>Struggles with Three Year Old

>Dear Dr. Rene,
Our three and a half year old daughter is very strong willed – a trait I share – which leads to a variety of difficulties. We are having particular issues over clothing and bathtime. She wants the same outfit everyday, refuses to take baths. I have tried offering choices and compromises but every option is met with a complete meltdown. We are at a loss about what to do as she is otherwise a sweet little girl.
Thank you,
Ginny, Mother of One

Dear Ginny,
These are common stages for show-downs with young children. Getting dressed in the morning, getting ready for bath or bed are often cited by parents as tough times of the day. Thankfully, there are several techniques to approach and help soften the struggle.

On the rare day that getting dressed or getting in the bath goes smoothly, gush a little. Notice her good behaviors, describe back to her what she did. Be sure this is behavior specific, somthing like “Wow, you got dressed all by yourself. That was helpful.”

Setting clear boundaries means letting them know up front your expectation and ways to be successful before the behavior happens again. If these are daily battles, there is no reason to wait for it to blow up. Be proactive, get in front of the behaviors. Talk her through before she starts to get dressed tomorrow.

If that doesn’t work and you find yourself in a stuggle it is good to think choices and contribution. Direct choices about where to get dressed or which piece of clothing to start with can be helpful. Contribution is giving her job through the struggle. This would be making her the sweater selecter for the family or the sock matcher. Best to be a job related to the task.

If all that fails, you might fall back on consequences. Consequences are best if they match your child’s behavior. This means keeping the behavior in mind while developing your response. Matching in content is the hardest but in this case might be her having to get dressed alone or you picking the outfit.

There is a good book titled Kids, Parents and Power Struggles that breaks down the dynamics and walks through these steps in a more detailed way. Hang in there, strong willed may be a trait that serves her well in the long run.
Dr. Rene


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