Just recently I have seen a number of posts venting about the trials of living with a three year old or “a threenager” as they are increasingly called. These kinds of posts are definitely written tongue in cheek and are not intended to be serious. Still every time I read them I can’t help feeling a little sad. Yes three year olds can definitely be defiant, rebellious, and dramatic, but that doesn’t make them terrors. It just makes them a three year old at a fascinating stage of development.
This post is written in defense of three year olds, whom I happen to think are pretty awesome people.
Understanding the behavior behind the four top peeves of parents with threenagers
1.Threenagers never ever stop talking At three children’s language skills are starting to take off. They have learned lots of new words and suddenly start talking properly. Naturally they want to use this emerging skill.
Every. Waking. Moment.
Put yourself in their shoes. Can you imagine how frustrated you would feel if you couldn’t communicate effectively for two years? Suddenly you are handed the gift of speech. Wouldn’t you want to talk at every conceivable opportunity?
Don’t forget your child’s conversational skills are still emerging, so they often need gentle prompting to relate a complete and coherent thought. Also they may have discovered that the word “why” is an easy way to continue a conversation with you. I have found that I can often distract a three year old from the never-ending litany of why by asking them a question. It fulfills their desire for connection and might just save your sanity.
I know this constant barrage of words can be exhausting, but isn’t it wonderful that your child wants to talk with you? I speak from personal experience when I tell you it won’t last. In about 10 years time there will come a stage when the most you will hear from your child are monosyllabic grunts. Make the most of these precious moments of connection and conversation.
2. They must do everything by themselves, taking FOR-EVER. Yup! By the age of three your child’s own sense of identity is becoming stronger and more secure. As a result they are becoming more independent and want to do everything for themselves. Remember that they are still learning and developing their fine motor skills.
As a consequence EVERY-SINGLE-ACTIVITY is going to take more time than it once did. So for example your child will probably want to put their own clothes on, but it will take them a lot longer to get everything on and fastened.
Try to remember that this growing independence is a good thing. Children need lots of encouragement and practice to develop skills. This stage won’t last forever, but simplifying and adjusting your schedule to accommodate your child’s growing independence will keep you from getting completely frazzled.
3. Threenagers are oppositional Three year olds can be very sweet and loving. At the same time they can also be rebellious and defiant. Understand that their brains are still developing. They are still learning what the rules are, what they mean, and if they can be bent. They want to know if our “no” really means “no.” And to make sure, they will test this rule EVERY-SINGLE-TIME.
Try not to take this behavior personally. Your child is not being intentionally defiant. Three is a time of growing independence and testing boundaries. Your child hasn’t had enough life experience to fully grasp the concepts of empathy, respect, or self-control, but they are learning. You can help by staying calm and consistently setting respectful limits
Aha! Parenting has a really helpful post about setting limits. I particularly like the section that talks about dealing with your child’s angry or upset response to the dreaded word, “no.”
4. Threy are drama queens Three year olds can be incredibly dramatic. One minute they are happy and sunny and the next minute they are throwing the mother of all tantrums, because their red sweater is in the laundry. I have read a number of hilarious posts about the things that cause meltdowns in preschool children. Here are a few of my favorites.
- The blue spoon is in the dishwasher.
- He wanted the milk on the top of the cereal bowl, not the bottom.
- His pants don’t have pockets.
Try to keep your sense of humor. Your child hasn’t had time to develop a reasonable perspective, so every little disappointment seems huge and overwhelming to them. Also the pathways in their brains are still developing and they simply can’t control their response to this upset. Although something may seem trivial to us it is not so easy for a 3-year-old to accept that their favorite spoon is in the dishwasher.
I raised three boys, so I know firsthand that three year olds can be exhausting and can drain you of every drop of patience you possess. Still can I make a plea on their behalf?
Let them be who they are.
Take some time to understand why they behave the way they do, so you can empathize and understand the developmental process that they are undergoing.
Don’t wish this stage away, because all too soon they will be grown and it will be time to let them go.
As this beautiful song from Lonestar implores,
“So let them be little ’cause they’re only that way for a while
Give them hope, give them praise, give them love every day
Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle
Oh just let them be little.”
One last note: Raising young children is wonderful, but can also be exhausting. Don’t forget to make your own self-care a priority and try to schedule some regular “me” time into your life.