What do you when your 3 year old says no to everything, no matter what? Learn the vital tactics to discipline and handle the endless no’s.
What do you do if you set expectations, yet your child resists them?
You ask him to bring the dishes to the sink or wash his hands after using the bathroom, but he simple refuses. He’s supposed to clean up the toys after play time, but he sits and looks at you, waiting to see what you’ll do.
It’s not that he doesn’t understand what you’re saying—he just says “no” to everything you ask. And when he doesn’t get his way, he’ll throw a huge temper tantrum, yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs.
What can you do when all the words out of his mouth is a defiance to your rules, both big and small?
What to do when your 3 year old says no to everything
You hear that defiance is normal child development for preschoolers from toddlerhood through the teen years, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Especially when simple rules and responsibilities provoke power struggles.
Neither you or your child enjoys the dreaded back-and-forth arguments. You might even resent waking up and spending time with him because it’s gotten that bad. And trust me, this is not how he wants to interact with you, either.
Thankfully, all is not lost. It’s never too late to rethink your approach to discipline, even if you’ve tried putting him in time outs or giving a warning. As you’ll see, sometimes it takes a different way to discipline and set limits, or even the understanding of what discipline truly is (hint: it’s not punishment).
Here’s what you can do when your 3 year old says no to everything:
1. Show empathy to show you’re on her side
Often, the most effective way to get your child to finally listen is to make sure she feels heard. Show empathy by saying you understand how she feels and letting your body language express that you’re on her side.
“I know it isn’t much fun—sometimes I don’t like putting my dishes away either. We have to keep our house clean though, and that’s why we need to put our dishes in the sink.”
With empathy, she knows you understand the hurt and frustration she feels and that you’d feel the same if you were in her shoes.
Free resource: As frustrating as her behavior may be, a lot of it can be prevented simply by seeing things from her perspective. In The Power of Empathy, you’ll learn how empathy is the secret key that makes a huge difference in how we interact with our kids.
Imagine transforming your relationship, using just the lessons you’ll learn right here. Grab your PDF below—at no cost to you. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
“I came across your blog, and it’s so relieving to finally read something that relates to what I need to hear to help me go through this phase of life. So, a big THANK YOU! I feel like I can start over again with my three year old. Since I’ve started consciously practicing what you’ve preached, it’s helping my three year old and me to stay cool. Thanks again for doing such a great job.” -Yousreen C.
2. Offer choices
Why are choices powerful? They provide your child the autonomy to decide how she wants to do the task. No doubt she needs to do the task, and she might even resent that she has to do it. But given the autonomy, she’s more likely to comply when the choice falls on her.
Phrase the task as a choice she gets to make. “Do you want to put the toothpaste yourself, or do you want me to do it for you?”
Notice that the choice isn’t “either / or.” You’re not giving her the choice to brush her teeth or not—that is a non-negotiable.
Instead, you’re giving her the choice in the matter. And always provide parent-approved choices. You should be happy with either choice she makes, not use them to pit one against the other (“Do you want to brush your teeth or not read a book later?”).
3. Give a “better” option
Sometimes all we need to do is phrase the task as something kids “get” to do. Let’s say you haven’t allowed your child use the dishwasher yet. You can give him the new responsibility of putting the dishes away: “Hey, want to help me load the dishwasher?”
When phrased as a privilege, the chores become something he gets to do. My son loved spraying and wiping surfaces in the house because he thought it was awesome to spray just about anything. Well, there you go—I was able to get him to do a chore.
4. Offer an incentive
Frame the chore as a means to an (awesome) end. This isn’t a typical reward (because external rewards only work for so long). Instead, you’re highlighting a positive consequence of doing the task: “After we go to the grocery store, we can start the new puzzle you got.”
The focus is on the “after” part—the fun part—and less on the means to get there. The chore doesn’t have to be the big battle and power struggle, but something to do so he can move on to a fun activity.
5. Pick your battles
Have you counted how many times you say “no” to your child? And not just the word “no,” but any alternate of it: “Please don’t jump on the couch,” “We don’t hit one another,” or “Not too loud.”
If you’re like me, it’s a lot.
And for the most part, we have to. We provide boundaries and show our kids appropriate ways to behave.
But can you imagine living under those circumstances? It’s tough being a kid sometimes. And we have to remember that when we’re on the brink of another power struggle.
Instead, be particular with which behaviors need correcting and which ones you can ignore. Young children, like us, have a limited amount of space for discipline for it to be effective. Focus on the best lessons and leave the rest.
6. Phrase the task like asking for help
It may not always seem like it, but kids are wired to please their parents, including helping out. Phrase the tasks your child needs to do as something you need help with: “It’d be a huge help if you put on your pajamas while I get ready for bedtime.”
The focus is on being a helper, rather than being bossed around. She’ll feel more independent knowing she’s helping you out, not just obeying orders.
Plus, you emphasize teamwork. She’ll feel that her contribution is something essential to the family unit and will feel proud to take part in it.
Listening to 3-year-olds and their endless “no’s” is challenging for any parent, but with a few changes and habits, you can get your child to comply more often.
Offer choices so he feels more autonomous and independent in his decisions. Show empathy to diffuse power struggles and let him know you’re on his side. Phrase the task like you’re asking for help.
Provide a better option and give “perks” that come along with doing the job. You can also highlight an incentive or a positive consequence to getting the task done. And when all else fails, pick your battles and see which behaviors need most correcting and which you can let go.
Kids will at some point (or rather, many points) say “no” to our instructions and requests. Now you have the tools to better communicate and encourage your child to comply, starting with putting his dishes in the sink.
Get more tips:
- What to Do when Your Kids Refuse to Do Chores
- THIS Is Why Your Child Is Testing You
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Doesn’t Listen
- How to Encourage Autonomy in Children
- Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child
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