Terrible Twos? Old News.
“It’s like a switch gets turned on and your sweet two year old morphs into a terror. Three is horrible!” My sister-in-law said something to the effect of these words when I was complaining about the challenges I was facing with my 2.5 year old.
Our children are just under 9 months apart, which means that I get previews of everything that lies ahead of me as a parent from the good to the bad to the ugly.
And let me tell you, there is a lot about three that is ugly.
The terrible twos were always the age I was dreading the most, until my friends starting having children and posting about their “threenagers” on social media. Suddenly, I was inundated with stories about this crazy age where your sweet toddlers morph into stubborn, moody, whiny teenagers.
I had no idea things could get worse after two. It really seemed like my daughter was hitting that threenager phase around 2.5. She had more tantrums than ever before. She didn’t want to eat anything but yogurt and air. She was defiant. I was also dealing with a new baby and was exhausted all the time, so my patience was not the best.
And then she turned 3 and everything changed.
There are definitely wonderful aspects of 3 that should be mentioned.
A preschool teacher friend said, “I like that they tend to be more verbal by 3. They can better communicate their needs than most two year olds.”
The ability to communicate is one that is echoed among my parent friends.
“I love how he can do a lot on his own and communicate wants and needs better while still needing me and feeling a little bit still like my tiny baby.”
“Their ability to communicate more effectively was definitely welcome. And watching her start to think and formulate questions was cool. So was the transition out of diapers.”
“Love that she is finally expressing positive emotions/feelings, like I love you mommy.”
Having an almost two year old and a 3.5 year old, I also welcome the improved communication of my older daughter. It can be challenging trying to figure out what my two year old is trying to say or why she is crying. My older daughter can express her feelings and desires.
Her independence is definitely a positive. She can take a shower and get herself dressed and undressed with minimal assistance. She can feed herself and take on small chores like clearing her plate after meals and putting her clothes in the laundry basket. She can floss her own teeth and use the bathroom.
While she does not always nap, she can express when she is tired and needs one. She eats somewhat better than she used to. She is able to tell me what she wants to eat and understands why eating a balanced meal is important for her health.
She also has strong interests. One friend said that at three, kids, “really start to express themselves and show their quirky personalities. It’s fun to go ‘all in’ with whatever obsession they have, whether it’s dinosaurs or trains.”
My daughter loves dinosaurs and stickers, Star Wars and the Hulk, Disney princesses and animals. She loves to color and play dress up. She is developing a strong imagination and loves creative play. She adores being read to, especially stories where the main character goes on an adventure.
There is a lot of fun that comes along with being three, but of course there are major challenges as well.
My preschool teacher friend warned that along with better communication “comes some dangerous territory—defiance, stubbornness…” Stubborn is the default setting for this age. Another friend described her son as “very stubborn. We struggled with when to step in on things he insisted on doing independently.”
One of the biggest issues with three is a power struggle between parent and child.
This often leads parents to lose their cool.
This is an age when whining is incessant and children struggle with transitions. There is a lot of anger from both parents and children and a lot of tears as well. One friend confided that “It’s difficult to balance their need for independence and my need to survive parenting them.”
Parents of three year olds find themselves in survival mode more often than not. We also don’t always recognize how we are parenting. There is a lot more yelling than we even thought we’d do. Our patience is at an all-time low. The constant whining raises our blood pressure. We are angry so often.
So how do we survive?
“Preschool. 3-year-olds belong in preschool,” a friend suggested. Having your child in a daycare or nursery school program gives you a bit of a break and also helps your child release their energy while stimulating them as well.
“Avoid power-based showdowns,” another mom shared. “It’s better to take a break from the conflict and come back to it with a clear head than stand your ground and end up raging at your kid. And be willing to come back and apologize when you do (inevitably) lose it.”
“Mommy needs a timeout,” echoed another mom. “Lots of breaks,” a third mom chimed in.
One parent suggested finding “strategies to calm myself down. Finding opportunities for self-care helps with the temper too.”
Another major piece of advice was learning to pick your battles and to offer choices. Three year olds are constantly fighting for control. As a parent, you either need to let the small stuff go (one mom shared that her battles focused on safety) and/or as another mom said, “give your kids choices you can control.”
This is an easy, but brilliant, aspect of parenting. Present two choices to your child so “they still have to do what you want, but they get to participate,” my friend suggested. My daughter fights me on going to the bathroom, so instead of saying “please go to the bathroom”, I say “do you want to use the potty upstairs or downstairs?” I’ve noticed a major difference in her attitude when she gets a choice.
Sometimes I feel like I won’t survive this year, but little by little I am learning which parenting strategies are effective. I may not always predict what will cause a meltdown, but I feel I can cope better now than I could even a few months ago. I am hopeful that I will be better armed with coping mechanisms and strategies when my younger daughter hits three in another year.
Every age comes with its own unique positives and challenges. The key is learning how to deal with them and taking care of yourself. Turn to seasoned moms for advice. Take time for yourself whether that means a glass of wine on a Friday night or a solo Target run. Communicate your struggles and successes with your partner so you’re on the same parenting page.
And most of all remember, this too shall pass!