How do I get my 3 year old to obey me? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 08-07-2012, 09:16 PM - Thread Starter
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My 3 year old doesn't listen to me anymore! He does the opposite of what I tell him to do and he's really pushing my buttons lately as I'm 31 weeks pregnant and he won't listen.  He doesn't want to leave places and I have to carry him to the car/home as he kicks and screams. He tried barging in on a neighbor's house without ringing the doorbell.  He goes outside without telling me after I've told him he needs to stay inside.  If I say no snack right now, he gets up on mt counter and gets himself a snack.....etc. 


I haven't done time-outs.  I've always tried re-directing, talking about behaviors, parent time-outs.  I'm at a loss as to how to get him to listen.  What can I do?



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#2 of 8 Old 08-08-2012, 06:48 PM
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I remember that we had to put a chair lock on our front door when my son was around 3 yo. Safety issues like that are so scary.


One tool is to use is limited choices. You offer two choices - both of which are respectful in the child's view and both of which are acceptable to you.  So then the issue becomes less about a power struggle and more about the child getting to choose.


Example:  Do you want to hop like a bunny to the car or gallop like a horse? 


Another tool I love is to acknowledge his feelings. So when he doesn't want to leave places, be empathetic and communicate it by saying something like, "You really wish you could stay longer, don't you.  You're having a great time and don't want to leave."


Although it's annoying, it's very age appropriate for him to not know how to manage his feelings when he wants to stay and play and his parent says he can't. I'm pretty sure that most of us have carried a kicking, screaming 3 yo. from the park, friend's house, etc.  It's not pleasant at all, but sometimes it's all that we can do when we have to leave.  I'm sure it's even more awful carrying a screaming child when you are pregnant.


Another idea about leaving places is to help him make a plan before he goes. So before he goes to a friend's house, you ask him questions to help him make a plan --- about what would help make it easier for him when it is time to leave.  He may not be able to think of ideas at first. Some ideas are "sing a song on the way to the car", "bring a stuffed animal to keep in the car so he can hug it on the way home when he is sad about leaving".


Also when he is sad or mad about leaving,  you can say, "It's okay to be sad and it's okay to cry" and then comfort him by hugging him and leave it at that -- without trying to talk him out of his feelings or explaining that he can come another time. Becky Bailey says that kids are usually looking for information or understanding. When kids are upset, we often give them information (such as "we have to go home to cook dinner" and what they need is understanding about their feelings and such.

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#3 of 8 Old 08-09-2012, 04:11 PM
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The above posters has a lot of things that sound great!


I also find that my second child likes to push buttons and do the opposite of what is asked. Some she has outgrown as she's aged and some she still has. 


I also find explaining to her exactly what we are doing helps. Sometimes this can backfire if we go off course or go to an extra store I didn't mention. But I try and keep it a bit vague but still let her know the plans. And lots of warning time before we leave. "We are leaving in 15 mins... 10 mins... 5 mins... 2 mins... Ok it's time to go would you like to put your shoes on yourself or would you like help?"

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#4 of 8 Old 08-09-2012, 06:28 PM
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PPs have great advice, and I would add making an effort to give him as much control as possible. Really evaluate whether something is important to you before you say "no."  How important is it that he not have a snack?  Maybe he will eat less dinner, but if the snack isn't junk food, then why not?  In fact, letting him eat anytime he's hungry teaches him to listen to his body and honor his hunger cues.  Not keeping any junk in the house, so that all food options are acceptable, can really cut down on food struggles.  


How important is it that he not go outside?  If there is something specific going on, like you're in the middle of cooking something, be sure to explain exactly why he can't go outside.  If it's just because you're tired, or it's hot, or whatever, you might try negotiating so that the answer isn't a flat "no" and he feels that his voice is being heard.  We'll go outside for fifteen minutes, or however long.


With leaving places, make sure you're giving ample warnings, and understand that he doesn't grasp the concept of time well.  Either give lots of warnings, like fifteen, ten, five, two, and one minute, or maybe get a ten minute hourglass that you can put on a table, or a watch with hands that he can see moving, so the time concept is more concrete.  Or things like, "we can throw the ball five more times, then we need to go home and cook dinner" or down the slide five more times, etc.


You might look into a book that will help you get inside his brain a little and understand things from his perspective.  The Emotional Life of a Toddler is good.

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#5 of 8 Old 08-10-2012, 12:21 AM
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Wow, I am 30 weeks pregnant with a very contrary 3 year old son, so I definitely feel you!  It's getting so hard to man-handle him when I just have to get him in the car or out of the shower or something.  I invariably end up twisting my stomach muscles wrong or getting an elbow in my swollen breasts or something.  Today I gave up on giving him a shower even though his hair is sticky with jam because I just didn't have the energy for the battle, LOL.  We've been in the middle of moving for a couple of weeks now, so I'm sure some of his acting out is because of the anxiety and uncertainty with all the bouncing around between houses lately.  There are some good ideas here, I'll be watching for more!

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#6 of 8 Old 08-10-2012, 12:01 PM
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LOL, I meant to say a "chain" lock. Instead I typed "chair lock". :)

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#7 of 8 Old 08-11-2012, 12:35 PM
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I feel everyone's pain. My son is 3 1/2 and started challenging me right before his 3rd birthday. I had a 7 month old at the time as well. I was pretty aggravated all the time and had a hard time not just demanding that we do or do not do something because "I'm the parent and you need to listen to me." I battled my feelings for a while before looking into alternatives, and we still struggle, but I've taken all of the above suggestions and used them and they really do help. I do do time outs so if its something like we are going out and he doesn't do what I ask, then we'll simply leave. If we're at home and I tell him to stop pulling on his sister's arm and have told him like 3 times, I put him in time out, explaining that it's not appropriate to pull on your sister and make her cry, so you need to be away from her for awhile. It's working, but I do have tired days where I overreact or act poorly still.

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#8 of 8 Old 08-11-2012, 01:51 PM
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Kids that age are starting to understand power and want it. They want autonomy over themselves and everything they do. So they do get into power struggles, and seem to thrive on fighting for autonomy.

IMO the best thing is to give them autonomy everywhere you are able to. Step back and look at the decisions you're making and see if it's that big a deal for him to do it his way. Let him choose his own clothes (even if you wouldn't have chosen them), if he has his own dishes put them where he can reach them and get them out, let him decide what he has for snack, when he has snack, and let get it out himself even if possible. (Just make sure it's as healthy as whatever he'd have for dinner because it might make him have very little of his meal.) If he wants to wear sandals instead of shoes but you think it's shoe weather, let him wear sandals and carry the shoes in case he changes his mind. If he isn't dressed warmly enough, let him go out like that and carry a sweater in case he gets cold. Really let go anywhere you can.

If he has a sense of autonomy he hopefully won't fight as much on the important things. Plus, those things will be easier for you to handle as you won't have been fighting over other stuff all the time. And then for those things that are really important, just do what you have to do and don't make it personal or punish over it - just make it a reality of life. "You have to get into your car seat because it's the only safe way to be in the car." And put him in, without engaging him a lot about it. You can empathize, "I know you're frustrated,and I wish there were another safe way to ride in the car, but as it is I have to keep you safe."

Not wanting to leave places is typical and is an issue with transitions. I've found it's sometimes easier to focus on where we're going instead of where we're leaving. "It's time to go home now" goes over a bit better than "it's time to leave the park now." The image in hte head is home instead of leaving the park. If possible, make it sound positive. "We're time to go home and do (whatever nice thing you generally do at home.)"

Barging into other people's home is an issue of safety (you need to know where he is) and also of giving neighbors privacy, so it's worth digging your heels in about. But if he feels powerful in other areas of his life, hopefully that fight won't be as serious. Good luck!
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