Mums & Tots: Life With A Threenager

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I have a 3 year old who isn’t behaving quite like herself. With her older sister I blamed the challenging behaviour when she was 3 on my recent separation from her Dad, but now I’m not so sure it was solely to blame. A few months ago I shared on my Instagram that my happy, relaxed youngest daughter had became um, lets call it “trying”. I blamed it on the arrival of her younger brother and a bid to get more attention, but other parents pointed out that she was actually behaving pretty normally… for a threenager.

I asked other bloggers if they had experience of threenagers and reading through their blog posts it struck me how often people were taken by surprise when one suddenly arrived in their lives.  Regardless of if they struggled through the terrible twos or their child was pretty easy going and happy until their 3rd birthday a threenager can arrive without warning. With a growing use of language and the ability to argue 3 year olds are determined to have their own way, but they often lack the reasoning and logic to make what we would consider sensible decisions. There are so many emotions they are dealing with and they don’t know how to manage it all. I guess it’s no surprise that they become rather challenging.

How Do You Know You Have A Threenager?

These little people are often full of rage, anger and frustration. Their behaviour can seem strange or irrational, but you’ll know one when you see one. They are the children who are crying because they got given the ice cream they asked for, but no longer want, or the child wearing a woolly hat, wellies and sunglasses on a summer’s day. If you still need help recognising one then read Lucy’s description of her daughter in The Rise of The Threenager.

If you already have a threenager these posts by What Mummy Thinks, It’s Me & Ethan and LesBeMums will have you nodding with empathy, and possibly a little relief.  I could easily picture the scenes they describe from similar experiences.

Why Does A Threenager Behave As They Do?

It is because at 3 they are more able to do things on their own, but don’t always have the freedom or ability to do exactly what they want. They are confused inside and feel unsettled with all the changes going on developmentally. There is change going on socially too and as Emma suggests tiredness may be a big part. It is easy to lose your temper, but trying to understand how they are feeling will help you keep your cool as they refuse to eat their dinner because it’s on the wrong colour plate.

How Can You Help a Threenager?

However hard their behaviour is remember there are reasons for it and the more you can do to help them through this stage the less painful it will be. You will also help them to better manage their emotions in the future.

Strategies will depend on the personality of your child eg my eldest and Lyndsay’s from Me, Him, The Dog and A Baby need to burn themselves out when having a meltdown. My youngest daughter is different though and she will come to me for a cuddle to calm herself down. 

One great suggestion I heard a while ago was to engage their logical brain because they can’t use it at the same time as their emotional brain. If they are having a tantrum, but still at the point they are just about listening getting them thinking can help e.g. “can you point to 5 blue toys?.” It doesn’t always work, but it’s impressive how it can change their focus when it does.

Obviously it’s better to avoid meltdowns and tantrums where possible. One way to do this is to give them choice and control (but not too much). “What do you want for dinner?” can be a little overwhelming and lead to an upset because you don’t happen to have the one thing they have requested, but “would you like pasta or rice?” gives them some freedom and control.

Lisa from The Family Ticket says you need to “choose your battles”. If they insist on wearing a batman outfit to the shops it’s not the end of the world so it’s not worth the argument, being strapped into their car seat on the other hand is not negotiable. Anything in the middle you need to decide what you are going to put your foot down on, but once you do you must be firm and not change your mind or they quickly learn.

Have you got a threenager? Do you have any tips?

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About Kate Kirk

Kate lives on the border of London and Essex surrounded by the chaos caused by her two daughters, cat and partner. When she can distract her toddler for long enough she blogs at about honest parenting. As a co-parenting, non-dairy eating, occasionally depressed and often shouty mother of girls who love toys, books, going out and mess she covers a bit of everything and is often covered in everything. You can find her chatting away on Twitter (EssexKate), Instagram (EssexKate) and Facebook (CountingToTenBlog) when she should probably be tidying the house.