Like most three-year-olds, sometimes mine can be a real “threenager.” You know, a three-year-old going on 13: stubborn, snotty, and full of incomprehensible rage, minus the whole puberty and hormones thing. Maybe you accidentally made her peanut butter sandwich with grape instead of strawberry jelly? Or maybe you packed the wrong sippy cup for after dance class? There will be hell to pay! You feel me, mommies? The “terrible threes” are the worst.
But then there are times (lots of times) when my three-year-old is my very favorite person in the entire world, and I desperately want her to stay this little, this innocent forever. She doesn’t know enough to be embarrassed by me yet. I’m pretty sure she thinks mommy and daddy are the coolest people on the planet. Most days. I mean, can you blame her? Of course, until we tell her no, you cannot have a pink pony — pink ponies do not exist. Hashtag, toddler meltdown. And she still likes to snuggle with me on the couch to watch Frozen for the billionth time; sometimes she even shares her popcorn with me.
She wants to be with us every second of every day (I realize this will change in just a few short years), and she’s learning to do more things for herself all the time. She even helps me with her little sisters! Although we have had to explain that only mommies and daddies hand out spankings for “not listening.” And besides, everyone knows that toddler hugs are the best hugs ever.
What I’ve learned over four years of parenting is just to appreciate every stage for what it is. Every phase has its ups and downs. It’s how you handle these lows that make all the difference. You are the only person responsible for your happiness. As mommies and daddies, we set the tone for our families. And the quicker we realize this, the better. So how can we make the most of what could be a very trying time?
Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with a “threenager.”
1. A toddler is as a toddler does.
Your three-year-old is still technically a toddler. Your threenager is also a little explorer, continually developing new skills. Independence (loud and stubborn) is the name of the game at this stage. Instead of trying to fight it, why not embrace it? Sure, simple tasks like getting dressed and brushing teeth may take a little longer than they would otherwise, but isn’t this our job as parents? Shouldn’t we teach our children to become independent, productive members of society? Unless you want your child living with you until the age of 33. I’m guessing probably not. Besides, you really can’t call yourself a parent until you’ve shown up at your six weeks postpartum OBGYN appointment without a three-year-old dressed up as a mermaid in tow. #keepingitreal
Embrace the curious. Celebrate the adventure. Dealing with a three-year-old is all about having the right mindset. Manage your expectations, and life will always be a fiesta.
2. Choose your battles wisely.
(Refer to the mermaid costume anecdote above.) Is this a major or minor infraction? If it isn’t a safety concern, sometimes you just have to channel your inner Elsa and Let. It. Go. Because let’s face it, our hearts and blood pressure can only take so much. Living life in a perpetual state of rage and anxiety isn’t good for your health. But significant, bad behavior? By all means, correct it quickly and often. Not every moment has to be (or will be) a teaching one. Some of the small annoyances will work themselves out over time. Three-year-olds are a lot like teenagers in many ways — the more you tell them not to do something, the more likely they are to do it. Thank goodness you’re only arguing about picking your nose in public, and not about drinking alcohol or dating bad boys. Count your blessings!
3. Though it may feel counterintuitive — as in it may go against every fiber of your being — resist the urge to raise your voice amid chaos.
Take a deep, calming breath. Stay cool, collected, and even-toned when correcting your child. Shock them into submission! Get down at eye-level with your toddler, and speak so softly that she has to quiet down to hear. You are more likely to get her to cooperate this way, in most cases. Other times, an old-fashioned come to Jesus moment may be in order (think a firm spanking on the bottom or a time-out). Every child is different. You will have to find what works for you and them.
4. This is the perfect time to start teaching your child boundaries (if you haven’t already).
Most children start preschool around three or four years of age. Children this age are expected to listen and respect authoritative figures like parents and teachers, to sit quietly for “circle time,” follow directions, and interact politely with others. You really do not want to be embarrassed when your child starts school. Keep in mind that behavioral hiccups are common at this age, and nothing to lose sleep over. But why not make things easier for yourself and your child’s teachers by instilling good habits now?
Offer choices along with the boundaries. No one likes a dictator. Hello, do you like it when your toddler bosses you around? She probably feels the same way. Instead of fighting with her about eating dinner for the billionth time this week, offer her two options and let her make up her mind. Remember? Toddlers like to feel independent. Give your child a sense of control.
5. Praise, praise, praise!
And most importantly, praise your “threenager” for positive behavior. This will encourage those good habits you are striving so hard to instill. Don’t be afraid to reward yourself when things go well. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep on moving when things go not-so-well. Parenting is hard work. There’s no hard and fast remedy for avoiding the road bumps, but you have to learn to enjoy the journey. Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming that toxic mom on the playground that no one wants to talk to — and nobody wants that.