Parents Everywhere Often Concerned About Taming Three Year Olds
A young mother, who happens to live in Saudi Arabia, recently contacted me to ask for advice concerning her three-year-old son.
“This is my only child and he has me very worried,” this mother wrote in her email. “He hits his one-year-old cousin, uses bad words, and screams and kicks me if he is not allowed to do what he wants.”
She went on to say that she uses a time-out chair for punishment, and occasionally spanks him. However, no matter what discipline she uses, her son continues to misbehave.
“He is a smart boy,” she said, “and knows his numbers and can read some words. He likes taking baths, brushes his teeth every morning and evening, and helps me clean his room. But he is very active and will only play by himself or color for a just a few minutes at a time.”
She concluded by saying that it is a disaster to take him shopping because he won’t stay near her and touches things in shops he shouldn’t. She said she just wants to know how to get him to behave and listen to her.
This plaintive email could have come from an American or British mother, but the fact that it came from the Middle East only demonstrates that parents around the world share similar concerns about their children.
It also strongly suggests that no matter what country or culture you live in, it can be very difficult to be the parent of a three-year-old child. Furthermore, it is a challenge to be the parent of an active, impulsive, and aggressive boy with a fairly short attention span.
If you are the parent of a child like the one she described, you should keep in mind that children around three years of age are just learning how to control themselves and they are not very skilled at stopping and thinking before they act. However, it seems to be a world-wide approach to such difficult children to try to teach by utilizing punishment. Yet, teaching by punishment is an ineffective method to teach a child.
It is more efficient and effective to teach a child appropriate behavior by anticipating their behavior, stopping them, and telling them what you want them to do. For example, instead of punishing your child, you could say: “I want you to be kind and loving to your cousin. Show him you love him by touching him gently and giving him one of your toys to play with.”
Not only is it important to tell your three-year-old what you want, but most of the time you need to be on the floor or down at his level, being very close to him and his face, and making sure that he does some of the things you want him to do. For instance, if you want him to be kind to another child, you must be on the floor with him so he can’t hit the other child. You are there to hold his hands and prevent him from being aggressive.
If he tries to hit, you can hold his hands firmly, look him in the eyes, and say: “No! No hitting! Hitting hurts!”
Furthermore, the best teaching is done by offering praise and attention for good, appropriate behavior: “You shared your toy with your cousin! I like that! I’m really proud of you! You are my kind boy!”
You can also let him know what you want ahead of time: “When we go into the shopping mall, I expect you to hold my hand and be right by my side the whole time we are shopping.” And then make sure you hold his hand tightly so he can’t run away or touch things he shouldn’t.
When he is compliant, you should use rewards and praise for appropriate behavior: “You are so helpful by holding my hand. When we are finished shopping, we are going to a special shop and you get a treat for being so helpful!”
Helping a three-year-old grow out of his aggression and learn to be compliant is mostly about being very attentive to him, being close to him, giving him many specific directions, and using praise to reinforce the behaviors you want.
Unfortunately, you won’t see immediate results, but if you consistently follow these suggestions, you will begin to see positive results.