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Defiant 3 year old

What the hell do you do with a defiant 3 year old that isn't beating them? Because omg I'm about to kill her. She's fighting us on everything at every step of the way. We've done yelling, time outs, taking away toys, and none of it's getting through to her. Today's her birthday party, and while I"m sitting on the toilet she walks up with all of her crayons, and dumps them at my feet, then walks away. I tell her she needs to clean them up, she refuses. So now she has no crayons and is in her room for the rest of the morning, and I don't think she cares. I'm not gonna cancel her party solely because it will disappoint all her friends, but what the hell else can I do to teach her that being an inconsiderate little shit who enjoys making life hard for everyone else is completely unacceptable.


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 23rd, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
Part of it is perspective. She's mastering controlling her environment, and learning that she can do as she pleases, to a point. Realize that this part of her own personal growth and she needs to go through this stage to get to the next one. Defiance is part of the age. Drop your expectations of her behavior or expect her to exert her own free will. If you drop your expectations, it's easier on your own mind when she does behave in a way you do not appreciate.

Next is definitely pick your battles. Some things are worth out-stubborning her, and others are just not.

Maybe there is more reasoning to the behavior than just being a little shit. Is she bored? Are you busy getting ready for the party and therefore she's not interacting with you the way she is craving? Is she not being stimulated enough right now?

Consequences to fit the crime. You refuse to clean up X toy, you lose it for the day. You refuse to clean up crayons, you lose your crayons for the day or two. She should be able to earn them back with good behavior since one day can be very long for a child - but if this is a continuous thing (the crayons themselves), I'd likely be explaining to her that until she can be a big girl and be responsible for her messes, she won't be allowed to use crayons or whatever...But again, ensure she can meet your expectations and if not, lower them. Also with this, there are times when our kids behave so well for so long that our expectations get too high. Then the child goes through a difficult phase and we have to lower them.

Model the good behavior and reinforce as much positive behavior as you can. When she helps you clean up (I wouldn't expect her to clean up her crayons on her own unless you want to stand there and enforce it for what could be a long time), make it into a game. Race to see who can pick them up the fastest. Go "shot for shot" and each pick up one at the same time. Count them. Etc.

I know a lot of this is very difficult to do when preparing for a birthday party, and today, I think I'd just stop fighting with her and try to keep her as busy as possible while you get through the day, then really do what you can tomorrow and so-on. Good luck!
Jun. 23rd, 2012 03:32 pm (UTC)
This is a well-reasoned reply :)

About their need to go through this stage, that is very true. The younger niece didn't even *start* this until she was almost 5 years old. She was an extraordinarily even-tempered toddler.

But that meant that, in any disagreement, she took one of two approaches: She either complied totally with the other person, or, as she got a little older, outright manipulation.

Neither approach, really, was all that healthy. We're not thrilled with the uptick in tantrums, and fussing, and outright disregarding of whatever she's been told to do... but we've seen the alternative, and this is definitely better.

Meanwhile, her older sister who was a real terror at 3 has grown up to be a reasonable and justice-oriented young woman. All those bad traits at 3 have, by 9 mellowed into things we WANT to see. She's still stubborn, but now it looks more like perseverance. She still likes to have her own way, but now she's learning to negotiate and reason things out - and not just for her benefit, but for others if she thinks they're being treated unfairly.

She's the same person she was 6 years ago, but with the benefit of growing older it looks better.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to tell mtself this is good. I want a strong willed, determined girl. She's always been intense, and thus always difficult, but I know she has the traits that make for an amazing person. But man, 3 is hard.

Also the mother's curse. I KNOW where she gets all this from, and I try to have perspective, but when she's being obnoxious it's hard to step back. I hate that we feed off of each other, and I'm trying to break that now before she's a teen and it's really awful.

Thanks for the perspective.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 09:02 pm (UTC)
Sometimes you have to give YOURSELF a time out, just so you can handle it in the 'right' way and not 'lose it'. I wouldn't be surprised if your 'busy-ness' related to the party is affecting her. Sometimes it helps to say something like "I love you, but right now I'm feeling really angry. I'm going to go and do such and such in the kitchen and I'll talk to you some more about this when I calm down." This models the way to handle anger and helps you get 'control' before you work on the problem.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
That's a great idea, and something I definitely need to work on. My daughter and I are very similar, and we tend to feed off of each other's bad moods. Not healthy, need to get it in control. Thanks for the idea.
Jun. 24th, 2012 09:17 am (UTC)
Yes, this is so true. Sometimes it's so much more effective for me to take a little breather from my son when he's being... err... "challenging", than to try and bend his will.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
And... breathe. Nice, deep breaths.

Your kid is in that stage where they're testing their limits and they want you to know you're not the boss of them. (Yes, yes, I know you are.)

It's annoying and frustrating and upsetting, but it's developmentally important for some reason I forget.

It's hard to get a handle on the concept (much less the execution!) but sometimes being more punitive is not the answer.

When the older niece was that age I found that too many time-outs would actually exacerbate bad behavior, like she went into overload on them. When she acted up, the best thing to do was to take her on a nice walk to calm down. The younger niece is going through this stage NOW, at the exceedingly late age of 6 (!), and the best thing to do with her is pick her up and give her a hug, whether or not she "deserves" it. It calms her down and then she can do what she's supposed to do.

It seems counterintuitive, like you're rewarding them for deliberately being annoying and inconsiderate, but it really does work, at least for my nieces. (And I know, you so don't want to do it. Well, it's that or hit them. Hitting doesn't work, well, not in any reasonable time frame anyway, and when she's in the throes of this stage I'll bet you anything that all that she'll say is "That doesn't hurt, I don't care". What are you gonna do, hit her harder?)

With that said, the first thing I'd want to do is find out why the heck she dumped her crayons at your feet in the bathroom. That seems kinda random.

If, say, she was trying to get across "You're spending too much time in there, come out and color with me!" or "I'm so annoyed that you aren't helping me sort these, here, YOU deal with them!" and your response is some variation of "GET BACK IN HERE AND PICK THIS UP!" it's not surprising that she's going to be a brat about the fact that you totally didn't pick up on her little secret message.

She might really have done it for no other reason than to make your life that much harder, but that seems unlikely.

And even if she did, and you find that the only reasonable response is to punish her, one punishment should be enough. Confiscate the crayons (a sensible, logical consequence to the crime), but don't drag it out. She does know what she did was wrong. Rubbing her nose in it isn't going to make her feel bad, it's just going to make her more stubborn about it all. (She probably already feels bad but doesn't want to admit it. When they say "I don't care" what they mean is "I care very deeply but if I admit it you might know I care and we just can't have that".)
Jun. 23rd, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
You've already gotten a couple great responses that are helpful to me as well, because lately I have wanted to throw my almost 3 year old out the window. So I will just commiserate with you, and think of you and all the other parents of 3 year olds while I drink my wine tonight. ;-)
Jun. 23rd, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, wine is how I'm suviving.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
My son is 12 years and my daughter is 15 months so here's what worked before and what I have almost surely misguided ideas will work again.

Everything was a choice. Do you want to pick up your crayons or do you want to lose them for a day? Are you going to pick up the red crayon or the green crayon first? Do you want to sit in this chair or that chair? Do you want to come out and be nice or do you want to stay in your room and be a jerk? (Okay, different word than jerk but you know what I mean.) It didn't always work, but in more cases than not giving my son the choice between to acceptable behaviors, or even the one acceptable behavior and a consequence gave my son the feeling of control while giving me a feeling of having not to skin him.

We're already starting on the this or that choices with my daughter, because I just want to get accustomed to it so that it's just reflexive when she gets even more stubborn than she is now. And you know what? It's working! Holy crap. Not all the time of course and I still have to go put myself in time out to go yell into my hand for a second, but there IS hope. And that, at the end of it, is what I think we need in these moments most of all.

Good luck!
Jun. 23rd, 2012 04:58 pm (UTC)
timeout for objects? If my (not quite 3yo) son walked up and dumped out his crayons, I'd tell him he needed to pick them up and count to three. When he didn't pick them up, I'd do it for him (only because the crayons would get broken if left in that location) and then put the crayons in time out until he asked for them again, at which point tey'd still be in time out "because you were not nice to them and need to pick them up when mama tells you". This invariably leads to many tears and anger, but seems to be more effective at actually addressing his defiance than all the other things you listed.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
Taking away toys/timeout for toys is our primary strategy for being a butthead with objects. It's not really working.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 05:41 pm (UTC)
misread the OP, sorry! My little guy doesn't respond to timeouts for him, but he does respond to timeouts for is stuff!
Jun. 23rd, 2012 05:12 pm (UTC)
We work really hard to phrase everything as a choice. " would you like to clean up your crayons, or would you like me to pick them up and put them up for 2 days?" "Would you like to use nice words, or would you like to sit in time out until you feel like using nice words?" "Would you like ham or turkey for lunch?" By giving her soo many choices she gets the control she wants, and we usually get the behavior we want
It does not work 100% of the time, but it helps a ton. You are also letting them know the consequences (positive or negative) before they choose their course of action.
Jun. 24th, 2012 10:17 am (UTC)
this is a good idea. it gets the point across without a threatening 'i will throw these away!' in a mean tone.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 05:35 pm (UTC)
If it helps, my three and a half year olds were really trying my patience today. They were doing a lot of back chat, which is their newest defiance and a big upset for me.

Picking my battles has definately been a big thing for me. At the moment, I'm really honing in on the back chat and listening to direct commands that I know they understand. I'm also trying to be better about following through. For example, the girls asked to go scooting. I said they could if they listened to me in the house, because I need to trust they will listen to me outside. The scooting had a posiive for me, because I really needed to go to the shop to get bread. Well, they were little shits and I had to, in the end, say they couldn't go scooting. Okay, I felt bad and also punished myself in that I couldn't go to the shop, but I will say, the message sunk in and they've been much improved for the rest of the afternoon. I did tell them that if they are good listeners tomorrow, and the weather is nice then we can go scooting then. They keep talking about how they will be good girls so they can scoot tomorrow. Being put in time out (which I had to use a few times today) has also featured in their roleplay which usually is followed by better behaviour, as it seems to be how they process things that happen to them.

Honestly, as I look at them building a tower, saying please and thank you to each other, I feel like a crazy person...but well, maybe it helps to know we all have those days.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 06:57 pm (UTC)
No real advice, just commiseration. I too have a three year old. And I'm 38 weeks pregnant. It's been brutal. I definitely agree that consequences must fit the crime, and you must be consistent consistent consistent, and follow through. The worst thing you can do is give empty threats. </p>

My son is at a stage where he wants the people he loves to be happy and make us happy. So I'm saying a lot of, "If you keep doing that, I won't be happy. If you pick up your crayons, I'll be very happy." It works especially if I mention his Papa, who is God to him. He'll do almost anything I want him to so long as it makes Papa happy.

Jun. 23rd, 2012 07:31 pm (UTC)
My son is going through this, and he's almost 3. I set up a reward system for him for doing great things. He loves any kind of coin, so that's his reward. He does awesome things (clean up, get dressed, help make lunch, etc)m he gets a coin. If he has 5 at the end of the night when we count them, he puts them in his piggy bank and we start over. If he starts doing naughty things and doesn't listen, a reward (coin) gets taken away. It works pretty well, and has really cut down on the time outs.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 07:36 pm (UTC)
It helped sometimes, for a little bit, if I put the child to work. If they're busy doing chores, they're (hopefully) not busy being a butt. And they feel all grown up, folding the washclothes, wiping down the cupboard fronts, dusting the baseboards, etc.

Also, naptime was my peace and quiet time.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
I second the reply about choices. I try to make everything a choice and it helps satisfy his need for control. The book "Love and Logic for Preschoolers" was helpful with my strong-willed, defiant child. I tell myself ten thousand times a day "give away all the control you don't need". It is work for me to make everything a choice, but ultimately it helps.

Though not beating, I also use physical force when necessary - carrying a defiant child to a new location if they refuse to go, squeezing a shoulder muscle, grabbing and firmly holding the wrist if he will not obey with his hands.
Jun. 23rd, 2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
At three they are still tender enough to braise in a lovely white wine butter sauce. I suggest creamed spinach and corn on the cob for sides.
Jun. 24th, 2012 12:10 am (UTC)
I'm surprised this didn't happen to my now 5-year old.
Jun. 24th, 2012 12:21 am (UTC)
I have a 3 year old. her behavior dropped dramatically the day we had our new baby. if I'm not mistaken, you have one of these too, no? I know it's something all 3 year olds go through but the correlation between the exact date of new baby's birth and the 3 year old's behavior nosedive was too much to overlook. you have less time for her, and as someone else pointed out, probably had even less time the day of the party. our rule was basically that if she wants to scream about anything, she has to do it in her room. as for making deliberate messes.. I can't remember any specific instances of this. but basically, shower her with attention as often as you can. it's starting to get better over here.. I don't know if it's that she's starting to outgrow it (she's over 3 1/2 now) or is just used to the baby more (she is 10.5 months) or if the fact that the baby is older means I don't have to hold her as much so i have more time to dote on the 3 year old. she's been more smiley, more huggy, etc. lately and is allowing herself to progress in other ways now (mainly drawing.. I wish it would be dressing herself but still waiting on that one.)
Jun. 24th, 2012 03:03 am (UTC)
Consistency is key. I was pretty lax about a lot stuff which resulted in my having a monstrously defiant 3 year old. Pick a day and just start putting her in time out. Set a timer so she knows when her time out is over. If she leaves time out early, put her back in and start the time out over. YOU MUST REMAIN CALM. Do not talk to her in time out, do not make eye contact. She is going to be pissed at you, just roll with it. When the time out is over have her apologize for what she did "You need to say you're sorry for dumping the crayons on the floor." Then let it go and not talk about it anymore. Nagging will get you no where.
When she's being good make sure you praise her nice behavior and give her a time in. Stop what you're doing and play with her for 10 minutes. It's amazing how much smoother your day can go if you stop and spend time on her level for a few minutes every half hour. Don't forget about snack time. My daughter must eat throughout the day. Try setting up a snack box that she can access, some of this may just be a sugar crash.
Also, find a copy of "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" it changed my life.
Jun. 24th, 2012 04:24 am (UTC)
I have a 3.5 year old and let me tell you I just want to commiserate. I also have a 4 year old and a 2 year old who are a BREEEEZE compared to the threenager. OMG why is 3 so hard!!!! Glad I am not alone. Carry on, soldier... this too shall pass!
Jun. 24th, 2012 09:09 pm (UTC)
With my almost 4, I have started grabbing her and telling her exactly how I feel.
"I'm so frustrated with what you did when you x, y, z. I feel like I want to hurt you, but I won't. Will you help me calm down or should I take a time out?"</p>

Something about phrasing it that way makes me feel better. And she realizes that I'm serious and genuine about how I feel.

Jun. 25th, 2012 05:12 am (UTC)
Just thought I'd commiserate with you. Three is hard. I'm going through it too. I keep trying to remind myself that two was easy so this is just nature balancing itself out. But the past two days have been really hard for us. My daughter had a huge screaming fit over a necklace at a yard sale that her friend got because she dropped it. And today she had a huge meltdown at church because the parents of some other kids told the kids to get ready and come because they were going to go eat and go see a movie and my daughter wanted to go with them. Like so many have told me. Three is just really hard, but I have found the calmer I remain the better she is. Don't rise to anything because once you get emotional you lose.
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