Toddler Behavior: How To Handle a 3-Year-Old's Pestering

Dear Dr. Heather, I have a 3 year-old daughter who is very strong willed and just won't give in. For example, she wants me to get her 'blanky' which is lying around the house somewhere. I tell her no, you go and fetch it, then she says NO -- I must fetch it -- and so it goes on. I keep on telling her NO listen to mummy, but she just doesn't stop and carries on, which drives me crazy. I try and ignore it, but she just continues on!!!

Help! How is the best way to go about it without giving in to her pestering???


English Mum

Dear Mum,

At this age, it comes down to this: Feed good behaviors. Starve the bad. (In terms of emotion and attention, of course.)

With parenting, I often recall the famous line in the movie Amadeus: "Too many notes!" But instead I tell parents, "Too many words!" Say what you mean, very simply, and then STOP TALKING. Look away. Convey by your body language that you've said what you're going to say...and there's no negotiation. Some parents feel somehow that it's unfair to disallow negotiation with their children. But remember, a 3-year-old really isn't capable of negotiation...but she IS capable of testing your limits and rules until you finally give in. Go ahead and give in, once in awhile, if it makes sense and works for you. But your overall message should be: Take what I say seriously. I'm in charge here. It doesn't help to have a 3-year-old feel like she can be in charge; instead, it makes her worry that NOBODY is truly in charge.

I know it's maddening, but you really must avoid extended discussions about it, and show her by your ACTIONS that you DON'T HEAR HER when she carries on like that. Explain to her once that "I know you are a big enough girl to find it yourself. Now, I am done talking about it. I don't hear you anymore if you ask me for your blanket." And then you MUST FOLLOW THROUGH with pretending not to hear her. Don't get mad, take a deep breath, and expect a tantrum on her part. Also, expect the behavior to ESCALATE for awhile, until she gets the idea that you MEAN BUSINESS.

Them when she DOES find her blanket, and DOES calm down, PRAISE HER TREMENDOUSLY for being such a big girl and finding it herself. Praise and reinforcement of her good behavior is what you're really striving for here. Don't forget to praise her for even the smallest demonstrations of positive, nice attitudes and behavior. Eventually, she'll get the picture, and quit testing you in this way...and start showing you how nicely she can find her own blanket.

If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out more on your Little Tyrant's behavior here.

Good luck!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink