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Gentle ways to get 3yo to listen and reasonable expectations.

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

I have 2 DDs and another on the way within a few weeks. My DD1 (6) has usually been a pretty compliant child. Of course she has had her share of tantrums and such but overall was very easy going. My DD2 on the other hand is pretty defiant. She will be 3 next week and is very bright and precocious. She knew all her letters and numbers before 2 without me every working formally with her, she just picked it up. She talks so clearly that she sounds just like my 6yo with a similar vocabulary. I only mention how bright she is because on the one hand she is very much like a 6yo, but I know emotionally and physically she is still 3. I have trouble figuring out what reasonable and appropriate expectations are for her because of this.


She is extremely strong willed and determined to assert her independence which I know is perfectly normal for this age but there are some things I just NEED her to do when I tell her to. I try not to make a big deal about unimportant things, but some things are non-negotiable (i.e. - get in your carseat to ride to the store, don't run out into the street, don't hit your sister!). But even for other things that aren't an immediate safety issue I feel it is time for her to listen (as in pick up the toy you just threw on the floor, don't dump water out of the bathtub onto the floor, be gentle with the cat). I am so pregnant and tired it is hard to physically get up and make her do what I asked. I know that will pass soon but then we have the challenge of a third child in the mix. Are there gentle ways to encourage her to do what I ask of her? Is it developmentally appropriate to ask her the things I mentioned? I need help. So often I resort to yelling which I hate doing but I get so tired and frustrated of the constant battle with her at this point. Late pregnancy hormones are not helping the situation at all either.greensad.gif I of course love her so much and I don't want to squash her beautiful strong personality but I really need her to listen more than she is right now.

post #2 of 14
From what I've seen with my kids and others, bringing a new baby home makes behavior worse in older kids.
Maybe combination of expecting more and just the general stress of a change in the home routine.

I think 2/3yr old is too young to expect them to meet your needs. Especially safety issues. That is your job.
post #3 of 14

I hope you get lots of useful replies. I'm kind of in the same boat (with some added current drama, see other threads) with my nearly-3-year old, rather bright/forceful girl.


She is also my only one, so I have no clue whatsoever as to what I'm doing...or how it all works....but, I did just want to say that we've been recently experimenting with mild discipline for mild things...


I have found that for the small things that grate me the most (e.g. throwing the cup of pens on the floor, when I've just cleaned them up etc) we've been having success with either two basic phrases/concepts:

1) Would you like to help me do X, Y, Z? (e.g. pick up the pens again) Then if no (usually is, but not always) please find something to do nearby, but not in the way etc (can't think of the words I use, but you get the gist).

2) We have also had a lot of instant success by matter of factly stating that the troublesome/messy thing will be removed from her, if X, Y, Z continues. I feel like a bit of a meanie with this approach, but I keep calm about it, and it does work...so I figure it's not terrible, it's just setting a consequence in place in the moment. She has learned rather quickly that I will follow through on taking (e.g. the pens) away - so now a 'warning' usually suffices.


Am waiting for both these things to become passe and not be enough. But there you go. Always learning.


Will be interested in reading other's opinions and thoughts.


Internet hug for you as well, being pregnant, tired...and still dealing the best you can! smile.gif



Edit to add: I also meant to say that in terms of expectations - I don't really have any (interesting question you raise, and to ask oneself though) - EXCEPT recently I think it's been fair to expect her to not do really annoying things, repeatedly. E.g. like the pen example above. I try to make a clear distinction between things that are amusing when she does them over and over again...and things that are, well, not so amusing.

Edited by Grover - 7/29/13 at 7:08pm
post #4 of 14

Also experiencing a lot more defiance lately from my 3 year old.  It's suddenly VERY hard to get her to go places and do things she needs to do, and she doesn't seem to understand that I'm....in charge.  She seems to be doing a bit better lately when we have lots of talks about common problems before they occur.  We've been talking a lot, for instance, about how fun outings are no fun for me if they end in a big fight over going home.  I've been reiterating - during calm times - that it's fine for her to be angry, cry, stomp her feet, etc., but that she still needs to do the things that I ask.  Sometimes, I think, she's able to recall these conversations in the heat of the moment. 


Another thing that helps wording things differently.  This is the only example I can currently think of, but I remember recently telling her "When you keep your knees open the peepee can spray out of the potty."  She immediately closed them.  I remember this one because I was seconds away from saying "Close your knees so the peepee stays in the potty."  I am sure that she would have ignored me if I said that.  So, trying to just calmly state a fact and let her solve the problem instead of asking her to do something - which she'd likely refuse. 


That's all I've got, but I'll be watching this thread for more ideas!


Good luck with the new baby.

post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by chel View Post

From what I've seen with my kids and others, bringing a new baby home makes behavior worse in older kids.
Maybe combination of expecting more and just the general stress of a change in the home routine.

I think 2/3yr old is too young to expect them to meet your needs. Especially safety issues. That is your job.

Um, yeah I understand that, I am not incompetent. Of course safety issues are my job. I would never actually allow her to not use her carseat or run in the street. The problem is the total battle over it all the time...it is exhausting! I don't think I am being selfish in that, or trying to make it all about me.


Grover and newmama lizzy, those are good suggestions. Any more constructive help would be greatly appreciated.

post #6 of 14


I am the one here who recommends taking a look at Ross Greene's cps - collaborative problem solving approach. best to solve problems out of the moment. Focus on problems - not behaviors . Start with her concerns and expectations = hear her first and then share your concerns. the process is not easy but there is learning along the way. generally we try to show kids that we work as a family , talk in the plural and yet try to meet every one's needs finding solutions that are mutually satisfactory. Out of the moment you can together with her make up a schedule or a picture list of things to do , be done etc so it is her list telling her what to do , not you. Consult with her , how to look after the baby , how we can keep the home tidy and livable, in other words - collaborate with you being the guide by the side. it is not easy but the work must be done ' out of the moment'. Also general chatting about other peoples, animals concerns or perspectives , identifying their concerns and perspectives , defining a problem , finding mutually satisfactory solutions helps kids get into the ' family thinking ' mode 

post #7 of 14

Hey Crunchy!  First of all hug2.gif, I know you have a lot on your plate right now. 


One of the things that has helped most with my DS (3.5 yo now) is clarity, and another is letting him know my expectations in advance so that I don't get frustrated when he doesn't do what I expect him to do, or not to do.  For example, whenever we go anywhere these days we are in a rush because I am not as spry as I was 8mos ago. lol.gif  So, as I am opening up the front door I will say something like, "Okay, B, if you want to do up the straps on your car seat I need you to climb in pretty quickly", or "Let's get going so that we still have time to play/go to the park/read Highlights/whatever when we get home."  I try and phrase everything so that it is neither me griping or blaming, nor him misbehaving.  Another thing that helps the whole situation is if I can remain emotionally removed when he doesn't do as I was expecting or hoping.  Like if I say one of the above and he still goes running down the sidewalk or over to the neighbors' house when we get outside, I will call to him once or twice but not even give his behavior my full attention.  Usually he will come the first time I call, but if he doesn't then I'll walk over and either take his hand or pick him up and tell him it is time to go.  I'll put him in the car seat and buckle him up.  I try and do this in a zen kind of way (even if he is tired and crying).  Then I'll say something to the effect of: We can try again next time.  Some days he is just the best and easiest child to be around, and some days it is hard on all of us!  I know that if I can project an attitude of strength and confidence (even when I am feeling like a sweaty, hormonal, waddling pregnant lady) that seems to help give him something to lean on and trust. 


Like you said, there are some things that we just don't compromise on... rules are rules (car seats, streets, hitting, etc).  If you can work on those maybe some of the other stuff will fall into place too (or at least not seem to be such a big deal). 


Are you worried that things will just escalate when they go to their grandmothers?


More hugs, hug2.gifAnd this too shall pass!  Good luck Mama!

post #8 of 14

At that age, counting down worked wonders for my dd.  And you don't have to count down to a punishment.  For the carseat example, I would say "DD, do you want to get in your carseat yourself or do you want me to help you?  I'm going to help you in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1."  Then if she doesn't do it, help her as gently as possible.  Usually she would do it herself.  I would do it for the pens too - gently take her hand and help her pick up the pens.  This should work great with a kid with an independent streak (although I understand it's hard when you're pregnant)!

post #9 of 14

Lizzy's tip about phrasing things as factual statements rather than commands is a great one.  Also, make sure your tone/phrasing doesn't sound like a question when you don't mean for compliance to be optional, like, "Could you please pick up the crayons?" instead of, "Put the crayons in the box, please."


Counting down to a logical consequence, like mnj77 said, worked very well with my son for a couple years.  It quit working when he tried it on me and realized I wouldn't do what he said; then he thought he didn't have to do what I said--but I never thought to try it on my parents when I was little, so it worked much longer on me!  I remember my mom doing it and my feeling only mildly disappointed that I had to stop this or do that, yet feeling convinced that there was no choice; I think it's a great way to be firm yet gentle.


A technique we didn't try until our son was 7, but that might well work with a 3-year-old, is the Treasure Chest.  Get a pretty big box (ours is the kind office paper comes in) and label it Treasure Chest.  Explain that if she does not pick up her toys, crafts, etc. when you tell her to, they will go into the Treasure Chest, and she can earn them back.  Explain the desirable behavior and the amount of time she needs to do it to earn a treasure.  We were requiring a full day without notable defiance, but for a 3-year-old who's with you all day I'd start smaller, like choosing a treasure before lunch if she behaved well all morning.  It worked well for us when we had simultaneous issues with defiance and with clutter all over the floor; you didn't mention clutter being a problem, but most kids do tend to scatter toys, and it's a safety issue when your pregnant tummy blocks your view of where you're stepping!  If you don't have that problem, at least there's something to be grateful for. smile.gif

post #10 of 14

Just hugs here. hug2.gif I'm going through a bit of a rough patch with DS right now, especially safety issues. I have absolutely no idea how I will get him into the car out and about with a baby; I think he'll try to make a break for it.


I hope things will improve for you, Crunchy!

post #11 of 14
Originally Posted by mnj77 View Post

At that age, counting down worked wonders for my dd.  And you don't have to count down to a punishment.  For the carseat example, I would say "DD, do you want to get in your carseat yourself or do you want me to help you?  I'm going to help you in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1."  Then if she doesn't do it, help her as gently as possible.  Usually she would do it herself. 

We do this with our 2 and 4 year old.  My DD (4years) sounds like yours...very precocious, verbal, and independent.  I also try and make it a game and count the other way..."can you do up your car seat buckles before I count to 10?"  

post #12 of 14

Oh, dear CrunchyMama - I know first hand how hard it is when you're exhausted from growing a new life while nurturing 2 more young ones! hug2.gif You finally get a second to sit down and put your swollen feet up, and the youngest is into something you've told them a thousand times to leave alone, and they just won't listen when you ask them to stop. It made me want to scream...or cry...or both! Here is my suggestion:


We started a "One Time Rule" at our house. We explained to the children that when we ask them to do something, we will always ask nicely the first time, and we expect them to do it right then, or there will be consequences.  I basically told the kids that when they don't listen, it makes me feel hurt and frustrated because they are being disrespectful - but when they listen to me, it shows me they love me and respect me, and that they care about helping our whole family. (You can phrase this any way you feel your kids will understand.) I told them if they don't understand why I want them to do something, I will be happy to explain the reason after they do it, because there's not always time to explain first.  I gave them this example: if I told my 7yo "Get out of the street!!" he would give me attitude and say "Why? I don't wanna!" and get creamed by a truck before I could tell him why I wanted him to move. They just need to learn to listen first, and I can always explain later. 


Here's the key to success with this method: You & DH must decide on clear expectations and consequences you feel are appropriate, clearly communicate them to the children, and enforce them if the kids don't listen. When the kids do listen, you praise the heck out of them and thank them. I give them big hugs and kisses and say stuff like "Oh! THANK YOU for listening to Mommy, you must love me SO MUCH!! Great job, you're so precious!!"  Then they feel all proud of themselves. It also builds their sense of altruism when they feel how grateful you are when they help you with something. (i.e., "Would you please pick up those blocks, mommy's back is so sore from carrying the baby in my belly...thank you sweetie, that helps me so much!" *big hugs*)


It has worked pretty nicely for us so far. Sometimes they need a firm reminder, "Remember - I only ask One Time!"  But even the 2yo understands that Mommy really does ask nicely the first time, nobody gets in trouble if they follow the rules, and everybody is happier and gets a ton of positive attention.


Best of luck to you, in all that is to come! blowkiss.gif

post #13 of 14
Originally Posted by chel View Post

From what I've seen with my kids and others, bringing a new baby home makes behavior worse in older kids.
Maybe combination of expecting more and just the general stress of a change in the home routine.

I think 2/3yr old is too young to expect them to meet your needs. Especially safety issues. That is your job.

I must respectfully disagree with those expectations - in my experience, a 2/3yo can be very helpful (in a limited capacity, of course), and very empathetic to others' needs.


My oldest DS was 3 when he watched the birth of his little brother, and 5 when his little sis was born - and he was an immense help both times.  He'd sweetly pat my back when I felt tired, ask if I needed more cramp bark tincture, get me little things like diaper cream, burp cloths, etc. It seemed having an active role in helping care for me and the new babies really helped his self esteem, and he had zero jealousy (until little bro started crawling and chewing on his toys - lol!). As long as the older children feel included, and you show them just as much love, they don't seem to have as many problems with behavior...at least inititally! I also found it helpful to tell them stories about what we did when they were babies...like "Do you remember, I used to sing you this song, too?" or "Wow, I wrapped you in this same blanket when you were born!"


My 2yo DD loves to help anytime she can - she'll help make her bed, help me hang up her clean dresses, and when I recently had surgery, she'd even help me unload the dishwasher (one item at a time, saying "Here you go, mama!" with each plate or cup - it was precious!).


I think children live up to the expectations we give them, as long as it's done in a positive and loving way. If they can't do something yet, we tell them nobody does things perfectly the first time, and encourage them to try again later. As far as safety goes, it is our job to teach them by example, and they will quickly learn to make safe choices for themselves.

post #14 of 14
I don't think your expectations are unreasonable, but I think it is also normal that your child is not always doing what you want, especially as it sounds like she is your more spirited/intense child. My 3.5 year old is mine. I've had fairly good success with giving one warning and then putting the toy or item that she's doing whatever wrong with in time-out. I don't have a set in stone rule for when she gets things back, usually at least not until next morning, but sometimes I just let it stay in time-out until she remembers it.

I also agree with stating facts instead of giving orders, it doesn't always work, but it works a lot better. "Remember to wipe your butt so you don't get a rash." instead of "Wipe your butt!" that sort of thing. It let's it be her making the decision and she usually sees the logic in doing what I want her to do.

For when I need her to hurry at something, I'll often give her the option of doing it herself now or I'm going to do it for her. She doesn't like it when I follow through and do it for her, but she's learning that I will and more often takes the do it now herself option. I will also explain that if we hurry up and do X, we'll have time to do Y fun thing. This sometimes works and I like it since it is an honest, logical consequence of dawdling.

And yeah, keep calm/zen about her protesting/tantrumming helps a lot. She's not getting negative attention and it helps keep my BP down smile.gif Anticipate the tantrum and let it slide right over/around you. Don't worry, I am not superwoman and always able to be zen about it, but trying to really helps.

Last, I try to explain why she can't do things. Even if she doesn't get it fully, I figure it is better to try and explain so that she will get it eventually and decide for herself that running into the parking lot is a bad idea and not just because Mommy says so.
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