Dear Dr. Archer,
I have a three year old daughter who I feel is hyperactive. She doesn't sit still when she should, like at church or a restaurant, and she does not listen to or obey rules.
When I put her in timeout, I only get more frustrated. Oftentimes when she is in timeout my wife will let her out because she says she doesn't want to hear it anymore. I feel like this has just undermined the discipline I have just given.
I am hoping that I just have a very active three year old, and that as she gets older she will start to calm down a bit. Sometimes I feel like it is not worth taking her to some places because it's just more aggravating than it's worth.
Am I being too hard on her as well as myself? What are some other techniques that I can use to encourage my child to behave? I have tried the timeout and taking away favorite things. Thank you.
Congratulations on having a healthy, active three year old daughter. You have much to be thankful for, even though you may not feel it at times and the good news is that most kids do calm down with age.
Children at this age are developing very rapidly, obtaining new skills almost on a daily basis. Your daughter wants independence, wants what she wants NOW and is learning about friendships and sharing.
Your objective as a parent is to encourage your child to develop and learn without being too demanding or spoiled. Be creative in everyday tasks to promote positive behaviors in your child.
If you have a pet, let her fill the food dish. If you go shopping, let her get a few items off the shelf and place in the basket; when home let her help carry one or two items inside, or perhaps open the door for you.
Give her tasks within her ability to contribute to what is going on in the home. The more you allow her to do constructive, positive things, the less she will want to fight you and engage in negative behaviors. And Josh, when she does something and behaves well, please praise her. Positive reinforcement really does go a long, long way.
If you do these things, I believe you will see a change start to take root. Now Josh, this does not mean she will no longer test or frustrate you. She is still a three year old, and that's part of her job. You, as a parent, must do your job just as well. Here are a few other suggestions to help your daughter grow into a happy, well-adjusted girl.
**Have boundaries, but also be flexible. If you want, say, for her to pick up her toys before you go to the store, give her a choice. Would she like to pick up her toys now or in 5 minutes. If, in 5 minutes, she still refuses to do the chore, one parent goes to the store while the other stays behind with her. There must be consequences, and you need to follow through, despite the crying.
**Stay firm, but kind. It is difficult to hear the crying, but they need to realize their actions caused something negative. If you, or your wife, cannot take it anymore, leave the room. Let the child know that if she needs a hug where you will be. I know it's easier said than done to keep your cool, but sometimes the parent needs their own timeout.
It's not by accident that people say being a parent is the hardest job in the world. You have a little life that you are responsible for, and that can be overwhelming at times.
The thing to remember most, Josh, is to try to motivate your daughter to want to be well-behaved and a contributing member of the family. At three, it takes creative thinking, but ways can be found on a daily basis.
Encourage that positive behavior, as it will save years of heartache and frustration. Allow this beautiful child to grow in her new-found independence slowly and confidently and watch her behavior become such that you will be proud to bring her everywhere.
One other comment here is that the diagnosis of hyperactivity is probably the most overused of any psychiatric diagnosis. The last thing you would want to consider here is medication. That needs to be reserved for worst case situations where all else has failed. Good luck!