Terrible Twos vs. Tantrums Threes

group of happy kidsThe “Terrible Twos” is a well-known umbrella name for the difficult time in a child’s development where they are stubborn, argumentative, demanding, whiney, and down-right defiant; where tantrums are plentiful. However, the title “Terrible Twos” is severely misleading; frankly, it’s a flat-out lie.

Moms, dads, grandparents, babysitters, teachers and caregivers agree (at least all the ones I know) that 2 year olds are easy, 3 year olds are the ones to look out for (although year 1 and year 4 aren’t always a picnic either).

2 Year Old’s vs. 3 Year Old’s

At 2, you may hear a lot of the word “no” from your child. It’s easy to say, and it expresses the child’s dislike of something or some activity. But at three, a child’s vocabulary becomes extensive, and they become very particular about the clothes they want to wear, the food they want to eat, or the crayon they must draw with.

Add those together and a simple “no” turns into, “No, I don’t like that,” “No, I want this,” all spoken to you in the whiniest of voices. But these words are only coming out of their tiny, defiant mouths after the initial screaming and crying have subsided because at three, while they are capable of putting thoughts into coherent sentences, their emotions run wildly out of their control and everything is a crisis.

3 year old having a temper tantrum

Simply asking for help is near impossible when you can’t fit your Batman into the door of his Bat Cave; to a 3 year old, that situation obviously warrants a scream of frustration immediately followed by franticly yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”

You see your sweet two year old turn into a defiant child who seems to have an argument for everything you have to say. They test their boundaries, they push the rules to see what they can get away with, and they test you to see if you will actually follow through with any of the consequences you threaten.

Parents, there is good news, there are ways to make it through these “Tantrum Threes” (as I feel they should be renamed). These three steps will not magically make everything better, but they can help you keep a little bit of your sanity.

Dealing With Tantrums

  1. Be patient and calm. Remember that it is their crisis, not yours, so calmly help them get through it. Yelling will only make everyone more upset.
  2. Be consistent. Make sure your three year old knows the daily schedule, the rules he is expected to follow, and the consequences he must face if he doesn’t follow the rules. This will help keep the surprise and daily drama to a minimum, and if you are consistent every time he tests you, eventually he will learn.
  3. Make and enjoy quiet time. Whether you have a go-to book to read, a hot bath to draw, a glass of wine to drink, or a yoga class to attend, make sure you get a daily dose of quiet time for yourself, because at the end of the day, you and your nerves will need it.