When you become a parent, you’re faced with a myriad of milestones and “stages” – sleeping through the night, weaning, teething, the terrible twos – the list goes on. But I can happily say that there was one stage I was not expecting – the threenager. My little boy had his moments, but usually was mild-mannered enough once he left his toddler days behind. My little girl, however – a whole other kettle of fish.
I have massive admiration for my little girl, Ellie. She’s three, and has been speaking in perfect grammatically correct sentences since she was one (she has been known to correct me). She’s also full of opinions and has the strongest will of anyone I know. Her hugs and kisses are just as strong and heartfelt, but when you’re in the middle of a threenager strop, they can be hard to remember!
Ellie went through the usual toddler tantrum stage at about 18 months, frequent but short-lived bursts of temper. Since she turned three, though, these have turned epic. Ellie developed what parents of teenagers will recognise as attitude, and a stubborn streak that is just incredible. A stand-off could last for hours, and she has been known to slam her bedroom door in a temper. While it’s great to see that she has a strong will and personality (I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me that I should “preserve” that strong will because “girls need to be strong”), living with a threenager can be exhausting and frustrating at times.
So how do you cope? With Ellie’s fourth birthday looming in a few weeks’ time (we are marking days off on a calendar), here are some coping techniques I have learned over the last year:
Give her some independence
A three year old thinks she’s a big girl now, and feels stifled if you continue to do everything for them. Allow her some independence with tasks like dressing herself (give her a choice of two outfits, don’t make my mistake of allowing free choice. Ever.) or packing her bag for pre-school. Giving her the freedom to complete a task will make her feel trusted a grown-up. Ellie is great at unloading the washing machine or tumble drier, and is happier than ever when she’s let do it.
Give her a good example
When your threenager is giving you attitude, it’s tempting to give attitude back. Don’t do it! Remember that your little one is learning her behaviour right now, and will be listening to and absorbing how you interact with her. The more she sees good examples of behaviour, the more likely she will be to lose the attitude.
This one follows on from the toddler stage. While your threenager might be behaving like a stroppy 13 year old, remember that she is still a tot and sometimes her emotions can be overwhelming and frightening. I’ve noticed that if I don’t take control of a situation quickly, Ellie will end up in a whirl of emotions and very easily loses control of herself – it’s difficult then for her to regain control and calm down. So while you might be in hell when your threenager is having a meltdown in public, stay calm, keep your voice steady and low, and bend down to her level to talk to her.
Explain her emotions
Your child is learning quickly and now is the time to talk about emotions and how they can affect your child and others around her. Give emotions their names and explain that you sometimes feel like that too. Explain too how words can be hurtful and that what she says to you can hurt your feelings. All that said, don’t dwell on it. Explain you feel hurt, accept an apology and a hug, and move on.
Choose your battles
Sometimes you have to give in. For your sanity. So let her watch that cartoon. It doesn’t make you a bad parent.
This too will pass
How many times have you murmured this very sentence to yourself over the years? But it’s true – your threenager will soon become a four year old and will start growing up before your eyes. This is a stage and will be over soon. Deal with it and learn to laugh. Because threenagers and their negotiation tactics are hilarious, and you’ll be dining out for years on what they have said or managed to extract from you, FBI style. Just don’t let her see you laughing.