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I’m Having Problems with My 3-Year-Old Stepson

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From the U.S.:My fiancé and I have been dating for 3 ½ years. We have a two year old son together and he has a son that is 3. My stepson’s mother left and hasn’t returned since he was 6 months old. I have been around and helped with him after her leaving.

My problem is his behavior, which is driving me to strongly dislike him. He does not listen, and practically ignores everyone. He takes his clothes off and potties on the floor after being told repeatedly to ask to use the restroom (he’s very familiar with using the toilet). We’ve put him on the schedule of trying to use the restroom every 30 mins, but he won’t, he’ll hop down run to his room, disrobe, and go. He’s very destructive with his toys like throwing them and saying things like “DIE!!”.

He climb’s and jumps and has broken countless toys and furniture. He also gets extremely jealous when anyone else (such as my 2 year old) gets attention and he cries and acts even worse. He says things like “Do it for me” or “no not him, it’s me”. He’s very bad at sharing and border line hoards toys and gets very defensive each time my son tries to play. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t buy any new toys because it will cause an uproar. He’s constantly screaming and running through the house, and leaves massive messes in his wake.

We’ve tried talking to him, time outs, and sometimes if he’s really out of control he’ll get a spanking. He’ll repeat back to us what he’s done wrong, but continues to do it. I’ll ask him to leave something alone, and then he’ll try to sneak around and do it anyway. One thing that really bugs me is he refuses to make eye contact, pretty much all the time. He’ll almost pretend as if he can’t hear or see you.

His father understands his behavior is bad, but I’m currently a stay at home mom and see it all, and my fiancé writes it off as “boys will be boys”. My stepson demands my attention and will not listen, to the point that it’s affecting my relationship with my own son. I would love some tips on how to calm him down and help him listen at a 3 years old pace.

I’m Having Problems with My 3-Year-Old Stepson

Answered by on -


Oh my. This is complicated. First: Your fiancé is absolutely wrong: This is not normal boy behavior. This little boy is in emotional turmoil and is expressing it in the only way a three year old can — behaviorally. From his point of view, his mother abandoned him and you went and got a son of your own. His father is abandoning him too — by not giving him the structure and guidance that a little boy needs.

I realize it’s hard to love a kid who is this out of control. But that’s exactly what he needs. He is testing to see if anyone will love him unconditionally, regardless of his behavior. He pushes every limit to see whether you and his dad will reject him as his mother did.

Loving him does not mean tolerating this behavior. Loving him actually means that you and his dad have to do the hard work of getting on the same page and sticking to solid limits and clear consequences, while at the same time catching him every time he does something right. You will probably need a family therapist to help the two of you sort out how to accomplish this and how to be supportive of each other while you go through a very difficult transition.

The good news is that the boy is only 3. A thoughtful and consistent intervention now is likely to start to pay off within months.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

I’m Having Problems with My 3-Year-Old Stepson

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). I’m Having Problems with My 3-Year-Old Stepson. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 22 Jan 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.