Help ... My 3 Year Old Needs to Toughen Up!!

Updated on January 22, 2009
M.J. asks from Downers Grove, IL
8 answers

This is probably going to sound a little strange to some but I feel as though my soon-to-be 4-year old daughter needs some help 'toughening up'. She’s an only child (baby #2 is due this spring) but since she’s been one she’s been going to storytime at the library, classes at the park district, and we’re involved in a playgroup so she’s not completely sheltered away from other kids. I’ve noticed that ever since she’s started preschool this past fall she’s becoming very sensitive, especially around other kids. For example, this past weekend we had a family get together where all the kids were playing very nicely together until later in the evening when my daughter was playing with a toy and her 4-year old cousin just came up and took it from her which resulted in my daughter crying and having a fit. I tried to calm her down by explaining that everyone needs to share. Maybe it’s my fault for not making more a big deal out of her cousin just taking the toy away from her … I don’t feel comfortable correcting others children which is probably my bad I’m sure. We ended up going home shortly after the explosion because my father-in-law became angry at my daughter’s crying and continued to tell me that my child needs a ‘good beating or I’ll just have to get used to that behavior’. I just responded to him that in our home we don’t hit or beat our children and left. Her cousin just continued to play with the toy that he took from my child as if he didn’t do anything wrong.

I’m tired of other kids just taking toys away from my child, my child crying and then looking like she doesn’t know how to share, which is not the case. This same situation happens a lot and I’m curious as to how you mama’s handle it?

Thank you!

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answers from Chicago on

Wow - your father-in-law needs a good beating. What a thing to say about a 3 year old! Did you tell him to shut up? I would have.

Your daughter sounds fairly normal to me. Some kids are more sensitive than others. She could use some assertiveness tools. Now, don't be insulted - you could too.

Kids take toys from her because they can. All she does is cry. This is where you come in. She doesn't have to accept it - she can ask for her toy back or she can take her toy back and say, "I was playing with that. You can have it when I'm done." Give her some direction and say things like, "When you're done crying, go ask for your toy back."

Good Luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

A really good idea to help your daughter is role play with her. Use her stuffed animals and make up skits. This used to be my bedtime routine with both of my kids - some nights seemed to go on and on but... looking back, I miss it! I would do things that were blatantly wrong. Every stuffed animal had a good side and flaws and over time, they had their own personality and voice. It became a great way to help my children problem solve. (i.e. big bear would overeat and have a frequent belly-ache, one was a bully and the other animals would rally and help him not to be a bully. We worked on sharing, being secretive, hurting someone's feelings, being too shy, stranger danger, etc....) If you equip her with the tools and confidence to stand up for herself, she eventually will do it. Teaching her how to appropriately deal other people in positive and negative situations will help her now and in the future. Plus, she watches everything that you do so make sure you exude confidence and manners. It is one thing to "yell" at another person's child, it is another thing if you "witness" an injustice" and correct it in a mannerly way. True, your daughter will have to learn to stand up for herself and you did the right thing by emphasizing that it's important to share but.... if it is something that you witness, saying to another child, "oh, I don't think you would like anyone to take a toy away from you, would you???" Then,maybe offer to set a timer or take the item away it it becomes a concern.

Also, sounds like you have a long road ahead of you, with your father-in-law. Be careful not to get in the habit of having to "justify" why you do what you do, with your daughter. Just a simple, "Thank you for your concern. I'm her mom - I'll take care of it!" Should be enough. If it's not, don't let him get under your skin. There is always someone, older, or with more children, or.... whatever, who THINKS they can do a better job. Your daughter is YOURS for a reason - you are the best person for the job. Best of luck to you.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Wow, I totally understand how you feel! Even though my daughter is younger than yours, she seemed to be the only child in her playgroups that would not yank toys away from others...and she would cry when some child yanked a toy away from her. There is a HUGE difference between having a toy stolen out of your hands and sharing...and your daughter (and mine) is not doing anything wrong by becoming upset. I'd be pretty upset if someone walked up to me and yanked my cell phone out of my hands without asking!!

On one hand, we are SO lucky to have daughters that do not have the propensity to be bullies! On the other hand, I know there were many times I wanted to teach her to yank the toy back! (Even though I knew that wasn't the right answer.) Shame on your relative for not even attempting to intervene and teach her son that yanking the toy away was not appropriate behavior. are 100% correct: the Mom on the other side will not appreciate you attempting to correct her child. Unfortunately, bullies are a part of life from childhood to adulthood.

What really changed things for my daughter was when her younger brother came of the age to want the same toys. You've got quite a bit of time before this happens, so the one of the other strategies I've used is to instruct her to come to me if she needs help in this situation. That way, I can soothe her before a meltdown. I don't get the toy back for her, but I can quietly talk her through the moment (explain that not all children share as well as she does, etc.) and avoid the public meltdown. I would avoid berating her for "not sharing," since she was not asked to share. It's not her fault. And, of course, continue to teach her the correct way to share and ask others to share.

If these things happen at your home (your daughter's safest haven!) you can be much more verbal or assertive with the bully about the "house rules." I believe it is very important for your daughter to see her role model (you!) handle the situation in a calm and kind manner -- so she can learn from it. Plus, standing-up for your daughter on her "turf" will help her understand that she is not a victim and is not at fault. All it takes is to inform the bully that "we never take toys away from each other at this house" and ask the bully to return the toy.

Sorry this is so long. I really feel for you and your daughter. I'm looking forward to seeing responses from other Mom's whose kids have been through this and are older! Good luck to you and your daughter.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I don't see why your daughter needs to "toughen up". First, grandpa should be more understanding at this age and a good beating is not the answer. For that, you might as well punish for dropping her cup of milk. I would have gone at him before leaving. Second, the other mom should have stepped in. I agree that it can be difficult to decide when to intervene with someone else's child but if the other child's parent wasn't within reach, then I don't think telling the other child it was not nice to snatch the toy away. You wouldn't let him stick his finger in fire. And your daughter would learn from that as well. At this age, she is just learning about relationships but should not think that letting someone take something is sharing because it really isn't. It is a shame you had to leave but I wouled have done the same if everyone was making it seem like your child was the basd one. I would say that teaching your child that it is not nice to just snatch something from someone else but also to teach her about her reaction. She will eventually learn and maybe at some point her cousin will be the one that is left out and you will keep your sweet little one. When they get older, no one wants to play with the bully.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

After a year of this kind of behavior and seeing my son bullied and not standing up for himself, or as some say, "being sensitive" -- I now send my son to a martial arts class where they work on character issues. They have 6+ concepts that they go through. The one they are doing now is "Courage". I saw a change in my son probably after the first 2 weeks. He now stands up for himself, and most importantly for's not him always being upset that another kid took his toy or what not.

You have to remember that as you say, you **can't** control other people's kids so what you need to do is work with your child on how they react, or -- do what I did and get them involved in a class where they learn it from someone else.

The place is in Bloomingdale and their website is -- they have videos there so you can see the classes.

I highly recommend it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I love Julie S.' message- straight to the point! I agree one hundred percent. I would surely have explained to my father-in-law that I do not bully my child into "toughening up" by using violence on her tiny three-year-old body!!! Its quite disconcerting to hear him getting angry enough with your three-year old's crying that you felt compelled to leave a family gathering. I hope he never serves as a caretaker for your child.

As for your daughter, don't over-analyze her behavior. She is three. Children only really begin to develop their social skills around age three. Before that, most children are engaged in parallel-type play. So, simply roll model assertiveness, kindness, and manners and she will follow suit. Role playing is also a great way to accomplish the same, as the one mother in the previous post mentioned. And, conversate with her in a developmentally appropriate way, and she will begin to make sense of the world around her.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Hi M. J -
Sharing is something that's tough to learn for all kids, even at age 4. From what you've said in this situation, it sounds like the one who most needs an attitude adjustment is the cousin. Her parents should have stepped in and corrected her behavior. But, they didn't, and I agree with you that you really can't punish another parents' child. However, you can teach your daughter how to handle situations like that. At her age, she can "practice" what to say and do (like ask for the toy back and if it isn't given back, then have her come to you for help, and also to practice how to calm down when she gets upset) during neutral times when she's at home and happy. I'm wondering if maybe your concern about your daughter needing to "toughen up" is mainly because of how your father-in-law reacted? I'd say your daughter's reaction isn't that out of norm and it's totally teachable for her to learn how to handle situations with other kids in the future. His reaction was really extreme. Sometimes people are really rattled by kids' crying and don't know what to make of it.
At any rate, I learned some of these strategies through a class called "Common Sense Parenting" taught locally in Palatine through PHD. I volunteer there. Anyways, if you don't want to go through the class (which is great), you can buy the book at this website:
There are some nice tips here that give you a flavor for teaching this to your kids:

Best of luck - it sounds like you're a great mom!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

in many situations at the library, when other mom's are simply clueless to their kids.... I say "oh. are you still playing with that?" and role model "we're still playing with that, we would like that back please" and so on. if it doesn't work. frankly, I say "that boy is not being nice. He didn't wait his turn. we don't want to play with kids that don't wait their turn, lets go play some place else".
i figure the kid heard it and my kid will learn to wait his turn or other kids won't want to play with him either.

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