Disciplining 3.5 Yo by Taking Away Fun Activities

Updated on October 10, 2010
K.J. asks from Westmont, IL
15 answers

So my 3.5 yo son is all boy, and as such he loves and needs outlets for all of his energy. This morning we had planned to go to a bouncy house, but his behavior was attrocious, so after a few warnings I told him we would not be going due to his misbehavior. (The nature of his misbehavior was screaming, climbing on the back of the sofas, repeatedly pushing his little brother down, and threatening to throw his toys at my face.). To say the least it was a challenging morning during which he had a few timeouts.

I knew I had to be firm with him, but I felt conflicted about taking away an activity that is a good way for him to get his antsiness out. At what point do you ladies and gents take away activities, and do you try to find a supplemental (but less exhilarating) activity to take its place for the day. So far we have just stayed home and I told him after his nap we will go grocery shopping, and if he is doing well listening after the shopping trip we will go for a walk and to the park.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I would have taken him to the bouncy house FASTER since he was bouncing off the walls at your house. Get all that energy out and he'll behave better without you doing a single thing more.

With a kind and considerate tone, I want to ask how taking away what helps him is a good thing? Three year olds are tough. They act all grown up, but it is face value because they lack the understanding of WHY people do what they do. Threes are all *me* and *now*. They don't get others' needs and feelings. They aren't able to do this the same way they aren't able to make change for a dollar. Their brains aren't sophisticated enough to have an understanding of the concepts.

When his behavior is atrocious, instead of threats and punishments, there are LOTS of other things that you can do that will help you keep your boundaries and help him learn proper behavior as well as good people skills. Imagine him taking "if you don't X, you won't be able to Y" tactics in an office setting. They wouldn't work. People wouldn't like him.

Instead, take a minute and listen to what he's protesting and find out why. It may be easy to resolve. Or change your language so that it's more how a preschooler thinks. "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen" is really good for this. Fast to read, easy to follow and chock full of examples. Another thing is to approach it with fun. For example, instead of "time to get dressed" say "It's time to get dressed and I'm going to be the fastest!" He will come back with "oh no **I** will be the fastest." "Playful Parenting" is a great book.

I am firm but I also keep in mind that I want to teach my children how to behave well, that some things really do need to be done, that problem solving and negotiation are worth their weight in gold, and that other people have needs and feelings as well. I don't want to just penalize them when they're wrong but want to teach them how to do it a better way. Then they learn.

I don't want it to be face value but rather that it comes from inside out. Timeouts and taking away things from him don't contribute to this. They are external. They may get his attention, but he only learns how to avoid a consequence instead of how to apply concepts of fairness, problem solving and equality.

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answers from Las Vegas on

My opinion, at three his discipline needs to be a more immediate reaction. Taking away an outing is a future activity and in the mind of a three year old it may not mean as much as it would to a four or five year old. I would say at three I would use more of a redirection type discipline.

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answers from Portland on

At 3.5, your son may be able to address his own misbehavior in ways that can actually bring positive change to the situation. As scary and it may sound to give him more say in the situation, if kids are invested in making their own solutions work, they tend to really do it well. ("Well" by age-appropriate kid standards, at least.)

I've used this approach exclusively with my all-boy, nearly 5yo grandson for a couple of years now, and I never have to discipline him in the more conventional sense even when we have 3-day sleepovers. He takes real responsibility for his actions when given that option.

If this intrigues you, I hope you'll investigate further. I love the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish. The techniques and ideas are mutually respectful, and extremely practical. This approach has dramatically changed family life for the better in several young families I know.

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answers from Phoenix on

I agree with the way you handled it this morning. My opinion, if you substitute the bounce house with something else it won't effective. He won't be worried about having an activity taken away because he knows he will get something else. I have a three strikes rule when taking away activities. First time he does something "wrong" he's told not to, second time, he's told not to and what the punishment will be if he does it again, third time the punishment is given. If I take an activity away we stay home and he can play at home. (Of course, I'm not perfect in this! But this is my goal of rewards and punishment) FYI my son is 4

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answers from Chicago on

I feel compelled to disagree with those who say you should just tire your kid out to improve his behavior. I think it is naive to think that inappropriate behavior comes solely from excess energy. THere are many energetic kids who have been effectively taught that hitting their siblings, threatening to injure their mother etc, is wrong and won't be tolerated. Kids should be expected to refrain from physical violence regardless of whether they have been cooped up in the house all day or not. And at three years old they are quite capable of connecting the withdrawal of privileges and outings with their bad behavior - all you have to do is tell them. We are not talking about 20 month old babies. So I think you were quite right to do what you did - now is the time to do the hard work of teaching your child what is acceptable and what is not - if you don't do it now believe you will regret it very much. I think three year olds respond well to 1,2,3 time out method, but anything that gets the point across that you are in charge is fine. Good luck.

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answers from Houston on

Sounds like what I would have done in the situation. I follow up with, "if you had been behaving, we could be having a lot of fun right now, but instead you are in time-out."

Then I give him the option, " let's see how you can be the rest of the day, then maybe we can go to the park and out for ice cream later."

If they are being difficult but not too bad, I usually will give them a warning and say, "If you can be good for the next hour and help pick up the toys and put your clothes away, then we can still go after lunch."

Dr sears has some great discipline advice here:



answers from Champaign on

I agree with others who have said that 3 is a little young to take away a future activity. It doesn't really feel like punishment for the child at the time (since the activity wasn't currently happening) and then they feel like they are being punished later when they as to go and you say no, but the thing they did wrong is long over, so again there is not a lot of connection for a child that age.
At 3 there needs to be a little more immediate rewards and punishment.


answers from New York on

I'm not sure a three year old connects and remembers his behavior with the punishment unless it is immediate and "fits the crime" so that may not have helped at all. Time out immediately and repeatedly if necessary



answers from Chicago on

I like your way you dealt with this as he needs to know you are in charge. The only point at which I ever took them away was when they a)clearly knew what the consequences would be for what they did and b) they did them anyway. You are a great mom!



answers from Chicago on

I think if he had been told if he continued to misbehave that you wouldn't be going, not going was the right choice. Kids are constantly trying to push the bounderies and you making sure that the bounderies stay in place helps them feel secure. Even though they don't know it, they like the security it gives them. When my son was little I used to give the threat of the discipline, if he continued I would follow thru with it and then later when things had calmed down, explain to him and make sure he understood what and why he didn't get to do something. I am not sure in the moment they get it, but if you sit them down and explain they will. They may even have their reasons for the behavior and it is a good time to teach them how else they could have handled themselves.
Good Luck.



answers from Tulsa on

I agree with you. Our 3 year old is having very bad and disruptive behaviors too. If he is acting out like this then he obviously is not up to going out in public. There is no way I would take him to the store without having a person on standby to take him to the car in the event he acts out, seeing you stay to finish shopping and him being removed is classic "Love and Logic". If he gets the power by making you go too then he wins the power over you.

Likewise, I would have taken the smaller child out to the bouncy house and got a baby sitter for the 3 year old.

We really learned a lot from Love and logic classes, they have made tons of difference.



answers from Chicago on

Next time, why not take him to do the physical activity at the
bouncy house or at the park, before he has the opportunity
to show you how badly he needs it by using the furniture at
Also, I suggest reading about the concept of concious
discipline to learn about relating to his behavior on the
emotional level where he lives. Sitting still time outs will
only make your life harder with an active 3.5 year old
boy. My boys are now 15 and 11, they are well
behaved and can manage their own emotions and
physical reactions. They are great kids but not because
I expected more from them than they were developmentally
ready to handle. Do lot's of physical activity now and give
him lot's of attention and loving guidance. Enjoy your little
boy before you know it he will be almost a man.
A. R.



answers from Chicago on

I agree that since the bouncy house was a special fun thing to do, and since you used taking it as a discipline you did the right thing. However, why should physical activity be limited to going somewhere special? That seems to be a kind of modern phenomenon. When we were kids we literally played outside all the time (Yes even in the winter, gasp!) and we played physically inside as well. (I'm a girl but had two older brothers). Maybe you need to designate a certain space (playroom, basement?) with pillows etc. where physical play can occur and it isn't a "treat" to be taken away.



answers from Chicago on

Lately I have been finding myself in similar situations with resorting to taking things away. I try and try to reward good behavior but it is not always as easy and others make it out to be. My son is VERY active as well and try and keep in mind that the park or bounce house isn't just fun time, it is necessary for him and my sanity as well. If he has had a really bad day with behaviors, I have taken away tv or a special treat/dessert. I have finally managed to only turn the tv on for one show a night and it will be taken away after a couple of warnings. I always remind him of what I am taking away and why and that if his behavior improves, he can have his rewards tomorrow. It certainly doesn't always work but it's starting to get a little better. Good luck!


answers from Kokomo on

I agree that it can be an appropriate punishment if the loss was immediately following the behavior. At that age their comprehension level is not able to connect the punishment to the behavior enough to make a real impact.
The proper impact needs to be made in order for them to hopefully be able to understand the reason and change the behavior in the future.

For example if you were getting ready for, on the way to the bouncey place, or already there, and he then had those behaviors. Removing him would be enough to make him consider the punishment and its connection to his actions. Somewhere that connection would remain in his brain to some degree.

It is good that you still found a way for him to be active that day without undermining your previous choice of punishment.

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