Disciplining a threenager can be a challenge. Here are 5 effective ways to handle a threenager that work, no matter how strong-willed your child may be.
“No more jumping,” I told my three-year-old. “It’s too loud for the neighbors. Walk to the bathroom instead, please.”
His reply? “You’re not my friend! I’m not talking to you!”
Welcome to the threenager stage: three-year-olds with the sass of a teenager.
Three-year-olds are just as curious and test their boundaries like their “terrible twos” counterparts. But this time, they do it with attitude and stubbornness. I’m sure they’d roll their eyes if they could, just like a 13-year-old.
How to handle a threenager
Dealing with a threenager can be more shocking if you didn’t see much of the terrible twos. You thought you were safe when your child skipped the tantrums everyone talked about. That is, until the threenager stage hits you when you least expect it.
For a while there, I thought my twins just weren’t the “tantrum-y” type. Whereas I was dealing with weekly tantrums from their older brother at two-years-old, these guys seemed to coast right along. Except come three-years-old, and I wondered if they’d just been saving it all up for now.
Thankfully, I dug around for ways to handle a threenager, many of them rooted in positive parenting and understanding that this is all normal. Below are a few of the tips I learned:
Give your child independence.
This is the age where preschoolers are shedding their baby-ness and want to be like the big kids. Rather than holding them back, encourage their independence. They need to know you trust them with tasks like putting their shoes on or climbing the playground.
Rather than feeling stifled, your three-year-old will appreciate the room to explore. Give her autonomy to do things on her own without hovering. With a three-year-old’s independence comes the need to step back and allow it to happen.
This can be especially tough when they take forever to put on their shoes or spill the basket of blueberries all over the floor. Still, this is when we need to draw patience and reassure ourselves that mistakes and messes are all part of the learning process.
Label her emotions, especially now that she’s more verbal.
Labeling emotions defines the feelings your child has. At three-years-old, she wonders whether she’s the only one who feels jealous or angry. She’s unsettled when she feels her heart beating fast or tightening in sadness.
Calling these feelings by name makes them normal—something we all experience. It’s the same as coming down with a new ailment you haven’t had, and someone says, “Oh yeah, I know that—that’s called [fill in the ailment].” It’s reassuring.
Now that your three-year-old is more verbal, it’s even easier to talk about her emotions. Describe how her words had been hurtful, or how we need to respect one another. Take advantage of her growing vocabulary to include emotions in your everyday language.
And let her know how her words and actions affect you and those around her. She’s still egocentric in the way kids are, so it’s important to describe how others feel.
Accept all her emotions.
Your three-year-old will go through many ups and downs. Now’s not the time to withhold your affection because she was sassy or frustrated, or to reprimand her for making mistakes (remember, we all do that). They need to know we love them, even when they’re at their worst behavior or giving us the meanest attitude.
Instead, guide her through all the madness. As difficult as it is to stomach her antics, her emotions are harder for her than they are for you. It’s actually during these challenging times that your threenager needs you the most.
This doesn’t mean gushing over her bad behavior, or allowing her to keep speaking to you rudely. But it does mean offering a hug to make her feel better, not saying anything just as hurtful back, or making it seem like you’ll only spend time with her when she’s happy.
Model the behavior you want to see.
Your child will mimic your behavior more so than any discussion you may have with her. You can discipline all day, but none of that will matter if your own behavior doesn’t follow the values you teach.
This is hard, especially for the threenager stage. It’s tempting to respond with something sarcastic, but speak with respect. Curb her bad attitude by doing so yourself. She’s learning how to manage her own communication skills. The more she sees good examples to model after, the more she’ll be able to follow suit.
Remember she’s not a teenager.
We laugh about our little threenagers who think they’re a decade older than they are. And it’s easy to compare them to teenagers. Except they’re not. Far from it. They’re still the little kids who need help managing social interactions. The ones who struggle with meltdowns and outbursts. They still need us to be patient through all their antics.
One of my three-year-old twins surprised me the other day. Whereas he had been so calm and composed, he then spent the next few minutes yelling at me. Not in the typical “I’m throwing a tantrum” yelling. More like the, “Go away, I don’t want to see you” kind.
It’s tough to be patient and much easier to lose our cool. But it’s during these times—the hardest times—our kids need us the most. Yes, even when they jump after we just told them not to, or yell “You’re not my friend!” They’re three, not thirteen, still grappling with their emotions and growing independence.
Get more tips about your three-year-old:
Tell me in the comments: Did you have a threenager on your hands? What is your best tip to handle a threenager?
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