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Help! (3 year old is driving me crazy)

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

Lately my husband and I have been feeling completely frustrated and overwhelmed with our son's [spirited/stubborn/strong willed/expressive/defiant/exhausting] behavior.  He's 3 years old.  Most days I feel at the end of my rope, and sometimes even fighting back tears wondering if I've somehow done something wrong or failed as a parent.  



Let me give some of examples of what might happen in a typical day:
-  Everything seems to be a cause for yelling/screaming/protest, from getting dressed to getting buckled in the car seat.  (not always, but often)

-  I ask him nicely to put away his toys and offer to help and he refuses.  

-  He'll throw the fridge magnets on the ground.  I ask him to stop.  He doesn't.  I ask him to pick them up.  Nothing.  I hold his hand and walk him back over to the fridge and say we need to pick these up now.  He picks one up and throws it.  

-  After I pick them up I find him dumping out a bottle of shampoo on the floor.

-  We go to the store and he wants to bring his snow shovel in with him.  I say he needs to leave it in the car, but he can bring something smaller.  Screaming and kicking protest in the store.  We have to leave.

-  Anytime we have to leave somewhere he usually causes a big screaming/flailing scene.  As in, leaving because it's just time to go home for lunch or the thing we came to do is now done.  (playgroup/library story time/etc.)

-  Every morning when dad leaves for work or if I have to go somewhere in the evening...Lots of crying.

-  Screaming and kicking if I'm putting him in a shopping cart.  (the only way I can get him to stay in is to remember to bring some sort of special treat.)

-  Refuses to use the potty.

-  He has ruined several wall and carpet areas while the adult on duty was using the bathroom.  (permanent marker on walls & floor, glue and paint on carpet)  (I didn't even know there was a permanent marker in that closet he found it in and the other time I had locked the door to my art supplies and he picked the lock with a butter knife!)

-When I'm not looking and he wants something I've put up high, he'll start emptying containers around the house and stacking them, to climb up and reach.


I could go on, but this gives you a pretty good idea.  I think he is a very smart kid and just has a very strong will and opinions about how he wants things to go....but I just feel like I can't do anything (house chores/run an errand/make a phone call/look away for 5 seconds/breath/finish my lunch) unless I put him in front of the TV, which I don't want to do, ....because if not, something in the house will probably get destroyed or he will do something unsafe.  My nerves are just a bit fried.  Help!  :)


I go between wondering if this is just normal 3 year old boy stuff and I just have to wait and hold on for dear life and until the tide changes...or if there's something we're doing wrong, that we can change.  It's especially hard when I talk to friends with kids and I feel like I'm the only one dealing with this kind of thing.  ...or they say "oh, I just told her once not to do it, and she never did it again."  or "he pretty much just wanted to use the potty and taught himself."  I can almost never even accomplish a simple errand with my son in tow  (unless it's just a drive through)  with out feeling completely frazzled afterwards because of him always trying to run off or having a fit about everything.  I feel like we have to miss out on lots of fun kid things because they require him to sit, follow along, and not wonder off and do his own thing for 5 minutes.


Surely someone else has been through this and has some sort of advice or direction to point me in.  I've even wondered if I should find some sort of parenting coach.  Man, I was such a good parent before I had a kid.  ;)


Edited by GuavaGirl - 4/16/13 at 12:39pm
post #2 of 13

I recommended this on another thread, but I'm almost through the book now, and I see how it might help you:


The Way of Boys by Anthony Rao


There's some good stuff in there about promoting impulse control, teaching recognition of boundaries.

Transitions are tough at this age for my DS, too. Some things that work for us are talking about the plan for the day in advance, giving a 5-10 minute warning before going, singing the Vamonos song from Dora, and building in 10 extra minutes when possible to keep my stress level lower.  

post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thank you!  I will definitely look into this book.  Any sort of direction would be amazing, so this seems perfect.  


I think something else that makes things harder is that he's not super strong in his communication/mental maturity.  As in, other kids his same age are more verbal and able to understand and express more complex thought.  If I talk about something that we'll be doing tomorrow...it doesn't seem that he understands the concept of "tomorrow".  ...things like that.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and respond!  It seems like everyone I know in real life doesn't understand (they have girls) or they've just given up and resorted to lots of spanking.

post #4 of 13

My daughter was very  much like this. It is exhausting! My dd is now 5 and a much more pleasant child. I feel like I can breath again.


It sounds like transitions are a major trigger for him. I wonder what you can do to minimize that - timers, count downs, soothing transition music?


I had to go extreme on being consistent. My kid is very sensitive and she senses inconsistency as weakness. If I say it I better mean it and follow through. She doesn't get warnings. Misbehavior equals consequence, period. I don't really mean punishment, I'm big on positive reinforcement most of the time. If something negative does happen I try to take a neutral stance. Safety rules are always enforced and non negotiable.

You didn't pick up your toys when asked and now want to go outside? Sorry, not until you pick up your toys. Do you want to do it yourself or with my help? Insert gigantic tantrum. Sorry, you chose to have a fit instead of picking up toys to go outside and now it is dark. You have a chance to make a better decision tomorrow Another gigantic tantrum. I know it can go on and on like that but I swear my kid pushed and pushed until she was finally convinced I meant it. She still does push sometimes but I believe she is looking for reassurance that mommy says it and mommy means it. If you tell him to pick up toys, he doesn't do it and you do it for him what will he learn? That you will always do it for him.


She became violent and bit me once on the inside of my arm, broke the skin through a long sleeve shirt. I have the scar to prove it. At that point I brought a car seat in my house and strapped her in when she was violent. I hated to do it and questioned my judgement but I also couldn't let her hurt me, my son, or herself. I was so worried about her at this point I sought help from a counselor for myself. We got through it. If you feel like therapy might be helpful I would suggest it.


I'm also super on top of how she is feeling and make sure to take snacks and things that help her along with us at all times. I provide lots of room for independence, sensory play, and other needs that I've identified. I've found that my daughter is a much more pleasant person if she can get some swinging in every day. We installed a hammock swing in our basement. Makes life much more pleasant. I also found that water is calming for her. When I can see that a problem is coming a nice warm soothing bath can turn things around. I say yes and every opportunity. Its hard when I say no but saying yes almost always helps.


Don't give up! You will find what works for your child. You will have rest again. I will say it is okay to prioritize yourself and get breaks so you can be a better mom. I didn't do that enough.

post #5 of 13
I think much of what you described is your child going through is a developmentally appropriate push for independence.

I would suggest the book Unconditional Parenting.

I try and 'work with' my little one to see if we can come to a mutual agreement. And I constantly re-evaluate if what I'm asking of him is reasonable both developmentally and just on a person to person level. I found that for myself, that I need to have a good reason for demanding that my child do something. Like is it dangerous?

I have found that when he is given more autonomy, we have more peace
post #6 of 13

The age of 3 is often worse than the terrible two's.. Then they turn 4 and think they know everything and its like having a teenager in the house. I have 2 boys - 4 yrs and 2.5 yrs. My older son is a lot like your son. We have found that giving him choices helps, that way he can decide what *he* wants to do and feels in control. Like "you can pick up your toys now and get a snack, or don't pick them up and wait to eat until dinner".  My son's personality type is that he always needs a task, boredom makes him misbehave and not listen. And we have a huge problem with not listening.


We also started a chart where when he listens and does his daily "chores" (easy things like picking up his toys, eating his dinner, being nice to his brother) he gets and X. If he fills up all the X's for the day, he gets a small prize. And consistancy is key. No matter how bad the tantrum, don't give in.  Also, let him know you understand his feelings, you understand why he's upset. Because he can't verbalize too well, like you said, he may feel you aren't understanding him and that upsets kids very much.


If you feel he isn't talking well enough to communicate, have you thought about speech classes? In my state we have Early Intervention for before 3, then the public school system has a a program for after 3. My son got into the public school system one when he was 3.5 to help with his speech and it has helped a lot. He goes to pre-k and gets interaction with the kids and they take him aside during the class period to work on his speech. Is your son in any type of pre-k? Communication is key. If a child can't communicate, they will become very frustrated and act out.

post #7 of 13

We have a 3 and a half DS and a 13 months DS.


I think that transitions are so hard for 3y.o., unless you have a very regular routine. We don't have a routine at all.

so here is what works for as:

- changing my way of perceiving his ''misbehavior'' by seeing the world from his eyes: it is super frustrating to have to stop things that he is enjoying.

- we never punish, don't reward, never bribe.

- we don't bribe, but remind him of what is coming next: '' we will be leaving the park soon, because we will be preparing a meal together.''  and then playfully: '' so, you are going to prepare pasta or rice? I can help you, and we will make dinner together''. There is always something ''fun'', coming in his life: helping me with laundry, playing with his trains, listening to his favorite CD in the car and sing together. I don't consider this bribing, just reminding him that the transition is all worth it.

- I try to not forget that he is really just 3 y.o. That's very young. He is my oldest, but when I get upset against him, I imagine that he has an imaginary 12 and 8 y.o brothers, and he is the youngest. my expectations change right away when I realize how young he is.

- we do a lot of cuddling for no reason other then just because. like 20 times/day. He co-sleeps with DH. I still babywear him when I think he needs more of continuous close contact. basically, we still ',baby'' him a lot....because really, he is still very very young. 

- the cuddling/babywearing ect is independent from his behavior. even if he spent the morning throwing fridge magnet, I would still hug him as much as usually (I would explain that his behavior is not OK, that I can't accept this). But I will try to figure out why he is throwing stuff, usually: hunger, tiered.....or, an emotion that he doesn't know how to express. If I find out what emotion he is feeling, name it for him, then explain that even if he does feel stron ', frustration, boredom, rage etc'' he shouldn,t throw fridge magnet on the floor.


It works most of the time. Sometimes it doesn't. and sometimes, I don't behave well neither (even though I am 32!)


Now, my DS1 temperament might be verry different then yours, and maybe, when DS2 will be 3, all the above would be useless.

post #8 of 13
Hi -

Here is my experience:
My daughter was wonderful for a 2 year old, then she turned 3. My cute, adorable DD turned into a tantrum-throwing, NO monster at times.

I can't say I have it all figured out yet, but a few options I am trying include:

1) Super Nanny TV show Timeout Technique - this has worked great in getting her to stop unwanted behaviors such as drawing on the wall, jumping on furniture. It did not do anything for tantrums and seemed to make things worse so,
2) I am reading: Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach - this has other techniques which focus on PRAISE and I am getting some improvements with this as well. This technique as far as I've read in the book (I'm not done yet) mentions that every time you catch your child doing something well - then make a BIG deal out of it instead of making a big deal out of the misbehavior. So when she plays well, is quiet, is compliant, she gets lots of praise. You may not think your child is 'difficult' or 'this difficult' but it seems to have some good ideas no matter how your child behaves.
3) appointment for chiropractic care. My cranial-sacral practitioner reminded me that when we have our cervical bones out of alignment, then we could be experiencing real large emotions that are often-times out of proportion to the actual situation. Since I had recently gone through this myself, I can attest to having a single chiropractic appt that can help in feeling a lot more calm! I was experiencing a lot of anger that didn't seem appropriate - once my neck was straightened out, I was a lot more calm. So maybe my DD is having this same issue? I know she loves jumping at the trampoline park so maybe something did get a bit off ? We have our appt next Friday.

One more thing to keep an eye out for - is it diet related? I have read where some children have issues especially with artificial food colors and flavors and this could contribute to acting-out behavior.

and lastly, I do agree that a routine is very beneficial at this age. They may resist at the beginning but soon it is something that is expected.

Good Luck!
post #9 of 13

edited out

Edited by Snapdragon - 4/20/13 at 8:14pm
post #10 of 13
Edited by skycheattraffic - 4/20/13 at 9:41pm
post #11 of 13


Edited by Snapdragon - 4/20/13 at 8:50pm
post #12 of 13

Sounds just like my daughter at that age.  She's almost 7 now, and much, much more even...though she still has a fiery temper, she listens to direction better and is able to talk things out/not do such crazy things all the time.  Quite literally, almost every one of the bullet points you typed out happened in my house, too, with her; I won't type them all out here, since you summarized pretty well. 


I would advise to actually NOT get into battles of wills with him - but don't mistake that as me saying let him do whatever/whenever; just gently but firmly and consisteny enforce limits.  If you have to leave, leave, after doing a transition "ritual" (however you do it, 2 more slides, one more goodbye, etc...that part is up to you), even if you're carrying him kicking and screaming...empathize, don't patronize, don't shame him, just get the leaving done if it's time to go (getting over being embarrased by tantrums was one of the greatest "gifts" my daughter gifted me.  I used to be so obnoxious/haughty about other kids tantrums....served me right!  LOL) .  If you have to remove an item for safety reasons, remove the item.  Explain what you're doing and why, maintain your own boundaries of safety, and just....endure.


 Probably not what you want to hear...but I will tell you that at almost 7 she is mostly a delight to be around, somethine which I could absolutely NOT say when she was 3 (I loved her with all my heart when she was 3, but she sucked a lot of emotional energy at that stage).


 I would also suggest making a "safe room".  For all the other things she climbed and worked around and messed with and broke/markered/cut (she was and still is a master of finding things that were purposely made difficult to access), we made her bedroom a safe room by bolting furniture to the wall, using roller blinds instead of mini blinds, having only safe/nonmessy toys in there, and put a swing gate on the door.  She climbed everything else, but seemed to really understand that her room was a safe place to be when mom had to do things for a few minutes, and she didn't try to climb that gate, thank goodness.  I'd also gently suggest reconsidering your TV stance....sometimes we have to parent the kid we have differently than we initially envisioned...that was a lesson my second born taught me BIG TIME.  You can carefully monitor content, but if it's something that buys you 10 minutes when nothing else will, DO.IT.  Don't torture yourself, because burn out is NO JOKE.  Another lesson I learned the hard way.  


For the not cleaning up, make sure you're being super specific about exactly what you want him to do, and my kids have never been able to resist a race for cleaning up -  "Lets see who can get the most blocks put away in a minute!"  "I'm going to put more magnets back on the fridge than you!"  At this point basically I just point out things that need to be taken care of like, "I see a wrapper on the floor" (when I know it was one of them that just dropped it there), and they'll take care of it.


Time outs and punitive things with kids like this, at this age, are just a recipe for disaster, IMO...it just pits you against each other, and the stakes keep getting higher and higher.  Let the limits you set be the discipline, you don't need to add anything on top of that to "teach" them anything.  It's so tempting, but I'd really advise against it especially for very strong willed, bright kids.   With things like the block throwing, I found that saying, "I'm not going to let you keep XXX" worked a lot better than "We don't XXX"  or "You can't XXX" - because....she *did*, and she *could*.....but it wasn't OK so I stopped her (and told her why). 


And I won't lie - shopping cart shopping trips ALWAYS had a snack she loved.  ALWAYS.  Only way they went even remotely pleasantly.  We were able to phase that out around 5 years old or so.



**OOh - re:  transitions - my kiddo like this does SO much better when we "practice" or prep what a trip or situation we're going to be in is like....in pretty great detail, stepwise.  so for say, a library storytime, when we're in the car on the way there as we're gettign close I lay out how things are going to go, what I expect behavior wise, what will happen when it's over, how we need to leave politely and calmly, and what we're doing after that.  I try to think of any curveballs that might come and throw those in too.  At one point both kids even would chant, as I neared the end of an in-car prep session:  "and when it's time to go, it's time to go." becasue they were so used to hearing it.   LOL.  It sounds time cosuming/tedious but really took only a minute, and it worked...and still does, and they're 9 and almost 7 now.  The more I prep them for situations and various different variables that might happen, the better they both do.


This was kind of all over the place, sorry - I just kept going back and reading your OP and things popped into my head.  Hope some of it helps!

Edited by The4OfUs - 4/20/13 at 9:34pm
post #13 of 13
Wow....so there are others like my 3yo son born 10.01.2010! I feel for you - i know exactly what you are going through and that this is more than just a 'phase' etc. Im on my own with my little one and am often at my wits end. He consumes all my time, energy, focus just dealing with the day to day battles. He is also considered as having a speech delay.

So, what do i think??? Im not sure if this is food related: check out fedupwithfood.com which educates on the additives in basic foods you would never suspect but can cause these exact problems. Im trialling this now. Im also reading a book i bought from amazon called "raising spirited children" or maybe "how to raise your spirited child". Im finding it helpful but still know i cant continue on like this. We cant...my little family comprising of myself, two teens (thankfully awesome) and a 3yo who can trash the lounge or beat me up despite all our attempts to dissuade this behaviour. Getting him in the car, pram, bath...can be a mission that leaves me tense and exhausted then confused as he returns to the sweet, kind, angelic boy we so love. Tonight he refused to poo in toilet despite being fully toilet trained for months now. Deliberately did it in front of me. Refused to let us clean or shower him. My 17 yo and i struggled to remove the soiled clothes and force him under the shower. Poo ended up everywhere as he fought us the whole time and screamed so much i fear what the neighbours must think. Two days ago he didnt want to get in the taxi...i struggled with my strong little man and once in the cab tried to deflect as his feet kicked me hard, non stop, the entire 25min journey home. You cannot ignore him. He will find away. You cannot talk to him. Reason with him. Consequences make no difference. Time out requires a locked door as he trashes the room, damages the door, walls and himself in the process. He can outlast me with his energy and no methods have worked to get him into a regular sleep routine. Ive had professionals come to my home and guide me but they never witnessed how bad things can get.

Autism? Aspergers? Adhd? Iv been lead to learn about these as i google google google looking for answers. I plan to see a paediatrician.

I feel sorry for him to be honest. I dont think he wants to act this way and believe he dosnt understand it himself....we need answers. Like you do. So at least we can understand and learn the best way to tackle each day. All my best to you and i feel you i truly do x
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