Parenting April 2024: The Terrible Threes

Living With Children by John Rosemond


"Living With Children" by John Rosemond
April 2024 Issue
The Terrible Threes

Q: My three-year-old is prone to ear infections. When he has one, his behavior deteriorates considerably. He becomes disobedient and given to angry outbursts. When his ears are clear, he’s generally delightful to be around. I’m reluctant to discipline him when his ears are hurting him, but I’d like your advice on this.

A: Obviously, your son doesn’t have a behavior problem per se; he has an ear infection problem that adversely affects his behavior. Given that when his ears are clear, he’s a delightful little fellow, I’d be reluctant to recommend any form of punitive discipline.

The best approach to a problem of this “on-again, off-again” sort is to strike while the iron is cold—be proactive, in other words. When he’s infection-free and in a good mood, tell him that when he has an ear infection, he needs to spend most of his time playing by himself in his room so that if he needs to lie down, he’ll be close to his bed. I’m not recommending that you confine him, only that you set the stage for telling him, when he’s not feeling well, that he needs to go to his room.

Your follow-up question then becomes: What if he doesn’t want to go to his room? That is a possibility, especially given that he’s already in an oppositional mood, in which case you’re just going to have to muddle through and keep reminding yourself that his Mr. Hyde phase will pass in due time.

Q: Our three-year-old is well-behaved at home, but his preschool teachers are having problems with him. Specifically, he has what they call “boundary issues”—he can’t seem to keep his hands off other children and what they are doing. They’ve tried all they know to do but have accomplished nothing. They are now recommending that he attend a special preschool in the mornings where the staff will work with him on his problems. He’ll come back to his regular preschool in the afternoon, after lunch. We aren’t thrilled with this prospect. Do you have any advice for us?

A: Sounds like they’re recommending a morning therapeutic preschool, in which case he’s going to be “identified” as a problem at age three, in which case I recommend you get him out of there. In all likelihood, his so-called boundary issues are due to a combination of factors including that he’s (a) a boy, (b) impulsive (he’s a boy), and (c) wanting other children to pay attention to him (he’s a boy).

In order to receive accreditation, preschools must adhere to certain disciplinary policies that are ineffective and often counterproductive. A “therapeutic” environment may well lead to a bogus diagnosis, bogus therapy, and medication. Furthermore, a label that becomes attached at this tender age could follow your son into elementary school. You don’t want that.

I strongly advise you find a preschool setting where the teachers are more experienced and skilled at dealing with excitable boys. The first thing that comes to mind is a traditional Montessori setting.

Parenting1219 John

John Rosemond is an American columnist, public speaker, family psychologist and author on parenting. His weekly parenting column is syndicated in approximately 225 newspapers, and he has authored 15 books on the subject. His ideas revolve around the ideas of authority for the parents and discipline for children. For more information, visit and

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