What to do with a resentful 3 year old middle child?!! (m)


DIS Veteran
Mar 8, 2004
My 3 yo DD is doing stuff lately that is really bothering me, and I'm not sure what to do. She is generally quite a sweet, compliant girl, but with a bit of a "drama queen" mentality at times! I can handle that - gets on my nerves, but I can handle it.

What I'm not so sure about is her tendency to strike out at her siblings occasionally - and strike out HARD! Her older brother (5) gets to do everything first; her younger sister (2) is still very babyish, and because of that might have certain allowances made for her. DD (3) is the typical middle child. Yesterday she hit her sis hard with a shoe - left a purple bruise next to her eye. This morning she bit her so hard it bruised terribly. I'm not even sure what provokes these outbursts. This girls can play so nicely together for so long, then without real provocation DD 3 will hurt her sister. I'm sure in her little mind she has a reason for doing it - it just doesn't seem like much of a reason to me. This morning it was because DD2 was sitting on our nanny's knee and DD3 was jealous I guess. Yesterday she also drew with pen on a dining room chair cushion - the same chair they are not allowed to sit on to eat or paint/draw unless there is a towel under their butt to protect the chair cushion (we get mold growing easily on the cushions, and I'm trying to avoid having anything spill on them). i.e. she knows how we protect the chairs, yet she chose to take the cover off of one and draw under it! Cry for attention?

So, do we get tough with DD3 when she does these things (especially hurting her siblings), or do we pile on more attention (positive attention later, not attention at the time of the incident)? Not sure which tack to take here. She's a sensitive girl, and I'm worried that getting really tough with her will hurt her deeply. We have not had to punish her much so far because we have found that reasoning, positive reinforcement and logical consequences are all she has really needed to keep her on the right path. Until now.

Anyone been through this with a sensitive child who was acting out in a big way from time to time? What worked?


Gracie's Mama, Certified chicken wrangler
Oct 22, 2001
I would do two things:
1. hitting or hurting is absolutely not allowed and any time she does this, she is removed to a "naughty step" and firmly told this is unacceptable (gotta love that Super Nanny :p ) Also, no attention while she is on the naughty step and then she needs to apologize when her time is up. Don't yell, just use a firm voice and let her know in no uncertain terms that she is not allowed to hurt anyone.

2. Make sure she gets some alone time with a parent everyday. Even if it is just reading a book or pushing her on a swing for a few minutes. Talk about her day, what she likes and let her know that she is special in her own way.

Three is a very hard age, as you probably know. My DD was a breeze at 2yo and a terror at 3yo. I have been hearing that more and more from people also so know that you are not alone! Good luck.


<font color=660099>Nothing like the cream and choc
Oct 14, 2003
Katie is too cute for me to ever believe she could do those things! :teeth:

I think you have already hit the nail on the head. She is crying out for attention. She knows her negative behavior will get a rise out of you. DD4, when she was 3, would torment her sister (take something away, hit her), make her cry, and then make her feel better (give her a hug, give the toy back to her). Then she would brag about how she made her sister all better -and expect us to praise her for it. We found that a little positive attention at other times of the day (especially at bed time) made a lot of difference for us.

Make sure you make a big deal about when she is good - like when she is nice to her sister, or when she plays nicely with her markers.

Good luck!



Holy Crap!<br><font color=blue>Murdered By Pineapp
Mar 4, 2005
My 3-year old DS is usually a very well behaved child, so much that we get a lot of compliments on it, but whenever he is going through a growth spurt he morphs into a horrible monster. He is really cranky and easily angered and strikes out at everything. I always know that it is the growth spurt because at the same time he is eating everything in sight. Knowing this doesn't make it any easier to endure, but at least gives me hope that better days are in sight!

Perhaps part of your daughter's behavior is a result of something like this, or she is going through a developmental change and so her feelings are a little more than she can handle right now and she is acting out.


<font color=FF3300>Knows 101 things to do with an
Apr 10, 2003
I have to agree with mrsv98 on this. While she is probably doing this for attention and also because she doesn't yet have the verbal skills to express herself her behavior is not acceptable and should not be rewarded.

When she does any of those things I would remove her immediately and put her somewhere by herself for about 3-5 minutes. A 3 yo doesn't have the attention span to last much longer than this and have it be affective. After that I'd firmly but calmly explain that hit, spitting, kicking, biting etc are not allowed and she will be put by herself if she does it again.

When she's playing nicely that's when you need to lavish her with praise. As mrsv98 suggested I would also recommend carving out at least 15 minutes each day for 1 to 1 time with each child.

Good luck, it's not an easy age.


<font color=green> I think I could adjust!! <br><f
Mar 11, 2002
Three is a hard age. I am on my last three year old thank heavens! There are a lot of endearing things about the age too, but their little brains seem like they are aliens at this age. I remember when my oldest was 3 thinking that I must be the worst mom in the world because my DD would do these totally unprovoked awful things.

I agree with everyone else, basically you want to do both things you suggested. Hitting and hurting can really get to be a problem and I nip that in the bud faster than my kids know what even happened. I have two boys who are close in age and love to be together, but the same thing as you mentioned, suddenly things will blow up and be out of control with no warning. What I have noticed with mine is that they last about 35 minutes so at about that time, I step in and join the play or have them come do a project or puzzle or something with me. It is tempting to use that time to get stuff done, and let the play as long as possible, but I know I will be paying the price if I push it.

Good luck and hang in there. This parenting thing is a hard job.

Wanted to add--we have a girl and then two boys. I never planned on three kids because of that whole middle child thing. I was determined to make it different for DS and one thing we have really emphasized is the whole aspect of being a BIG brother. We talk about how he can show little brother how to do things and help him and work together etc and I think it really makes a difference. He shows basically no middle child typical stuff at all. You could do that with having two DDs. She is not the oldest but she is the oldest girl.


<font color=darkcoral>We're smarter than the avera
Oct 27, 1999
Everyone else has already given you good advice, but I gotta say I agree with Mickeyboat, there's no way that sweet little Katie in your siggie could possibly be behaving this way! She is a beautiful child (as are her siblings) :)


DIS Veteran
Mar 8, 2004
Thanks for all the thoughts, and the compliments - I of course think she's adorable, but I'm not exactly objective! :teeth:

I can put her in a "naughty place" (she has this at her school, so she understands the concept) - except for those times when it isn't practical. Take this morning - I wasn't there (I go to work early so I can be home most of the p.m. with the kids), so this is second-hand, but their nanny had the girls outside waiting for our neighbour to come and collect katie to take her to school. Dani climbed onto nanny's lap, and Katie bit her hard (there's an awful bruise). Katie is very sensitive in the mornings, and anything upsets her it is a nightmare to get her to school. It's hard on my neighbour to be the one to deal with this, so we try to keep things on an even keel in the morning. Since the neighbour was due to arrive any moment, and being sent to a "naughty place" would have ruined Katie's morning anyway, what else can we do? Do you think she is old enough to understand "we do not bite, and you and I will talk about this when you get home"?

I know I sound like I am walking on eggshells with her - most of the time I'm not. It's just that she's having trouble with school recently (she goes through this every few weeks) and my neighbour expressed concern about it (this neighbour is scared of her own DS' tantrums, so Katie's are hard for her). If I can't get Katie to settle down about going to school, I will lose my carpool arrangement. Sigh.

But I agree that a naughty place will probably work at more convenient times - we'll try it. We just haven't needed to use it much at all with our kids, so I'm not sure of the effect it will have. I need to find the time to get our nanny on board though - she tends to be too soft, and not nearly as strict as me. Katie has never done these things when I have been nearby - I think she actually knows that I will not take it very well! I need a gameplan to give the nanny, and I think maybe we can start with the naughty place. I also try to give plenty of positive reinforcement to my kids, but I'm not sure the nanny does (she's very nice, and great with them - she just isn't as "au fait" with some of the newer parenting ideas). I must get her on board with that too. Being at work part of the day means I miss out on some opportunities to catch the kids being good, so the nanny must fill in.

Thanks again. More comments are welcome!

Jenn Lynn

<font color=blue>Eli and Avery's Mama<br><font col
Nov 13, 1999
She is old enough! I would have DD help me clean up the pen mark. If she hot I would get down on her level and tell her that hitting is not allowed and that it hurts (whoever she hit). Then I would make her apologize. I would then get her busy with some other activiy away from her sister.

How are your mornings at home? Are they rushed? Maybe your DD needs her one on one time in the morning with you or your DH. Something as simple as reading a couple of books before getting out of bed in the morning. Or maybe get her up earlier and the two of you make breakfast together and eat together.

As the older Sister who had a younger Sister who was also the middle child this will only get worse. My Sister was an attention seeker from the get go. When we got older it turned into competition (on her side.) I just wanted her to leave me alone! She did a lot of negative things and in her teen years including things to make me look bad. It's all a cry for attention.


It's like Annie Bananie only it's just Bananie M.<
Aug 1, 2000
Could the "naughty spot" at home have a different name? Could it be the "thinking spot" or something? Yes, the behavior is naughty, but I wouldn't want the child to think "she" is naughty and won't be able to change. I guess I don't like to hear a parent say "You're naughty/bad" to a child. I'd rather that they were told they made a bad choice and they need to go sit and think about it. Even at 3. :) We had "thinking spots" at the child care center (really it's just a nice name for time out :teeth: )I worked at and my kids' elementary school had "think it through" chairs.
Also, whatever plan you go with, make sure the nanny is on the same page as you. You'll need consistency to make it work.
Good luck! :) I think it's just the 3 year old phase.


The Disney Dining Promo Card is a great way for you to “Stay, Play, and Dine” at Walt Disney World this summer. This offer is available for arrivals from June 25 to September 14, 2023.

Click Here for a No-Obligation Quote!