My son has been horrible lately. Most of the day he is throwing a fit and crying about everything. He rarely follows directions. We have been trying to potty train him for around a year as well. We will ask him if he needs to go and he will scream "no!" We will ask him again, and the cycle continues and ends with him peeing or pooping in his pants.

He has also been mean to other children. He will go up to another child and hit them, push them down, or take a toy out of their hand. I care for a couple of under two year olds and my son harasses them a lot of times.

Is this just a normal 3 year old phase? I am having a hard time coping with his behavior and feel that ultimately my reactions are making it worse.

How can we make it through this stage? How can I without screaming at my child way too much?

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    Read some books on these issues. Even find a parenting class. it is so helpful to get some training on parenting. I've done these things and it helped a lot. Even my wife who is trained in pre-k child development felt overwhelmed when she had her own kids to figure out and deal with!
    – Adam Heeg
    Apr 20, 2017 at 16:57
  • There might be some underlying jealousy in this, him seeing how you care for the younger children although they are not his siblings and not spending all your time focusing on him. So he is trying to force you to spend more time with him and maybe also to "scare away" the other children.
    – skymningen
    Apr 21, 2017 at 8:33

1 Answer 1


Okay, this is fairly typical. That doesn't mean it is fun or easy and that it isn't a problem. In my opinion, it could be time for a restart.

  • Put him back into diapers. Do not complain or say anything negative. My assumption is that he no longer wants to be a baby (even if he thought he did) and that the no anger, back to the start approach -- may have him asking for the potty.
  • If timeout works for hitting (and that is your usual method), then go with that, but I'd try redirection. I'll explain redirection at the end.
  • I think this is happening because your son is trying to assert himself -- a normal and important developmental stage. Many -- even most -- parents make most decisions for their children. I am suggesting that you give him as many choices as possible and start using choosing language in your daily routines. This means he is responsible for choices he makes and for their consequences.(explained at the end)
  • A token sytem works for many children. Not food or anything that costs money -- but an extra few minutes with his favourite activity -- like 5 minutes extra on the swing or an extra story, or water or sand play time is extended.

(I say this so often that I am quoting my own material.)

The Redirection Technique

Redirection is a parental behaviour management technique that helps to prevent injuries, and promotes desired behaviours. It furthers learning and exploration while reducing punishment and negativity.

In a 'nutshell', the parent changes the subject and redirects the child's attention to another activity when possible. When it is not possible, redirection is a positive way to interact and help the child accomplish or act in the desired way. There are no idle threats or extra words added. We do not add that "You could break your leg." It is possible to talk about those worries at other times, but not in the moment.

Read more:

Choice and 'Choosing' Language

As you child matures and has a few words and is able to point or grab for a wanted item, this is the time to allow them to make choices.

Choices are really important. They help to build respect, to invite cooperation, to develop problem-solving skills, and it takes advantage of a child's normal requirement for some control.

I suggest the parent chooses two items that are acceptable to him or her and then allows a real choice to the child. The parent selects two shirts or two food items or two activities and then the child selects the one they prefer. You can add a third selection in time, but in the beginning -- keep it simple.

Then use the Choosing Language. "Which shirt do you want, the red or the blue?" When the child selects by pointing or even a word you respond, "You chose the red shirt. Good for you." This teaches that their choice was good, that this shirt is the red one and it teaches them/reinforces the choosing words . If the child is expected to eat the same dinner/participate in the same activity as the rest of the family, the choice option is still available. "Do you want this portion or this one?" "Do you want the green or the yellow bowl?" "Do you want to sit here or there?" "Do you want to have your turn before your sibling or before me*"?

Choice can also be a redirection -- because the child in choosing believes they have already complied and in effect, are agreeing to eat the meal/participate . (*This sort of choice prevents always going first or last and makes it fair for other siblings/participants.)

You expand the use of choices to other areas. "I am sorry that you chose to break your toy*." The consequence is that now that toy is broken and must be used that way (if it is safe) or they do not have it. This means the consequence is natural and you never need to be angry. *This is simply what happens when a toy is intentionally broken.

"I am sorry that you are cold because you chose not to bring your jacket. I will take you home and next time you can bring your coat." He has lost his playtime at the park, but chose not to bring the jacket and the consequence is natural. You have no need to be angry and you can even commiserate with him.

"You chose to hit your friend, the consequence is that s/he is getting extra time with the Legos and you're sitting in timeout/ you lose X number of tokens / we have to leave the park or party."

Praise is the best reinforcement. A hug, verbal appreciation and admiration all work in the long run fair better than food or items that cost money. Make it real. "You chose the red shirt. I like that colour. You look very nice."

Read more: Psychology Today

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    @Brookenbrandt Thank you, but no one else has had the chance to help you. You can 'un'accept the answer simply by clicking on it again. I like my answer (obviously!) but that doesn't mean there is not a better one, or one that fits your way better. Just yesterday someone came along with a new way of looking at something and I thought their answer was much better than mine was. There is no 'rule', but I suggest giving it 24 hours before accepting any answer. Even then -- you can change your mind when something you like better is said -- but an answer may stop others from helping. Welcome!
    – WRX
    Apr 20, 2017 at 17:16
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    Choices used to work for us, too. So that's a good advice in my eyes. However my, daughter eventually figured out how to get out of the loop with the answer. I want neither x nor y, I want z.
    – martin
    Apr 22, 2017 at 12:10
  • @martin Your smart little one also told you that she understood the process. As a parent, you stick to giving choices you are happy with, but also listen, be flexible, and offer the suggested choice if it is a good idea. "I don't want peas or carrots, I want broccoli." That works for me if we have broccoli, because my goal was to have her eat a veg. "Good idea! We have broccoli, and I will make some for dinner." If she said ice cream: "Funny girl! If you eat your peas, maybe I will get you some ice cream when I go shopping." (I heard you, but it isn't happening now, and I selected peas.)
    – WRX
    Apr 22, 2017 at 14:07

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