Tips To Help With Challenging Behavior in Young Children (ages 3-5) by Lisa Brown


Age’s three to five is so much fun!  Well most of the time.  Their play is filled with imagination and they are curious about everything.    My background is in Early Childhood Education and I have worked with this age group for over twenty years.  I just love them.

They are creative, honest, and lovable.   And humorous!!

They want to be independent and do things their way.  They easily get frustrated when they can’t get something done or are interrupted.

Feelings get hurt when they don’t get their way.  They desire to be part of decision making and solving problems.    They need help learning how to manage their emotions and handle conflict.

They don’t like being wrong or making others angry.  They just want to fight for what they believe is theirs and be successful in all that they set out to do.

Kids want to be independent and it’s rough with so little life experience.   It’s a normal thing to see kids full of excitement and then out of nowhere they breakdown.   Silly smile to big tears, tantrum, angry, and be defiant.   It’s quit comical but not so at the time.

Parents often times feel like their kids do not listen to them.  I’m here to tell you that they do listen to you but they chose to ignore you.   I know frustrating.

Another thing that is so frustrating for parents, are those ridiculous battles we have with kids over the tiniest matter.   It’s exhausting to constantly have to find positive ways to re-direct and put out fires.

I know because my two little rascals were that age at one time.

Following are some strategies I have learned as a parent and teacher to help keep life with a young child enjoyable!!!   They worked for me and I have seen great success in other families who applied these ideas to their day to day life.


In this post

I address nine typical challenges that parents are faced with on a day to day basis.

  1. Kids act out for attention
  2. Repeats bad behavior
  3. Wants things to be his way
  4. Don’t like the word “no”.
  5. Intentional play time with kids
  6. Shopping trips
  7. Bed time battles
  8. Clean up
  9. Parent break time

-I discuss nine important approaches parents can take to keep the peace.

  1. Reward Positive Actions
  2. Use Redirection
  3. Give choices
  4. Choose battles wisely
  5. Make time for play
  6. Be empathetic
  7. Routine is important
  8. Appropriate expectations
  9. Break Time – Fill your soul up

-I share over 20 strategies and I provide real life examples.  I give you words to use with your child.

I hope this helps.  I usually don’t have my blog posts be this long.  It’s more of an article then a post.  But I trust it will help you with challenging behavior.  Please share this post link with others.  It will give them new tools to put in their parenting tool box.


Reward Positive Actions

Children do better when they feel better about themselves.  It’s so important to catch them in the act of doing something kind, or working hard, or trying something new.  We can do this by praising them for what they did!  Children need more approval then disapproval in order to feel like what they do matters.   They want to feel important and capable.

Challenge – Kids don’t always know what the right thing is to do.  Or they want attention and they will act out to get attention.

Strategy – Following are words that can be used to encourage kids to do what is right.

-“Wow, you really used your ten little fingers to help put the toys away!”

-“Look how your hug made your sister smile.”

-“You did it!”

-“Way to go, I knew you could do it!!”

-“Thank you for helping me….”



Children look to adults for acceptance and are easily ashamed when they are made to feel bad for what they did.  We can avoid this by making sure that we clearly state the facts about what we don’t like without attacking their person-hood.    It’s our responsibility to tell them what they can do instead of telling them that they can’t and leaving it up to them to figure out on their own what to do differently.

Challenge- Repeats bad behavior for attention

Strategy – For the three year old girl who hits her fourteen month old baby sister

-Gently go up to older sibling after she hits and gently take her hands into your hands.  Softy say “we don’t hit our baby.  That scares her and we don’t want to do that do we?   We care for our baby and we need you to show her big sister love!!! 

-Gently touch baby and pick baby up to comfort.  Tell big sister, “Let’s give baby gentle touches.  (show her gentle touches)  Can you give baby her stuffy and show her that she is safe with you?

-“Today you get to be my little helper!!!  Will you help me put away baby’s clothes and fold her wash cloths?”



One of the most helpful thing we can do for kids is to teach them how to think for themselves.  Young children want to express their independence.   They need to know that we believe in them.  When we give them choices we are encouraging them to look at other options. We are helping them find an acceptable route to take.   We let them feel like they are in control when we in fact have the control.

Challenge – Child determined to have something his way.

Strategy – When child wants to wear shorts to the park on a cold day.

-You could say,   “I know you like these shorts but Mr. Sunshine is hiding behind the clouds today and it is too cold.   But you could wear either your blue jeans or red jogging pants?


Choose Battles Wisely

Life with young kids does not have to always be a battle.   There can be more fun times then stressful times.   It’s pretty annoying to always have someone standing over you and constantly correcting every little thing you do wrong.   Not everything that a kid does wrong needs to be nagged over.  Most of the time kids are hungry for attention.   It’s up to us to decide what kind of attention we want to give to our kids.

Challenge – Kids can be strong willed and don’t like to be told, “No.”

Strategy – I don’t usually make a big deal out of something unless it is harmful.  In other words, when my child wanted to wear his shirt backwards and did not let me change it.  I let it go.  It was not worth the fight.  Or when my child didn’t eat all of his food I didn’t fuss over it.  I just didn’t give him sweet treats for the rest of day. 


Intentional Play Time

Kids are playful characters.  Their filled with imagination and make believe play.  They are little scientists observing, exploring, and discovering.   Children are always ready to go on an adventure.   They are delighted when we enter into their world and participate in what they are doing.   Sometimes we need to set our agenda aside and take notice in their creative art work or the house they created out of boxes or the pie they made out of mud.   The joy of having kids is being silly with them and they love it when they can make us giggle.

Focus play can turn a challenging day into a fun day.

Challenge – Moms have too many distractions and high expectations of themselves to complete to-do-lists.

Strategy – Turn off television, don’t text or talk on phone, stay off of Facebook, and create a schedule with margin time for play.  Chores and errands can wait. 



Children act out when they don’t feel heard.   It’s frustrating when their actions get them in trouble because they don’t have the words to tell us what is wrong.     We help them out when we identify the emotion behind the action.     They calm down when they feel understood and cared about.   Children don’t just need supervision they also need support.   We do this by stating the struggle.  We don’t solve the problem for them.  Instead we show them that we see into their world.  They want us to relate to their frustration and not judge their feelings.

Challenge – Child throws a fit because parent doesn’t buy them the toy they wanted.

Strategy – You could say,

“I know you like that and I do too.  It’s so cute and fun.  It’s sad when we can’t have something that we want.  I’m sorry my little friend.   I can tell that you are very upset.  But today we are not going to spend money on toys.  We only brought enough money for food.” 



It’s hard to imagine life without a clock isn’t it?   We use time to manage our comings and goings.  It’s hard to plan and having a schedule is often the base of our own sense of security.   Kids are no different than us and not being able to tell time is frustrating to them.  They need to know what’s next and this helps them feel secure.  We provide them a sense of control when we follow a consistent routine that they can anticipate and depend on.   Most kids don’t just go with the flow without showing some kind of anxiety.   We all need structure with lots of margin time.     It’s not fair to expect kids to just jump right up from what they are doing and move on to the next thing without closure.   A five minute warning shows respect towards kids.    They can’t respect our time if they don’t know what is next.   Without routine life can be pretty confusing.

ChallengeChild wants to play instead of go to bed

Strategy – Quiet time before bed

-It’s always a mistake to expect a child to go to sleep right after rough play or eating. 

-After pajamas are on and teeth are brushed read books for twenty minutes

-Snuggle and listen to quiet music for a bit and then say a little prayer. 


Appropriate Expectations

Sometimes we ask kids to do things that are too hard.   It’s our job to teach them one small step at a time.

ChallengeKids will not cooperate

Strategy – When child will not clean up toys.

-Always give kids a five minute warning before asking them to stop playing and pick up.   This give them an opportunity to finish what they are doing.

-Kids at this age need pick up time to be simple.  Have one box for the majority of the toys to go.

-Put kid’s toys, books, stuffed animals and clothes in separate piles for them.  Then have them pick one pile up at a time with your direction!


 Break Time

Kids react to adult’s grumpiness.  They don’t understand why we get short, irritated and they take it very personal when we react out of frustration. They will act out because we stress them out.  The worse thing is that they imitate negative behavior that they see in others.   It’s normal and healthy for parents to take time fuel up.   Break time looks different for everyone.

Challenge – Not enough time or support from others

Strategy –

Take advantage of quiet time when kids are napping.  Do something that fills you up.

-Get up before kids do to have time for yourself.

-Ask for help and make sure your needs are known.  Let husband watch the kids while you rest.

-Leave kids with trusted friends and family

-From time to time television makes a great babysitter.  There are great PBS shows to entertain preschool children.


I will be writing more posts in the near future discussing these challenges more in depth.   Is there a challenge that you would like me to address?     Please let me know how my posts can better serve you!!!



Hi I’m Lisa the creator of this blog.   Thank you for stopping by and sharing your time with me.   I’m a Homeschooling Mom and it is awesome.  Well most of time.  

I have an eight year old boy and six year old daughter.  My husband and I are in love with each other and we enjoy our children.  Well most of time.

Living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado is amazing and God fills us with His glory daily.

I’m a writer and I blog to inspire, encourage, and help parents.  Before I was married I worked for over twenty years in Early Childhood Education.   I have a Bachelors in Social Work and Early Childhood.  

I’m also the creator of  Gathering Place For Sisters In Christ – Posts About Christian Living .  Love to have you meet with me there too.    I’ve been a Christian for more than forty years.    I’m very thankful that Jesus is my Lord and Savior.  He is indeed the King of Kings.   




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