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Discipline and Behavior Management Ages 2-5

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Four-Year-Old Aggressive Behavior
Four-Year-Old Not Listening
Two-Year-Old Will Not Go To Sleep
Five-Year-Old With Aggressive Behavior
Five-Year-Old Very Upset About Going To School
Two-Year-Old Aggressive Behavior
Rebellious Two-Year-Old And Three-Year-Old
Defiant 3-Year-OLd
Four-Year-Old Acting Out

Four-Year-Old Aggressive Behavior

My 4 year old son, a generally loving, funny articulate clever boy is driving me demented with aggressive behaviour directed largely at me. It has taken me some time to eliminate a biting habit (nothing for about 6 months) with consistent calmconsequences. He has now however moved on to pinching, poking and pushing. I havetried the same tactics previously used with biting but am now faced with an addedweapon on his part. As I attempt to calmly take him to sit on the top step (time out spot) he will attempt to (largely successfully too) pinch, kick and hit thewhole way to 'time out' in a 'I might as well get a few more goes in while I can'attitude. I've resorted to stating that is he continues the behaviour I will haveto move him from the step to the car seat (I can lock him in - but for how long!!) to give me some breathing space while I pace the floor often in tears. I have increased the time in time out per pinch in attempt to reduce this (which I don't think is the best solution but am at my wits end about what else to do). I'm thinking of trying a form of "No hurting" behaviour chart (a house rule anyway) but strongly suspect that he'll rationalise that as a pinch (or shove or...) means he can't get a spot/tick/sticker for that particular time period/day he might as well go hell for leather and get as many in as he can and worry about starting again later. If you have any ideas I would appreciate it so much. Regards Sandra. PS my son is considered a well-mannered, clever amazing little kid by just about everyone outside the family!! -Sandra, Australia

Sandra,
First, you should be commended on your patience and creativity while handling your son's difficult behavior. It's very, very hard to stay calm and consistent during aggressive outbursts, and you are doing a great job! You also seem to know your limits and when you need to give yourself some space from his behavior during especially trying times. That's also incredibly important. If you let him push you to the point of blowing, then he has "won" and may feel a sense of control and reward.

First off, has anything changed in your household that may be triggering this type of behavior? Things to look for might be a move, change of daycare, new school, new baby or sibling entering the family, or divorce. Might he be reacting to something that has changed? If so, you need to address that issue with him. He's pretty young to articulate verbally but may respond to drawing pictures related to his feelings. A family counselor can be of assistance if he is struggling with a change in his life.

Or, your son may just be going through a nasty behavioral phase as many children do. He may be testing the limits and you are the safest person with whom to act out. Kids will often act out where they feel safe, loved, and accepted. As a result, we may see wonderful behavior in other settings but very difficult behavior at home. For some kids, it's a challenge to "keep it together" in other settings, and they need a place to let loose or act out. Unfortunately, you are the recipient of that behavior!

Time-outs are a great consequence for aggressive behavior. A good plan for effective time-outs is to tell the child that the time-out cannot start until he is sitting calmly in the time-out spot. Then, use a timer and set the time for one minute per year of age. Your son's time-out would last four minutes. If he begins again to act out while in the time-out chair, start the time-out over and remind him that the time-out will begin when he is calm. This may be trying in the beginning as kids will test the limits and stretch that time-out to 30 minutes or more when it could have been done in 4 minutes! Also, try to use a timer that he can read so he can see how much time is left. Digital timers with big numbers work well.

You may want to think twice about using his car seat for a time-out. You don't want him to feel negatively about getting in his car seat, and he may start disliking his seat if he associates it with time-out. Just a thought!

A behavior chart can be a great idea and is worth a try. We have made up a couple types of "no hurting" charts. You can find them on this page. Behavior charts don't work for all kids, and you are correct to assume that some kids go all out after they have blown their chart for the day. That's why you may want to begin by breaking up your chart into periods of the day so he has another chance to succeed later in the day. You can use morning, afternoon, and evening periods. Then, as behavior improves, you can graduate to an all day chart. You can also try using a bag of little rewards such as cars, stickers, pencils, and markers that he can earn when he makes it through a period without being aggressive.

Most important, you need to get some support for yourself. Is there a spouse, partner, family member, or friend who can help give you a break from your son's behavior? When the times are tough, can you call someone to come over and sit with him while you go out for a breather? One of most difficult challenges as a parent is keeping calm and not getting caught up in the negative behavior though it sounds like you have that under control! Take a look at our article on Stress Management Tips. Also, remember to give him lots of positive feedback when he is behaving...catch him being good. Kids respond wonderfully to positive words and if you need some hints check out our article entitled "75 Ways To Say Good Job".

Finally, if you find that you continue having difficulty managing your son's behavior after some time, you may want to see a family counselor for support and problem solving. You might also check out additional articles on our site about Biting, Tantrums, and Hitting. Best of luck and let us know how it's going. We are happy to give some more suggestions if you need!!

Four-Year-Old Not Listening

My son is 4 years old. I am having an issue with listening both at home, in public and at school. He is very smart and a very loveable child. I feel because he is so smart I expect better behavior. He is always remorseful when he acts up and he knows when he is doing wrong. I share custody 50/50 with his father and we have a very cordial relationship, however when it comes to our son's behavior his father lets him get away with misbehaving......That leaves me to always be the one who disciplines him and the "bad guy".....this is not the role that I would like to play as a parent. I would like to be the one that gets the expected best behavior from my son and the respect that I know he can give. I am told by his teacher that his behavior is normal however; I know he is capable of more. I want him to listen to what I have to say on the first time he is asked, will any of your charts help with this issue? I would love to know what has worked in the past for any of your readers or anyone that might have dealt with something like this. I have tried so many things and feel that I am at the end of my rope with this. -Amanda, Missouri

Amanda,
Remember that your son is only four and expecting him to do what you say the first time is a bit unrealistic at this age. A child's job is to push the limits, so he is doing what is normal for a child his age. Here is a reminder of some developmental behaviors to expect from a preschooler:

Social interaction with peers- Preschoolers become very social and move away from playing alone to playing with other children. Peers become much more important and influential.

Sense of self- Preschoolers tend to be egotistical and see the world as revolving around them!

Independence- Preschoolers develop a strong sense of independence and will express this by a desire to do things for themselves. They may want to dress themselves, pour their own drinks, help do chores.

Curiosity- Preschoolers develop an interest in the world around them. You may hear the question "why" frequently!

Influence by others- Kids this age are impressionable. So, be aware of major influences in their lives such as media, peers, other adults.

Phobias-Preschoolers may develop some new fears and phobias.

So, when looking at some of these preschooler behaviors, your child is developing normally. Sounds as if he is experiencing a sense of independence and egotism which may include continuing to do things for himself instead of listening to you the first time!

Here are some helpful hints when trying to communicate with your child. First, don't yell or lecture. If you are visibly angry, your child may get some type of reward from pushing your buttons. Children this age are gaining more control over their environments as they are transitioning from "babies" to "big children". Your son's sense of control may be in controlling you...getting you to react when he doesn't listen! Don't create a power struggle or you will invite your son to win.

Next, don't forget to give him choices. With choices, you will be contributing to his sense of independence in a positive way. For example, instead of saying, "you need to clean up your toys now" say "you can clean up your toys now by yourself or in five minutes with my help".

You mentioned that your son is a bright little boy. Don't be fooled by that! Though intelligent, he is still only four years old. Your expectations may be too high. Remember to view him in a realistic way as compared to other children his age.

An additional difficulty your son may experience is the inconsistency in parenting between you and his father. If his father is more lenient, then he will continue to have difficulty following your rules when at your home. Optimally, you can work out some standard rules and expectations with your son's father...rules that you both share and enforce at home. You and your son's father would benefit from a joint meeting with a family therapist. Sometimes having a third party available to help mediate is effective. You may not need more than a couple sessions to help work out some basic inconsistencies.

Also, behavior charts are very effective motivators. At your son's age, it would be best to use a behavior chart to target one specific behavior at a time. You don't want to overwhelm him, confuse him, or set him up for failure. You want the behavior chart to be a positive experience. So, if there is one behavior that you would like to eliminate, try a chart. For instance, if your son has difficulty going to bed when told, you can set up a chart that targets this one behavior. When your child goes to bed nicely (and clearly define "nicely"), he gets a sticker on the chart. When using charts with kids this age, you need to be very clear about the expectation and give immediate rewards. Rewards don't need to be large. In fact, the best rewards are time spent with family and friends such as playing a game with mom or a trip to grandma's house. Remember also that we are happy to make up charts for you that match your child's interests and behavioral issues. Just drop us a line.

Best of luck with your little boy. You are doing a great job and remember that kids go through difficult phases that will end. They are constantly testing parents, so you need to be ready, supportive, and patient!

Two-year-old Will Not Go to Sleep

We are having the hardest time getting my 2 year old daughter to go to sleep for nap and at night, I don't know what I need to do to get her to go to sleep at a decent time -Jennifer, UT

Jennifer,
At this age, a child's sleep habits may be in flux due to changes during toddler years such as potty training, transition from crib to larger bed, transition out of nap time, and increased language and physical development. Has your daughter experienced any changes in her life? Has she transitioned to a different room or bed? Have you had another child? Is she potty training or is her schedule different for any reason? Even minor life changes can affect a child's sleep and you may be able to pinpoint the change that is affecting her.

A child needs about 10-13 hours of sleep during toddler years. That sleep can be a combination of nap and night or just nighttime sleep. If your daughter is getting that amount of sleep during the night, she may be transitioning out of nap time. You may want to skip nap and help her adjust to nap free days while moving her bedtime a bit earlier. This transition can be difficult at first as kids are often cranky later in the day without a nap. This crankiness should only last a week or two. Don't expect her to adjust overnight. She will eventually get used to a different schedule. You know your daughter best. If she doesn't get enough sleep during the night and seems to have a difficult time getting through the day, then she still needs her nap.

Also remember that at this age, a child is becoming increasingly aware of her environment and may be more easily distracted. It may be more difficult for her to "settle down" and rest. As a result, it's even more important that you establish a consistent nighttime routine. You can also maintain a nap time routine. Create a routine by picking out a few activities that your daughter can do before bed every day. For example, you might read a book together and drink a glass or warm milk before nap every day. It's best not to let her watch television right before sleep as that will stimulate her and make it more difficult for her to settle down. Keep the television off for a good 30-60 minutes before sleep. For bedtime, you might include brushing teeth and bath in the routine. Keep this routine the same and consistent every single day. You can find a bedtime routine chart on our website here. Have her color a mark or place a sticker on each activity she does before bed. The chart can be a fun way to reinforce consistency in your home! And remember that if the chart doesn't quite work for your situation, we'd be happy to make up another chart that is more suited to your daughter's routine.

You might want to consider getting your child a special stuffed animal or "bed friend" if she doesn't have one already. You can use the stuffed animal in your bedtime routine. The stuffed animal can read with you, brush teeth, get pajamas on, etc. Then, put the stuffed animal in your daughter's bed so it can "go to sleep".

Next, if you have noise issues in your home, you may want to get a white noise machine for your daughter's room. As mentioned before, kids at this age are more easily distracted and tuned in to their environments. A noise machine may block out other sounds that are keeping her too stimulated to sleep.

Most important, remember not to engage in power struggles over sleep. Parents are often exhausted by nap and bedtime and look forward to that break. When a child doesn't go to sleep easily, it can be frustrating. Getting angry won't solve the problem, and if you do, your daughter may get a reward for staying up...your attention, even though it's angry attention! Stay calm and consistent, and once she's in her room, leave her alone. Another consideration is transitioning your daughter out of nap time and into "quiet time" as she may still need down time but doesn't require a nap. You may get some additional pointers from our article "But Mom, I'm Not Tired".

Remember that this stage will pass. At some point, your daughter will have more consistent sleeping behavior. You may just have to ride this out until she settles into a new phase! Best of luck.

Five-Year-Old With Aggressive Behavior

My 5 year old son is hitting, shoving and kicking at school. He also does this at home too. The doctor said he has an impulse control issue. He runs from us and thinks it 's funny for us to have to chase him. What can we do? We are at our ropes end. -Mary, MO

Mary,
A couple articles on our website may be helpful: Consequences For Young Children And Toddlers and Using Effective Time-Outs. You might find some helpful hints after reading these. It sounds like your son has some challenging behaviors. Time-outs and behavior charts can be effective with a five-year-old. Time-outs are great tools for aggressive behavior because they basically give a child time to cool down when he is acting out of control. And shoving, kicking, and hitting are out of control behaviors. Ideally, the school and home can be consistent in dealing with your son. It would be great if his teacher could set up some type of time-out system for him. She may do this already. When acting aggressively, he needs to be removed from the situation and given a chance to calm down before rejoining the group. Time-outs are very helpful for kids with impulse control issues as sometimes group situations provide way too much stimulation, and the child needs some time away. You may want to set up a meeting with your son's school if you haven't already and talk about a time-out option there.

In addition, you can set up a time-out system at home. When your son demonstrates some of his aggressive behavior at home, give him one chance to change. Let him know that he can choose to stop his behavior or take a time-out. If he doesn't stop, have him take a time-out. When he calms down, he can join the family again.

In addition to the time-outs, you can try a behavior chart. It would also be a good idea to follow through with a chart at school. You can set the chart up with "No Kicking, Shoving, Hitting," and if your son goes through a whole day without the aggressive behavior, he can earn a sticker on his chart. Due to his age and the severity of his behavior, you may want to give him a reward daily when he earns a sticker. This reward could be a pencil, matchbox car, dollar store item, etc. See our list of rewards. You can either set up 2 different charts, one at home and one at school, or have his school behavior go toward a sticker on his home chart. You would need to check in with his teacher daily on this. You may want to discuss the options with his teacher to see what works best for both of you.

And, you mentioned that you are chasing him. Kids will continue negative behavior if they feel they are getting some type of reward from the behavior. So, any attention from you can be a reward. Even negative attention is attention, and your son will continue running away if you chase him. You can also target this behavior with a behavior chart. You may want to focus on one type of behavior at a time, though, so you don't overwhelm your son or set him up for failure. Most important, don't get into power struggles with your son. If you do, then he is winning the battle. This may give him a sense of satisfaction and he'll continue negative behaviors. And, remember to catch him being good. It's easy to continuously point out negative behaviors, but parents often forget to speak up when their kids are behaving desirably. Any time you see him behave, let him know that he's doing a great job. In this way, he will begin to seek out the reward of positive attention from you. Sometimes, positive feedback is enough to change a child's behavior.

Finally, you may want to evaluate if there have been any significant changes in your son's life. Has there been a new sibling, divorce, move, death in the family? Often times, kids his age will begin to act out as a response to a stressor in life. Five-year-olds don't have the verbal skills to talk about their feelings so they may act out their feelings instead. If you feel that your son is reacting to some stressors, you may want to seek the help of a professional family and child counselor who can help him express his feelings in more positive ways. You may also want the parenting support that a family counselor can provide. If things don't improve, you may want to visit this option.

Best of luck using some new strategies with your son!

Five-Year-Old Very Upset About Going To School

My 5 yr old daughter gets very upset everyday that she has to go to school. She starts by crying and saying that she does not want to go, or that she does not feel good. (Even though she has felt perfectly fine before and always feels good when she gets home.) Then when we arrive at school, she starts throwing a fit, screaming, and puking. It is hard to leave her there, but I don't know what to do. I would love for this not to occur so frequently, but I do not know what to do. Any suggestions!!!??? -Morgan, Ohio

Morgan,
Understanding your daughter's issue depends on some factors. First, has your daughter always been upset about going to school? If your daughter has always disliked going to school, it may be hard to pinpoint the reason/s this late in the year. You may want to look back at your family situation and see if there have been any life stressors that occurred before the school year started. For instance, was there a divorce, new sibling, death in the family, or traumatic incident? If the answer is yes, your daughter may be acting out her internal stress by rebelling against school. She may feel the need to be closer to family or be suffering from separation anxiety. If you believe that this is the case, you should seek the help of a qualified family counselor who can work in an appropriate manner with your daughter and your family. As your daughter is so young, a family counselor will have various methods of helping her express feelings both verbally and nonverbally. You may be able to check in with a counselor at her school or at least get a recommendation.

If your daughter has only recently started to get upset about school, then you may want to have a meeting with her teacher to make sure that there are no new stressors at school. For example, has there been a change of teacher or is she having any peer issues? Could there be a personality conflict with the teacher? You may want to observe your daughter in the classroom to see for yourself how things are going. As your daughter is so young, you can check in with her about her school day through drawing or imaginary games as kids this age sometimes have a tough time verbalizing their feelings. Have her draw a picture of her day at school or act it out herself or with dolls. See if you can pick up any clues about why she dreads going to school. If your daughter seems perfectly calm and happy when she gets home, then she may be going through a bout of separation anxiety possibly due to a non-school issue as mentioned above.

Behavior charts are good options with children this age. You can try setting up an incentive program for her every morning. If she does a good job calmly getting to school, then she can put a sticker on her chart and pick out an incentive at the end of the school day. Be very specific when setting up the chart. For example, list the expected behavior as: "Go to school without complaining, crying, or making yourself sick". Kids this age need specific expectations. You can have a treat bag set up for the end of the day with dollar store items, stickers, markers, etc. If you would like us to make up a chart specifically for your daughter, drop us a line and we'll get that done!

And, if you just can't get a handle on this behavior, you should seek the help of a qualified professional as mentioned earlier. This way, you and your daughter can both receive some support, and you can receive some parenting tips and advice.

Best of luck!

Two-Year-Old Aggressive Behavior

I have a two year old boy. I am a working mother. He is very aggressive. He bites and pinches people at home. When we are out with him at a park he gets restless and impatient. Plz help me manage his behaviour. -Sheetal, India

Sheetal,
Your son is at an age where this type of behavior is very normal and can be expected. Between the ages of 1-3 years old, children can pose some challenging behaviors for parents. At this stage, children may show negative behaviors such as frequently saying ?no?, aggressive behavior, and temper tantrums. Children may bite, hit, and show other types of physical aggression toward children and adults.

Why are kids so aggressive at this age? First, language skills are limited during toddler years so children are still having difficulty expressing themselves. They may know some words but not others. Due to frustration, kids may act out. This may take the form of biting or hitting if the child doesn't get his way. In addition, at this stage, children are becoming more independent and starting to make decisions for themselves. They want to be in control, but they want to please their parents. When this conflict occurs, it causes intense emotions which may be displayed as aggressive behavior and tantrums.

Sheetal, your child is completely normal. He is behaving in ways that are developmentally appropriate for his age. Here are some tips for managing his behavior: First and foremost, use time-outs to manage the pinching and biting behaviors.  Time-outs can be tricky at this age. Kids are normally energetic and have difficulty sitting anyway, so be realistic when giving the time-out. When you see a behavior that you don't like, give him the choice to stop the behavior or take a time-out. If he has not taken a time-out before, you can do the time-out with him to help demonstrate. If it's his first time-out, take him to a quiet spot and sit with him in your lap. While sitting, you may tell him that pinching is not o.k., and he needs to stop. After about 30 seconds or so, redirect him to another activity and that's that. He is too young to understand too much explanation regarding his behavior, so don't go on and on about the incident. Make it short and effective.

The next time that he takes a time-out, again give him a choice to stop or take a time-out. Take his hand and walk him to a quiet place while telling him that he needs to take a time out. Sit him down again for about 30 seconds. If he knows a little song or his letters, he can say his letters once or sing his song while in time-out. When done, redirect him to another activity. You can check out our article on giving consequences to young kids and toddlers. We also have an article on giving time-outs though the technique discussed is best used with ages 3 and older, and effective discipline for 2-year-olds.

Next, make sure that your child has a regular routine of meals and napping. Often times, a child acts out because he is tired or hungry. Try to minimize this possibility. Remember that some of his impatience at the park may be because he is tired or hungry but cannot effectively communicate this. Also, you may want to vary his activities. He may be bored at the park or need some different stimulation, especially if he is bright. Keep in mind that especially bright children may have a more difficult time during this stage as they may become especially frustrated when they cannot communicate their desires.

Give your son choices when you can. He is trying to express his independence and choices will help him feel a sense of control in life. For example, you might ask him, "Do you want some raisins or a banana?" This way, you are not always making choices for him!

Don't forget to stay consistent when setting limits. Inconsistency will confuse your son and may cause him to act out even more. Don't get into power struggles with your son. This will only make the situation worse and your anger will just fuel his!

Remember to praise him when you see him doing something good. Don't get caught in a cycle of only noticing negative behaviors. Kids respond wonderfully to positive words! Keep in mind that despite his frustrating behaviors, you child is very normal. He is asserting his independence and trying to communicate with limited skills. If you remain calm and set clear limits, he will pass through this phase safely and easily! Best of luck.

Rebellious Two-Year-Old And Three-Year-Old

I am a working mom whom recently just stop being a full time mother and returned to work. Both my kids 2 yrs and 3 yrs old are at the age of building their character. As I am not able to be around all the time to coach them and discipline them. They started to become very rebellious and not following proper habits in life. They are taken care by my Mother in law and maid which I am not able to reply on disciplining my kids. I feel that I still have to be the person to mould them as they listen to me more than their father. Is there any ways to equip me in this area. I am going to do up a behavior chart for my daughter and hope this helps her in her daily routine when I am not around. Thanks -Agnes, Malaysia

Agnes,
For children this age, it's very normal to see some acting out as they are becoming more independent and aware of their ability to make their own choices. The best type of discipline for kids this age is immediate and consistent. Avoid talking too much or trying to explain why their behavior is not acceptable. They are too young to understand. Time-outs and behavior charts work very well with this age group. Time-outs are great tools for unsafe or aggressive behavior such as hitting, biting, or running away. A time-out gives the child time to cool down until he is ready to join the group again. When your child is behaving in an unsafe way, you can give him one warning and say something like, "You need to stop hitting. If you hit again, you will need to take a time-out". And, if the child hits again put him in time-out and say, "You chose to hit again. Now you need to take a time-out". Then, don't talk about it anymore as a child at this young age will not be able to understand long explanations. Once time-out is over, the child can join the group and that's that! Again, check out the article mentioned above on time-outs. It's got some great suggestions on how to give a time-out.

In addition, avoid getting into power struggles with the kids. If you find yourself getting angry, yelling, or chasing them around then you are losing the battle. Kids this age will continue to misbehave if they feel that their behavior is rewarding them in some way. Even negative attention from you is attention. And considering that you have recently gone back to work, the kids may be craving some attention, even negative attention. So make sure that you avoid battling with them, and also set aside some special time to spend with each child. They may be having a difficult time adjusting to new caregivers. Make a point to spend some one-on-one time with each child doing activities like reading, going for walks, or playing a game. You may begin to notice their behavior calming down after they have adjusted to their new circumstances. Also, remember to catch them being good. When you see behavior that you like, let them know. Tell them that they are doing a great job!

Behavior charts can also be effective with kids this age, though the reward needs to be immediate since they are so young. Also, you should only work on one behavior at a time so the kids don't become overwhelmed. You may be able to try two behaviors at a time but no more. And when you see behavior that you like, the child should receive an immediate reward such as a new sticker on her chart and/or a treat from a treat bag. The key is that the child receives the reward immediately. Also, because the kids are so young, you need to focus on very specific behaviors. For instance, instead of using the behavior "listen to grandma" you may want to say "pick up toys when grandma tells you to". "Listen to grandma" is too general and may be confusing to a young child. When the child picks up the toy, make a big deal, tell her that she did a great job, and mark her behavior chart with a sticker. At this point, you can also give her a treat if you wish but in many cases, the sticker is treat enough! You can also make up a daily routine chart which is more of a checklist than a behavior chart. We have some daily routine charts here. This may be a helpful guide for both your children and their caregivers.

It's important that the other caregivers follow through with the same consequences and rewards that you use. You need to have a meeting with both and explain what rewards and consequences that you would like them to use such as the time-outs and behavior charts. Explain the importance of giving positive feedback to the kids, and make sure that everybody can be as consistent as possible. This way, your kids will not try to manipulate the caregivers by misbehaving when you are gone.

With consistency and patience, you will be able to get a handle on some of those tricky behaviors! And remember, if you need any new charts or changes to any existing charts, just let us know!

Defiant 3-Year-OLd

I have an extremely defiant (but sweet, aren't they all?) 3 year old. She refuses to let me brush her hair/teeth, doesn't feel the need to clean up her toys (even after I "throw them away"), sits and plays when I put her to bed instead of sleeping, refuses to eat dinner (even when it's a favorite of hers), and every time we go to the store she expects a treat/toy (I know, this is my fault). How can I come up with some kind of schedule/behavior chart for her? I don't mind buying her treats but I would much rather have a way to show her that she will be rewarded for doing good things, not that she just gets them because she's the queen...Brittany, Wisconsin

Brittany,
Don't forget that many kids become fiercely independent at the age of 3. Kids discover that they are separate from their parents and enjoy their own voice at this age. That's why many people call this age the "independent 3's". The fact that she wants to make her own choices is very normal. At this age, it's extremely important to pick your battles or you'll be battling with her over everything. And you can't reason with a 3-year-old. If her behavior endangers herself or someone else, you definitely need to address it. For example, if your daughter hits another child, she gets an immediate time-out. But other behaviors, such as playing in bed, need to be ignored. She'll fall asleep when she is tired enough. When you battle with kids, they get a reward...even if it's negative attention.

What works great at this age is making simple tasks into games and giving immediate rewards. For example, when it comes to cleaning up her toys, make it into a game. Play "basketball" and see who can toss the toys into the toy box the best. Or, get a timer and 2 boxes. See who can put the most toys in her box by the time the timer goes off. Even though this approach is time consuming, it's fun for kids. You want her to feel positive about doing chores. If you create a power struggle and negativity around doing chores at a young age, it will carry through as she gets older.

You can use a behavior chart for brushing her hair. We have a page of Hygiene Charts. One of the charts allows you to type in your own expectations. We also have a chart titled "I Brushed/Combed My Hair Today". Our Step-by-Step charts with popular characters are also suitable and really cute. You and your daughter can pick out some special chart stickers. When you are able to brush her hair, let her pick out a sticker and put it on her chart. That should be enough reward for a 3-year-old. Make a big deal and give her positive feedback. If she doesn't, say something like, "Too bad you don't get to pick out a new sticker today for your special chart. You don't want me to brush your hair. Oh well, maybe next time!". She just may change her mind. Don't battle or power struggle...stay calm. Also, don't forget that the behavior of a 3-year-old is influenced by whether she is hungry or tired. Try to keep this in mind when dealing with your daughter. If she is tired, avoid shopping with her. Or, play the "clean up game" the next day when she is not so tired or hungry.

Best of luck with your daughter. With some creative strategies and patience, you should be able to get through this stage just fine!

Four-Year-Old Acting Out

Hi, I wanted to get advice on how to help my son develop appropriate social skills. He his prone to interrupt his coaches/teachers, and does not follow rules. He is four years old, and is very affectionate, to the point where he hugs others, even if they don't want to be touched. He also ignores people when he does not want to listen, and fails to follow directions. For example, he will not list to his T-ball coach, and will say, "I don't like you." He purposely chooses to not run on all the bases and pretends he can't hit a ball when he can. During soccer practice, he will not play with other team members, and refuses to run. He is more concerned with socializing with other children, and is often distracting. It's almost as though he feels that the rules to do not apply to him. It's very embarrassing to have him behave inappropriately and immature. He is stubborn and lacks respect for authority. Do you have suggestions on how to proceed? -Jessica, CA

Jessica,
Don't forget that your son is only four-years-old. His behavior sounds very age appropriate. Kids this young are just beginning to learn social skills and waver between toddler like behavior and "big kid" behavior. It's a tough age as kids are not really sure how to be "big kids", and because they are becoming more independent, they may behave in ways that appear rude or pushy. You might notice that some days your son craves the cuddles and attention that he had as a toddler, but other days he may just plow along independently without giving much notice to how his behavior affects others. Kids this age require lots and lots of patience from parents. The more you react emotionally to his behavior, the more he will push your buttons.

In addition, four-year-olds don't have a very long attention span. Expecting him to pay attention for long periods during a sports practice may be unreasonable. This all depends on the coach's approach with children this age. You son's interest in socializing with other children is completely normal. That's what kids do at the age of four. Hopefully, the coach is skilled in working with four-year-olds. Kids this age needs ongoing games and movement. They just don't have the ability to stay still for too long while being instructed. If your son is not paying attention and seems distracted, it might be a signal that he is still too young to participate in an organized sport. Kids are ready for organized sports are varying ages. When parents start kids too young, they risk giving kids a negative experience which may affect the child's interest later in life. If you find him constantly distracted and you becoming angry and frustrated during practices, it's a sign that he's probably too young right now for organized sports. You may want to find some activities that suit him better and have a more loose structure like gymnastics or an age appropriate program through your local recreational center or club.

In terms of discipline, he needs to be given lots of positive reinforcement for his positive behaviors and gentle reminders for his negative social behaviors. Time-outs also work great at this age if he is harming himself or another child. Young children react wonderfully to positive reinforcement. Behavior charts can work well with this age. Just remember not to overwhelm him by working on too many behaviors at one time. Take one behavior that you want to help him eliminate and work on that one behavior...no more. Our Step-by-Step charts work great for single behaviors. Each time he does a great job, let him put a sticker on his chart. The sticker can be a reward in itself, but if you want to give him an extra little something, make it small like a crayon or another sticker for himself. And don't forget...avoid the power struggles. With time and patience, you son will grow into himself and as he matures, he will demonstrate a greater understanding of social skills.