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Ask Dr. Mayim: How do I get my 3-year-old to obey?

See Mayim's advice to a mom at her wit's end
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 11/05/2018 at 10:15 AM EDT
Mohamed Abdelgaffar/Pexels; Dove Shore

Through Grok Nation, my YouTube channel and my social platforms, I get so many questions about a variety of topics: parenting, breastfeeding, veganism, Judaism, acting and more. That’s why I’ve launched Ask Dr. Mayim, a new advice column on Grok Nation where you can ask me questions about things going on in your life and I’ll give you my best, honest opinion.

Last week I tried to help a struggling newbie vegan, and this week I’m tackling mothering issues. Read the question and my advice below; at the bottom, you’ll also find out how you can submit your own questions for Dr. Mayim!

Dear Dr. Mayim,

My almost 3-year-old boy is my world. He is definitely testing his boundaries and exhibiting his independence and decision making. However, during those difficult trials, when sweet talks, then firm talks, then time-outs aren’t working…..what do I do? I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve even succumbed to giving him a swat on the tush.

Is my child bad? No. He is a sweet and caring little boy. We can have a great few days and then out of the blue, he will smack me in the face and laugh. When I try to talk to him about what he does, he avoids eye contact, will sing or anything else but listen to me. For a few reasons, his pediatrician had him evaluated for autism and developmental delays. All tests came back with great results.

So, what’s happening. Is it a stage? Is it me? Please help this first time parent. These are the most crucial years for him, and I worry I’m not doing enough.

Defeated First Time Mama

Dear Defeated First Time Mama,

I feel your First Time Mama pain.

While I am not a child specialist, I can speak from experience and tell you that you are not alone. Yes, this too shall pass. And yes: There are ways to discipline a child without time-outs or spanking.

In my experience, Sweet talks for sure don’t work with a child who thinks this kind of behavior is a game; he’s trying to get attention and at 3, they need more attention than I could even imagine. I remember screaming to my husband: “I am in his presence 24/7 constantly attending to his needs; HOW MUCH MORE OF ME CAN HE POSSIBLY NEED?!”

Firm talks of a very specific kind can and do work, but there’s a bit of a science to it. Here’s the deal: Parenting is the only job we have where we get no training, no salary and no real vacation or sick days. It’s hard. It’s up to us to get support, resources and education when our kids test our limits. I am going to give you an assignment and it’s up to you to make it happen. It involves getting educated.

Adventures in Gentle Discipline: A Parent-to-Parent Guide by Hilary Flower. This La Leche League published book describes every possible scenario — including the one you are describing — and it will give you the concrete practical way to work through it. You do not have to struggle and this book improved our life so much and made me feel I could finally enjoy this phase of parenting instead of dreading it.

Bring Out the Best in Your Child and Your Self by Dr. Ilene Val Essen. This is the book that shifted my life and my parenting forever. It makes you look at yourself, your buttons, and your approach to parenting so that you can literally find the places you have weakness, repair them, and not let your child find them and use them against you! This one is the book you will return to again and again throughout your parenting.

I know it sounds lame for me to say read these books, but you have to do the work to be the parent you want to be. Your child is waiting for you to give him boundaries and for you to have the patience and wisdom he needs to thrive. I know you can do it. And you don’t have to do it perfectly. But a more serene and happy life is waiting — go get it!

In solidarity,

Need some advice from Dr. Mayim? Email and she may answer it an upcoming column.

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