Q&A: How do I get my three-year-old to behave in public?
How do I get my three-year-old to behave, especially in public? I am a stay-at-home mother of two. Our daughter just turned three and our son is 20 months.
Here are a few examples of her behavior. The other day we went to the local mini-grocery store. I told her before we went in that she had to stay by my side and not touch anything. Once in the store, she proceeded to pick candy from the display. I said, "No candy today. Put it back." She shook her head. Then her little brother started to copy her. After a few repeats of this, I had to wrestle the candy (which she was starting to open) out of her hands and put it back. She also did not stay by me in the store.
A few days prior to the store incident, we had gone to a local zoo/amusement park with another mother and her two children. After looking at animals, we had lunch. She was hitting and kicking her brother at lunch and I told her that if she kept doing it, she would not go on any rides after lunch. She hit her brother again, so I told her, "No rides today." When we got near the rides, she had a fit when I told her no. She flailed her arms and legs, spittle was flying, and she even soiled her pants. I took my children to the van to wait for our friends to finish up and join us. She did eventually calm down, but almost had me crying, too. I did not yell at her during this, just reiterated a few times that there would be no rides that day because she had hit her brother at lunch.
My husband thinks maybe she doesn't understand what I'm saying when I talk about consequences. I'm also tired of threats and bribes. Right now we're also working on going number two in the toilet. She suffers from some pretty bad constipation and although we have her literally potty trained, she is not poopy trained. Our clinic tells us to make her sit on the toilet five to ten minutes after meals, but how do we do that when she's screaming and flailing and tries to run from the bathroom at every opportunity?
She also comes into our room every night to sleep in our bed. The last two nights have been a compromise. She shows up around midnight and we let her sleep on our floor. Then about 4:30 a.m. she wakes up and gets into our bed. Frankly, I'm tired of fighting with her in the middle of the night. At least with her on the floor until 4:30, my husband and I have the bed to ourselves longer.
Sorry this is so long. I guess I needed to vent my frustration a bit. I love my daughter, but she needs to know that she doesn't call the shots.
Your last comment about knowing who calls the shots is the key to managing this very common preschool behavior. But usually it’s better to remind the parents. The kids know only too well who calls the shots!
Preschoolers and toddlers test limits. They are trying to get what they want, of course, but they are also trying to figure out which rules stick and which don’t. As the parent, you are teaching her with your rules to stay safe, healthy and appropriately behaved in public. So, especially with the most important rules, if the answer is ‘no’, it is ‘no’. The flip side to retaining authority over the important things is to give her a little power to choose the less important issues. What she wears, for example, or the right to choose the dessert once a week.
The best way to deal with public tantrums is just as you did, not to relent but to calmly remove her from the situation. Explaining the consequences beforehand wouldn’t work for a two-year-old, but preschoolers begin to get the idea, even if, in the heat of the moment, they don’t always act as if they do. Bargains and bribes aren’t the solution either. You, as the wiser one, shouldn’t need to bargain for your rules.
Quiet consistency carried over on several occasions, and between you and your husband, is the way to get your limits obeyed. For example, when she appears in your bedroom at midnight, walk her back to her bed without a compromise. You may have to spend a few nights standing in her doorway intil she is asleep, but eventually she’ll learn that the rules are firm and challenging them isn’t worth it.
The toilet training issue is a bit different. This is the one where she can basically call the shots, so you should wait until she is ready to push the issue. Let her know that you are looking forward to the day when she can use the toilet like a bigger kid, but let her guide the timing of the process.
Parenting isn’t easy, and we all have days where we feel like we aren’t in as much control as we’d like to be, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing a good job.