People are quick warn you about the “Terrible Twos.” Frankly, I thought I had this parenting thing in the bag, because we didn’t deal have to deal with those… Until she turned three. As much as I was crossing my fingers to skip all of the “terribles,” I finally understand the warnings.
Now I’ll be the first to tell you I am no parenting expert; in fact, I may be just the “okayest” mom in Arkansas. Because honestly, I’m just taking it one day at a time (mostly winging it). But, I have learned a few things since my sweet, baby, two-year-old turned three, and it’s only fair to share my findings with my readers… because hell hath no fury like a three-year-old who didn’t get to buckle her own car seat buckle (can I get an Amen?).
1. Choose your Battles
Life would be hard to live in constant rage from constant battles. I’ve learned to choose my battles with my daughter. I mean is it really that big of a deal for her to wear a princess dress to dinner? No. Not in comparison to holding your hand in parking lots. Right? So what if she wants to carry an umbrella everywhere on a perfectly sunny day… #shade So what if you have a mermaid in tow with you at your yearly eye appointment… #keepingitreal Sometimes parents have to act like Elsa and just “Let it Go!” (Even if it’s the 13902356th costume change of the day…)
Not everything has to be a fight. Not every decision she makes has to be a no, which leads to my next point.
2. Give Her Some Independence
I find that giving her acceptable options can prevent tantrums (at times). This way she feels like she is still making her own choice. Would you like carrots or broccoli with your dinner? Would you like your running shoes or sparkly shoes? Sometimes, she’ll come up with a third option… and sometimes you have to go back to step one and choose your battles. So if she wants to wear her Dollar Store Elsa shoes on picture day, is it really that big of a deal? (It depends: will her shoes be in the picture?? Kidding! (kind of)).
3. Plan Ahead
Another strategy that helps in my house is planning ahead. My threenager is always ready for her next adventure… unless that adventure is getting up to get ready for school… Then she can’t get out of bed, because she’s suddenly “too tiiiiired… *yawn*”
On school mornings, I used to try to let her sleep as long as possible and have everything ready to go (her clothes laid out, lunch packed, toothpaste on her toothbrush, shoes by the door). I thought this was planning ahead. But getting her out of bed became a thing, then getting her to get dressed became a thing, until everything became a thing. My energetic-always-on-the-go toddler becomes a snail-sloth-turtle on school mornings.
So now, I make her get up earlier. This way she has time to adjust and get her mind ready for the day, and I don’t have to rush her to brush her teeth or put her shoes on (because sometimes this task alone takes 198234 minutes).
Anytime we go anywhere, I try to leave at least 10 minutes early to avoid the big car seat buckle debacle (and to account for some of the shoe time). She wants to do it, but the straps can’t be twisted, but I can’t help, because she “CAN DO IT!!,” until she “CAN’T DO IT!”… So yeah, planning ahead for the inevitable meltdowns may not prevent the tragedy, but it can save some of your sanity.
4. Accept Her Emotions
If you have a threenager, then you know they can say hurtful things prior to, in the midst of, or after throwing a tantrum. Things like “I don’t love you anymore,” “You’re not my friend,” “Don’t talk to me,” “Only daddy and bubby can look at me.” (It’s not just mine, is it??)
I used to ignore these phrases thinking it would show her I wasn’t affected, but this seemed to only encourage her fury. I had to remember she is only three, not a real teenager. She doesn’t understand what she is saying, and she probably doesn’t understand what she is feeling.
Now, I try to talk her through her emotions. Addressing the emotion face-on, let’s her know it’s normal and it’s even okay to feel these ways sometimes. “I know you are frustrated that your Play-Do dried, but next time ask mommy for help putting the lid on.” “I’m sorry you’re angry you can’t sit on the counter right now, but these pans are hot and mommy doesn’t want you to get burned.” Explaining her emotions and giving her reasoning for whatever she is frustrated with may not always prevent a tantrum, but it can help take away some of the sting.
Also I’ve found that when she is all-out kicking-and-screaming tantruming, this is when she needs me most. Even if she tries to fight me away, I just hug her and let her know I’m there for her even when she’s acting ugly or hurtful. This lets her know I don’t only love her when she’s nice, I love her always. I’ve been trying to let her know when she says hurtful things too, so that she will grasp that isn’t a correct way to deal with her strong emotions.
5. Praise Her More
Lastly, I’ve made it my mission to praise her multiple times daily. To make her feel special. To make her feel appreciated. To make her feel loved.
I do this by telling her how strong or smart she is. I tell her when I am proud of her for being kind or brave. I give her specific examples of things I love about her including physical, mental, and demonstrative things.
Threenagers are little, but man, they are fierce! And it is up to me to help my children through the good and the bad times and give them grace that my Heavenly Father so freely gives to me. I’m just striving to be a model of His unconditional and unfailing love through the “Trying Threes.” And beyond.
Final advice from my husband’s perspective: may the force be with you.