At some point it occurs to every parent that the terrible two’s were not that bad especially with compared to the underestimated three’s. One of the issues with three year old children is that since most have gained the language skills and communicative ability to express themselves not only do parents expect more but the children demand more. This is the age when so many parents begin trying to reason with children or when the implement behavioral techniques serve up punishments like time-outs or taking away a favorite toy. Unfortunately, 3 year olds although verbal – often still do not have the skills to understand the punishment (especially when they are unrelated) or are able to pick up on the fact that their action caused the consequence. When you think about how to discipline a 3 year old there should be a great deal of consideration of the individual child and their emotional understanding.
Lots of parents feel that reward/punishment discipline works best. They get hooked into a revolving door that quite simply ends up making the parent responsible for the child’s actions. If they are good – they get a cookie or a marble in a jar. If they are bad, they have to sit in their room or are not allowed to play with their toy truck for the rest of the day. The problem with this is that it works through a system of expectation and demand and does little to develop a child’s understanding or the life skill to make right decisions. Rewards and punishment discipline is authoritative and may work for older children where the foundation is clearly established; but not great for a 3 year. One of the reasons is that rarely does the punishment fit the crime. For instance, sitting in time out for 5 minutes has nothing to do with them hitting their sister in the head with a toy truck. Taking away the televisions has nothing to do with their unacceptable dinner time behavior. Although no TV and time-out may work as currency (meaning something that matters to your child) it does not allow them to create a shift in their own behavior or see that they are truly responsible for it.
When you are trying to find a new way to discipline your three year old begin to utilize their advances in language and communication to effectively teach them to make good decisions for themselves. For instance; when your child acts rude, disrespectful or generally ignores the laws of the house when it comes to dinner time – remove them from the table and quite simply they don’t eat! Before all those parents out there so concerned about nutrition etc have a fit- one missed meal will not hurt your child. This shows them that their behavior had a consequence and the consequence goes along with their bad behavior. What a 3 year old can do is bridge the two actions together in their mind and begin to realize that if they do A; B will happen. Long term – all people need to take responsibility for themselves and it is important for children to gain that understanding.
One thing that this logical form of discipline does for a 3 year old is equip them to realize that the outcome of all situations stems from them. If a child kicks and screams throwing a fit on the way to the playground they are given the option to choose through their behavior. They have the choice to both behave and play or to throw their fit and sit next to you on the bench for the duration of your visit. For this situation it is advised to offer the child the choice and given them 3-4 minutes for them to show you their answer. No more words need to be spoken, no harsh punishment awaits and the only one who will suffer from their decision is themselves.
Learning how to discipline a 3 year old is a lot about finding what works. Some children respond well to logical discipline while others may not have the attention span or cognizant abilities to understand ‘wrong from right.’ As a parent it is important to realize first and foremost that discipline is meant to teach and provide learning. When a parent reacts, especially with a 3 year old, in the heat of the moment – their tone, disposition and result will come from a spot of anger rather than love. Children understand by the age of 3 when they have upset or disappointed their parents and it is vital to their self confidence and growth that parents remain calm and in control when disciplining. When a parent yells, points a finger, scowls or frowns at a 3 year old – they are hearing your actions much more than your words. This is not the lessons most parents intend to teach. One way to decide whether or not your form of discipline is the right one is to notice whether or not it is working toward developing the social and behavioral skills of your child. If time outs and taking away privilege is becoming a daily occurrence chances are your child is not learning anything and hasn’t yet understood that their actions are causing their problems.