3 Year Old Testing Everything!!

Updated on June 30, 2007
M.O. asks from Gilroy, CA
10 answers

My 3 year old daughter has been saying and doing the complete opposite of what I tell her or ask her to do. I will ask her to please put her shirt on and she will tell me NO I DONT WANT TO ill ask her why and she says BECAUSE I SAID SO. I will ask her to come here when she is running around at a store and hold onto the shopping cart and she will yell at me NO, and its not like I can yell at her back while we are in a store in front of everyone. I have tried to explain to her why I ask her to the stuff that I tell her, I have tried timeouts, I have sent her to her room. I just dont know what to do to get her to listen to me any more!! It is driving me crazy because she has to test everything I say. Oh and she does listen to her dad the majority of the time but not to me. Does anyone else have a child like this and what worked to finally make her/him understand what you say goes.

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answers from Honolulu on

My 3 now 4 year old did the same thing. It's the age and development they are in. Magazines will tell you the same thing. (Parents magazine had an article on it), oh and they get sassier too from this age. Again, boundaries and consistency in the main thing. My daughter listens to her father more than me too. She sees me all the time and sees that I'm her 'play-mate' and she tests my authority more. You have to stand your ground, if they tantrum, don't 'debate' or argue with them, just tell them the consequence and stick to it, and actually do it. At this age, they are more apt to argue and debate about things, it's the development of their 'self.' And they need to learn about proper interaction. When I'm out with her and she acts up, I will call my Husband on the phone and (right in front of her), tell him that she is mis-behaving. Then 'we' give her a consequence. This gets her to calm down and listen. I don't mince words with her, and if she still won't calm down or behave politely, I remove myself from her 'circle' and tell her I won't put up with it anymore and walk away until she 'reflects' on her behavior. She understands this and will actually think about her behavior and then she will come to me and apologize. I tell her even grown ups act this way sometimes, but we are a 'team' and a family... and we all have to 'try' to get along. I tell her if she's in a bad mood, it's okay..... it's human.. ..but she has to at least try to be nice about it. She can be grumpy to herself, but not to others, and I put her in her room (for timeout). It works with her. She understands. I tell her to just try her best, i don't expect her to be perfect.. but at least try, and she will. Gradually, she has improved. And as the child gets older, they will 'mature'...and other phases will come up. But for now, this has made her understand. Or i teach her to say 'no' in a more polite way and in a nicer voice...I tell her it's okay to have opinions, but she must learn to say it nicely. We are a team. And she will try. Like "mommy, i don't want to wear that please." Instead of just yelling "no!" Teach them to say things in a more polite way, not in a demanding voice. Then, this way, she has learned 'respect' for others feelings. Good luck!



answers from San Diego on

My son is the same way right now. He just turned 3 a few weeks ago. He's also started scratching and biting (OUCH!) and throwing awful temper tantrums. I'd love to read the advice from other moms.



answers from San Francisco on

I truly sympathize, my daughter does this to me and she's only 2 years old! I believe your daughter is mimicking someone's behavior, possibly yours or your husbands. When someone asks you to do something do you respond with a "No, I don't want to" or have you ever told her to do something, when she asks you why do you say "because I said so!". If so, that's the first thing that needs to change. Try listening to her, sit down and have a talk with her. Explain to her that her reaction is frustrating you, i'd even explain to her that it hurts mommies feelings when she yells at you. When my niece started reacting this way my sister would begin taking things away, does she have a favorite toy or tv program? If so my sis made a chart, every time she did something bad she marked it on the chart and put the punishment up there. When it was tv time (she used to get about an hour per night) it was either completely taken away or reduced (usually by 20 mins for each "outburst"). She'd also take away her toys for a certain number of days, put it in plain sight where she couldn't get to it and then daily explain to her that the toy is still gone for 1 more day (or how many are left) because of her actions (she explained again what she did to hurt/frustrate mommy). She kept everything blunt & to the point. If she acted out in public she immediately left, even if it meant leaving a full cart of groceries in the store. When they got in the car she'd explain the punishment and act on it as soon as she got home.

She also used the chart for praise. If she did something great (like help mommy w/ dinner or laundry) she would mark it up there and return some tv time or a toy.

This seemed to work for her, not sure if it's much help.

What I do w/ my daughter (since she's still young) is take Dora away. When she throws a fit at that I literally ignore her, Initially I explain to her that she cannot act that way, boom, on the floor she goes. I leave her there until she can act civilized.

Again, not sure if this is much help - I do sympathize w/ you, however, i'm sure it's a phase and will pass.

Good luck!



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi! I am having the very same problem with my 2 1/2 year old. My 6 year old was the same way and for me it seems that consistancy is what works until they are almost 4 and just seem to grow out of it! It's frustrating now, but it's actually hard for them, too, since they aren't able to communicate their feelings well enough yet. Just hang in there, and she really WILL grow out if it:)Until then, make sure to be consistant and don't let her get away with something just because you don't want to have to punish her.



answers from Honolulu on

Ahhh, the 3's!!! Nobody tells you that 3 is worse than 2 do they??? Well, it really is. I started reading ALL KINDS of discipline books when my daughter was 3. You are not the only one who has this problem, believe me. The important thing is CONSISTENCY!!!! Also, you might try reading this book, "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka I found it to be very insightful and it really helped our family. Please try reading it. Also, just say what you are going to do if she doesn't listen and then DO IT!! It is so important that you follow through with your actions and leave the playground/birthday party, etc. And she will be SOOOOOO mad at you, but it will only take one or 2 times, and then it will start to get better (on that one issue only) I think it took us over a year before she would really embrace the "rules" and behave without challenging. I also gave her some responsibilities, like clearing her place at the table, putting away her laundry. I think I gave her 3 jobs to start with. Experiment with different reward systems for good behavior and completing her jobs. It takes a lot of patience, but this is your opportunity to really shape her attitudes and behavior for school years. This is where the rubber meets the road. Steel yourself for a child who will get really mad at you for your actions, but you know that you are creating the boundaries of your relationship. It is helpful for me to write this, because my precocious little 2 1/2 year old is starting on the same path as my older one, really challenging my husband & I. Good luck to the both of us!!!



answers from San Francisco on

When did your daughter turn 3? My two best friends have almost 4 year olds and my daughter just turned 3 in April. I love my friends and their kids, but they do the same thing, think they are the boss, test the limits, BECAUSE I SAID SO... I thought that they were kinda bad kids, a little out of control. I thought that my daughter, the well behaived little girl that she was, at 2 and almost 3. Well I swear to you, the week she turned 3 all that changed!!! I couldn't belive the things she thought she could get away with. I have talked to several child theripists and councelors (I work for child and family services so I was lucky enough to know people) and they said that MOST 3 year olds go though it. Terrible 2's have noting on the Treterous 3's.
Basically I have learned, that this is the time that they are going to test their boundries on everything, over and over. The one thing that you have to remember is that they are 3. Really what can you expect of a 3 year old. We may thinnk that they will remember and do everything that we say, but they dont. They are distracted so easily. and often when they have one thing on their brian, thats it.. they don't hear you yelling at them to stop. Also, to them, everything is a game. The HARDEST thing for me is to not laugh when she goes running through the store laughing cause she thinks she going to outsmart me by hiding in the corner.. silly girl. ANd when she says something that sounds EXATLY like I would say it, but she should not be saying it. Even things under my breath, she catches on to. I don't swear. but i do say damnit and no when every she trips or spills something.. know what she says.. yep. Damn it Oie vey! I am getting side tracked. Here's what I would suggest. Pick your battles, because everything is going to be a battle. If you know she is going to run away from you in the store, don't let her down... or get a harness like the mom below me mentioned... They have cute ones that look like animal backpacks at walmart. We have a monkey, and I give her one warning before we go into a store or anywhere.. If you run away from me your going to wear the monkey. And most of the time she ends up wearing the monkey.
Watch what you say, and your actions. She is going to do exactly what you do. Explain why you want her to do things, not in great detail.
Don't form questions. When you want her to do something tell her to do it. I wan't you to pick up your clothes so I can find them to do laundry. So you don't lose your toys in there. I always thought I should say please to teach her manners, but sometimes that word even gives them an idea that your still giving them an option.

Like I said, everything is a game to them. So in our house, everything is a game. Who can pick up the most toys before I count to 10. Can you pick up your play dishes before I put the dishes in the dishwasher. Everything has a winner, and everyone is a winner when they finish what they are supposed to do.. Not just the first person. I thought my daughter should be able to pick up her toys when I tell her too.. but she gets sidetracked, and says she cant doit by herself. SO this is one of the battles that I chose to lose. I usually always end up helping her. But I split it so she picks up ALL of one thing while I pick up something else, so its like shes doing it herself. Or i sit by the hamper and she brings me the clothes from the floor and I put them in.
There is much less stress this way. I hope I wasn't too confusing and sorry about the spelling and whatnot.. Was trying to finish it faast and go to bed. Let me know if you have any more questions... Does your daughter go to play groups? You might want to look into something that she can do once or twice a week while you are there, but shes on her own... My daughter LOVES doing that kind of stuff and making new friends. Plus a good time to see how other kids act (probably just like yours) ;o)



answers from San Luis Obispo on

Dear M.,

Yes, it sounds just like my great grand daughter about a year and one half ago. She is almost 5 now and she did the exact same thing you are describing.

Just don't take her to stores with you for a while, you need some quiet time to shop anyway.

Don't talk a lot to her about what to do and not do, lay out her clothes and say that she is a big girl now and here are her clothes for the park.

Say things once or twice, then drop it and ignore her. We had quite a time with our 3 year old. She would rush ahead to the store and go in and run all over the place, yelling "I'm going shopping". Since I am the gr grandmother, I thought it was funny, but of course, it wasn't. We just started putting her in a cart before going into the store and keeping her there. When she got too bad one of us would take her outside for the rest of the shopping trip - which had to be cut short usually. It is a hard time for mommies and grand mothers. Dads do have an advantage in not being with the children as much as we are. So you take advantage of his 'skills' and see what he can do with the little run about.

One thing I finally did win on is getting her hair washed. I said that we would play beauty parlor and I would wet her hair and she would wash it, then we would rinse it under the faucet like they do at the beauty parlor. The world has to stop when these little girls get going on their job of trying to do their own thing, I guess. that is if you have time. Our little one is lots better now.

There is such a thing as bargaining with them. You say - that if you do such and such, then I will give you such and such. O.K., then if they follow your rule, then you pay off, and don't let it drag on for a long time. Once you get them into the habit of cooperating they will do it automatically, remember compliments too they work also. It is o.k. to bargain with them if you only pay if they do what they promised to do. If they don't then they don't get a reward, and be ready for them to cry - too bad.

Be sure that you don't get too upset in front of her, but be firm, and don't let it go on for a long time. You may have to stop some plans or let her go somewhere with her hair uncombed, if you can stand it. Let her comb or brush her own hair and be sure that she can see herself, that is a good way to get her attention onto something else.

Good Luck, C. N.



answers from Sacramento on

Hello M.,
You're not alone. In my schooling in early childhood education I have learned that the toddler years are a very difficult time for not just the parents. Your little girls mind is developing at two different speeds. The right and left side are kind of doing there own thing. So the poor child emotions are very high, and they can be quite argumentative. Just keep this in mind when you offer things to her, or ask her to do something.
What I have found in my own experience is offering two (only two) options for your child.

Example: Would you like to hold the cart or Mommy to hold you?
Stick with only the options you give her. Don’t let her set the boundaries, you're the Mom. Put you foot down.
Keep your word to a minimum, too many words can confuse your daughter. Instead of explaining to her why she can't run around the store just keep it with "you will not run around the store"
Another thing that i know can be hard, it might be a little easier for you to have someone watch your little baby while you go to the store with you daughter, or vice-versa. I don't call that cheating, I call it keeping calm.
I empathize with your frustration, understand that this is only a faze, and as long as you stick with your boundaries, and your words she will shortly settle down.
Good Luck, you're doing a great job.



answers from San Francisco on

There are a lot of things that I can say which is mostly that this is normal. So that being said make "orders" dont ask questions. There is also a very strong way to end a statment that doesnt end with ok. Dont ever say it. it is like your are asking for them to agree with you. You are not asking you are telling. I saw it on 60 min. or dateline years and years ago and it works. Also try an have a little talk with her before you go somewhere. Tell her what you expect and even though she is 3 it will eventually get in her head what is supposed to happen.



answers from Los Angeles on


It sounds like it is time to get your 3 year old in line! First of all, never ask her if she will do something. If you ask her a yes or no question, she has a right to answer accordingly. Instead, tell her to do something. There is a difference.

WRONG - Will you put your shirt on please? = Question
RIGHT - Put your shirt on please. = Statement

The right way is to give her a direct order.

At 3 years old there should be no warnings. Say it once, it should be done, end of story.
Automatic time out if she does not do what you tell her to do immediately.

Be consistant and put up with no backtalk. Time out should be in a chair with no visuals. No TV, no toys. Absoloutly nothing. When timeout is over she needs to apologize to you and proceed to do what you told her to do in the first place. If she doesn't, she goes back in the chair. Do not yell! Stay completely calm! I know that it is difficult, but if you remain consistant, her attitude will change quickly.

Sending a kid to their room is a waste of time. There are too many fun things to look at and play with.

When my son was very little I had a problem with him running away from me in the store. I purchased a harness. A few times to the store with one of those on did the trick. He stuck with me the whole way.

I hope this helps.


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