defiant 3 year olds

The Defiant 3-Year-Old – A Complete Guide to Surviving Three (& Four)

Last Updated on September 2, 2021.

Parenting defiant 3-year-olds can be one of the most frustrating things a parent has to deal with. They know what they want, and will do whatever it takes to get their way. This includes throwing tantrums, hitting, kicking, screaming, and more. How can you survive this tumultuous time? Read on for plenty of tips on handling your defiant 3-year-old!

Why do preschoolers defy their parents?

Preschoolers are finding their individuality. They are defiant because they want independence. They may also be defiant because they want their parents to notice them. Preschoolers are developing a sense of self and they want to be in charge. And a lot of it has to do with the rapid brain development occurring at this age.

12 Strategies to Curb Their Defiance

It’s tough to meet all the needs of a defiant 3-year-old. If you want to limit the power struggles in your house, here are 12 strategies to use!

Give them a job (or a few)

Chores are great for toddlers. It gives them a sense of responsibility. It builds confidence. And it also teaches them valuable skills that will be used when they get older and have to juggle responsibilities at school or home.

Offer plenty of choices

Toddlers need choices. They need to be able to make decisions about what they want and when. Offer your defiant preschoolers plenty of choices for their day, including clothes, food options, or toys. Give them the power over their own lives as much as possible. It will go a long way toward curbing defiance!

RELATED: How to help toddlers with transitions

Connect daily

Find ways to connect with your toddler on a daily basis. Use your defiant preschoolers’ interests to do this. If they love Legos, take them on a mini-tour of the toys at Target and help them pick out new sets. Or let your toddler help out in the kitchen. Connection is key to getting through to your defiant 3-year-old.

defiant 3 year olds
how to raise a defiant 3 year old

Empower them to be independent

Your toddler wants independence. Empower their independence by giving them opportunities to do things on their own. Give your preschoolers time in the bathtub by themselves, or put a few clothes out for dress-up and let them choose what they want that day. Put their cups and bowls on a lower shelf so they can set their own place at the table. Encouraging independence will help you get through these tough stages of development!

Read books about emotions

Books about emotional intelligence can significantly improve your defiant 3-year old’s emotional regulation social skills. Read them together as an opportunity to talk about feelings with your preschooler!

RELATED: Explore Peaceful Parenting Strategies

Be firm about routines

All kids need routines. But defiant 3-year-old really need routines. When kids know what to expect, they are less defiant. Show them what to expect from you each day, and they will be more compliant when it comes time for bedtime, mealtime, or cleaning up their toys.

Say what you see

A great strategy for toddlers is to say what you say. In other words, when you notice kids’ defiant behavior, point it out to them. It helps make defiant behaviors more visible and less attractive for defiant preschoolers.

Show affection

Give plenty of hugs and kisses! This will help defiant preschoolers feel more connected to you. It also helps them know that they are loved, no matter how many times they push your buttons.

RELATED: Does your toddler need preschool? Find out the pros and cons.

Feed them more often than you think is necessary

It’s no secret that 3-year-olds grow like weeds. Make sure you satisfy their hunger with plenty of nutritious meals and snacks. There’s nothing more defiant than a hangry 3-year-old.

Prioritize sleep

Sleep-deprived toddlers are no fun. They’re defiant, cranky, and hard to manage. Make sure your defiant preschoolers are getting enough sleep each night so they feel more peaceful during the day.

Distract and divert

When you’re frustrated and your toddler’s feeling feisty, take the distract and divert approach. Divert their attention to a new activity. It’s especially helpful to distract them with their favorite toys.

Put them in water or take them outside

One of the best strategies to calm kids is to put them in water or take them outside. It’s a time-honored approach! It can help defiant preschoolers feel more relaxed and more in control.

Bonus Tip: Follow Expert Parenting Bloggers

If you’re struggling with your toddler, follow a couple of expert parenting bloggers. You’ll discover amazing parenting tips, and you’ll quickly realize you are not alone in your parenting struggles. Find a couple of parenting bloggers you identify with and follow them on social media.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it normal for a 3-year-old to be defiant?

It’s totally normal for a 3-year-old to be defiant. You’re doing a great job! This defiant stage is called the “terrible twos”, but it often shows up after two. You might even experience this difficult stage when your child is four years old! The key to getting through this phase with your preschooler is communication and connection on their terms, not yours.

What are normal 3-year-old behaviors?

It’s very common for 3-year-olds to exhibit defiance and physical aggression. You might also notice that they are impulsive, stubborn, and prone to tantrums.

Can a 3-year-old understand consequences?

A 3-year-old’s brain development limits their capacity to understand consequences because they are still developing their prefrontal cortex. Each child is different. Most kids will start to understand consequences around four years old.

How do you handle a defiant 3-year-old at bedtime?

Kids who are defiant at bedtime need more structure. It’s important to establish a bedtime routine and be consistent about following the rules throughout the day. Try making their bedroom a place that feels safe and comfortable for them, with positive memories associated with it.

How do you handle a defiant 3-year-old at mealtime?

When your child is difficult during mealtime, it’s important to remember that you’re feeding a preschooler. These are kids who want what they want, when they want it! To help manage this defiant behavior, schedule healthy snacks in between meals and be sure your child is well-fed during the day so they don’t feel hungry or deprived at mealtime.

Try setting a time limit on mealtime to prevent defiant behavior. For example, tell your defiant preschooler that dinner will be over in 15 minutes and then they can leave the table if they aren’t finished eating by then. Do not offer unscheduled snacks. Your child can wait until the next scheduled snack to satisfy their hunger.

Help! My 3-year-old behavior is out of control. What should I do?

If your defiant preschooler is exhibiting defiant behavior all the time, it’s important to review their schedule. Has anything changed recently that might be throwing them off? Are they getting enough sleep at night? Is there too much screen time or sugar in their diet? You may need to make changes so that you can help manage this difficult stage. If you’re still struggling, reach out to a parenting coach for help.

The Bottom Line

You can’t parent defiant preschoolers the same way as compliant children. Consider what your defiant preschooler needs to feel loved and secure, rather than just managing their behavior. Use these tips to get through this defiant phase with your preschooler.

What You Should Do Next…

1. Snag Our Connected Parent Challenge

Are you ready for more activities to build a rock-solid bond with your kids? Try our Connected Parent Challenge! It’s 15 Days of 15 Minute activities that are sure to improve your connection, diminish bad behavior, and create lasting memories. Plus, I’ll deliver more amazing parenting strategies to your inbox weekly (don’t worry, unsubscribe any time!).

2. Join Our Free Online Community

Connect with like-minded moms (and dads!) in our free online community. You’ll find a plethora of resources to help you through your parenting challenges. Plus, you’ll find me there! And I’d love to connect.

3. Take a Free 60-Minute Parenting Webinar

Do you need actionable strategies right now? Register for this free 60-minute webinar titled How to Get Kids to Listen, Without Nagging, Yelling or Losing Control. You’ll walk away with parent-tested tactics to get your kids to listen starting today.

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