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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

3 Effective Parenting Tips to Manage Your 3-Year-Old’s Behavior

toddler photo

Three-year olds are beginning to assert their independence. They are learning that they can control their environment and people around them in certain ways. Although you may have heard of the phrase “Terrible Two’s,” more often than not, a young child’s “attitude” may more often show up or at least show up differently at the age of three.

I love young kids. They are so precious. But this is a very critical time in their lives when their brains, behaviors and habits are developing rapidly. They are very impressionable. Also, each child is different and it takes individualizing your parenting skills to each particular child in order to help your child be the best them they can be.

Oftentimes, a three-year-old’s “attitude” and stubbornness may become worse when they are the baby of the family. It’s easy to want to give in to your toddler and to make sure the bigger kids make her happy, too. She is so cute and precious and, of course, no one wants to hear her throw a fit, either.

However, there are some general practices that you can use to ensure that your precious three-year-old becomes well-behaved and well-mannered.

Tip #1: Don’t Give in to the Tantrums

If your three-year-old can use words to talk (and most three-year-olds can speak to some degree unless they are speech-delayed), don’t allow them to throw a fit to get what they want. Remind your toddler to use her words or simply don’t give her what she is after if she decides to whine. This can turn into a vicious cycle. If you give her what she wants when she is throwing a tantrum or make the older kids give her what she wants, she will begin to learn that whining and crying and throwing a fit will get her what she wants. She will make the fit bigger and louder until eventually everyone is giving in to her at the first whining noise she makes to avoid the big fit.

Tip #2: Take Care of Basic Needs

Although Tip #1 is effective, it also should be noted that three-year-olds are still getting out of that younger baby/toddler stage in which they had to cry to get their needs met. They didn’t have words in the first two years of life, so they had to make noise to get fed, to show they were tired, or to get attention. Three-year-olds may cry or have tantrum behaviors when they are hungry, tired, or want attention, as well. This is a tricky balance. The best way to avoid getting into this situation is to ensure that your toddler’s basic needs are taken care of such as having a healthy and consistent sleep and feeding schedule, ensuring that you provide your toddler with appropriate nutrition, and giving your toddler frequent attention. That way your three-year-old is less likely to throw fits as a result of not having their basic needs taken care of.

Tip #3: Follow through

It can be challenging to make your child do things when it is apparent that they have decided not to follow directions at that time. While you shouldn’t expect a three-year-old to be able to do the same things that a 5 or 10-year-old can do, they are still generally capable of following simple instructions and helping you or their older siblings with some tasks like picking up toys or throwing trash in the trash can, etc. So, when you tell your three-year-old to do something, try making sure that she actually does follow the reasonable instruction that you provided. Instead of thinking about “making” your toddler do something, think about what she is or isn’t allowed to do until she follows your direction. For example, you don’t have to let your toddler start coloring until she picks up the blocks (if that’s what you asked her to do and she now wants to color). On the other hand, if your child won’t get in the car, you can pick up a three-year-old (gently) and put them in the car even if they are crying. You can lovingly set limits and let your child know what the expectations are.

Photo by Monkey Mash Button

3 Effective Parenting Tips to Manage Your 3-Year-Old’s Behavior

Heather Gilmore

My name is Heather Gilmore. I am so happy to be able to have a space to share helpful insights and resources to other moms out there. Being a parent is hard work and I hope to be able to give you tips and strategies to make it at least a little bit easier and more enjoyable. We love our kids but any mom knows that they can also be exhausting and overwhelming at times, as well. I have a master's degree in social work. I work as a children's therapist. I am also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and work with children with autism spectrum disorder. Additionally, I am a freelance writer specializing in topics related to children and families. I have my own company called Hope Family Resources which provides resources in person and online to help families find greater hope, health, and happiness. See my site and learn more about me at: or email me at I have also published books on Amazon. Search for "Discpline and Parenting Strategies for Kids with ADHD," "Have Peace: How to Have Peace in Your Busy, Chaotic Life," and "Sibling Rivalry: How to Deal with Sibling Rivalry so You Won't Have to Anymore,"

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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2017). 3 Effective Parenting Tips to Manage Your 3-Year-Old’s Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Jun 2017
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