Tuesday, October 11, 2011

So, What Is SO Bad?

****DISCLAIMER**** I apologize, in advance, for the liberal use of italics, bolded font, and capitalization (and some words? I used all three!) in this post. When you have a three year old, you will understand.

People always warned me about The Threes. I watched two of my close friends go through it with their kids recently. It didn't seem that bad from the sidelines, but they sure talked about it a lot. I noticed their kids seemed a bit more oppositional, listening a bit less, perhaps a tantrum or two more than usual, but they still seemed pretty "normal" to me. I knew, however, that I had heard from enough people that Three Sucks, so there had to be something to it.

So, at about six weeks into The Threes, I can tell you what is so bad about them. Perhaps you can prepare yourself better than I did. Probably not. But at least you'll know you are not alone.

It's the fact that, almost overnight, your sweet, aquiescent toddler (okay, so Will was stubborn before, but it was manageable) turns into their own person. And they don't want to do anything that you would like them to, just because you want them to do it (even if it's fun! even if it's something that they would usually want to do!). And they want to do everything themselves from putting on their shoes to pouring the milk to going to the potty.

What's so bad about that, you ask? Well, in and of itself, it is a very good thing. Having his own opinion about things, wanting to do things for himself, increasing independence. . . it's all wonderful. IN THEORY.

In PRACTICE, however, it is very, very tiring because it is NON STOP. From the moment Will gets up until the moment he goes to bed EVERYTHING is an argument. And it's so wearing, when the arguments are about things like which specific spoon he wants to use for his oatmeal, which specific pair of underwear he wants to wear that day, which grocery store he wants to go to, and you'd better believe it won't be the spoon, underwear, or grocery store I had in mind.

As a result of this, everything takes longer than it should, because you have to plan for this opposition. Sure, it doesn't always happen, but it happens enough that I have to be prepared. I had our "leaving the house" routine timed to perfection and now that's all screwed up. And things that used to be predictable and enjoyable are no longer such, because in the middle of, say, the tubby, he is suddenly going to want a certain type of bubble bath that we don't have. So all of a sudden, he is tantruming for this bubble bath that I don't even know that they carry at Target anymore. And even if I did have it, right that very minute? I can't give in to the tantrum, so he can't have it anyway. BUT!!! If I buy that bubble bath the next time we are at Target so this won't happen again? Nope, it's not that easy. Because when I use that bubble bath, he will want the one that I used the last time but didn't replace. BECAUSE HE WANTED THIS ONE! Two tubbies. Ruined. And tubbies were one of my go-to parenting tactics before when a day was going off the rails. Nothing is sacred anymore.

AND? Everything is dramatic. Before, if Will wanted something and it wasn't something he was going to get, I could distract him. That no longer works. And if he tantrumed before, it was a brief affair that was usually over in minutes. Now, once he gets something in his mind (yesterday, it was that he wanted to go potty at a specific store that we passed on the way home), it is GAME OVER. And the tantrums will last for thirty minutes or more and they are intense, with him turning purple with rage and screaming to wake the dead.

I am also dead set that we NEVER give into a tantrum. So even if he is asking for something that I would give him if he asked nicely, if he asks rudely and then starts tantruming, he is not getting it. So a lot of his tantrums are even more ridiculous because I would have given him, for example, asnack. . . if only he had given me a chance to say yes!

I generally ignore his tantrums. For example, right now? He has been in his room for over forty-five minutes. He is screaming. Why? Well, because he wants to go to a friend's house and stay there while I "go to work". As that isn't happening today, he is very upset. Once he gets to this point, there is no going back. There is no putting him in the car and making him go do something fun, because he won't be or have any fun. And I don't want to reward the behavior. So, Emma and I are downstairs in her playroom, while he is upstairs. Screaming. He came downstairs about five minutes ago and seemed to have calmed down a bit, but he revved right back up when he asked to go to the friend's house and I said, "Not today."

And the sad part is that Emma and I are dressed and ready to go. We were going to go to the kids museum and I had hoped to sneak in a Target trip. He loves to go to Target and get a soft pretzel (well, he used to, not sure where Three Year Old Will lands on the soft pretzel), so it used to be a fun errand. But now, the morning is being wasted on this tantrum.

In addition to the daily struggles, sleep is also disrupted. All of my friends found that night wakings and bedtime struggles started (or got markedly worse) at three. At two weeks into three, it happened to Will, too. My solid sleeper, three hour a day napper, never fights bedtime. . .is now waking two to three times a night, fighting and/or skipping naps, and bedtime has become a struggle. So, we are all getting less sleep, which of course, makes the daily struggles worse. It's a rather disturbing catch-22. Because, as I learned back when Will was a newborn, sleep begets sleep. . . and a lack of sleep makes everyone grumpier. Despite his advancing independence, however, Will fails to have this little thing called reasoning down yet. So I can't exactly say to him, "Hey, buddy, if you kept napping and sleeping, you might just feel a bit better during the day. And I know I would."

The other day, I was talking about this with another friend. Her children are a bit older and I wasn't really around them when they were in The Threes. I told her that I didn't remember her kids being like this. She assured me that they were, but I wasn't around it enough to really see it. And, she added, that if it made me feel any better, she thought Will seemed "normal" and like a nice little kid. Which did, actually, make me feel better. . . for about five minutes, until the next argument came up.

So, I think to sum it up: The Threes are exhausting because they are non-stop. It feels like I am in the middle of psychological warfare with a three year old. Who is sometimes winning.


Sunny said...

Oh girl, I feel your pain! First, the sleeping thing -- it is a very rare night when Bean lets us sleep through the night. Last night he was up three times. Awesome.

You didn't ask for assvice, and I don't want to be annoying by giving it -- but I will anyway. ;) To stop the tantrums with Bean, going into his room (during those screaming fits) and hugging him and empathizing with him ("I know you are really disappointed that you can't go to your friend's house") helps calm him down. He doesn't get whatever he is tantruming about, but this seems to be the best solution so that I don't end up boiling mad myself.

good enough said...

That was an awesome description of three-year-old behavior!! Love it! Probably because my youngest is almost six and we're done with it. It is completely exhausting - but it will get better.

It Is What It Is said...

I could have written this post, verbatim, do describe my son's 3rd year of life.

And, just so you can prepare, what they don't tell you about he Fantastic Fours is that if you had a Terrible Three child, that behavior, while fewer and further between, becomes magnified when he does decide to pitch a fit. So, now, instead of just crying and tantruming, there is the throwing of all sorts of objects, the slamming of doors, the kicking of walls, and the added benefit of new vocabulary words so you can be called "stupid", "idiot", "moron" and told "I HATE you". The aforementioned words are unacceptable in our home, but once he is reached 'red zone', the place of no return, I find it best to just ignore them so as not to intensify the already spiraling out of control tantrum.

Yes, the drama and the battles are wearing. Stick to your guns, be prepared for the well planned plans to be thwarted, and know, that as with many things childhood, this too shall pass/.

Ms. J said...


But here is a practical tip that worked for me . . . "flexibility within reason." For example, before she goes to preschool in mornings Lil Pumpkin must brush teeth, get dressed, and pee. She can choose whatever order she wants, but all three must be completed. If not? No breakfast (ain't my problem!). Not dressed? She goes to school without pants, shoes, etc on, I don't care the temperature (note, this only happened twice and never since!)

He is asserting himself, his sense of control, and pushing to figure out his limits. Be as flexible as you can on things that don't matter (i.e. what he wears - give two choices, the order of errands - even the aisle you go into first, what spoon he uses).

Highly recommend what Sunny said about articulating Will's feelings. It's frustrating to have those feelings inside as a little guy, and not the language or coping skills to deal with it sufficiently! That worked well with Lil Pumpkin.

By the way, after you get through "the three's" the next stage is "the sass." We are starting to get "The sass" - then it's welcome to eye-rolling and "Mooooom, I know that!"

alison said...

So I? Am apparently screwed. Because this is our day already, and 3 is still 5 months away. He's still got some sugary sweetness every now and then but for the most part is total and complete MELTDOWN over EVERYTHING. This morning he said "where's my racecar?". And I said "which racecar?" because he has eleven freaking million racecars. And then he lost. his. sh!t. apparently because I didn't automatically know WHICH racecar he wanted. He ran screaaaaming into his dad about the Raaaaacecaaaaaar. His dad said "this one?" and tried to give it to him? B said "yes that one, but mommy give it to me". Again, trying to hand B the car, B then melted down AGAIN. Until J handed me the car to hand to B, at which point he smiled, said "tank oo!" and ran off to play. SERIOUSLY I FEEL LIKE IT IS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.

Gosh I love that adorable little pain in my ass. :)

HereWeGoAJen said...

Try reading the book "Raising Your Spirited Child". Because Elizabeth is uh, kind of always like that and that book is pretty good with techniques for dealing with it.

Beth said...

siiiigggh... three, yes. It sucks!

hang in there, you are SO not alone.

PS. I LOVE Ms. J's tactic of "flexibility within reason" and the piece about the shoes -- price.less :)

Nicky said...

We're only a few weeks into the 3s, and I should know better than to assume that I have any parenting answers at all, but here I am, offering assvice anyway. Actually, I'm not even going to do that. I'm just going to agree with Sunny and Mrs. J -- give him flexibility and choices whenever humanly possible, and try to name his emotions for him as soon as he starts to lose it. Those two tactics have definitely decreased the number of tantrums, and shortened the length of the ones that happen.

Annalien said...

Hang in there! I found it goes through cycles. Just when you are at the point where you are convinced that your kid needs a psychiatrist, it gets better (for a while). And I did find that my children calmed down markedly when they got to about 4.

Stephanie said...

A thought that helps me sometimes....

Talking to a three year old in tantrum is like reasoning with a very very drunk person.

I know thats weird, but thinking of it that way sometimes help me handle the tantrum with a sense of humor and be slightly more empathetic, when what I really want to do is scream at him.

Anonymous said...

I really hate 3. Really. A lot. Counting th seconds until 4.


Tracy said...

I just wanted to post my comment, in case some desperate parent out there is reading this, thinking, OH MY GOD, the 3's are worse than the 2's.

I had heard from many of my friends that they were, and I was scared out of my wits. For us, the 2's were just terrible. Tantrums, battle of wills, all of that. And they were unreasonable little crazy people.

Now, I'm not saying that we don't have our challenges, BUT, I will say that aside from the sleep issues, the 3's have been MUCH easier for us. We have read and followed the disciplinary practice advised by, "1-2-3, Magic!" and have found it to work, well, um, magic! We very rarely have battles, and I can't remember the last tantrum.

With all that said, we do have a lot of, "I DO MYSELF!" and most of the time, I let them. I plan for the extra time, and make deals when possible (E.g. if you let me get this shoe, you can get the other!), and use a lot of distraction to get things done.

It IS wearing...they seem to constantly NEED something. But, they're also a lot more self sufficient about a lot of things so I think that's just a matter of my perspective. One of my friends, a mother of six children (her triplets are three years old!) told me that the 3's are so hard because we have higher expectations of them, not because they're any crazier than when they were 2. I think that is definitely the case here.

But that is just our family...and every family's dynamics are different.

Tracy said...

p.s. I am a big proponent of "pick your battles." If it really doesn't matter, and isn't likely to develop into a habit/behavior that would be undesirable in an adult, I pretty much let it go. Much less stress for them AND me.

Rebecca said...

A-Men, lady...well said, agree with everything, send xanax.