Friday 15 December 2017

Enter the Threenager

Three is far from the magic number for some parents, writes Olivia Willis

The terrible twos are very well documented. It's a tough year... Yet for some parents, the threes can be even more challenging. I remember people telling me when my youngest was going through the terrible twos - "It will pass". They said it when I was living in constant fear as to how to cut the shape of his toast. They said it when his head nearly spun off because he changed his mind and wanted squares rather than triangles.

But it didn't. It didn't pass. He turned three, and he became The Threenager.

The Threenager can be a tough little mite to parent. They'll make you weary and push your patience to the absolute limit. You know they're three because you have their birth certificate to prove it, yet these little folk have a big attitude, a massive stubborn streak and they want what they want, when they want it. They want three of everything. Why? Because they are three!

The Threenager can show a lot of attitude, with hands on hips and getting in a 'huff' when he or she doesn't get their own way - hence the name 'Threenager', because the behaviour is not unlike what you'd expect from your average teen.

The biggest difference between toddlers aged two and three, is that a three-year-old can start to realise the power they have and articulate themselves much better. You may even notice that they become more wilful.

If you have a Threenager living under your roof, here's what you need to do...

1The best thing you can do when you have a Threenager is stay calm. OK, so I know this sounds obvious and that this is a lot easier said than done, as these 'smallies' really know how to push your buttons, but try your best. Breathe. Kids mirror the behaviour of their parents, so by staying calm you're teaching them how to keep control of their feelings, even when things don't go their way.

2Keep the 'situation' realistic and keep it in context. Your three-year-old may seem mature and grown up, but they're not. They're an infant, so be sure you're realistic about what you expect from them and their behaviour. They'll get cranky and tired just like they did last year, so plan for enough downtime for them during the day. Chances are they may not be napping much anymore, but quiet time is still vital. No matter what the age, an overtired kid is more likely to misbehave or throw a tantrum, so bear this in mind.

3You can negotiate with them. Unlike a two-year-old, it is actually possible to negotiate with a Threenager. This can be a problem if the three-year-old is better at it than you are, though! I used to think my son would be a great trial lawyer someday, as he was that good at negotiating. He pretty much perfected the art of negotiation at three. I'd say bedtime was in 10 minutes. He'd say an hour. Eventually we'd end up settling on 45 minutes. He lost 15 minutes, but he gained 35. He was a master.

4 Very importantly, keep your sense of humour when dealing with these kids. Your three-year-old's behaviour may make you feel like pulling your hair out a lot of the time - but trust me when I tell you that the best way to get through the Threenager phase is to keep your sense of humour. You will look back and laugh someday that you googled 'exorcists near me' on your phone. Honestly. It won't last forever. I know this because mine is now four and I survived.

5Pick your battles with them. A Threenager is often desperate to assert their independence and this is when you and your angel may come to blows, with the result being an unmerciful tantrum (by one or both of you). I found that giving my son a little independence every now and again helped. Even if he was doing something I didn't particularly like, I'd ask myself if it really mattered, and if it didn't, then I'd let it slide. However, buy laundry products when they're on sale, because you're going to need them. A Threenager can go through multiple wardrobe changes a day. Dressing seems to be a big issue with these kids. They often have very set ideas about what they want to wear, which can differ to us parents, but letting them choose is a good way to let your child have their own way sometimes. So, if being Elsa on top and Spiderman on the bottom keeps them happy, so be it.

6They forget NOTHING! So never promise anything you can't deliver in the hope that they will forget about it when the time comes, because they won't. You're nodding reading this part, aren't you?

"I promise that if you … dot … dot... dot". DO NOT finish that sentence when negotiating with your Threenager unless you are damn sure you can fulfil it, or it will haunt you (and so will they!). However, don't fret, there's an upside to their elephant-like memory. Your Threenager also has eyes like a hawk and never misses a trick. So when you've mislaid something, see what happens. Ask them where you left your phone or where your house keys are. They know. You don't. But, guess what? You do now.

For all the hardship, there is a flip-side. As a Threenager's independence blooms, so does their vocabulary, and sometimes, just sometimes, you'll hear ever-so-lovely things come out of their mouths, like: "You are my favourite mummy in the whole wide world". You won't remind them that you are their only mummy in the whole wide world, though. No. You'll smile and bring them in close for a big hug, because, let's be honest, there's nothing sweeter than a super-tight toddler cuddle, is there?

Olivia Willis is the co-founder of, an Irish family website with information for parents, things to do, daily blogs, reviews and expert family advice.

Irish Independent

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