Dealing With Demanding Three Year Old – Reader Question
Can you help?! Some questions that are better answered by the collective wisdom of the Bounceback Parenting community rather than just me. Share what you know in the comments!
Three Year Old Behavior – Screaming or Demanding When She Doesn’t Get Her Way
“I am the mother of a soon to be three year old girl. She’s an only child and we are not expecting to have more. She is recently becoming very bossy and expects everything to go her way and that she can have whatever she wants just because she wants it.
When she was younger we would have her repeat the requests she made of us in a polite way and then we would comply. So for example, Mommy could I please sit where you are sitting? But now she thinks that she can get us to do anything just by asking politely. I feel like we dug ourselves a hole and I’m not sure how to explain it to her.
She is also just entering the phase where we she wants to have everything when we go out to a store. When I tell her no and try to explain why, financial or we don’t need it or whatever she just keeps repeating and screaming, but I want it! I want to tell her (and have tried already) that we can’t have everything we want in the world, it just doesn’t work that way. And also, in life we can’t expect everyone to do as we say just because we say it nicely. She gets this blank look on her face then just repeats whatever she had said just before I tried my explanation.
How do I explain something when the only answer I can think of is, “that’s just how life works!””
Ideas for Dealing with Three Year Old Behaviors:
- Three tends to be a time of growing independence, testing boundaries. Simply reading up on the behaviors that commonly arise in three year olds might help you deal with them. I don’t think you dug yourself a hole, I think your daughter is just growing up! I like the Ames and Ilg books for learning about each age: Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy (Amazon affiliate)
- This reminds me of a post I wrote called, “You Can be Kind, They Can be Angry – 6 Ways I’ve Learned to Respectfully Set Limits.” One of the biggest misperceptions I had before having kids was that if I was calm and logical about saying no, my kids would get it and accept it. Sometimes you could explain all day and they still will not be happy. It doesn’t mean you saying no is wrong. You may just need to allow your daughter to be upset.
- I love the advice on Aha Parenting for Limit Setting. You can find an overview article on setting limits here, the end of the article talks about dealing with your child’s angry or upset emotions when you say no. Then search around for more of her insights on parenting a three year old.
If you have experience or helpful ideas, please leave your comment for our community!
To submit your own reader question you may email me at: [email protected]
More helpful posts for parents of three year olds:
- Best Board Games for 3 Year Olds
- Independent Play ideas for Preschoolers
- Energy Burning Toys for Preschoolers
64 Positive Things to Say to Kids
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Made sure she is in a place that she cannot hurt herself and calmly say to her, “_______(her name), I wish you wouldn’t let your temper get the best of you. Soon you will learn that you cannot get everything you want and it will be easier. I can’t let you have your way just because you are going to throw a tantrum. I’ll see you when you are done.” Then walk away, not far away, but where she cannot see you. Wait and the moment she gains control of herself again say, “Oh, I am so happy that you are over that! Now let go and do ________!” But be consistent, if you allow her to behave like that some times because you are tired or because you do not feel like to deal with her tantrums and demands, then it is not going to work
@Mandy I love this – that point of telling her what to expect and then coming back to it repeatedly probably helps her feel very secure. It’s one of the reasons I include “Tell you kids what the plan is.” in my 100 Ways to be Kind to Your Child post. ( http://bouncebackparenting.com/100-ways-to-be-kind-to-your-child/ )
My 3 year-old has also learned to expect things if she asks politely. I’ve been acknowledging her good manners, then then politely declining: “Oh Bugs, you asked so nice! I’m very proud of you, but no, you may not play with matches/wear mascara/eat candy for breakfast today. Maybe when you’re older”.
When we go out to run errands, I find things go smoother if I do explain it to her like an episode of Dora. “FIRST we find the red apples, THEN we get shampoo, AND THEN we find a present for Aunty. Where are we going? Clap clap clap clap! Where are we going? SUPERSTORE!” And that gets repeated throughout the trip (So we got the apples, now we …) Then when things go off track (and let’s face it, I’m as easily lured by shiny packaging as she is) we remind each other that we have a task to complete. Then we sing the “We Did It” song at the end. This may sound totally nuts, but it really works for us.
Awesome!! I love this idea Mandy!!!
Acknowledge her feelings, re-state the limit, and stop talking. Remain calm, and if she is still trying to ask nicely, repeat step one. Then remove eye contact and go on about your business. Keep all conversations very short…fewer words the better. The truth is that children don’t ‘reach the age of reason’ until around age six…some develop it sooner, but a three year old can only think about how it affects them alone.
This is exactly what I’m dealing with in my 3 1/2 year old. I also have a newborn, which makes it SO much harder and more frustrating.
There’s a brilliant book vented how to talk so your kids will listen and listen so your kids will talk. It tasks about things like granting wishes in fantasy… You ready want the x, I hear how much you want it. I wish I had enough money to buy it for you! I wish I could buy you all the toys in the whole world! I wish lived in the toy shop and could play with all the toys we want any time! Important thing is to stay calm!
My 3yr old girl is doing the same I’ve started to make her to some chores before she gets something I have also started to read books to her about sharing and being kind
Hi. I tried to avoid the worst offending situations ie shops/ cafés for a while. Now she’s fine she’s easier to reason with x
@TeachThroughLove Lori Petro suggests that parents validate a child’s feelings and upsets. Set the limit with empathy and hold firm lovingly the best you can. Saying things like: “I know you want that toy so so SO much! Tell me more! If you could have whatever you wanted what would you buy?” I thought it sounded crazy at first but it works with my 3 & 5 years sweet children … I don’t have to worry about my newly turned 1 year sweet just yet U0001f609 Lori says most of the time children just want to feel heard in this big big world that caters to mostly adults. This can be very frustrating for both child and parent. Upsets are normal and once the feelings are validated and heard they pass and you’ll have your daughter back to feeling good again, but it does take practice U0001f60a
Alison Mallaby Lee
She is 3. Try not to be too detailed explaining why. For shop requests, my response is always just is it Christmas. To which they respond no. Is it your birthday. To which they respond no. Then I say well there’s your answer. Be consistent with your no. If she never ever gets anything when you are shopping she will learn not to pester or say you already have something your mummy loves you so much she is letting you come and be with her at the store. You have my time and my love. That is all I have to give you right now. As for the polite thing we always used to say thank you for using your lovely manners. That is so important and I’m really proud of you, but I am sitting here at the moment. You are most welcome to my spot when I have finished with it or you can come and sit on my lap and have a cuddle.
Marie' Kipp Eroh
Thank you for your post. Very helpful!
Around here, we do an allowance of $1 a year. He also gets to pick one fun food in the store (I usually say under $5). Typically, he picks something like a lunchable. If, later, he wants something else, he either has to pay for it or put back the other thing he wanted.
It’s perfectly normal behaviour and a good sign of your daughters assertiveness. You do not however need to do everything she tells you to do. Stay calm, let her know you are listening “I hear you really want…” And then set the limit “I’m not buying that today.” Then acknowledge how hard that is for her to hear (because it really is!). When she is being demanding of you again, model politeness by repeating her request in a polite way and then decide whether you can help her or not. It’s ok not to but the more we model politeness, generosity of spirit etc, the more children begin to internalize that type of behaviour. It takes time but with the right modeling your daughter will get there. Good luck!
Say no to her no matter what, don’t let her walk all over you. Show her who’s boss
As others have said, it may be worth preparing her in advance for not buying toys before you go shopping. Once you are there and she still asks for them, I think the key is to set the limit with empathy – eg “I know you really want that toy, we’re not getting toys today. Maybe we could put it on your birthday/Christmas list.” Another thing you can try is to grant the wish in fantasy – eg “I bet you wish you could take all these cool toys home.” I also recommend Dr Laura Markham’s site http://www.ahaparenting.com
A very good book which I used and fully recommend is: The strong willed child by Dr James Dobson.
There’s a perfect Betty Bunny book on exactly this issue 🙂 “I want it because I want it.”
No. just say NO. do not give in, and if there is a scene, leave the store or restaurant. I did it once with each child…never had to do it again.
Omg this like listening to my life !
Missi Locker Borkowski
We do that too. A picture usually will make my kiddos happy. They know I’ve heard they like it but we are not walking out with it. 🙂
Re – direct her behaviour, giving her something else to concentrate on. This is a good time to introduce pocket money.
This way when you go shopping and she wants something she can buy it herself or if too expensive can find something else to the value she has.
What a great learning experience for her…
I pre-warn, we are not getting toys today. We might look and validate by taking a photo of the toy and saying ‘I’ll put it on the list for Xmas etc. that seems to work for us. Or new toy but choose some old ones to give to charity first. I think it’s normal for this age. Keep validating and setting loving limits.
We have five girls, and each one of them went through this stage. I clearly remember saying over and over ” thankyou for asking with manners, but …”. They do eventually understand. I don’t know that it’s bossy, just age.
Mom of 4 boys and past foster mom to many. Just keep telling her no when appropriate. She will be upset, but it takes time to start understanding that you will not give in when told no. She will eventually. Even my teenagers have a hard time, but at least they don’t tantrum-most of the time! Lol! U0001f609 Keep up the good work! Kids need to hear the word no. It’s part of life.
If my toddler (2 1/2) asks for my seat I get her to ask politely, then if I’m going to move anyway I let her have my seat and explain it’s because I’m moving. If I’m not moving I tell her asked very nicely but mummy is sitting in this seat for now but offer her a seat next to me or a cuddle. Thankfully we’ve never had an issue with her wanting things in shops but I think that’s because we give her pocket money. She gets $2 every Friday for helping us through the week with chores and for being well behaved. That was she has her own money and if she wants to buy herself a book at the shops or some new crayons she can, but if she wants to save her money (which she does mosh weeks) then she saves it. When she does but something we make sure she’s the one that hands over the money and understands the process and that while she may have a new book, she has less money (we count it out with her).
My three year old is a bit like this too – I’ve started making sure when we play a game she needs to lose sometimes etc. there’s tears and screaming but I don’t give in. When she can’t have something there’s tears and screaming but I ignore it. I’ve also begun to take certain toys away if she screams and cries about wanting something. And she can only have them back once she adjusts her attitude. I hate having to do something negative but it’s working a treat – stops her in her tracks and makes her think hard about what she’s doing!
Both my kids are going through the same thing.
I just tell them how nicely they asked but no not today or not now we need to do something first. They are used to me saying no but they are going through the phase of meltdowns anyway. Just have to work through it. It’s normal.
I use “asked and answered” a lot. I tell my daughter no and explain why. Then if she starts whining and asking repeatedly, I just say, “You already asked, and I already answered” and refuse to discuss it anymore.
i use the ‘we can look but we cant touch or buy’ i would purposely go into the toy section and let him see them talk about how cool they are but never buy. Its great she uses her manners…but she does need boundaries..use your words and hand gestures to say no, stop…maybe introduce sign language to her simple gestures. I believe children want boundaries..maybe focus on her giving her setting table chores..it may lessen the focus on other stuff..and of course use positive words
I do similarly and set a timer on my phone so the kids know that when it goes off, it’s time to go or they don’t get to look at toys next time. Let her know before going in the store what your expectations are. I sometimes leave the timer chirping until we are walking out of the store to keep them on course for leaving. I also make toy browsing a reward for behaving while i get my shopping done. Be consistent and compassionate about her disappointment as she gets used to the new routine and this phase will pass!
I think the key here is to give an answer, a quick and simple explanation, and then ignore the continued push-back. If the child is getting a continued response in explanations (=attention for negative behavior), or senses that the parent feels responsible for the child’s distress or disappointment (=attention for negative behavior) he/she will continue to feel justified in trying to shape the adult’s decision. Now, if I could just consistently apply this in my own house with my 9-yo, life would be better here, too!
Just say NO! She is at the age where kids fully understand their own independence and desires but NOT where you have these grownup conversations about money and life. Say no. And leave it at that. That is HOW she learns she doesn’t get everything she wants.
I mean does life call and explain to us why we are turned down for something we want? Your problem is that you don’t want to be mean. But you cannot reason with the unreasonable.
Good behaviour chart?
If you have decided that you are not ready to get up from your chair or are not going to buy something etc, then don’t. And allow her to be upset and demonstrate her feelings within reason. Validate her sadness, anger, disappointment with statements like ” I know you are feeling frustrated but I am staying in this chair until I finish eating. Would you like to sit next to me?” If behavior develops into a tantrum I would offer a warning then a consequence, such as removal from the situation. It’s ok to feel angry, etc but not okay to lose control over such things. There will be some trying times but she’ll learn better self control and to demonstrate her feelings more effectively.
Great advice, being angry or sad is part of life and they should learn how to deal with those feelings. We all want our children happy, but sometimes we just have to set limits
To a large extent this sounds totally normal for her age. I have a 3 yr old girl (who has a younger sibling very close in age) who can be very similar.
It sounds like you have done some very positive things so far.
My suggestion would be to deflect the attention away from her. If my 3 year demands to play a game I might say yes but that we will do a litter pick of the garden first or you can help me put the clothes on the line so she doesn’t get it all her way. If she is being generally a bit bossy and self centered we try and find an activity that focuses on doing something nice for someone else. We might make cakes for daddy, a fun activity for her but that focuses on her thinking about why daddy might be tired/upset/cross.
Hope this helps. Don’t despair you sound very sensible & I’m sure she will grow out if this stage.
A simple no or we’re shopping for this today not that (whatever that is) is good enough in my opinion. You don’t have to explain financial or other reasons to a 3 year old.
Meredith Stratton Sinclair
They all go through that faze. I have told all three of mine before we go in to a store this is what is on the list and that is all we are getting. If they make a stink in the store let them. It will pass. I tell them that is not appropriate behavior and if they can’t control how they are acting they aren’t going to come next time. It only takes a few times of reinforcing those consequences I order for them to get it. Good luck. Stay strong and remember you are the adult in charge. Try and stay as calm as possible. My kids know the calmer I get, the more in trouble they will be.
I am not repeating that mistake with kid number two! I did the same thing. My 24 month old son is being told no and given the reasons. Just keep explain, she’ll get it…eventually.