Whoever came up with the term “terrible two’s” obviously never made it to the age of three. Yes, an energetic, just-learned-to use-the-word-NO two-year-old can seriously be exhausting. But what I am discovering is the closer we get to that third birthday (two months away) the word that replaces “terrible” is “DEFIANT.” Even more independent than a two-year-old, a three-year-old has opinions and can get even more frustrated about well… anything.
I’ll preface my rant with the fact that I have a wonderful child, who is very well-behaved, hilarious, a chatterbox and just plain adorable. However, let’s get real people. When that three-year-old does not want to do something, it’s either finding the exact bribe for that frantic moment or literally chasing the little monster around and forcing him to comply, because eventually, the bribes stop working. In my case it’s shoving those kicking legs into tiny pants (or putting on shoes, a shirt, brushing his hair, eating breakfast, eating lunch, eating dinner–and the list goes on and on).
What makes three so different than two is the older toddler is very aware of why they are behaving so badly. While it makes absolutely no sense to us, it makes perfect sense to them:
Mom: “Please put your pants on.”
Child (screaming): “Noooooo, I don’t wanna put paaaaaaaaaaants ooooooon.”
Mom (confused): “Why? I thought you wanted to go to the park.”
Child (calm): “Oh yes, I want to go to the park. The park is my favorite.
Mom (momentarily pleased): “Oh good, well let’s get dressed then.”
Child (pre-tantrum mode): “NOOOOOO, NO GET DRESSED. NO BRUSH HAIR, NO PUT SHOES ON, AHHHHHHHHH (running around screaming like a maniac).”
My favorite piece of advice I get is “Oh, have you tried a little treat?” Have I tried a treat? Are you insane?!? I have a counter full of “treats” and I hope and pray every day that one of them will work, and work fast. Wasting an hour each day trying to get this child dressed is exhausting. And all I want to do when it finally happens is take a nap, NOT go to the park.
Although I am no expert, this is what I’ve learned and what seems to work for me:
Start with the Reward (not the bribe)
If you are trying to get your toddler to go somewhere, like the park or even the grocery store (which my son loves), my first attempt to get moving is reminding him how fun that place is. “Hey, don’t you want to sit in the race car cart?” It’s about a one in five success rate at this point.
Let them Choose
I always try to let my child be independent. Offering options are almost a sure way of me getting my way and him thinking he got his. Getting dressed? Two shirts–he gets to pick. This makes him feel like he’s in control and to some extent, won that battle. This pretty much works with everything; cups, forks, shoes, toothbrushes, toys, pajamas–you get the picture.
Walk Away from the Tantrum
While I don’t experience as many knock down, drag out on the floor tantrums as most, of course, they happen. The last few months, Brendan has started screaming, out of frustration I suppose, or for no reason at all. Sometimes someone will just walk by him and he’ll scream. We just quietly laugh about it now, he’s not hurting anyone, and I can only guess that the person stepped into what he considers his personal space. So I let him scream and release any energy that needs to get out. The bottom line with tantrums is just to let it happen because you can’t fix it.
The Last Resort
This is when I’ve run out of time, out of patience and just need something to happen. These days a huge battle is getting in the car OR getting out of the car. Here are some of the go-to items I have on my counter: candy (obviously), specifically mini m&m’s, bubbles, random keys (he likes keys so much we actually bought some blank ones for fun), a small flashlight, guitar pics… and the one “prize” that usually wins maybe 7 out of 10 times, fruit snacks.
If for some reason, none of those tangible items work, I start making stuff up. I actually got Brendan to come inside the other day because I told him he could help me open the windows. Oh, the mind of a child.
Although these can be trying times, if you are a parent of a toddler, you have to admit this is a really fun age. This year Brendan actually “got” Halloween. He’s talking in full sentences, and his imagination is running wild (literally running, yelling “rocket boosters activate!”). He remembers things that happened at school and asks me questions now, like, “Mom, what’s your favorite color?” He is turning into a little boy.
So while I definitely think three is tougher than two, life is certainly more interesting than ever.
What are some of your best toddler-management Mom tricks?