Q&A: I have a difficult 3-year-old. How do I manage his behavior?
I am the mother of a very active three-year-old boy and a four-month-old little girl. I believe in a loving and patient approach to child-rearing and have been trying to get help by reading such books as "Kids are Worth It", and "Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline". However, my son is very demanding, and everything seems to be a struggle with him. He and I are very close. Although my husband loves his son, he is often away for work and they haven't grown as close.
Lately, my son has been constantly challenging any request I make, and 'No!' has become his favorite word. He constantly demands my attention, rarely plays with his toys, and prefers to be with me wherever I am in the house, improvising play as he goes.
I try to discipline him by giving him consequences to his actions beforehand, but I seem to be sending him often to his room out of sheer frustration. For example, if he's playing on the computer when it's time to get dressed, I'll give him a couple of minutes to finish up, then when he refuses to turn off the machine I do so myself. Then he gets angry, tells me I'm mean, sometimes even hitting me (never in a tantrum, only a "tap" to see my reaction). I'll then lead him by the hand to his room for him (and me!) to calm down. However, that doesn't faze him at all. In an almost cheerful tone, he'll say something like: "I'm going to my room, and then you'll come get me, right?"
As a matter of fact, nothing much fazes my son.
With such a difficult and demanding child, am I right to want to end all those negotiating and distraction techniques? Should I put my foot down and demand obedience?
Thank you in advance for your answer!
Here are some typical preschool behaviors and management tips:
- Defiance is commonly seen in this age group, taking the form of open disobedience, talking back and breaking rules. It seems deliberate, but is still quite normal.
- Unlike a young toddler, a preschooler knows he is breaking rules, but still has a developmental and emotional need to do so. This, like most developmental phases, usually passes with time.
- Limit setting is still VERY important for you to do. Preschoolers need those boundaries even as they test them, to feel safe and secure and to learn to set their own boundaries later.
- Consistency is crucial for the limits you choose to set, but being flexible on the less important issues helps your child feel a sense of control. For example, if he dresses himself and ends up mismatched, is it really important for him to change?
- Take a step back often and remind yourself that unruly preschool behavior isn’t a criticism of you as a parent.
- His verbal skills are getting better: try to encourage him to express his feelings through his words instead of his actions. It should be OK for him to tell you, “I’m really mad at you”, then hopefully you can talk through what he is feeling.
- Time-outs and lost privileges are perfectly acceptable consequences for bad behavior, but balance this out with ‘time-ins’ for good behavior as often as you can. This shows him how to behave as well as how not to.
- With the arrival of your daughter, your son experienced a major life change four months ago. For the first time in his life he has had to share you as a parent. Try to set aside some time, each day if you can, to devote exclusively to him, just like you did in (what’s for him) the ‘old days’.