he makes himself throw up, tossing himself on the ground. Bribing does not work. He has had the standing offer of a present for giving up his binkies for a year now. He still has them. I have tried a sticker chart where they get taken away if he does not listen. That didn't work either.

I guess my ultimate goal here is for him to behave like a respectable child (within reason...I fully realize he is 3 and that brings in all sorts of emotions he doesn't understand). I would like for him to listen the first time he is told no or asked to do something (it truly frightens me that I have to tell him no several times to stop a behavior). I would also like to help him learn how to handle the frustration that he feels when things do not go his way or when he has to do something he doesn't want to do. I greatly welcome any positive comments and suggestions you may have. I ask that if you wish to be negative and acusatory of the way that I currently punish my child thus far, that you please do it in a private message. I do not need to be told I am terrible for spanking my child.

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So What Happened?

Thank you so much for all of the advice and suggestions that you gave. I have tried implementing a lot of the things that were suggested and they are helping. My job is sort of different from your typical at home job. I actually have to be in front of my computer the majority of the time between 8 and 4. So we started having cuddle time during commercials. When there is a break in one of my son's shows, he is allowed up on my lap and I have to turn away from the computer. When the show comes back on, we go back to where we were. It has made things a lot easier. We are still having seperation problems, but I have managed to quell some of the complaining when asked to do something. I turn him around and head towards his room and he straightens right up and goes and does what he is told. I also read an article in the most recent Parenting magazine that had some great ideas for new rules that we have implemented. He is no longeer allowed to whine or cry in my presence. I tell him to take the show else where and come back when he is normal. He is also not allowed to demand anymore. I tell him that I will listen when he is ready to talk right. Wow, I might make it through the 3s yet.

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answers from Philadelphia on

Hi J.,
I am sorry to hear you are going through this. I have no advice to offer as I am going through pretty much the same situation with my almost 3 year old daughter. Tried all the things you have with no luck and I am at my wits end and would also like to her any ideas out there to handle this. Sorry I was no help, but please know I empathise with you. Good Luck and stay strong.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I had a similar problem with my son. He was clingy and actually seemed to get depressed when I was unable to give him my full attention. It wasn't until I married my second husband that I realized I had coddled him way too much! I was actually hurting him, making him too dependant on me. my son was unable to make decisions without asking mommy first. You and your hubby need to get tough. I know it will hurt for a while but better now than when he is a teen and really throws a tantrum! Just totally ignore the tantrums. Walk over him and pretend he is not there. Then when he seems to calm down ask him if he is done, then punish him immediately and follow through. Explain that his behavior is not acceptable. make sure he KNOWS you mean business! You are the bosses here! and wait for a while before hugging. Tell him you are still angry and not ready for a hug yet. Then after a bit go to him and explain what he did wrong and why then when he says he is sorry tell him you forgive him and love him. As far as the binki goes set a time when you both can be there and take them away now. no more coddling or feeling like you are taking away his babyhood. Not only does it affect their speech, it ruins their teeth as well. It is going to be hard for a few days but try to redirect his attentions when he asks for the binki or completely ignore the request. You may try telling him that the trashman had a new baby and needs them for his baby! I actually gave my bottles to them when I was little.
It is a balance of equal parts disipline and love. The secret is knowing how much and when to ease up. I have 3 kids ages 11, 12, and 17 and they have actually thanked me for discipline. They realize that I do it because I love them.
Reality check, he will NEVER do things the first time you ask him! lol. That's just how kids are. Constantly testing how far they can go, what they can get away with. How else will they know the limits?
Stay consistent, don't give in! Remember that you want a happy healthy little boy! Yo can do it!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Allentown on

As many people have said, I think this is a kiddo who is looking for attention, so I agree that one of the most effective things to start would be a schedule of taking time out for him. Kids this age really don't understand when you are sitting down that you are actually working. If you were vaccuming or cooking they are much more likely to understand that you are working.

I would encourage you to try to go to bed at the same time your son does so that you can get up much earlier than him and try to get in a good 2-3 hours of work before he even wakes up. Then tackle some house cleaning projects with his "help." Then a couple of hours of work, time with your son, lunch, then his nap. During his nap, consider catching a quick nap yourself before finishing off your day of work. I really do encourage you to do work *before* your son gets up rather than putting it off for after bedtime, because you will be tired and less focussed in the evening. Unless of course you are a "night person" like my husband--LOL!

I really wouldn't suggest more daycare since this seems a lot to be an attention issue...that and daycare might very well cost close to all of your hubby's full time pay, so it would be kind of counter productive.

On the hubby note...I noticed that no one seemed to mention that despite your hubby's busy schedule, it is important that he try to carve out a little time for your son. It really is vital at this age for a boy to be able to bond with his dad. So even if your hubby can read a 5-10 minute story, that would be good.

I'd also suggest the book "Positive Disciple" by Jane Nelson. I've found it to be very helpful with my 4 kids.

Good luck!



answers from Los Angeles on

Its sooooo nice to hear that I am not alone in this! Your story is a mirror image of mine, except I have a 3 yr old girl, and her father and I have made the decision to stay friends, and are separated.. (this of course makes things worse because of the different rules here and there) Anyway, I also have tried everything from bare handed spanking to time out, as well as taking away privileges. What has worked most for me, which not much has, is sticking to my word. If I say I am taking her most favorite toy away for the rest of the day, I make sure to stick to my word. Also, my boyfriend, even tho not her father backs up my words and helps carry out the punishment.. The worst thing one parent can do to the other, is justify the childs behavior somehow making whatever they have done not such a big deal in the childs eyes.. This usually happens because the parent is tired and doesn't want to deal with it. You must back each other up very clearly in front of rhe child. The "other parent" must also be closely involved in disciplining on a daily basis. Things are slowly starting to turn themselves around, but if I start to show any slight sign of weakness, she is right there ready to take advantage... So make sure not to slip up... LoL
Good Luck to you!!



answers from Erie on

I am not going to judge you about your method of discipline, I actually agree with it! However, sounds to me like your son is trying to get your attention, especially during your work time. TV can be such a good babysitter, but I've learned that most of the time the kids really just want to be with mom or dad. I would suggest getting a visual timer for your day. I would set times for each activity that he does. Say 30 minutes of tv and when he sees the timer go off then set 10 minutes of mom time. During mom time you can read or play a quick board game. My choice for the timer is a red, yellow, green light that I found in a teacher catalog (sorry, can't remember exactly which one). My 3 year old acts the same way and we've noticed changes recently when we added structure like this. I also notice that she is not a "new situation" child. When she goes new places, I try to have my husband take her because if I'm there she just gets clingy and throws a fit if I try to put my foot down. The whole anger thing is just removing her from where I am and tell her that she needs to tell me in words and that she can join me when she is ready to use words. I usually use her room so that I don't have to listen to her yell!
It is definitely stressful until the child gets used to the new way of doing things, so good luck:)



answers from Lancaster on

It sounds to me like your child is begging for your attention. Although you are home all day with him you did not mention any quality time with him. It may help to have scheduled quality time with him through out the day in 20 or 30 minute increments. My husband and I both work full time and we noticed that when we get home the evening goes much smoother if we first play with our 2 year old for a half hour or so, then start dinner... and involve him. Or then have him take his medicine/brush his teeth, eat something he doesn't want to etc.

It sounds like you are in a tough spot trying to be supportive of your significant other, work full time and be full time mom. Kids don't understand our pressures though, that's what makes them great though isn't it? Sounds like he's lonely and craving attention from both of you.



answers from Reading on

You presented a lot of issues here so I'll touch on a few. If you want to hear more of my point of view, send a private message.

Consistency is the key. When he starts to have his screaming fits, move him to a safe place away from you (where you can still see him or are confident he cannot hurt himself) and tell him when he is finished he can join you again. If he throws up because of it, make him help clean it up. After the fit, you can very calmly tell him you think he's losing his touch - that it wasn't nearly as good as the last fit. This tends to take the wind out of their sails as they try to figure out what that means and realize it didn't have the desired effect on mom. If he acts out in public, it's tougher but not impossible. As soon as the tantrum begins, escort him out to the car where he has to sit until the class (etc) would have been over - no movies if you have a DVD player, no radio, etc. If this happens EVERY time, you will see a change in behavior. Also, try to schedule activities at a time when he's not going to be tired, hungry, etc. Karate classes always seem to be right before dinner or right before bedtime around here!

As far as not stopping something when you tell him, I had a HUGE problem with this with my one daughter at that age. I read the book "Creative Correction" and got this useful tool: Play a game with them called Freeze/Go. When you are walking down the sidewalk or in the store, yell "Freeze!" and everybody stops. Then they proceed when you say "Go!" Practice everywhere safe - at home while dancing, brushing teeth, setting the table, playing at the park, etc. Then, when it really matters, such as when they are about to drink a bottle of bubbles (yes, my experience), when you say "Freeze!", they will! For whatever reason, it is much more effective than "stop" or "no" and then you have a moment to redirect the behavior.

As far as clinginess, I don't have much to offer. I can say it gets better over time and the more experienced they become with new situations and being left with new people. My 5 year old, although better, is still very clingy and shy. She has gone to ballet class once a week since September last year and she STILL clings to me and hides her head if any of the kids try to talk to her.

Best of luck,
K. E.
Former foster mother with loads of discipline issues under my belt!



answers from Philadelphia on

Are you talking about my son? Wow does this sound familiar. My husband and I have been talking about signing up my son for karate for the same reasons you listed above.

The only advice I can give is about the binkie. When my son was 2 he was doing a lot of things above. It got to the point that we started taking Clifford and then binkie away. Evenutally binkie just went bye-bye forever. I can't remember exactly what he did, but I think he told me and my husband to "shut up". Since then he does understand this is a bad word with punishment attached to it. We have never spanked him, but have come very close. I usually will just slap his hand and this usually gets his attention to stop what he is doing.

I also don't think you are a terible parent just because of one thing. Every parent does things that aren't necessary the norm. Parents may not say what it is, but there is something. Your husband and you need to be on the same page and agree on how punishment should be handled- whichever way that is.

If you need a good laugh, I'll tell you some mother-in-law stories of suggestions for my son. I would never consider doing any of them, but they are really out there. BTW, she was a teacher for 25+ years.



answers from Pittsburgh on

You've got a lot of good advice to follow already, so I'll just add that I know a lot of behavior professionals and friends who use the Magic 1-2-3 program and get good results. It provides consistency which I think is going to be necessary to tackle the issues you have with your son. I'm anxious to read the responses more in depth because I see these behaviors developing in my son - he will be three later this month. Good luck to you!



answers from Pittsburgh on

Hi J., I feel like I could have written 90% of your message myself.

My son is also 3, he will be 4 in September. He is generally a well behaved little kid, but he does cling to me at times, and when he gets in trouble, he cries excessively (sometimes, not always) and if it is my husband who punishes him, he tries to come crying to me. It is hard to find a way to break these habits, and unfortunately I don't have any real advice for you. I just wanted to let you know that you aren't the only one! It is hard, because although they are old enough to listen and understand, they don't fully get what you are trying to do, and that makes it difficult.

Hang in there, it will get better....I hope!



answers from Philadelphia on

Wow is this what I have to loook forward to?? Anyway you know children act up with their parents especially their mommies. I bet in daycare they say he is well behaved and of course Grandma says he's an angel. I think you said he goes to daycare daily if so you need to take him as early as possible and leave him as late as possible so you can get you things done when he comes home spend some time playing with him then tell him its time for mommy to do some of her work. Maybe you can tell him to draw you a picture.Or build you something while you're working. Does he spend a ot of time with his dad if not he should.



answers from Philadelphia on

I agree with alot of what the other moms have said. I totally agree with consistency being the key. Sit down and talk to your son and explain to him that his behavior is upsetting you. Tell him exactly what you expect from him and what his punishments will be. I must say though that I have always found positive reinforcement to work better with my son. Whenever he has the least bit of good behavior I compliment him on it. So, if your son sits and plays by himself for 5 minutes make sure to let him know that you appreciate it. Also, the stickers worked for us when we gave him a specific list of what was expected and gave him a sticker when he accomplished one of the things on the list. Simple things like picking up toys, brushing teeth, etc work at that age. We have used timeouts for our son but I found that sitting him in a chair with nothing to look at, touch, etc worked better than in his room. One minute per year of age worked for us. Don't allow him to talk, make noises, move from the designated spot, etc for the entire time. You must be consistent and always follow through no matter which form of punishment you use. We have used spanking as a last resort and usually do not need to resort to that thankfully. Empty threats will however derail even the best discipline.

I also agree that your son is desperately seeking your attention. My son is always better behaved when he gets more attention from me. It is so true that they will seek attention whether it's good or bad. If you do not give him the good kind he will certainly seek any he can get. I also work from home and I feel like I get consumed with work sometimes that at the end of the day I didn't spend more than 5 minutes with my son. I think if you take a few minutes in the beginning of the day (maybe at breakfast time) and give him your undivided attention and then again in the afternoon, and in the evening you will see a change in his behavior. Just a few minutes (undivided attention) can make a huge difference.

Clinginess is something that probably stems from the lack of attention. Or maybe he is sensing your tension when you go to leave him...it might be a trust issue. I've always believed in telling my son that I am leaving and then making sure not to show any tension/apprehension myself. I never agreed with sneaking out...I think it makes the child always afraid that you'll leave if they don't watch you every second. I know that he will freak out at first but then he gets over it quickly. I know alot of people do that but I never felt comfortable with it. I hope some of this helps.



answers from Lancaster on

Not that you have much free time for reading, but one book that was a lifesaver for me was "How to Behave so your Preschooler will too" by Sal Severe.

You only need 10 minutes to glance over it once a day to start integrating changes. It focuses on how to encourage the behavior you DO want, and takes the focus off of stopping the behavior you do not want. I felt like I was spending all day saying "no" and then getting frustrated and yelling. But I realized 2 things. Kids do not know what TO DO. We have to teach them HOW to behave the way we want them to. Clearly. AND make it worth it for them to behave that way, (they get ATTENTION/PRAISE when they behave the way you want).
Also the book is good at explaining what is defiant behavior vs. what is just typical preschooler behavior that will not change from punishment but needs to be redirected.

This book made being a parent fun and positve. And brought some control to our home.
Good luck.



answers from Philadelphia on

Hi J.!
You are doing a great job! It is a hard first step for us moms to admit our children aren't perfect (gasp!)
It takes thirty days to break a habit, right? So, first decide which habit you want broken first. I'll give you an example-my daughter is in the habit of talking back to avoid doing what she was told to do ("Clean your room". "But Mom, I just want to ask you something first...") It is frustrating! So we are currently working on modifying that behavior. She knows, because we've told her, that we are working on this. So, the first time she talks back, she is punished. She is 6, so taking away privileges works...Depending on your son's maturity, thst could work too.
For your sons tantrums, decide upon a punishment. I use spanking for deliberate disobedience, not accidental (like breaking something accidentally). Otherwise we take away privileges, do time-outs, and for foul language(thankfully we haven't had to yet!)-soap in the mouth.
My thinking is that your son is acting out for you because you are working, and naturally he wants your attention. If you can spend just 10-15 minutes just on him, maybe set the timer, he will have his mommy fix and be ready to do something else (tv, or whatever...)
Also, talk to his daycare providers. Make sure you come up with a plan for discipline and they follow it too! One of the most important things is to keep everything full circle. At daycare, they should enforce the same things as at grandma's, and at home. That way he knows what is expected from him, no matter where he goes. If one person gives in to his tantrums, he will expect all guardians to. Thus breaking the circle.
Hopefully something is helpful here...Good luck!

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