How to Deal With a 3 1/2 Year Old's Stubbornness


Preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 4 are infamous for being stubborn. It's one of the ways they try to assert their independence as they begin to realize that they are beings separate from their parents or caretakers. Of course, understanding that the behavior is a part of normal development doesn't necessarily make it easier to deal with. You can, however, handle it -- even when she insists on having her way, gives you the folded-arms stance and shows her best frowny face of stubbornness.

Offer Choices

  • A stubborn 3 1/2 year old wants to have the final say, whether it comes to what to eat for lunch or what to wear for preschool. Offering him a choice between two objects -- such as having peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a grilled cheese for lunch, or wearing the blue striped shirt or the gray sweatshirt -- can help him feel that he has some level of control over what happens in his world. According to early childhood education professor Lisa Fiore in an article for Nickelodeon's Parents Connect, it's advisable to limit choices to those that you both can live with.

Defuse a Power Struggle

  • It might seem like your 3 1/2 year old is being defiant out of spite or because she wants to get a rise out of you, but it's important to show compassion for her struggles, according to an article from Today's Parent magazine. It's not always easy to avoid getting into a power struggle; if it should occur, use empathy by saying things like, "I know it's frustrating when you have to take a bath, but it helps you stay clean." This tactic might help her feel understood while explaining the rationale behind your request.

Listen to Opinions and Feelings

  • Many times, preschoolers get into a lockdown with parents when they don't feel heard or understood. Listening to your child can help you understand her reasons for opposing you, according to clinical psychologist and parenting expert Laura Markham in an article for her website, Aha! Inquire into her reasons for saying no -- it might not work every time, but she may reveal information to you that can help you better understand her defiance. If her answer does shed some light, you might also be better equipped to empathize and offer possible solutions.

Set Limits

  • Despite your best efforts to listen, empathize and defuse power struggles, there will be inevitable occasions when you'll just have to put your foot down. Preschoolers need and want limits, although it might seem otherwise. Limits help keep them safe and teach them the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Avoid setting too many limits at one time, and try to be consistent when enforcing those limits, as this helps your child learn to trust what you say, suggests the Child Development Institute website.


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