“Children Crave Our Direction”: Why Disciplining Your 3-Year-Old Is More Important Than You Think


I watched as my husband walked down the aisle of fresh fruit to retrieve a bag for the ripe nectarines our daughters had picked out, and as he did a voice behind me spoke up.

“Your children are very well behaved,” the voice said.

An employee unboxing fruit stood behind me, and I smiled, nodding and answering him with a sincere thank you.

I found it ironic that the comment came on the tail end of an epic meltdown I had witnessed outside the store.

“Noooooo,” the young boy had shrilled! Like the voice of a wild animal caught in a trap he had cried out in bloody murder, “I don’t want tooooooooo!!”

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His father trailed behind mom pushing the shopping cart of screaming little boy. The dad held a young girl on his shoulders and seemed to ignore the screeching yelps of his son ahead of him.

Been there, dude. I thought. I mean, all kids have epic meltdowns in Walmart. That’s kind of what shopping with children is all about, right?! I wasn’t going to be one of those judgy Judy’s acting like I had it all together. I have had my fair share of cold stares and unwelcome comments in line at the grocery store. So, no sir, would I assume these folks didn’t have a handle on the situation. I walked on, with my own brood of three, all under eight years, into the store.

In the background, the mother of the bohemian rhapsody singer hissed, “what is your problem?!”

Been there too, sister, I thought.

The dad kept walking. Oblivious? Maybe. Uninvolved? Perhaps. But I couldn’t really know.

Back in the fruits and veggies, I gathered my chicks, and I pondered the stock man’s comment. It wasn’t the first time I had heard that comment from a stranger, nor the second. In fact, I had heard it a lot, but each time it startled me. With pride I accepted the kind encouragement, but also wondered if they knew the whole story. Did they realize I sometimes raised my voice when I shouldn’t, or that I wondered if the one daughter even listened to instruction at a regular tone of voice? I mean, I thought my children were heathens most of the time, running around like hopped up addicts on the sugar rush of a lifetime, but then I saw other children running amuck and thought, okay, maybe mine aren’t that bad after all.

They weren’t perfect, that was for sure, and I definitely wasn’t, but we tried. Sometimes I wonder where the trying went.

There’s too many friends out there, and far too few parents. There are way more equals, and not enough authority figures.

I thought back on something I said to my husband the day before.

“The dog doesn’t listen to me like she does you,” I had commented.

“It’s because I put the fear of God in her when she was a puppy,” he chuckled.

Okay, first off, that man is like putty in that dog’s tiny paws. She pees in the floor and he says in his best baby talk, “oh Lizzie, it’s not your fault. You were trying to tell me you had to go outside!”

But if he said, “get in your bed,” well, you better believe she got in her bed.

It’s a balance, you see. I think that’s what we’re missing.

Nowadays you have a lot of parents worried about their children’s feelings. Heck, I worry about my daughters’ feelings. I make sure to direct comments in a certain way to get my point across without wounding their psyche. So, I get it. But I also know, at the end of the day, I’m Mom, and what Mom says goes. When you’re a Mom, you can be in charge.

Today in the store, after the comment on my girls’ behavior, my three-year-old dropped a box when I suddenly changed direction of the buggy.

“Hey,” she called out in an angry voice. “You made me drop that!”

My first reaction, “and you don’t use that mean tone with me, young lady.”

Before I could say more my husband came alongside me, “she’s your mother and you talk nice to her or you get in trouble.”

She’s three, right? She doesn’t know any better, right? Well, that’s what I’m doing. I’m teaching her respect. That’s what we’re doing as parents.

This morning she cried in her room after I had corrected her for telling a lie.

My husband said, “I don’t even think she understands what a lie is. I’ve been working on this same thing with her!”

I replied, “well, she’ll learn.”

We were teaching her right from wrong, and the consequences of her actions. She may be three, but she was learning more each and every day. In society today I see a lot of people more focused on the stage of development rather than developing their children. Parents tell themselves the child isn’t at an age to grasp the weight of their choices, what is right, or why it’s wrong. Sadly, they are raised on a foundation of slipping sand. They aren’t introduced to cause and effect at an early age. Instead, they are handled like a faberge egg. We mustn’t break them, and yes, I wholeheartedly agree! But I also think we are doing more harm to our children by withholding the guidance and discipline they deserve.

I believe children crave our direction! My own mother used to have a little saying for us kids, “beat me, bore me, just don’t ignore me,” and while it’s simple, it’s also so true. Children crave the attention of their parents, but they also crave our help. A child will misbehave simply to gain your attention towards them when it’s directed elsewhere, and in the current, handheld device society, it’s done even more.

My daughters understand that we correct them because we love them. We want them to lead a successful life in the future. They need to understand they can’t always get their way. They need to know that negative actions have negative consequences, but we never forget to also show that positive actions garner positive results.

My daughters realize they’re not the center of the universe. Just yesterday I said to my eldest, “I don’t know why you and your sisters compete to be my favorite. None of y’all are my favorite. Your Dad is my favorite!”

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Brie Gowen
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Brie Gowen is a 30-something (sliding ever closer to 40-something) wife and mother. When she’s not loving on her hubby, chasing after the toddler or playing princess with her four-year-old, she enjoys cooking, reading and writing down her thoughts to share with others. Brie is also a huge lover of Jesus. She finds immense joy in the peace a relationship with her Savior provides, and she might just tell you about it sometime. She’d love for you to check out her blog at