Creative Discipline for a 3-Year-old?

Updated on February 06, 2008
A.F. asks from Frederick, MD
8 answers

My 3 year old daughter recently started hitting out of frustration like she did at 18 months old. Only now that she's older, it's generally combined with words like, "stupid" and "poopy pants" and other mean words. She is not taking me seriously when I discipline her and will actually laugh at me. Does anyone have any creative discipline methods other than time outs since they don't work with her? I would really appreciate some help since I am at my wits end and don't feel like an effective parent.

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So What Happened?

We have made attempts to be consistent and calm and sending her to her bedroom and not allowing her to be around the rest of the family as long as she chose to use that language. Now, when I hear her getting frustrated and starting down that path, I remind her, "don't..." and that's all I have to say and she calms down and re-thinks her behavior. Thanks for everyone's help and advice!!!

More Answers



answers from Washington DC on

We have a wonderful group of Moms of Pre-schoolers that meet together on the 2nd Friday of each month to give advice and encouragement to one another. The meetings are held at Faith Family Church in the social hall at 9:00 a.m. till 11:00 a.m. There is babysitting with nice activities for the children. I am sure that you could find help and encouragement there. Please try to come to our next meeting scheduled for 2/8/08.



answers from Norfolk on

What I have done with my now four year old little girl is, I give her two different punishments and let her choose. It seems to work. For instance, if she throws a fit in the store she can choose to: A. leave the store and go straight to bed or B. leave the store and on the way home choose a toy that she wont be able to play with for a few days. Then when she starts to throw a fit over her punishment or starts to whine about it to her father, I simply tell her that she had a choice and that was solely her decision so the only person she can get mad at is herself. After about 2 months of her choosing her own discipline she has stopped throwing outragous gits in public and has really started to comprehend cause and effect.



answers from Washington DC on

Hi A.,

I have 2 little girls at home (an almost 2 yr old and an almost 3 yr old) We use 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan. It is designed for 2-12 yr olds and adresses how to stop unwanted behaviors and motivate "start" or wanted ones. It uses time-outs and other consequences for negative behavior, but has a very specific set of rules for you to follow, too. We have modified it a little since our girls are on the youngest side, but it is working well.

Good luck.




answers from Lynchburg on

Spank her butt, it is a great attitude adjustment. Don't keep warning her, follow through on disipline



answers from Washington DC on

Hi A.,

I have two girls: five and seven. I also have an eleven yr old niece and an infant niece so I've had my fair share of dealings with girls and their mannerisms (which, by the way are completely different than boys). Now, your little girl didn't think of the behavior all on her own, she's gotten it from somewhere, heard the terms and seen the behavior. Girls, her age, are very perceptive, but also very smart, so she's very much aware of what she's doing and when to do it.

Ok, now the for the discipline. Timeouts don't always work, especially with a head strong toddler, but early bedtimes and taking away the favorite things normally do. If she exhibits the behavior, send her to room and put her in the bed- no matter what time of day it is, and if she's like my five year old and loves her room, sit her in a different room or on the stairs with no tv, no radio, and no toys. Nothing at all. Talk to her, with some bass and authority in your voice, and look her in the eye and tell her that you are very disappointed in her and that her behavior is not acceptable (but in terms that three year olds understand). Kids pick up body language, facial expressions and tones. All I have to do is look at my kids and they already know that they've done something wrong. You have to let her know when you are playing with her and when you are serious. She's smart, she'll get the message.

A little about me:

I have been married nearly 8 years, I've worked full time (outside the home) while going to school full time and obtaining both my B.S. in Info Sys Mgmt and my M.S. in Project Mgmt. I have two girls: 3 & 5.



answers from Dover on

Having grown up being spanked and sure I've turned out pretty well, I was convinced I would consistently use that as one of my parenting tools. I have spanked my son on several occasions, for both disobeying and/or serious safety violations.

I have learned, though, that this has not changed his behavior at all, only that it upset me because he looked so defeated and humiliated after I'd done it. I've spanked him until about 3 months ago (he's 3 1/2). Believe me, he's done the same things I would have spanked him for before, but it wasn't working. I'm a strong woman and it broke my heart to see him that way.

My son has also started saying "poopie" inappropriately (at the dinner table, calling names, etc.) He also repeats "bad words" (stupid, etc.) when someone says it ("He said stupid.") He is doing it to see my reaction, which is always a reminder that our rule is that we don't say it (or use "poopie" that way, whatever the case may be) and that other people have different rules and may be allowed to say it. Time outs do work for him, though. Well, at least he stays in it!! : )

Perhaps you should look at your behavior when you're correcting your daughter. Are you at her level, looking her in the eye? Are you calm? Are you commanding (lower, steady, firm voice) or wishy-washy, more like *suggesting* she listen to you?

Do you say negative things about yourself (Oh, Mommy was a bad girl for __________? Mommy is stupid for forgetting to mail that letter. ) Stop doing that this minute if you do! (And mention other people's mistakes, either). Mommy's make mistakes, too, and you can explain it away by matter-of-factly recognizing your mistake and announcing what you'll do better next time.

Remind your daughter of the behavior you want demonstrated when she breaks a rule. ("We finish our dinner before leaving the table.") Give her a consequence (no toys tonight) and stick to it. Don't let her act of testing you get her what she wants. Children really do much better when they know they don't control everything because they only have to concentrate on being a kid. They sleep better, eat better and behave better when they know they have consequences to their actions. Laughing at you while you're disciplining her needs a consequence.

You have to teach her that you mean what you say, which takes work, repetition, firmness, and continuity on your part. Even when you're tired and frustrated. (Have you ever seen Super Nanny? Some of those people try for an hour to get their kids to stay in time-out and eventually the child does! Amazing! Hard work for the parents, both emontionally and physically, but they look so confident after they've succeeded!)

I'm sorry this is so long! I honestly didn't mean to be so long-winded! I hope you find something in here that is helpful to you. And a disclaimer: I do these things with my son and he's not always on his best behavior--he's 3 1/2 and tests me frequently. But he usually does listen. Oh, one last thing, don't implement these changes at nap time/bed time. Start when she's rested and able to focus and listen well.

Good luck!



answers from Roanoke on

Ignore the laughing, she's trying to get a rise out of you. Play a poker face.

Sometimes just simply distracting with puppets, or making your finger talk silly and telling her what she needs to be doing ... sometimes that simple of a thing works.

If time out isn't working, (it didn't for me), try calling it something different. Set aside a comfy place for her to calm down like a bean bag or comfy couch (away from tv and activities) but also give her some soothing toys... like stuffed animals, books, drawing pad to draw how she's feeling, things like that.

Discipline does not always need to be negative in order to impact. The word discipline means to teach. That might mean you get down on her level and explain why. That might mean later in the day you see something relevant to what happened earlier, and get down on her level and explain it again, showing her this time.

Finding a logical consequence is hard. But a lot of it depends on how you word things. Like "if you dawdle, you will make us late, and we really can't show up to story time late, so we'd have to skip it." Instead of ... Do this now, or I'm not taking you to story time".

Toys also go into time out fairly often here.



answers from Atlanta on

Hi A.,
I am a former director of a preschool, and preschool teacher, and I used something called the Stoplight System. I got a big peice of posterboard, and added 3 paper plates each a different color of Red, Yellow, Green. They start the day off green with a clothespin with their name on it. Throughout the day, when an incident happens, they are moved to yellow, and lastly red. You can have consequences for each color, but my experience has been the initial thought of moving to yellow or red was enough for some behavior changes. Alot of my families have adopted this system at home. You will have to adjust it to your needs, and have consequences you know will impact the behavior, but it might help. I have one on my fridge for my son and my neices. It helps most of the time! Good Luck!

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