Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Three-Year-Old Acting Out


I have a 3-year-old and a 2-year old who are exact opposites. My 3-year-old screams all the time, never listens and only sleeps about six hours a night. It’s hard for me to get her to eat and all she seems to want to do is watch TV. My 2-year-old, on the other hand, does whatever she’s told and listens very well. You would never think they had the same parents. How do I get my 3-year-old to calm down and stop misbehaving? I have already tried everything my doctor suggested.


Thank you for reaching ​out to us. We're sorry to hear that you're having a hard time with your 3-year-old. You're not alone in dealing with these kinds of problems. Sometimes just knowing that other parents are experiencing similar struggles can provide some relief.

I'm not sure what your doctor has already suggested, but there are definite strategies you can try and specific things to look for when trying to redirect negative behavior.

Many times there are little red flags signaling that a child is about to throw a temper tantrum. These signs include being overtired and rubbing eyes, being hungry or even bored. If you spot these signs, you might be able to avoid the tantrum by redirecting her behavior before it erupts. Ask your daughter if she’s tired or hungry and praise her good behavior often (even if small). Give your daughter plenty of reminders and realize that children tend to learn best through repetition with a consistent parenting style.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when it comes to repeating yourself, but it’s a crucial part of your daughter’s development. One of the most important teaching opportunities for parents comes with modeling. During a tantrum, it's best to give her space and ignore her behavior completely. When delivering consequences to your child, make sure the consequence is effective, is applied immediately after the tantrum has stopped, is appropriate and relates to the child's behavior. If you use the same consequences all the time, eventually the consequence will become ineffective.

In addition to negative consequences like timeouts, enforce positive consequences like making your daughter "redo" her bad behavior in the appropriate manner. If she refuses to share, talk to her, and have her go back to her sister and share the toy. You will need to demonstrate and model the correct behavior for her, and allow her plenty of practice. Explain briefly to your daughter why it's important to do the correct behavior and not the bad one. After she practices it, give her lots of praise and affection.

You could even start a reward system that focuses on family time and fun activities like going to the zoo or park instead of toys or TV time. Your daughter’s behavior will improve with positive reinforcement, support and lots of practice.

For more ideas, read Common Sense Parenting of Toddlers and Preschoolers by Ray Burke and Bridget Barnes and 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (3rd Edition) by Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D.

Good luck with this and please let us know if you need more help.

Other Popular Articles