The Age of Defiance

Feel free to ignore this, because I really just needed to vent about a really annoying stage, and some of these are bad examples. 

Evan is deep into a defiant stage. He will refuse to do pretty much anything we ask him. It leads to good times like these:

*In the morning right before we normally get Evan to sit on the potty (right after he got up)*
Me: Evan, to get a sticker for the potty chart* you know all you have to do is say “I need to go potty” and then go!
Evan: NO (shaking his head)
Me: Just say “I need to go potty”, then you get a sticker! Then all you need is one more sticker to get a prize!
Evan: No (shaking his head)
Me: Evan, you know you have to sit on the potty when you wake up. so just say “I need to go potty” and you’ll get a sticker!!
Evan: NO (shaking his head)

*Evan has a giant sliver in his finger*
DH: Okay, just sit still and I’ll get it out quickly
Evan: NOOOO!!!!! I don’t like it!!
Me: Evan, just look at mommy and it’ll be over quick!
Me: Okay, just watch cartoons!
Evan: SHREIK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DH: You need to stay still
Me: Evan, if you don’t let daddy do it, then it might get infected and then hurt really bad.
Evan: SHREIK!!!!!!!
DH: Evan, it will only take a second! I used to hate this too, but my dad did it for me too.
Evan: SHREIK!!!!!
Me: Evan, either daddy does it, or we’ll have to go to the doctor. Would you rather go to the doctor?
Evan: NOO!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: Okay, then just let daddy do it!
Evan: SHRIEK!!!!!!!!!!! NOOOO!!! I DON’T LIKE IT!!!!
*DH wraps him in a blanket, pins him down, and gets the sliver out*
Evan: goes back to watching cartoons and is totally fine

Playing games with him is SO infuriating. I know he understands the rules, but refuses to follow them, even though I say things like “it’s way more fun when everyone plays by the rules!”. And then he just starts doing whatever he wants, and I know it’s just to do something other than what I ask him too.

We also almost lost the kid at Home Depot last week because he refused to stay beside us or come back when he ran down the aisle. I tried to explain to him that it’s dangerous of him to go off on his own like that, but he just refused to get it (even though I know he can). Argh!! This was extra infuriating because he’s normally very well behaved in these situations.

What annoys me the most is when he outright refuses to do things he used to be able to do or we know he can do them (like getting dressed, or setting up the potty, or cleaning up his toys).

Any tips on:
a) How to reasons with a three year old (I know you can’t, but how can you get important things through to them?)
b) How to go from peeing/pooing on the potty when we get him to sit there (on a schedules and/or with a timer), to him knowing he needs to and either telling us OR going himself?

*Yes, I’m at that point! I think he’s so close, but he just needs some extra motivation somehow!


Comments on: "The Age of Defiance" (8)

  1. Re pottying, if you keep scheduling it, he'll pick it up. Go at the same intervals or cued around events (before leaving house, before meals etc).

    Here's our behavior post– check the comment for tips from the readers.


  2. My personal thoughts would be that you may be seeing a delayed reaction to all the changes he's been through of late. A lot of things have happened that were totally out of his control. He got a new sibling (not all upside for him), you got very sick, his grandparents were looking after him and you were not home, etc. So now, he's going to be in control and that is giving a little boy a feeling of empowerment. So, how can you empower him without giving in? That's a toughie but I think just acknowledging that he needs to feel some control right now is a start. Have you heard of the program “Watch, wait, and wonder?” It's pretty simple. Your child does something that you feel is out of character. You watch and see, if you don't react, what will he do next? You watch that and keep watching until it plays itself out. Then you wonder — now why did he do that? And sometimes it's just really obvious what's really going on. Of course you can't always do this in situations like injuries and running away in public etc. but what happens if you don't take him to the potty in the morning? Watch and see. What happens if you don't even mention it? Does he have an accident? What's the consequence — a diaper for the day? He may very well want one right now because his baby brother has one. A little regression never hurt a three year old. It seems like defiance (and that is a normal stage) but given all your family has been through of late, I'd consider that he just might need to regress a little and go back to a time where he felt safe and wasn't having to share you with anyone.


  3. Agree with Woolfree. His behavior is definitely linked to recent upheavals, and will likely go away sooner if you don't make too much fuss. That said, stop reasoning so much and merely offer choices with very clear consequences. 3-year-olds can only reason so far, and when they're tired, hungry, or upset their frontal lobes are OFF and reasoning is worse than useless.

    Potty issues: go potty or have a diaper day. His choice, it doesn't matter to you.

    Sliver: hold still, or we can hold you. (So, you did exactly the right thing and he was fine.)

    Running away: walk nicely in a store or be strapped into the cart, or we will leave immediately. If my boys thrash and squirm their way out of the cart buckles, sometimes I need to carry them.

    Defiant toddlers are stressful, but it's a normal part of development. Hey, it means you're doing it right! He feels safe enough to test you, over and over again. Small consolation, I know. Being very mindful of his food/sleep/stress level can minimize tantrums and defiance, but never eliminate it. Oh, and I find a very calm, polite, reasonable voice is helpful. They love it when you're mad or frustrated, it tells them they're winning.

    Good luck, you have my sympathies.


  4. Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions, everyone!


  5. Re: the potty things—it just clicked suddenly for my kid around 4, though I still sometimes “make him” go when its been a while, and we have had a few accidents. I figure he'll pick it up eventually so I'm not fussing on that.
    I'd say the defiant behavior is more age-related because we have ALL of that and no recent upheavals (we added baby brother when he was 21 months, but the behavior started a few months before 3 and is just now slowing down at 4).


  6. Anonymous said:

    our 3yo dealt with the newborn baby brother OK, but got totally defiant a bit later, when his brother was ~3-4 months and we started to treat the baby more like a human (rather than a baby lump). maybe part of your issue?


  7. Carolina (@braziliancakes) said:

    I don't know if you read but she has recently had a bunch of blog posts up about how crazy it is to deal with 3.5 year olds. Hope it helps with any ideas. 🙂


  8. Carolina – thanks for noting these post! Definitely worth a read!


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