3 Year Old Defiant Behavior – 7 Step Action Plan

It can be very disconcerting when you see 3 year old defiant behavior.

Most parents are left feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and blaming themselves.

However, there are a number of proactive steps you can take.

If you experience 3 year old defiant behavior it’s important to remember environmental and developmental factors behind destructive and oppositional behavior.

At 3 years old, your toddler is going through important milestones.

They have learnt the basic communication skills to express a variety of things.

They have discovered enough about the world to be able to interact with you and other people within it.

They understand the fundamentals of basic safety and intermittently listen to your commands.

Related: Terrible 3s

Seeking Independence

Your 3-year-old is seeking independence on a daily basis.

They routinely try to operate things by themselves which is an important component to building their personality, social skills and life skills.  

This creates the basic building blocks for their characteristics and social interaction as they grow older.

However, tension can arise with an increased focus on independence and cognitive strain from so much learning.

It’s like a light switch goes off in their brain giving them a greater sense of expression.

This developmental growth can be a dangerous area filled with tantrums, frustration and disruptive behaviour.

Do They Hate Me?

It is not always the case that your toddler is acting out due to spite or revenge.

There is a much bigger likelihood that your 3 year old behavior is out of control due to communication factors.

For example, imagine wanting to explain something but not being able to find the words to say it! How would you feel if this happened time after time and day after day?

It’s not ideal, yet this is the battlefield grounds that your toddler is constantly fighting in.

It can be full of uncertainty and fear of the unknown.

They have learnt what they want to say but just not how to express it in a way that an adult will understand.

It is in this grey area that so much disruptive behavior can appear.

3 Year Old Defiant Behavior: Strategies For Instant Control

1. Follow through with your promises.

As mentioned above, if you say you are going to take a toy away unless she ‘Stops banging her toys against the fridge’  follow through with it.

2. Simplicity is key.

Parents often add to the confusion of their toddler’s developmental tension by giving too many choices.

Stick to 2. ‘Do you want to play with this book or this toy’, Do you want to have fish fingers or chips for lunch?

Keeping your choices limited to 2 will only help your toddler effectively self teach independence.

3. Focus on positive behavior and reward it.

We often get stuck in the mind-set of how disruptive our toddler is and forget to focus on all the good things they do.

Instead, focus primarily on her positive behaviour.

For example ‘Well done, you’ve just cleared up all but 1 of your toys’ Good girl, mummy is very proud of you, you are a big girl now and are all grown up’

This is a great way to remind them of how much you love them and helps place an emphasis on the good things they do to.

All children crave attention and praise and some have learnt that they get more praise for negative behavior than positive.

This is one of the main reasons a toddler throws unnecessary tantrums, especially in public or around other friends and family.

4. Spend Quality Time

Spend time with your toddler by themselves frequently.

No matter how busy you are or how many children you have you should place a higher emphasis on spending quality one on one time with your toddler.

This is a very easy way to continue your strong relationship together and help vent frustrations that they may have.

Toddlers can’t communicate to you if they are having a hard day.

Just by showing him this extra attention can help any frustrations he may be having.

5. Playtime is freedom and freedom is crucial.

Regular playtime is a great way for your toddler to effectively express themselves in safe areas.

They can play until their heart’s content and with you watching on.

This keeps their mind happy and healthy and a happy toddler is less likely to throw a tantrum or show disruptive behavior at home.

This is especially the case if they have a designated outdoor playtime built into their routine.

You should focus on playtime and freedom allowing your toddler to choose what they want to do.

Encourage more communication with what they want to do, how they want to do it and why.

This is a perfect way to keep tensions at bay and even if you are unable to understand everything being expressed just go along with it.

The majority of your toddler’s expression is non-verbal anyway so follow their cues and see where it takes you.

6. Kids copy parents so stay calm.

Keeping calm is an essential characteristic to develop to keep your 3-year-old from staying calm themselves.

You child behavior is very often linked to a variety of external and internal environment and sometimes you aren’t able to ‘fix’ or ‘discipline’ it with one attempt.

I frequently would get upset when my toddler when he wouldn’t use the potty first thing in the morning and this regularly meant that he would avoid going anymore often to save himself getting in trouble.

Potty training can take months and calmness & patience is key.

This is true for other areas of development and importantly staying calm allows you to put together a better plan of action.

7. Positive language moves mountains.

It’s always better to put your commands and policies into a positive framework.

It often helps whatever outcome you want to get done and is a far better way of communicating with your toddler then shouting and screaming at them.

Instead of ‘Stop shouting so loud in the house!’ It becomes, ‘Please use your inside voice now’.

Instead of ‘Don’t be so rough with your baby sister’ it becomes ‘Pat your sister gentle and slowly like this’

3 Year Old Testing Limits – 3 Practical Tips

1. Observation is key

You should try to be aware when these types of behaviours occur.

  • Is it a specific time of day?
  • Is it towards a specific activity?
  • Is it aimed at a particular person?

Finding out why your 3-year-old is being disruptive and out of control is your first action plan towards effective disciple.

For example, are the toys they are playing with age-appropriate?

I recently watched a parent give their 3-year-old a 5-year-old lego toy and it didn’t play out very well.

The lego was too small, instructions to advanced and building materials just too complicated.

It was painful to watch and you should avoid making the same mistakes.

All toys have age guidelines and although these aren’t set in stone, try to keep your toddler’s toy’s more age-appropriate.

2. Constructive Play Time

Many toddlers, especially those around 3, start to learn the difference between what belongs to them and what doesn’t.

This has usually started within the first year of development and carries on through the 2’s and 3’s.

Toddlers have a hard time sharing, even those with siblings, and this can be a very teachable skill.

When your toddler yells“Mine, this toy is MINE” you should always remind him that although the toy is in fact his, it is also important to “share your toys”.

Give them timeframes to better help the playtime.

“5 Minutes for you and then we can share and give 5 minutes to your sister”.

This is a great way to build social skills and promotes a more harmonised playtime.

3. Stay Calm

Toddlers pick a remarkable amount of traits from their parents.

Staying calm and being proactive in your parenting is a smart way to keep your 3-year-old off the ‘Naughty List’ and will give you fewer issues to discipline.

For example when your daughter throws a tantrum in the middle of a busy shopping centre, instead of shouting back at her or saying ‘as soon as we get back home she’ll be in BIG trouble‘, try bending down to her level, using a polite tone and remind her ‘Shouting and screaming is not an acceptable form of behavior and will not get my attention’.

Never re-enforce negative behavior with positive rewards.

If you’ve said 3 times that she can’t have another sweetie but then on the fourth time she screams, you give it to her, you are only teaching her that throwing tantrums and getting frustrated can eventually get her what she wants.

It’s hard to do and sometimes you will want to take shortcuts, but this will just leave the disruptive behavior undisciplined and unpunished only to resurface again and again later.

Keeping to these guidelines you can better monitor your 3-year-olds behaviour and limit 3 Year Old Defiant Behavior.

This will allow her to better express herself in disruptive times.

Patience is always the cornerstone to effective parenting and remember tantrums and meltdowns are usually just a phase and don’t last too long

Here’s a quick video on 3 Year Old Defiant Behavior

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