"As children grow older, parents must give them greater freedom, including greater freedom to make mistakes. "

A Blustering 3-Year-Old and the Ticket System


We have four children. Our third child is a 3.5 year old boy. He is our most "spirited" child and has the vocabulary of a 6 year old. Our 2 older children (6 & 8) are more reserved. He is so sweet but very emotional and intense and increasingly displaying more angry behavior when things don't go his way. I know with more attention to discipline he would respond well. I want to start the ticket system but would like some guidance on where/how to start. Some of the behaviors we would like to work on with him: obey the first time; do not ignore parents when spoken to; do not squeeze, lick, or sit on baby sister; do not scream, hit or bite (when he is playing with siblings and things don't go his way); going to bed without a screaming fit (he shares room with 6 year old brother). He thinks he should be equal to his two older siblings and get the same privileges. Where should I start?! I think I struggle most with expectations. What childish behaviors should I ignore/ what needs to be disciplined? Thank you.


Ah, the joys of little boys! This is not a big deal. I see from a previous question that you have already implemented the ticket system with your older daughter, so you're a pro at this already.

As for expectations- lashing out in a physical way should never be tolerated, so hitting/biting siblings and squeezing the baby is the first thing to address. If you add screaming, then you're going to solve multiple issues with the elimination of that behavior. So, that's where I'd start. He gets 3 tickets a day and when the last one is gone, he goes to his room for the remainder of the day. Be sure that there is nothing but bedding and books in his room. He eats dinner with the family then goes right to bed. (Forget the bath! You can do that in the morning when emotions aren't running high!)

Explain to him that anything he does to hurt another person will make him lose a ticket. I have a son who would "accidentally" hurt his little brother. I didn't let him get away with that. Once I implemented a consequence, it was amazing how his little brother quit getting hurt "on accident" whenever I wasn't looking!

You need to be very specific about "screaming." Ask him to show you his "inside voice" and comment on how nice it sounds to hear him talk, sing and hum using his inside voice. Then take him outside and ask him to show you his "outside voice." Make it fun and get in on the action. Show him your BEST outside voice by screaming, yelling, cheering and acting like a maniac. He will think it's a hoot! Then explain to him that in your family, you only use the voices that are appropriate for your environment. (Use the language he will understand). Tell him that when he is outside, he can be as loud as he wants, but when he is inside, then he MUST use an inside voice or he will lose a ticket. You must be sure to follow through. He has developed a habit of raising his voice when things don't go his way and it takes time to change habits. If he has a complete meltdown when he has to go to bed and screams his head off, then let him. Just ignore it. Once you get his daytime behavior on track, then the going to bed behavior will be easy.

Tell him that children who scream at bedtime are obviously just extra tired. The "doctor" says that if you put them in bed early, then they get plenty of sleep and they will stop screaming at bedtime. You'll know when he's ready to stay up later because he won't scream when it's bedtime.

Liz Mallett, CLPC

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