Effective Discipline Tips for a 3 Year Old?

Updated on June 05, 2010
B.F. asks from Fontana, CA
13 answers

My 3 year old son is in that new wonderful phase where he hits us when he's upset, picks on his 1 year old sister, talks back to us, & completely ignores us when we give him a directive/restrictive command. Does anyone have any tips about how to discipline, shape, or respond to this kind of behavior? Also, any advice about picking & choosing battles? I feel like maybe my husband & I are "on" him too much.

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So What Happened?

Wow! You Mommies are all so wonderful! Thank you everyone for your encouragement & awesome advice. My husband & I are looking forward to implementing a "Behavior/Chore Chart" reward system. Also, the tips given about how to positively word our expectations & boundaries, choosing our battles wisely, and minimizing use of the firm voice (we don't yell) while allowing our son an opportunity to process information is just fantastic! I don't know what I'd do without you ladies! Thank you so much! I'll keep you all posted on how everything goes. Blessings to you all! :)

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answers from Dallas on

For my son time outs were very effective in the beginning and for some behaviors they still are...he is now 4. For things like talking back and not listening we added this to his chore chart. Instead of being "on" him all day. I will gently remind him about his magnets (that's what marks his chore chart with). At the end of the day he gets a magnet for "having good listening ears" and "being respectful". We try to put the desired behaviors in a positive spin. His chore chart earns him activities with the family - right now he is working on earning a camping trip. When we started this, it was just a behavior chart. We started it when he was about three. He got stickers on a chart I made on the computer. We worked on no more than three behaviors. At that time he was earning some sort of prize. I would buy something he was really interested in ...usually at a garage sale, I never spent very much on it. I would put it on the refrigerator to see, but he couldn't touch it. When we talked about his behavior chart, he then got to see and touch what he was working for, for just a minute. Once he understood how the chart worked and saw some stickers on there, we added that he could lose stickers. In the beginning, he would lose one after a few warnings, then slowly we worked down to losing it after one warning. It's been a successful tool for us. It's a more positive way of handling things. And he is so proud of it. He used to show anyone who came over how many stickers he earned.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Parenting your child is the same as disciplining AS LONG AS YOU USE THE CORRECT DEFINITION OF THE TERM discipline which really means - a system of rules of conduct or method of practice - so PRACTICE being the parent you want around your child. If he is doing something you don't like tell him what you DO like. You are the guide, the role model, the final decision.

If he talks back...you must keep repeating..."we don't talk like that in this family, are you part of this family?" (he will answer yes - in the rare case a child says no - then ask her who's family he thinks she is a part of) then you repeat it, "we don't talk like that in this family". Then redirect the situation. There is NO PUNISHMENT, there is only fact. "This family is respectful. This family is kind. This family honors everyone". If you let the behaviour go once (and punishing it is letting it go), he will decide when and where he can use that behaviour again. Kids are brilliant. They remember everything! They will remember if the "punishment" was worth the action.

Here is the problem with "time out", kids learn to weigh the time away with what the "crime" is. They often feel that a couple of minutes in "the chair" is worth it.

Be consistent and persistent.

Family Success Coach

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answers from Philadelphia on

Do you have clear family rules? Get together with your son and create a list one 5 rues for the family and put them up. Make sure that you follow them too. Have them be a list of things that you wold like him to do. Eg. Hands are for helping. Feet are for walking. We speak kindly to each other.
Children watch everything that you do, so make sure that you are a model of the behavior that you wanna see. If you do not want your kids to hit, you cannot hit. If you do not want you children to yell, you do not yell.
Have you son take responsibility for his actions. If he hits, have him get ice to make it better. Let him know that if he hits or is unable to get along with his sister he will have to play by himself in another room. The family should not have to worry about being hurt while they spend time together. Let your 3 yr. old know the plan and let them know that is their choice to play alone or with the family. Pay attention to the feelings he is having and acknowledge them. "You seem angry. You can be angry but you may not hit. You may talk about it, draw an angry picture, be alone. Do you have any ideas?"
When your son talks back give him the words that you would like to hear; Son "I DONT WANT THAT!" Parent "Please say; I do not want that, but thank you or simply no thank you" Again, make sure that you are a model of the behavior that you would like to see.

B. Davis
Child And Family Coaching
Because nothing is more important than family

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answers from Los Angeles on

3 year olds are hard because they are trying to be independent but they really can't be. Picking and choosing battles is key. If something really endangers him then he has to listen - no options. If it is something that doesn't endanger him then let him have a say - give him options. My husband always fights with my son when my son doesn't want to wear a jacket. We live in Southern California - not Antarctica - it doesn't matter if he doesn't wear a jacket walking to the car. And if my son decides he's cold, he'll ask for his jacket. Not worth fighting over. Or let your son choose between a couple of options for lunch or what to wear - something that lets him feel like he's got some control and that you value his opinion
One way to reinforce good behaviors - not hitting, etc. is to do a behavior chart. Give him a sticker for each day where he doesn't talk back or hit you or bother his sister. After 10 stickers he'll get a special treat. Kids respond better to positive reinforcement then constant yelling. If we yell all the time they tune us out.

Hope this helps! Good luck!

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answers from Las Vegas on

I started using the naughty corner when my children were 3 and hitting was definitely one of the behaviors that landed my kids in the naughty corner because I wanted them to know that physical aggression was one of the worst things that they could do. The general rule of thumb for the naughty is 1 minute times the child's age (i.e., 3 year old gets 3 minutes). After they got out of the naughty corner, we review what landed them in the naughty corner, what other things that they could have done instead of hitting and I always have my child say their sorry.

As far as picking a choosing battles, I draw a hard line on safety issues, using manners and knowing to be respectful to my husband and I and other adults. Whenever my kids get in trouble, they do get time out or restriction now that they are older, but we always talk about how they could have made better choices and I always have them make things right but apologizing or doing a "do over" with the situation where they get to do over the situation that got them in trouble in the first place, but this time, making a better choice.

As for other issues that have to deal with my children's preferences (such as what they are going to wear or how much they are going to eat) or natural tendencies (they're slow, they wipe their dirty hands on their clothes), I may speak to them about it and there are times when I can be a bit (okay, very) annoyed with them, but I try not to make a big fuss about these smaller issues.

Hope this helps.

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answers from Jacksonville on

Don't encourage it by responding back harshly. Address the hitting and the talking back, but there is more to it than that. At this age they mimick what they see you do, so if you hit him, he thinks the way to deal with the issue is to hit too. If you shout at him or say harshly don't do that, etc, he will react to his situations like that. You think you are disciplining and it is supposed to get to them, but it doesn't get it that way, it goes thru one ear and out the next. Use positive reinforcement instead. Ex. You tell him to put away his shoes, he pretends he doesn't hear, you tell him again, this time he hears but doesn't do it. Get down to his level, look in his eyes and repeat firmly, provide consequence like "I will take away your toy", then give him a chance to do what you say. You have to "detox" him from what he has learned by teaching him how to positively deal with his anger and frustration of not being heard, not getting his independence and the possible lack of attention from you and your husband...At 3yrs old, play play and more play is good for re-directing some of the behaviors. The opposite to the shoe scenario is to be playful about it.

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answers from San Diego on

Hello, As far as picking your battles, ask yourself, "Is this something which will matter in a year (or twenty years)? If not, then maybe you should just ignore it. Usually, ignoring things works best, but hitting and such can't be ignored. I had to go to the extreme with one of our grandsons (we had custody) who had anger issues. I would have to put him in his room until he calmed down, and usually had to hold the door closed. As soon as he would be calm, I would open the door and take his little hand and tell him, "We'll try again." He is now 11 years old and a sweetheart. Again, he had some anger issues and had to be removed from the area to avoid having him hurt other people (and he was only 2).
Good luck with your precious family.
K. K.

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answers from Los Angeles on

have u tried reading these books to him "Hands Are Not For HItting" "Mouths Are Not For Biting" and "I Can Share"...also i hug it out with my son..when he acts up i say "lets hug and talk" my son is 4 now..and 4 sucks sometimes...he just does what he wants to do so i tell him there will be no presents anymore for him if he doesn't listen...also he is into this little cartoon on youtube called The Moomins..there's a creature named the Grook..its just a purple cartoon monster..but if he doesn't listen i tell him "ok then i will have to call the Grook and tell him to come and talk to you" and then he listens..its hard i'm still trying to find ways to get him to really listen and not act up.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Approach the situation differently and he will respond differently. Get "Playful Parenting" from your library or search "Lawrence Cohen" on the internet & on youtube.

You absolutely are disciplining, teaching and getting things accomplished but now with a happier and cooperative child.

Another good book to give you some new ideas is Jane Nelsen's "Positive Discipline for Preschoolers" and it also should be available at the library.

UPDATE: I will guess that the chart reward system will either lose it's appeal or that you will need to keep raising the stakes. Eventually he will get used to it and decide to follow it or not to. Then you are faced with cranking up the punishments and rewards. The carrot will need to get bigger and bigger.

Human beings have an inner guidance system (conscience). Trust it to work and he will learn to follow his beliefs and values instead of looking at what's in it for him - his reward. Search on the internet for some audio interviews with Lawrence Cohen and see what you think.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I bought a book when our son was a baby, because I saw an interview on TV. We've just recently felt like we needed some help and started reading it. The title makes it sound like it's for really difficult cases, but it is good info for parenting any child. You can read a lot of info on the author's web site: http://www.alankazdin.com/. My husband likes his methods, because it is based on many years of research. There's also a DVD that comes with the book. Blurb from site..

"My method for changing your child's behavior is based on good science--on what we currently know about children's behavior from the results of sound, well-conducted studies. I do not offer impressionistic beliefs or unsupported opinions about childhood. In the book I'll tell you something about the research and basic principles that underlie this approach, so you get a sense of why it works, but my emphasis will be on what to do and how to do it."

Also, if you look to the right on the site, you'll see a link to articles. You can get A LOT of info in those articles. We haven't completed the book and are already seeing a difference in how we're handling our son (who just turned 3). We can turn him around rather quickly now from about to have a fit to going in the direction we want!

Good luck!



answers from Los Angeles on

don't know if this is exactly what you are looking for but good to keep in mind. When my kids are acting out or whining I often do 1 of 2 things. First option: mimic them. stomp whine cry. (I usually do this if I am not in public =0) )stops them in their tracks. Second: bust out the camera phone. video the behavior andplay it back.Shocks them into silence. I play up the "oh no who is that. oh is that a nice little girl? is she being good?" they get a little embarassed and turn it around. Good luck



answers from Los Angeles on

I had a time out zone you put your child on a chair in a conner and he sits there for 5 minutes when time is over you take him out of the chair and he says i am sorry your kiss him and hug him and go back to normal if he gets up to soon you pick him up and set him baack in his chair it worked for my kids latesst grandchild is 3 and itis working for him good luck A. n0 hills



answers from Los Angeles on

IF it makes you feel any better, we are experiencing this behavior from our 2.5 year old as well, minus the little sister, since she is the only child. We received a wonderful suggestion and so far, it is working great. We got a magnetic white board with a "chore" list. (we purchased @ TARGET for $7.64) It also has the days of the week already on there. We listed her "goals" such as 'did not hit,' 'did not yell or scream,' 'helped p/u toys,' 'brushed her teeth.' ( you get the idea, they can be whatever you want) and they get to put the magnet (also included with board from TARGET) next to the chore/goal when it is done. If those goals do not get met, or by the end of the day, she yells, we take the magnet away. I must say, SHE LOVES putting the magnets on and tried to defend if she didn't get a magnet.
Hope this helps!

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