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Toddler Tantrums and Disrespect


My three-year-old is extremely disrespectful, yells, "Noooooo!" says, "I can't," when told to clean up toys, and will kick and bang on the back of his bedroom door when placed in time out.

I think we have done an ok job at trying to be consistent and require good manners, but all efforts are failing. He is truly out of control and we need help. It's getting really bad, and its starting to worry me.

Please, any advice beyond "give him a three minute time out" would be appreciated. Where are we failing? What can we do with a three-year-old who is draining us?


Hi, friend. This is a tough age, isn't it? You're at a really important moment in your relationship with your son, so I'm really glad you've reached out for help!

Beginning today you must establish your authority. Your son must know that you are in charge. Today, you and your husband need to start to do these things:

1. Use a firm and commanding tone when you speak to him. When he speaks disrespectfully, make eye contact (hold him still if you need to) and very firmly say "You may not speak this way." Don't try to figure out "why" he's doing it, or ask him what it is that he wants--don't say "Hey, hey, hey, buddy! What's wrong? You know we don't talk like that! What's going on, buddy?" or anything similar.
2. Say it once--no threats, no offers of reward. Don't say "If I ever hear you speak like this again you'll be in trouble" He needs to be "in trouble" right now.
3. Follow up with a painful and memorable consequence. For example--straight to bed, no dinner is appropriate for something like being disrespectful. If he kicks and bangs on the door, go in and remove his shoes so he won't damage the door. Otherwise, just let him alone and let him wear himself out. It's a good idea to take everything out of his room that he could break, tear, or otherwise destroy, as well as anything that is fun.
4. In all of this, you are being firm and decisive, but not yelling.

For tantrums--that is, when he goes bonkers, throws himself on the ground, screams, etc.--take him to a small room (small bathroom, pantry, etc.). Calmly and dispassionately tell him you aren't going to watch something so unpleasant, but that he can scream as much as he wants to in that room until he gets control of himself. When he's calmed himself down, let him come out, and go on with your day. You don't need to say anything more about it. When it happens again, follow the same routine. Pretty soon he will get tired of not having an audience.

The "I can't" problem was answered in a previous guru answer.

Remember--three-year-olds are not rational. Don't try to reason with him or explain or ask him what's wrong. When he is disrespectful, nip it in the bud. When he goes off the rails, he has to learn to get a grip on himself, away from civilized humans.

You can do it--don't let this throw you, it's quite normal Just keep being consistent and you'll see great improvement!
All the best,
Kaye Wilson, CLPC

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