Parents with three year olds would agree that dealing with their defiant behavior is exasperating and physically exhausting. You know those times when your child would intentionally do something they are not supposed to do or vice versa.

Surely, you’ve tried various tricks and nothing seems to be working simply because they refuse to listen. Frustrating, isn’t it?

How to handle a defiant 3 year old?

If you can relate to these scenarios, you are not alone! If you think you’ve run out of options in terms of dealing with your little one’s difficult behavior, stress no more! There is still hope! Take a look at the following tips to help you handle a defiant 3 year old.

Change your perception about the child

Your thoughts towards your child significantly affect the way you treat and interact with them. For example, if you look at your child as someone who always gets into trouble or someone who will always make a mess, it impacts the way you talk to them. It will only increase your tendency to say negative things instead of encouraging positive behavior. However, changing your expectations towards them and seeing them as a person who is capable of behaving appropriately will make a whole lot of difference. So, start by being mindful of your thoughts. It is the first step to making sure you respond to and handle their behavior appropriately.

Shower them with love

It’s easy to get angry and frustrated when a child starts throwing tantrums, especially in front of other people. But instead of giving in to your emotions and letting the situation get the better of you, the best thing to do is to stay kind but firm. It doesn’t help to make your child feel that they are always part of the problem. Instead, give them a reassuring hug to let them know they are loved and not misunderstood. Be calm when talking and avoid raising your voice.

Turn their defiance into a teachable opportunity

One common mistake many parents are guilty of is that they think of themselves as a teacher and their child as a student. They think that stern consequences are necessary to correct their child’s bad behavior. Instead of looking at the situation as if it’s another war you have to battle through, transform it into a teachable opportunity. See yourself as being on the same side as your little one so that both of you can learn something from the situation. More importantly, always have your child’s best interests as your top priority.

Empathize and acknowledge their feelings

Young kids usually become difficult because they feel that they are misunderstood. Be sure to acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings. This part is one of the things many parents miss. Instead of immediately dragging them home when they’re in the middle of playing, let them know that you understand how much fun they are having. Then, let them understand why you already have to leave. Now this is the point where you can set clear limits. Tell them it’s time to go home because they have to get ready for dinner. Just be sure you sound calm and non-threatening.

Know when to step in and when not to

Responding to your child’s defiance isn’t always necessary, especially when it does not directly impact you. Sometimes, you have to know when to step in and when not to. For example, say your little one refuses to obey even after telling them why it’s important to clean up their toys. Instead of wasting your time explaining that they have to take care of their things so they won’t end up losing them, let the consequences teach them the lesson. If, one day they find themselves looking for their favorite toy, then that is the consequence for not listening.

Reinforce positive behavior

Another important thing we usually forget is noticing our child’s positive behavior. Parents should not just pay attention to their kids when they misbehave. Instead, you should also make it a point to always acknowledge your little one’s good behavior.

Handling a defiant 3 year old is never easy, but these positive parenting techniques should help you change your approach and finally bid goodbye to stressful episodes.


Enrolling your little one in a high quality preschool can also help develop their emotional and social skills. If you’re looking for the best preschool and positive parenting techniques for your child, please feel free to visit Handprints Academy.

6 Ways to Handle a Defiant 3 Year Old

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