My 3-year-old stamps her feet when she doesn’t get her way

Does she need to be disciplined for fear of her behaviour getting worse?

Question: My 3-year-old girl is showing a lot of attitude lately, telling me to do things, stamping her feet when she doesn't get her way, etc. Is this a normal development stage that I shouldn't worry about addressing too much? Or does it need to be disciplined for fear of it getting worse? I do explain that it's not a nice way to act and I won't to respond to if it continues. Is that enough?

Answer: I would say that it is a normal stage of development. At three, your daughter is asserting her own independent will and feeling the frustrations of not being able to do what she wants.

It is normal that she might feel angry or cross at these times and at three years of age she is only beginning to understand and manage these challenging emotions. As a parent the goal is over time to teach her how to communicate respectfully and to manage her feelings.

In responding to her, the key is to be both understanding and gentle and also firm and disciplined.  For example, if she starts shouting or stamping her feet because she is not allowed to go out you might say “I know you are a little cross, at not being able to go out, but you must not shout at mummy”. Or if she is bossy and tries to tell you what to do you can simply remind her: “It’s Mummy who decides when the TV is turned off.”


You can start to train her in communicating respectfully by insisting on this before she gets things. “When you ask Mummy politely, then you can have the toy” or “I am waiting for your nice voice . . . then we can go out.”

If things escalate, it is useful to have a plan B in the back of your mind. For example, if she gets very angry and starts hitting, you might simply take a break: “Now let’s sit down on the couch and calm down.”

Sometimes children need time apart for a few minutes to come down from a tantrum and sometimes they need you to sit with them and soothe them (eg holding them and using nice words – “shhs, calm down now, everything will be fine”).

Over time and as she gets older you can coach her on how she can talk about and express her feelings – “Tell me how you are feeling rather than shouting. Say ‘I feel a bit cross Mummy’ rather than shouting”. Giving her the words to express herself and modelling a good tone to use will all help her.

In addition, showing her how you handle your feelings  in difficult situations will teach her the most valuable lessons. For example, you can name your own feelings (“Mummy feels a bit frustrated about that”), take appropriate actions when your feel them (“we will take a break now, because Mummy is getting a bit cross now”) and show her how to repair/apologise when mistakes are made (“I’m sorry I got annoyed, it was because it got so late and you were still undressed”).

Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus Programmes. He will be delivering a course on Helping Children Overcome Anxiety in Cork and Dublin in January/February 2018 and is new book 'Bringing up happy confident children' is now available. See for details