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« Q&A: 5-year-old with excess gas | Main | Q&A: baby too distracted to eat »



Something that might help is a kind of enforced choices. You give him only two options that he can choose from. The only options are either of the two choices. That way he gets to choose and you also get to make the judgement calls.

For example:
"We can read a book and then have a snack or we can just have a snack. There aren't any other choices but you can what you want to do".

Hope my explanation didn't totally suck!


Yabbut (to use your example):

Me "We can read a book and then have a snack or we can just have a snack. There aren't any other choices but you can what you want to do".
Firstborn at 3 "No!"
repeat ad infinitum*

*well, not quite infinitum - she really did snap out of it by 4....


My daughter is exactly this age. She goes to preschool 3 mornings a week--and at a parent-teacher conference in November, the teacher told me "I wish we had more like her." To which I said, "Really?!" She is definitely better behaved at school, for my mother in law, my mom, even my husband at times.

I do a LOT of what Catherine does--"You can have eggs OR bread and cheese for lunch" but if her choice doesn't get eaten there is no "dessert" (fruit).

One way that I've dealt with the screaming (which I am 99% sure I read here) is to say something like, "I'm sorry you're upset, but all the yelling is hurting my ears. Please go to [different place in the house] until you're feeling better." We also do that when she pushes her little brother--she has to be by herself until she can be safe.

I feel like I spend most of the day saying no and enforcing rules (playdough, markers, and toys with small pieces stay on the table; no wandering around while eating; no kicking your brother) and by the end of it I've usually had it.

Can't get her near the potty, though. She says she'll go on it when she's 3. I hope so. I really want to hold her to that. :-)


UGH! My daughter won't go near the potty either and she turned 3 in FEBRURARY! I also have a 3 month old. God help me.

Anyway, when my 3 year old is acting up I usually say "Do you need some quiet time to calm down?" Then I take her, screaming usually, to her room (or to a quiet place) and we sit together until she gets calm. We talk, very briefly about whatever it was she did, I ask for an apology, which I get and then we go back to whatever she was doing before.

I also agree with picking your battles and sticking to that. I keep telling myself this will pass...


February. Duh. I cannot spell these days...


Only slightly on topic--but I'd like to comment on how our children our better behaved for others. We had acquaintances stay with us awhile back--she taught preschool and insisted she knew the children in her care better than the parents, and that, basically, she was a better caregiver. I'll point out she didn't have any children of her own. My mother, also--who should know better--who taught 2nd grade for years and years would speak judgementally of how children would be well-behaved for her but not for their parents. To me this is a no-brainer--of COURSE they are better behaved for other people because they don't know for sure on some primal level that a caregiver will not strangle them. This is just one of those pet peeves I have and it is broached here, so wanted to comment!


Ellen, thank you for saving me the time and energy of writing practically this IDENTICAL note.

My daughter will be 3 at the end of this month, and she is simply incorrigible. This after months and months of me (secretly, quietly, not wanting to anger the good-kid gods) thinking, "what terrible twos?" We navigated (almost) all the way through two using Catherine's choices technique, with absolute success. Not anymore.

"Do you want to put your coat on or do you want me to do it?"
Before: "I want to do it"


I did get her using the potty using a technique someone here suggested: wrapping up a basket full of gifts and leaving them in the bathroom for her as "rewards" (let's be honest, shall we, and just call them bribes?). Worked like a charm.

Oh, and my kid is a snot for the babysitter, too.

Eagerly awaiting the rest of the responses ...


Two things:

In the "pick your battle" world, coats, brushed hair, etc. can all go out the window. I can't tell you how many days this past winter my 4 y.o. daughter went to school in a skort and no coat. I would simply pack pants and a coat in her bag in case she got cold later. Funny thing was, she usually didn't change during the course of the day. Whatever. As for the messy hair, I often think of Moxie when my girl's hair is a mess... but honestly, sometimes it's not a battle I can fight. ;)

As for the screaming, I read once about a dad who had a child who would throw down over a lot of the things we're discussing here. He found that taking the time to just sit and hold his daughter would not only calm her but would result in his getting her to do what needed to be done at any given point in the day. My problem is, the tantrums usually occur when I'm trying to get out the door in the morning and taking time to sit and soothe my girl is not always feasible. But I thought I'd throw it out there for those who do have the time.


We've noticed that the bad parts come in waves, usually right before a half year mark. I started noticing this just before she turned two, and then it happened before 2.5, 3, and now we're 6 weeks away from 3.5 and OMG I WANT TO RUN SCREAMING FROM THE HOUSE.


Anyway, about the choices thing, that worked from 1.5 until just before 3. Now when I give a choice-that-isn't-really-a-choice, she just gets angry and balks. One thing that actually has worked to replace the choices thing is to talk about how "we have a problem" and ask her for her help solving it.

Example: We have a problem. I want you to come downstairs to have lunch now, because we are meeting our friends at the park in half an hour and if we don't have lunch now, we'll be late. You want to keep playing with your dollhouse and don't want to stop to eat now. So, can you think of a solution?

And then she'll say something like, "How about you count to ten, and I keep playing while you count, and then we go downstairs together?" Works for me. I think she likes feeling like a part of the team, and having some control, etc. That probably wouldn't work for a not-yet-three year old, but it's something to keep in mind for the future.


I have found that reverse psychology works GREAT for my 2.5 yo. When she says no to something I need her to do (e.g., stay still for getting her hair combed) I just say "okay, mama won't do this now. let me know when you're ready" and walk away. She usually flips out and then I turn around and ask if she's ready and she usually says yes.

For the screaming I tell her it's not an appropriate way to show she's angry (It's just a noise I can't stand). I tell her she can stomp her feet or jump up and down. Usually when I demonstrate she gets preoccupied with the fact that I am clearly a raving lunatic and that seems to stop the screaming. If she ever is out of control we have 1) the naughty chair (thanks, super nanny) and 2) a closet where her toys start going, one by one, until one of us gets under control.


With my 3.5 we have recently started playing "who is the mother and who is the child?" when she says "no" to things that aren't debatable. I give the catch phrase, and she says "I am the mother and you are the child" and I say, "The it's your job to tell me to go put my pajamas on" and she does and I say "No, I want to play more" and this role-playing interaction often helps smooth over the conflict. I don't know how young it would work for - maybe a very mature and verbal just-3.


Okay, I am making a note to wean before 2 yr and 10 months so that I can consume alcohol before this period hits. :)


Piggybacking on a previous comment -- it helped me to say to my tantruming 3-y-o, "Mommy doesn't want to listen to you anymore. I'm going to put you in your room, where you can scream until you're done, but you may not scream at the dinner table," or whatever, and then I pick her up under my arm, like a football, and put her in her room. Boy is she mad for 2 minutes or so, but then she calms right down, because she's no longer getting attention for tantruming. I also never, EVER make a threat I can't carry out, nor do I ever give in to a tantrum. Tantrums still happen, of course. But she gets it that tantruming is not going to get her any closer to what she wants, and the more matter-of-fact I am about that the clearer that message is reinforced.


Boy, was this ever me 4 months ago--see here:


...and thank you all for your advice, much of which helped!

The constant screaming about everything, ugh. Things are definitely better now--it helped to just say "I'm not listening to you when you yell" and move on to something else. I also had to get past the false choices, which totally stopped working. ("NO, I don't want to do that OR that, I want to do THIS.")

I'm on my way out the door so I'll make it quick--here's what helped us:

-removing our attention/presence from the screaming (it's hard, especially with the DON'T SAY THAT, DON'T SAY ANYTHING variety)
-revising our boundaries on when to intervene in something she's doing--waaaay back
-asking fewer questions, i.e. "do you want to go to the park?" and replacing with requests "please help me get ready to go to the park"
-being willing to explain our reasons--that seems to work almost as well as the false choices used to, when our little lawyer asks a coulple rounds of "why", as in:

-ok, time to wash your hands
-"NO, I don't want to wash my hands"
-well, you need to--we can't have lunch until you do
-well, you've got dirt on them and if you get the dirt in your lunch, some germs could get in your body and make you sick
"why do they?"
-well, that's just what they do, they're tiny little things and they don't mean to hurt you, but your tummy doesn't like them very much
-"what do they look like?
-I don't know exactly, but shall we get them off your hands with the foamy soap?"

But probably the most important thing was getting her out of the toddler daycare program she had outgrown. Mouse has always been a demon when she's bored, and she's vastly better behaved now that her days are filled with more stimulation and exercise. I'd check on that if you think it might be at all a factor for your kids.

For the potty stuff, YKMV as always, but we had great success with the Elizabeth Pantley "potty presents" idea at this age. Basically a reward system, but you giftwrap tiny little things and wait for the kid to ask about the giant bowl of presents on the counter...I think I went into detail on another post.

Good luck!!


Penelope Leach says that the one thing you can't do is change your mind once the screaming starts, since that just teaches them that screaming gets them what they want.

If it's not important to you, say yes. Say yes as often as you can. In other words, pick your battles, but win the ones you pick.


And about the potty...MM was three and a half when he finally consented to try it. Mostly because his favorite teacher went away for the whole summer and he had no incentive to stay in her class (if he went potty he'd get moved into the next class).

Look around for reasons your child DOESN'T want to do it and see if you can work those things out, otherwise I've got no answers.


I haven't read all the comments, so forgive me if I'm repeating something somebody has already said. I agree with Moxie about picking your battles. Once you have decided which issues are non-debatable, don't ask questions related to them. So, if your child's pull-up needs changing, be careful not to say "Shall we change your diaper now?". This gives him the opportunity to say no, and he is old enough to understand that something is a question, and will therefore assume you are giving him a choice. If he then says no, and you then start insisting, it is normal for him to then become frustrated, as in his eyes, you gave him a choice and then disregarded his answer. If you say "We're going to change your diaper now", he may still not want to, but may at least be less frustrated...


I just want to offer that I was the one wanting to stay inside, because my 3yo had a habit of just taking off and running. This was okay at the park but not, say, at a mall. I pretty much stayed indoors the whole year, I think, but now at four she's good in public places and seems to understand the whole safety issue a bit better.


My daughter is only 26 months at this point so maybe there's worse to come...but she sure is negative about most of the things you all have mentioned. Diaper changes, getting clothes on and off, transitions from activities or mealtimes, etcetera ad infinitum.

This advice comes from my mother: just pick her up and do what needs to be done while chattering on about something else. I wasn't sure it would work, and also a little philosophically opposed (isn't it better and more respectful to give information about what's going to happen?) --but I tried it today and was ASTOUNDED. It works for now!


I've come across this website when I googled "appropriate toddler behaviour, 3 years". Seems they all are a bit troublesome at this age of increasing self awareness so I'm not worried about it. What astounded me though is the number of moms talking about 2,5 to over 3 year olds still in nappies. I have started both my kids at 8 months on the potty and my 18 month old has not made a "poo" in her nappy since she is about a year old. She tells me when she needs to go and I put her on. She's been on the big toilet now (with a smaller seat on) for 2 or 3 months and my older daughter (3 years and 3 months) does not even wear a nappy at night anymore!


I can't tell you how comforting it is to read all of these posts. I was starting to wonder if something was wrong with my daughter...or me or my husband. Mondays are especially awful. She hates the fact that we have to go to work/school, and dressing is like putting a clothes on a bucking Bronco. After a week of taking her to school in her pajamas or pull-ups, I finally decided that clothes weren't negotiable anymore. All of this is compounded by the fact that her weekend naps are poor (even in her closed room will only sleep for maybe an hour), so by Monday morning she is still catching up on sleep. I wish I could be home with her all the time, but we need my salary. And so it goes...I'm worn out. Get me to 4...I hear it's better!


I have a gorgeous, but fiery 3 year old who is still in nappies and I have to say that I find comments like this really frustrating:

'What astounded me though is the number of moms talking about 2,5 to over 3 year olds still in nappies. I have started both my kids at 8 months on the potty and my 18 month old has not made a "poo" in her nappy since she is about a year old. She tells me when she needs to go and I put her on.'

Good for you - well done. We too started introducing the idea of a potty at a young age, we had a few successes early on, then 3 weeks of being toilet trained, and now she's gone back to wanting the comfort of a nappy - screaming and crying if we put a potty anywhere near her. I have tried everything and asked everyone for advice. All that I've learnt is that each child is different and that it's the one thing you can't force. I'm finding it hard to remember that it's not that I'm failing as a parent. Especially when I read comments like that.

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  • My expertise is in helping people be who they want to be, with a specialty in how being a parent fits into everything else. I like people. I like parents. I think you're doing a fantastic job. The nitty-gritty of what you do with your kids is up to you, although I'm happy to post questions here to get data points of how you could try approaching different stages, because, let's face it, this shit is hard. As for me, I have two kids who sleep through the night and can tie their own shoes. I've been a married SAHM, a married freelance WAHM, a divorcing WOHM, a divorced WOHM, and now a WAHM again. I'm not buying the Mommy Wars and I'll come sit next to you no matter how you're feeding your kid. When in doubt, follow the money trail. And don't believe the hype.
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