How do you discipline a super strong-willed 3 year-old?

Bobbie Jo - posted on 06/16/2009 ( 15 moms have responded )




It feels like time-outs don't exist, she gets right back up... A slight spanking only makes her more angry and she starts slapping at us or screaming/crying in a fit of rage....And we don't like to give the spanking that really "stops her in her tracks", but that, most of the time, seems to be the only thing that will get her to come to us, cuddle up and cry with a broken heart vs. a rage of anger. Anyone ever dealt with this?


[deleted account]

I had one of those! Thank God that's over. She's 16 now and a wonderful child. It was a long road, though. You HAVE to read the book "You Can't Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded" by Cynthia Tobias. It changed my life!! Truly strong willed kids are totally different in their thinking than kids who are "normally strong willed" (as most kids are to some extent). They really have a different agenda and NONE of the usual parenting strategies work with them, it only makes it worse. Their agenda is about POWER and it is surprising sometimes what weird things make them feel powerful. You have to find out in what way they think they are "winning" and take the power out of it and then they will suddenly be so easy to deal with! We literally went from a two hour screaming fit every night at bedtime to her sweetly bouncing off to bed IN ONE NIGHT after reading that Cynthia Tobias book. With the really strong willed ones if something doesn't work the first time, it will NEVER work (unlike other kids where consistency eventually trains them). But once you find out the "key" that unlocks a particular behavior, you will probably never see that same fight again. God bless you, it's a trial but strong willed kids are really smart and a real joy once you understand how their mind works.

Julia - posted on 06/17/2009




How to train your child NOT to obey, is to threaten and to be inconsistant. ie: "If you don't do what I say I'm going to spank you", and then never do it , your child learns after saying this more than 2 or 3 times that you don't mean it. You're actually training them to NOT obey you. Also, if one day you correct then consistanly and not the next you are again training them to NOT obey. Mean and do what you say to them. They learn alot faster.

Betty - posted on 06/17/2009




It's only a battle if you make it one and too often you do need to make it a battle. Just be choosy and only tackle the most important issues. Pick your battles and give her suggestions more often than commands. Sometimes you just have to understand that the choice she made is best for her even if you think it's loony. My 3 1/2 year old went to chuck-e-cheeze with dress up shoes yesterday because I knew she would've had a fit if I told her it was a bad idea. Her feet didn't hurt like I thought they would and it looked super cute so we both won.

Fran - posted on 06/17/2009




first of all never spank. if mommy says no hit and then she does it what does that teach the child. i have a very rambunctious 2 1/2 yr old and a 1 yr old. if my older son hits or pushes my younger son he is first told no hit/no push. then if you do it again i will take a car away from you. then if he still acts up he gets a time out. be consistent but do not hit. i always think if i'm frustrated or upset or overwhelmed, would i want someone to hit me or let me have my space to regroup. i think you know where i'm going with this. do not hit and hang in there. the toddler years are trying but there is great stuff waiting around the bend.

Tracey - posted on 06/18/2009




Oh my gosh I had one of daughter is very strong willed. But I have found that as she nears 4 she is getting much easier and I can explain things to her and she is understanding me better. Patience I think is the name of the game. Stick to your guns and remember to take time out for yourself so you are able to go back into the situation with a clear mind and you dont act out in anger. Good luck!


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Bentley-Ann - posted on 11/21/2014




hello everyone i have a huge problem my baby is only 3yrs but strongly strong willed but she was not always like that i moved in with my boyfriend who lives with family including other children that r very disrespectful and strong willed and my daughter took it all in and now am having a hard time trying to get her back to the way she use to be she listens to nothing i say without a slap....sigh...

Jennie - posted on 06/25/2009




You have to be consistent. If she gets right back up, do not say anything, and put her back down until she does it. She might get up 30 or 40x but go right back and put her back because if she keeps getting up and you don't say anything, she already knows shes won. Be consistent. Don't give in, and she will learn that its not what she says but what you say. Make sure its a spot where there are no toys and no TV.

[deleted account]

Well written Cheri.. I have a very strong willed daughter and I thought it was bad when she was 3, 4, 5, etc... now she is 11 years old and even more strong willed than ever. The fights are less, as she no longer falls to the ground in a fit of tears and flailing limbs, but she is still very difficult to deal with sometimes. We do our best, read as many different books we can and take advice when good advice is given. We are not perfect and I think we have done a good job thus far, but it is not a picnic, it is hard work some days... other days she is an absolute delight.. but some days..sigh...

She is given set consequences for her actions and misbehavior but she does not care. She is so set in her mind and stubborn. We actually took everything away from her, books, TV, radio, telephone, toys, etc.. her room was basically empty for two weeks and she had to spend every day in there after school, out for supper and then back in.. she was still strong willed and refused to give in.. all she had to do was apologize for her behavior (throwing a pair of scissors at her sister and calling her a **%$) but she just would not... she just happily stayed in her room and drew in her art book for two weeks.. every day we asked her if she was ready to say sorry, every day she said no, she was just going to stay in her room for the two weeks... so, we just let her be...

I figure she will be a very strong grown up one day and her poor hubby to be.. lol ;)

I would like to see more parents teach their children that everything they do has consequences.. there are already enough people in this world who have not been taught that and now feel that they are entitled to everything..

Cheri - posted on 06/19/2009




I agree w/ don't spank, but only don't spank when U R angry. And only DO spank when the child is out-right defiant. Like U say go 2 bed, they say NO. Defiance in the real world gets U in real trouble, and can get U hurt, like sticking ur fingers in an outlet.(or on an adulte level--lose a job!) One spank on the butt and tell them that this behavior, (whatever it is) can get them hurt worse than the spank. and U love them, and that's Y ur helping them to learn that it leads to hurt. and U don't want them to be hurt.

If U spank in anger, then, yes, they may learn to hurt others more. Moms have a lot of issues. We can't tho, afford to let our children's mis-behavior dictate our own. A police officer doesn't not take it personally, ( I hope ), when someone breaks the law. They just act in accordance w/ that law to enforce it. and that w/ the authority given them. As moms, we need to step back and tho it wears us out, we can treat the kids in accordance w/ the laws we've set, and as others here have said, work at being consistent in the discipline. Make sure they know what consequences goes w/

what. and the younger they are, the more immediate that needs to be. Yeah, we have to get up off our butts, and interrupt whatever we R doing.

Do not forget to care for the needs of the whole child. We are 3-part beings; body, soul/mind, and spirit. Many of these super-defiant ones are quite tortured inside and need a good dose of spiritual help. My oldest was the hardest on me, of course, since as U know, it is OTJ training. Now a new HS graduate, she is going thru more help. Very nice girl, love her to life! But she always, ALWAYS, wanted to know Y, and WHAT will happen if I do'nt. Those should be clues when it is ever-so persistant.

She wants 2 do right, but even now has a hard time w/ her own consistancy.

I gues a nutshell might be good here: B consistanat, and GET MOM THE HELP U NEED 2 B THE MOM UR KIDS DESERVE. AND DON'T PUT THAT OFF 2 LONG. U WON'T REGRET IT, EVER.

and when U R at wits end, don't be a martyr, GET SOME HELP for yourself. No matter if it means a prof. Spiritaul counslor. No matter if U have 'insurance' to pay. U R talking about ur child. If U are no good, or at lesat at great loss about what to do 4 a kid, it's the least u can do. Unless ur a Dr. U woulndnt try to set a broken arm by urself, so why try to do this strong-willed thing alone. For real, and mom support only gfoes so far when U r in the think of things at 10 p.m. and 2 tired to care if U whack them 2 hard. If u think U might lose ur mind w/ one, or more of the kids, just go get help from someone who will help U come up w/ a different way of doing things.

I had to do that, I truly coud not answer the Q, "How could U hae handled that differently?" because I was stuck. and my own upbringing limits me at times. It limits us all.

I am glad those preschooldays R over, but the teen years are not care-free either. When U think about this 3 or 4 yr old and perhaps can just pick them up or take care of something becuase they are small, ask urself, "what will this look like in 10+ yrs.? They'll be stronger, and I'll be older."

Regina - posted on 06/18/2009




easy when u remain in control. game face on. no smiling or laughing when giving choices or commands. so offer a choice of 2 things. when your child attempts negiation, stick to the 2 choices prev stated. awoid chattiness. restae your offer, "u may have this or that." set limits. ex. if the child wants to play with a messy toy 9lots of pieces,, paints,etc the answer is "yes @ the kitchen table, in your rm", etc the deal/ contract is broken when the child plays w/ the toy on the kitchen floor or hallway outside his rm. restate the terms, " m.stepe u may play w/ it inside your rm, u r in the hall. if the child doesn't return to his rm. pick up the toy. calmly state the original terms then comment u must not want to play w/ it now cause u were in the hall." period. time oout if he carries on. this is why the game face is important. smiles & laughter r mixed msgs when expectations are being identified. bon chance/ good luck. no behavior change has noting to do w/ luck. know that u will prevail. let all who care for him use the same technique. should they not, tell him so. noting your expectations remain the same & u will continue to treat him. this develops trust. cause your child knows (or learn in time) u mean business, r consistant, nuturing his self disciple & giving him life skills, etc cuts down on abusive/bulling behaviors. schknow

Sue - posted on 06/17/2009




my daughter is strong willed stronger than i am, which is pretty strong willed, we go around and a round at times, you just need to show them who is boss, stay firm, and never back down, even if it takes 30 minutes or more to discipline. spankings never work on strong willed kids, and is not necessary. Groundings, time outs, toys taken away and counting to 3 works great, don't let them frustrate so they see it, like turning to yelling or crying, cause then they won and they know it. and yes I have dealt with it when she waw younger, key is to break the behavior and not their spirit, just hold your ground, my daughter is 11, almost 12, she look like 14 or 15 and we have our moments, mainly of her wanting to grow up faster than she is, she does act older than 11 too. What works with her is a firm no, and her understanding no priveledges. All priveledges are earned. Good luck

Margaret - posted on 06/16/2009




persistence......time outs work they do if you have the time to follow through on the putting them there and putting them back there repeatedly until they get the hint but it takes HOURS and doesn't work if you have errands to run and things to do but it pays off.

Omega 3 helped reduce the rages in my 4yo. made them more manageable able to interrupt them and talk her out of them.she takes 1000 mg daily.

but generally persistence and creativity....when you are out and about and in the middle of things and she knows you cant put the time and attention and persistence into it....she will try to exploit it particularly if you are in the middle of a shopping center....

I found keeping my daughter in a trolley when at a shopping center helped best at those times or having her 'help' with the actual shopping but there are risks with that too such as extras mysteriously appearing in the trolley by the time you reach the register.

Phyllis - posted on 06/16/2009




I find you have to take away the things that are ost dear...for my boys its TV time or Video Game hour. Also, my kids HATE to be seperated from whats going on, so nose in a corner where they cant see whats going on makes them nuts and only needs to be done once in awhile

Jaime - posted on 06/16/2009




My youngest who is 3.5yrs is very strong willed and stubborn (just like her dad LOL). Time outs work most of the time, other times we have to send her to her room. These incidents don't happen that often but when they do, boy is she madder than a hatter. Last night she didn't want to get out of the boat and get ready for bed, needless to say she was sent to her room where she stayed crying for about an hour. Then decided to come out and apologize to daddy for not listening. Which in turn melts daddy's heart and he gets her a snack........ She sure has him wrapped around her little finger!

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