Nothing we do makes a dent in these troubling behaviors of our three year old

Q: Here are some of the troubling behaviors of our three year old son: 

- head butts walls and anything hard
- eats weird things like fluff and string
- steals lighters and sets fires in his room
- turns on all the stove burners and burns food to make thick black smoke
- sneaks and hides scissors to cut his clothes

- always speaks about himself in third person, never says I or Me

We have tried time outs. We don't believe in smacking or spanking. We have taken away toys he likes and he doesn't care. 

We are young parents and people we talk to think we cannot cope but this is wrong! He can be a loving and caring child but when he has "that look in his eyes" we feel like we are talking to a brick wall.

We have done a lot of research but nothing helps. Any ideas are welcome!

 A: Bless your hearts - it sounds like you are doing your very best to do right by your son, and he's lucky that you are so dedicated to parenting him well. And good for you for not resorting to smacking him.

I think you are right that these behaviors have nothing to do with being young parents or not being able to handle him -- what you describe does seem outside the typical range of developmentally appropriate behaviors for kids his age, and you deserve every possible bit of support to help you work with him.

My first suggestion is to approach his pediatrician with your concerns, and ask for an assessment. A written log documenting the behaviors you've seen as well as the interventions you responded with might help you get your doctor's full attention.

You might have to strongly advocate for a thorough physical and developmental evaluation, but I have seen time and time again that when parents are consistently concerned that something is going on with their child and the doctor dismisses them without doing a proper screening or evaluation, the parents are often proven right in the end.

Unfortunately, sometimes months or years of opportunity for potentially effective early intervention may have been lost by the time the parents' concerns are finally validated.

Doctors are human, too. They get judgment calls wrong sometimes just like we all do. And they don't get to see the whole picture during their brief office visits. So document the behaviors that concern you in a log or journal and share it with your doctor.

I'm not sure what is available when you live, but here in Colorado we have something called ChildFind which does free developmental screenings from birth on to help figure out whether there are issues that early intervention might help with. If an issue is identified, the therapy is free. Please don't give up on your attempts to find assistance!

In addition to the above, I have three resources to recommend:
Dr. Ross Greene's model -
Heather Forbes -
Hand in Hand Parenting -

I hope this helps, and I wish you all the best.
Please let me know if there's anything else I can do to support you.

For more information about Karen's parenting or interpersonal communication consultations by phone, visit

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