Very young children will put you through your paces at the best of times. With a misbehaving 3-year-old, taking care of that one child can be as exhausting as looking after several at once. Learning to deal with and even reduce the bratty behavior of a child this age is a process that requires both patience from you as well as a more developed understanding of child psychology. Improve your communication and empathy with the child to help improve his behavior.
Language Development and Miscommunication
Improve your communication with the child by examining common adult/child miscommunications. In the book “What Did I Just Say?” developmental psychologists Denis Donovan and Deborah McIntyre point out that many adult expressions and phrases are misunderstood by young children who use simple language and understand words literalistically. For example, you may use the words “Do you want a time out?” as a means of warning a child against continuing unwanted behavior, but a 3-year-old will likely interpret the question literally, say “no” and continue the objectionable behavior, not understanding that the adult wanted him to stop. Police your language for these types of problems and look for examples of “bratty” behavior that come from mere misunderstandings.
Understanding the typical emotional development of a 3-year-old will help you know how to deal with the child. According to family life specialist Lesia Oesterreich on the "National Network for Child Care" website, children of this age still struggle with sharing and cooperating and seek attention and approval from adults. Avoid putting sharing or cooperation requirements on the child that are inappropriate for her age, and use positive, attentive reinforcement of good behavior.
Demonstrate to the child that you understand his feelings by naming them, especially in situations where his feelings are driving him to act out. Say things like, “I know that you don't want to do this and that makes you angry.” Show that you are aware of his feelings and take them into consideration but expect that he manage his emotions and develop self-control. When possible, refer to yourself to teach him by example. Say things like, “Sometimes, I don't want to do what I'm supposed to do, either, but I do it because other people need me to.”
Work on developing a clearer, more detailed and more vivid recollection of your own childhood. This will help you to be more in touch with what this child's experience is of the world. Recall times when things didn't make sense to you or when the rules that adults made for you seemed unfair and infuriating. Remember how you were building your sense of the world and how it worked and the healthy, normal self-centeredness you had as a child. Think of what adults could have said to you to help you understand the world and your behavior in it and use this as a guide in how you deal with a difficult child.