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HELP- Strong willed 3 year old


New Member
My youngest child turned 3 at the end of September. Almost everyday that I pick him up from day care there is a negative report about him. I'm glad they tell me but it is discouraging to hear day after day. Collectively, the day care, my husband and I are trying to figure out how to handle him.

He basically does what ever he wants or doesn't want to do. He's given several choices but he still does what he wants (which is usually not one of his choices). When they tell him he needs to go to time out for not following directions, he tells them "no" and runs away. He roams around the room during circle time and says he doesn't care if they tell mommy and daddy.

He is a VERY sweet little boy but he is very active. When he is at home and he makes the wrong choices, he is disciplined. When he is at school, he is put in time out but we think our consequences at home are more severe than at school. He thinks that if my husband and I find out that he went to time out at school, he is going to get in more trouble at home so he just doesn't go to time out, thinking he won't get in trouble at home. We're just trying to support his teachers. Are we "over punishing"? Is that possible? Plus, it's hard to punish him for something that he did 5 hours prior.

We don't want to crush his spirit but he needs to learn how to listen and follow directions. HELP!!!
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Senior Member
You might not like my answer...

I was in your shoes, too. My son is a Spirited Child. He is very pigheaded and resistant to punishment. He never went to day care, but we had problems at home. At the age you son is now, there really isn't much you and your DH can do, the day care must take action and use immediate, negative consequences. You will need to figure out what he would hate most as a punishment. Does he hate to be isolated from the ohter kids? Does he hate to miss outside play or playdough time or painting? Whatever is most important to him must be taken as a consequence for poor behavior, BUT only if it is really bad behavior. Personally,. I could ignore a kid (at 3) not coming to circle time.

You might try the personal approach, telling him how unhappy it makes people (esp. the teachers) when he doesn't mind. Also, tell his teachers to notice and praise ANY small amount of cooperation he shows. There motto should be "Progress , not perfection."

Now, the part you might not like (and I might get flamed for ) sometimes a good old fashioned spanking can do wonders for a stubborn kid. Sometimes, it is all that works.


Senior Member

Visit this website. This author's ideas are not necessarily new but they work. I have heard him speak. Several teachers at my school have used his book for the spirited child. Our school is using his school discipline book.

I like this quote

"Discipline isn't what you do when children misbehave;
It's what you do so they won't."



Senior Member
I read somewhere

that discipline just means to guide. I do not advocate hitting a child. I don't care what people can find in the bible to justify it.

Sounds like all the adults in this poor little guys life have WAY too high expectations for him. It is the WRONG sort of school/daycare program for him. He SHOULD be encouraged to come and sit and listen to a story or whatever at circle, but not punished for not going. That is utter B### #### in my book.

BTW I do have a lot of units in Early Child Education, plus taught preschool myself. IF teacher is engaging, kids will want to be at circle... if he does not,then it is probably the wrong center for him.

In addition, there is far too much "disciplining" going on for my taste. HE IS THREE years old for goodness sakes. Stop putting adult expectations onto a child. You should know better. Read some books and educate yourself, please.

I also do not agree on praising everything he does "right" you might make him neurotic. Honest praise, occasionally is all that is required.

I ran a day care, I taught preschool. I never gave a parent a laundry list of what Johnny did or didn't do right at school/program that day. If a kid did or said something cute I'd share it. But parents are tired and just need to pick up their child and go home. What goes on in VEgas stays in Vegas if you now what I mean.

sorry to rant. But I have had it with grownups not bothering to learn child development, tired of people expecting logical thought from such young children. makes me crazy! I am sure you are a very good parent, I am not attacking you. good luck.
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Brooke S.

Senior Member
love and logic

I would purchase Parenting with Love and Logic. They have one for toddlers. I have just gotten a foster child who is almost 3 and it is working wonders. I have used their method of time out and it is amazing.

Instead of getting angry you start with a sing songy type of voice. You always start with the same phrase, for example: Uh..oh Johnny is whining. You will have to sit in your room in timeout until you can stop whining.

I then put him on his bed and leave the room. If you gets up I put him back on the bed and ask him if he would like the door open or closed. If the child doesn't respond you close it. If they repeatly come out you just keep putting them back in time out. (without getting angry or talking).

Let me tell you that this system works wonders. My little guy will go to "time out" for literally seconds now and will come out acting like a normal child again. I love it!!! I never have to shut the door anymore or put him back in timeout. I think it just takes a little practice to make him understand that I mean business.

The best part is that it is done without anyone getting angry. I'm sure they could change this up a bit to do it in the classroom with the timeout chair. The good think about the bedroom is you don't have to listen to the crying.

Good luck!!!:D

reading this


Apparently you have never taught or had to deal with a truly spirited child. I have read about them in books and on the internet and have a spirited child in my extended family that I deal with on an ongoing basis. Spirited children do not give in or let go. Normal types of punishment and psychological manipulation do not work with them. So don't belittle Ruby as "hitting" her child or the preschool teacher for not "engaging" enough. If a spirited child chooses not to be engaged, nothing the teacher does will change his mind at that moment. It becomes a game to the child and he will want to win at all cost. And she didn't say praise everything he does, she said praise cooperation.

Now, lets assume he is not spirited but just testing the limits--there is a lot of good advice in these posts. I agree that the teachers need to remember he is only 3! But that does not give him free reign to decide for himself what he can do at daycare. But it could also be a situation where the more attention he gets from it, the more he will do it. I wouldn't want to hear it every day either. I would just tell the teachers to handle it in a prearranged way and not even bother to tell you unless it gets severe. It will get worse before it gets better, so just remember that.


Senior Member
yes I have

I wrote what I wrote last night without going into full detail on my background. (which is extensive, I've worked with hundreds of kids who are high spiritied. I like them.) Something struck a nerve in me and I had a little vent last night. I did tell mom that I was not attacking her. I did use words like may or might. It was my opinion. I do think that many preschools are doing it wrong. period.

Too often a child is just punished without finding out the whys. For example has anyone thought that he may have autism? Has there been a hearing test? Is he emotionally disturbed from some trauma? food allergy? illness? etc., Diagnosis is needed, probably. I'd rule out any any health issues.

One of the previous posts talks about a whining problem. Three year olds do whine. I don't think I'd put a child on their bed for whining. I would redirect them. ignore them, or Play with them, etc. (play when the whining ceases of course)

The key here is the parent said they "didn't want to crush his spirit" The bothersome part is the child is given choices and chooses nothing from the menu.... this is where redirecting is vital. As well as time outs, I'd just say you can sit here and do nothing or choose this or that. You may have to restrain.


Senior Member
I totally agree with Brooke S. Love & Logic is the way to go. I learned about L&L about 5 years ago and started using it on my oldest son who was then 3. My youngest was born later that year and I have used L&L with him since about 18mos.

They both listen well (although younger DS sounds like yours--very active and WANTS to do his own thing, however usually doesn't due to L&L). All I have to do is present a choice to them. If they don't choose, I choose for them. If they cause a problem, they have to figure out how to solve it. If I want younger DS to stop something right away, all I have to do is sing the "uh-oh" song... "Uhhhhhhhh---ohhhhhhh" in a sing-song-y voice and he stops and listens to me to find out what's wrong.

I'll give you one example that I am really proud of: my older DS (who is 7) has a couple of friends who do not make good choices like him. One day, one of his friends wanted to get into our apartment's pool area, but it was closed for cleaning. He wanted my DS and he to climb the fence. The friend chickened out, but convinced my DS to climb onto someone's grill that was against the fence and get in. Of course DS was caught and brought back to our apartment.

I was very upset originally, so I did what Jim Fay recommends, I postponed talking about it. Most people think a consequence has to be immediate for it to work. It does not; it only has to be APPROPRIATE. So I said, "Oh honey, what a bummer! I'll have to think about this for a while. I'll get back to you soon, don't worry too much." Of course, for a child older that 5, that's the signal to start REALLY worrying about it. DS asked me seven or eight times throughout the evening what was going to happen.

After he went to bed, DH and I talked about it and decided he needed to stay away from the boy for a week and make some restitution to the apartment complex for their trouble. We decided he would clean the pool area (sweeping, straightening up, etc.) for 15 minutes each day during the week he was grounded from his friend.

The next day, we asked him, "What are you going to do about your problem?" He said, "I don't know." We said, "What a bummer not to know yet. Would you like to hear what other kids have tried?" We gave him several options, with the worst first (kids always reject the first idea) and asked him after each one how it would work out. We saved our agreed-upon solution for last. He decided that was the best one and did it.

He was very good about not complaining about any part of his consequence, after all, he was the one that "chose" it. He also, on his own, decided the boy who had pressured him into doing that wrong thing was not a very good friend and he has stopped playing with him--without ANY pressure from us.

There is a great L&L book for toddlers and preschoolers. I would recommend you check it out. You can see all of the Love & Logic products and loveandlogic.com


Garden Gal

Senior Member
yup- love and logic

I agree that love and logic is a great resource. It will also reassure you that you are not a bad parent. In the meantime, when was your son's last physical exam? You want to rule out any health issues that might appear as behavior issues. Second of all take a good look at whether your current child care is the best fit for your son. It maybe just the right place and you can work together with his teachers. However, would he respond better to a center with fewer children, with more structure or less? Does your current center have a stable staff or is there a lot of turn over? Ask the center to chart his time outs for a week and see if a pattern occurs-is he hungry, is it during a quiet auditory time such as circle? At home I would not punish him for time outs at school. I might consider a consequence for not going to time out when directed. At home maybe he could earn a reward for not having time outs. You could give him 5 stickers a day. And then take stickers away for time outs at school. At the end of the week if he has X number of stickers then he could do something special-trip to the park, watch a movie with mom and dad. That might reinforce that good behavior leads to good consequences. Good luck- I think he's in my class. (Not really I don't teach preschool-but I have some Kinders just like him)I love his spirit and keep trying to find ways to direct it positively.
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New Member
Thank you all

Last night was my first time posting a message. I am very appreciative that you all took time out to help me out with my situation. I will definitely take all of your suggestions into consideration, especially Love and Logic. It sounds wonderful. I also want to thank you not only for your advice but for your words of encouragement. I'll let you know how it works out. :)

This is such an informative and helpful community! I'm glad I found it.