How to Get Your 3-Year-Old Brother to Do What You Say

Make listening an entertaining activity for your younger sibling.
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Your parents are out for the day and you're in charge of your precocious preschool-aged brother. If getting your 3-year-old sibling to do what you say is a struggle, understanding how he thinks and where he is developmentally can help you choose your tactics. Instead of pulling your hair out over his unwillingness to listen, relax and speak to him in a way that he'll truly understand.

1 Brainy Behaviors

Although reasoning with your 13-year-old brother might work well, the same isn't true for your 3-year-old brother. Unlike older kids, toddlers and young preschool-aged children haven't developed the thinking skills to follow more mature thought patterns. Understanding where your brother's brain is can help you communicate with him in a way that won't throw him for a loop. At 3 or 4 years of age, most children can approach a problem from only one -- typically their own -- point of view, reports Instead of trying to get your little bro to see things from your perspective, reframe your discussion from his view.

2 Step by Step

Your 3-year-old brother can't follow directions that go beyond three steps long. This means that giving him a lengthy list of things to do won't get you what you want. If you expect him to listen to and to follow five, six or seven steps, he isn't likely to. Slow down and make more basic requests. For example, if you want him to put his toys away, don't say, "Joey, pick up your blocks, take them to the plastic bin, put them in the bin, close the lid, take the bin to the shelf, put them on the shelf and then go pick up your play animals." Try something simple such as, "Joey, put the blocks in the toy box and then clean up your animals."

3 Word Choice

Just because you have an SAT-worthy vocabulary doesn't mean that your little brother does. Three-year-olds understand roughly 1,000 words, reports the article "Language: 3 to 4" on the PBS Parents website. Although this may seem vast, it doesn't compare to what an older child, teen or adult knows. Stick to words that your brother knows well, avoiding words that may seem meaningless to him. For example, "Sit down in the green kitchen chair" is a request that a 3-year-old can comprehend, whereas "Sit on the avocado-hued stool in the breakfast nook" may not be.

4 The Right Rules

Make sure that you're completely clear on the house rules for your little sibling, such as no name calling or no hitting. If your brother won't listen to you and is breaking your parents' rules, let him know. For example, if your brother refuses to pick up his toys when you ask him, firmly tell him that the house rule is, "You pick up the toys after you play with them."

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.