When my first child turned two years old I would hear all the horror stories of the “terrible twos”. I cringed while I listened to stories of children crying relentlessly as they turned purpled and fell to the ground with fists pounding on the pavement over a broken cookie. I felt ill prepared to deal with what sounded like a scene from The Exorcist. I looked at my sweet angel and could not imagine such wrath coming from her tiny fists. As the year passed I grew over confident that I had one of those rare children who never threw a tantrum or cause her mother to grow prematurely white hair. I had the perfect two year old.
Then she turned three and my world turned upside down. My perfect two year old was now a three year old on a war path. While, she still did not throw tantrums, my once compliant little girl with wide eyes that said “guide me mommy” now glared at me with “I CAN DO IT!” in her eyes. Suddenly she thought she knew the secret of life. She demanded her way from bedtime to what she ate. Instead of obediently walking out of the toy store she would fuss and argue letting me know that leaving was not in her plans. Again I felt unprepared. The seeds of rebellion were planted and I questioned if I had what it took to pull those weeds.
Ten years later, I have a 13 year old that I could not be more proud of. She is not devoid of “teenness” but she is discerning, intelligent, confident, and goal oriented. She is a rule follower, trustworthy, and reliable. So take heart if you have a three year old, this phase does not last forever. I have four children and three turned into a cute little monster at three and one is heading in that direction now. So what’s the secret?
If you have heard it once you heard it a million times, be CONSISTENT. Your little one will try to test the boundaries at three. Three is the age your little precious will learn there are options and point A does not always have to be a straight line to reach point B. He will try to stay up later because he is hungry or he wants another story read. He will decide he does not want to wear his coat or hat even on a cold day. Trying a new food? Forget about it unless it is eye appealing. Through these storms you need to remain calm and consistent. When you say “no” mean “no”. This is also an age where logical discipline is effective. If your child cannot play nicely with a toy than the logical action is to take the toy away. When my daughter did not want to leave the toy store calmly, I informed her that we would not go into the toy store if she could not leave properly. The next time we were out I walked past the toy store. When she asked to go in I simply told her that she could not because she did not know how to leave properly. I then made one more trip out and allowed her to go in the toy store. That time she came out like an angel. While it is exhausting at times to be a parent you must never fail to discipline. We all have moments when we wish we did not see the infraction because we are too weary to discipline one more time. It is important to use all infractions as teaching moments. Your child is not “bad”, your child is testing the limits and needs you to tow the hard line.