"How do you get a child to do what he's told the first time he's told? Don't ever repeat yourself. "

Oh, Those Rebellious Threes!


Hello, my son just turned three two weeks ago. Almost the same time that his behaviors started to escalate with screaming, saying no when instructed to do things, and just outright rebellious. I have tried time out, room time alone, spankings on his bum bum, but nothings really works in the immediacy. He is very stubborn and strong willed. I do try to take things away that he likes, and that sometimes works, but is there anything else I can do before it gets worse?


Whomever said the twos were terrible didn't have my kids at age three! The twos were a breeze but each of my four kids woke up on or near their third birthday and turned into a holy terror. I say that not to discourage you but to gently remind you that sometimes, a child's "wake-up to himself" comes later.

What do I mean by "wakes-up-to-himself?" There comes a time in each child's life when they realize they are themselves, that they have a will and a desire and by golly, they're going to get their way. That usually happens when the child is 2, but sometimes, it doesn't happen until age 3.

That self-awareness means that the child suddenly wants to do what he wants to do and not what someone else tells him to do. That's why you get "no" screamed and refusal to obey.

Timeouts don't work for any age, so save yourself the trouble and angst about those. Spankings, as you've discovered, can be equally ineffective, so stop because your frustration at his lack of response or behavior change could trigger a harsher spanking than you intended.

What to do? First of all, it's all about your own attitude. You are the one in charge...whether or not your son agrees or acknowledges that. This is crucial. That means, when your son screams no, you give him The Look and wait a few seconds to see if he complies. When he doesn't, you repeat the instruction firmly, but without pleading, cajoling, or otherwise trying to get him to do it. When he still refuses after the second attempt, then you act by doing the thing for him. If it's brushing his teeth, you brush his teeth (he will not like it at all!). If it's picking up toys, you pick up the toys, but then he doesn't play with them again that day. If he throws a tantrum, you ignore the tantrum.

You asked what you could do before his behavior gets work worse, and the best thing is to position yourself as the leader. Mean what you say and say what you mean. You're cool. You're calm. You're collected. You've got this, because you're the adult and you don't have to get buy-in from a three-year-old.

Let me know how it goes, and hang in there!

Sarah Hamaker
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach
Trained Biblical Parenting Coach
Author of Ending Sibling Rivalry

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