Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Strong-Willed 3-Year-Old?

This site is new and definitely a work in progress. I know it's not Monday, but we received this question from a reader (our first!). SO, we got all excited and are double posting this week. Maybe it will be helpful to you. And, as always, we'd love to hear what advice you may have for this mom.

The Question:

My 3 year old daughter is in the "me no want to" phase right now where I feel her goal is to do the opposite of what I would like her to do in almost any given thing. Any advice?

The Answer:

One of the little pieces of advice my mother gave that was always echoing in the back of my mind was, "a misbehaving child is a discouraged child." The reason I like this, is that it gives a parent something simple and concrete to do. Build your child up in any way you can. It says that general misbehavior is not that your child hasn't been taught how to behave, it's just that they are in a downward spiral. You can turn it around in two days.

Determine that everything you say to this child is going to be positive. You are going to notice every tiny good thing and downplay or ignore every negative thing. You are going to double the one on one time. Cuddle up and read. Lots of warm physical contact. She will start to remember how good it feels to please you. This never ends. When my teen-agers start to be uncooperative and moody, I use the same formula. I watch a movie with them and scratch their back. I ignore the unmade bed or arguing. I redouble the nurturing.

I know it goes against your natural instinct to do this. You feel like tightening the screws and disciplining harder. But, trust me, this perpetuates the downward spiral. Simple, trite, but keep on the sunny side. Good luck. Jane


  1. That is awesome advice! It is true that warm physical contact continues to nurture and motivate, even as children grow older. My mom and dad were always hugging us and snuggling us into our teens.

  2. I really needed this reminder today! My little 3 year old was in need of some extra love, and I don't know that I would have tuned in to that without this. Thank you!

  3. Love this...I've done this before and it's worked, but somehow, I seem to forget..Thanks Jane!!!!

  4. Jane, this really helped this week. By the end of the week there was a LOT less whinning and a lot more loving. It can be so hard to remember to be kinder not harder when recieving back talk from children, but it is so true. Thanks!!

  5. Jane, you make me cry sometimes. thank you for reminding those of us in the midst of having three year olds that there is beauty in every time and place. thank you for taking the time to share wisdom and grace with us. thank you.

  6. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It seems like an over-simplification to suggest that "love conquers all" but it really does. I know it's the thing I need when I'm in the "me no want to" frame of mind. Do we ever outgrow that need?

  7. I'm so glad you took this question, I was about to write in the exact same thing for my 2.5 year old. My husband and I read your response together and both decided to try the experiment as it were and it's helped so much. Neither of us are naturally all that touchy and we needed the reminder. There is nothing that says,'you are accepted by me' like touch.
    I've been loving this blog so much, I feel like it's the voice of reason for me in the tumult of pop parenting that surrounds us. And it's been great to have a third party to bring in to kick off great discussion between Scott and I about what kind of a family we are trying to create. Thank you, Jane!

  8. Hi Jane and Natalie! It's Tara. I've been in the midst of the experiment that you sugest with my two year old. It's finally starting to work, but it's taken a lot more than two days. Maybe it needs to be more concentrated, or maybe it was too long overdue, but one way or the other I'm glad we are headed in the right direction. Your advice on the subject was so good to hear because it helped me to understand why I prompted to take the direction that I have, and also why it's been working, and maybe how to do it better. Thank you!


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