The Number Three.

January 2, 2011 at 10:01 am | Posted in Battles (aka: toddlerhood), Cult of Personality, milestones | 16 Comments

(Or: Be Very Afraid.)

Two of my best friends have daughters of whom both will be 4 in January. And my nephew D turned 3 in July.

So I have heard from my SIL and my two friends that age three is rough on parents. I’ve heard anecdotes mostly in real time, have discussed with them the techniques they used to get through it, and generally spent time preparing myself for the inevitable.

But as I’ve found with most things parenting, I didn’t really have a sense of just HOW hard it would be when we were there.

This week, though?

We’ve gained a new appreciation.

Something happened to my kid.

He obstinately refuses to do anything we ask, even if it’s as simple as putting his toys away or eating dinner with us. If we tell him, for example, that he can’t go outside because it’s still dark? He will INSIST that “NO Mommy! It’s NOT dark outside.” Which, if we force it, escalates into him yelling that over and over and over and over. (For HOURS.)

He’s started to do things deliberately to get us to react. (For me, it’s the yelling without words, escalating into screams. He did this one day for an HOUR. For J? It’s him throwing his Bear, then screaming when J refuses to pick Bear up for him.)

If given a choice between two things, he’ll pick one, and then pretty much as SOON as we commit to that choice, he’ll change his mind. God forbid that choice is no longer available.

He doesn’t want to get dressed, undressed, change his diaper, sit on the potty, wear his coat, take off his coat, wear his shoes, take off his shoes, take a bath, brush his teeth, eat dinner/breakfast/snack.

Unless we let him use the sharp knife and pour the juice into his own cup and wash his own dishes and cook his own damn food.

So we’ve been riding that as much as we can. When it’s feasible, we’ve shown him how to cut his food (with a butter knife). He’s been drinking out of cups and eating off the same plates as us, and we let him set the table, help J wash dishes, fill the tub with water and add bubble soap himself.

And we’re back to the picking of our battles in a BIG way. The other day, J spent an hour getting him dressed, then another half hour coping with the fallout of the hour long battle of getting him dressed. At the end, he looked at me and said, “this was a stupid idea, wasn’t it?”

We’ve also implemented ignoring. Because O TRIES to get a rise out of me when he screams without words, I pretend it’s not even happening. To put it mildly, it’s a lesson in patience for me. It’s HARD.

Now, see. For those of you following my ticker on the right there, you’ll see that O is not actually three yet.

So yeah. I am VERY afraid of what happens when he DOES turn three.


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  1. I hate the age 3. It was horrific with my oldest and it’s exponentially worse with the triplets. I hate it. I hate every second of it and I’m counting the seconds until they turn four.

    I will say that you’re on the right track. Picking your battles carefully is huge, and Ignoring is your most powerful parenting technique. At least it was with my eldest. Nothing actually seems to phase the triplets, because if I’m busy ignoring one, another one is pushing buttons while the third one is shredding my cookbooks.

    Did I mention that I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate the age 3???

  2. I try to warn parents about three when they talk about two. I will also warn you about four… And five. Each year brings it’s own difficulties.

    Yes pick your battles, but once a decision is made DO NOT cave. You can introduce a timer to your routine processes, like getting dressed. Give him his choice of two outfits and once picked put the other away. Then set the timer for five minutes. Tell him he has until the timer goes off .to get dressed. If he’s not dressed in the allotted time, YOU get to dress him. It’s not foolproof, but it’ll give you all some breathing time.

  3. I don’t know if you read her, but Calliope had a post about Toddlers here:

    I know what you mean. I actually had not realized how wonderful we had it with M. W is totally a Terrible Two, and I am awaiting the Threes with trepidation. But, I keep telling myself two things — She’s not the boss of me! and This is a phase, this is a phase, this is a phase…

    All you can do is pick your battles and be consistent. Good luck!

  4. I can only speak about my three boys, but three was without a doubt the hardest time. (it actually started a bit before three) I was so geared up and worried about the “terrible twos” that when they didn’t happen I felt smug thinking that I must be a brilliant parent. yeah. till three.

    He is starting to get the association between having an opinion and voicing an opinion and wanting to be right. Let him know that there are many things he can decide for himself, but many things he needs to be older to decide. Give him a specific age. I told mine that they were allowed to use a knife when they were four…they were diverted to the point where we got out a calendar and figured out how long that would be. Sounds stupid but it worked.

    It is hard, but let him scream his little heart out. As long as he isn’t in danger of getting hurt, pop in your headphones and go about changing sheets, blogging, whatever. He will (I promise) get tired of the effort to make you listen. Most importantly….like you already know….stay consistent. If you say has to say no. I avoided that many times by giving a thoughtful “let me think about that a minute”…I don’t know why, but it seemed to make them think that they were in a negotiation and taught them how to compromise.

  5. *running away from this post*

    Just kidding. But I have heard that 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 is the worst time. I have also heard that about every other age. When does preschool begin in earnest? ; )

  6. I could only laugh through my tears while reading this. You, obviously, are not alone… We are going through the EXACT same thing. I have been really lucky with the 2s, and as 3 comes closer it’s freaking me the frig out! FWIW, I think you are totally on track with the ignoring. I have found that I have been able to curb several behaviours this way. That, and my silent mantra of “it’s just a phase, it’s just a phase”.
    Good luck, we’ll be with you every step of the way through the next year!

  7. My DD is going through the same but it escalated to a point when baby#2 came! I’m talking biiiiig time but has simmered down to normal 2-going-on-12 stuff now. I taught 1 St grade for 10 years then became a school counselor and love love love.the book “love and logic”! Empowers the child and more importantly empowers the parent!! Lemme know what you think!:)

  8. Oh no! Thanks for the warning and I thought it was the Two’s I had to survive which is fast approaching. Good Luck!

  9. That happened with my son, too … and now, at age four, it’s “Mommy will you do X for me”? So hang in there … there’s actually an upside to independence!

  10. Sigh… Lyla has been the same way lately and it is driving crazy. The dressing and undressing is such a battle that I had to start to put her to sleep wearing the clothes for day care next day. She doesn’t sleep well either, bed time is such a struggle. Sigh… 2 weeks ago I was about to go insane. Public tantrums, refusing to listen, pushing my buttons all day long. I had to relearn and adapt and it got a little easier. Her dad is out of town for one month, I am so tired doing it all alone. Thanks for sharing, I felt like I had the only child that went mad LOL

  11. Yes, my son entered the terrible twos at 15 months and is JUST emerging (depending on the day and the size and position of the moon) now at 3 yrs 10 mos. We just rolled from terrible twos into terrible threes without missing a beat.

    Even though I was prepared because my son was strong-willed and stubborn at birth, I was not prepared for how wearing it is. 1-2-3 Magic worked for us and still does (I JUST used it at the grocery when he wanted to stand out in the rain instead of get in the car) as did Playful Parenting. Seriously, there are some useful tools in both for navigating the epic battles and the constant mind changing. Sometimes it feels like an absolute battle of wills, something I never ever wanted it to be, but yet.

    You’ve gotten a lot of tips here and I hope they help arm you with tools.

    Four, four, where for art thou four?

  12. Uh oh, you are scaring me! I thought the terrible twos were bad enough. It’s warped, but sometimes I think that when I’m in “ignoring J” mode during tantrums, it’s the only time I ever have time for myself. Anyway, hang in there! I have no real advice, since my son is younger than yours, but hopefully it won’t last too long.

  13. Well. We have definitely had “a day” here, so I am kind of with you. On the other hand, I stick to my mother’s advice – that different stages drive different people crazy because they push different buttons – and I think, for me, it is still the infant stage I detest the most. But check back in six months or so!

    I have to say that one of our biggest problems today has been co-parenting on the public holiday. I swear there were so many moments today that would have been OVER if it had just been me and him, but because it was two parents and him he just continues to try it on and we all wind each other up. I am pretty good at staying patient – it does seem to help a lot. (Although actually I’m not sure if patient is the word. I stay calm and even sympathetic, but I am not at all patient about letting a problem go unresolved. Ah, we have fun.)


  14. OMG, my daughter is 3 1/2 and the last month has been a nightmare! One friend of ours, who has mercifully escaped this problem so far, even recommended we see a therpist or try techniques used on RAD kids after witnessing one of these events. It is so difficult. I agree, I was just not prepared for 3. This has been the hardest age to parent. In fact, we want to adopt 2 kids from foster care, and I have begun telling my wife that maybe we should rethink the idea to adopt younger children, and only adopt children over the age of 3 because I’m just not sure I can go through this again. I feel your pain. Hopefully the fact that he started early means it will end early. Thank you for your honesty!
    Melissa in Durham

  15. well FINALLY…I say that with a SIGH..not because I wanted it to happen to you, but because I was beginning to think that either my children were the evil spawn of highschool enenmy (and not me and John) or that I was PARENTING all wrong.

    darlin, I could write this post X2…I have a child that can say in a “baby voice” …”WHAT?” and lay me out. Like up yours mom. FUnny now, not when it’s happening. I have heard the same things about 3…that it’s the “new 2” that it will test the patience of Job…like you said, we’re not even there yet..and already things are “interesting”..

    I’m just hoping (for both of us) that by April or’s pretty much over. PLEASE!


  16. Oh yeah, we are so there. Not fun! My daughter started it at just about 2 and she is 3yrs 8mos now. I feel bad for everyone but am kind of relieved to see that I am not alone in 3 h&ll because I was seriously starting to worry that my daughter had some kind of disorder. Raising Your Spirited Child has helped some. I just have to keep reminding myself that on her 4th birthday she probably will not magically be an angel.

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