Acting authoritative -- without becoming authoritarian -- isn't easy to do, especially in the heat of the moment. These techniques can help:
Pick your fights. Battle your 3-year-old over every bad behavior and you'll be at war all day. Instead, list the top few behaviors that really bother you -- because they're dangerous, uncivil, or annoying. For those you deem forbidden -- riding a tricycle in the street or leaving the house without an adult, for example -- set clear, specific rules and logical consequences. Biting back, for example, is not a logical consequence for a child who bites because it simply teaches that the bigger person gets to bite. A reminder of why it's not nice to bite and a brief time-out in a boring place make more sense. Always follow through on whatever discipline you decide on. Lack of consistency confuses kids and promotes rebellion.
For less-serious misconduct -- lying, not sharing, swearing -- develop an overall policy, but deal with each case as it arises. When your child is feeling tired, sick, or hungry or is facing stress (from a move or a divorce, for example), you need to be flexible.
Practice prevention. Use your knowledge of your child to head off needless blowups. If he likes to clean out the kitchen cupboards while you're cooking breakfast every morning-and it drives you crazy-buy cabinet locks; if he can't keep his hands off the VCR, put it far out of reach. Childproofing works wonders in reducing family feuds.
Also, plan ahead. If your child tends to be happy and energetic in the morning but is tired and grumpy after lunch, schedule trips to the store and visits to the doctor for when she's at her best. Prepare her for any new experiences, and explain how you expect her to act. To stave off boredom, pack a bag of toys or snacks. Also prepare her for shifting activities: "In a few minutes we'll need to pick up the toys and get ready to go home." The better prepared a child feels, the less likely she is to make a fuss.