Babies are easy to forgive when they are fussy because they are innocent little ones who are justtrying to communicate their needs. One year olds are celebrated for their wobbly steps and their (usually) sweet first words. They are also easier to forgive because they eat almost everything, giggle at most things and may still take two naps. Two year olds are misunderstood. They are not so “terrible” at two. They are sometimes terrific. They eat the same 5 foods which makes grocery shopping and prepping easier. Language starts to blossom, but they don’t often yell embarassing things in public. They are learning and still helpless in some ways because communicating is a struggle. But let’s talk about the threenagers. Where do I begin? They are not exacty “terrible” and can be fabulous. Here’s my take on threenagers.
How do you know that you’re living with a threenager? What can you do to help them and yourselves navigate a wonderful yet trying year?
The not so fabulous part:
- They wake up at 6 am regardless of the time they go to bed. Seriously? They can go to bed at 2 am and they will still wake at 6am and act like they slept for 12 hours. Three year olds need about 11 hours of sleep (+1 nap) each day. A bedtime routine helps because routines create security for these little people. The stability of a bedtime plan, whatever it may be for your family, will benefit you in the end. Even if it takes time to get there. Try a picture chart with simple prompts. If you cannot keep your toddler in bed call us! I just walked mine back to bed 45 times last night. Forty. Five. Times. We can both visit our in office psychologist Dr. Dalton for some help! (Dr. Dalton can help with all kinds of toddler behavior like picky eating, tantrums, potty training, biting.)
- They need to have their sock seams lined up perfectly along their toes. They want to wear the same thing repeatedly. Choose your battles. As long as they are warm enough, appropriate and have an entire outfit on, let them wear what they want. This can instill confidence. It can make mornings much easier for everyone. Sure there are times when parents need to choose the outfit. That is not the case on most days. Give up on that struggle. Don’t get me wrong, I do like when all of my kids have clean faces, brushed hair and clean clothes. The truth is, it never lasts long. Try your best. Be realistic about what makes kids comfortable and happy.
- They complain about nearly everything. The wrong color cup, the sleeve is too long, the sleeve is too short. Their legs hurt. Their tummy hurts. Their hair hurts. They aren’t there yet. They aren’t tired. They aren’t hungry. The cheerio broke. The key is to acknowledge their emotions, don’t cater to their every whimper and pick your battles as they say. When kids are frustrated, sad, tired, hungry, confused, they just want to be validated. You can probably relate as all humans just want to be heard. So listening is not giving in. Listening may soften their mood just enough to calm them even more. When they are calmer, you can teach them about the situation, expectations and acceptable behavior. This is no easy task. If you get halfway there, you are succeeding. I often only get halfway there.
The fabulous part:
- They are curious. They ask a lot of questions. So much excites them especially if they see that it excites you! If you are stuck with a fussy toddler, bring them outside and explore new things. Better yet, act excited and bring new things to them like a new storybook, a new toy or a new song.
- They are brutally honest. My three year old walked through the supermarket today and as we passed every MIDDLE aged man, he said, “ Mom! He’s an old grandpa!” in his best, squeaky voice. Of course I replied in my best loud voice, “he doesn’t look old.” To which he replied, “Yes he does! He looks like an old grandpa!” And although I was embarassed, I recognize his innocence. They see the world from a different perspective. A really cool one. One that is not tainted by greed, jealousy, negative energy. Toddlers are curious and accepting of what they discover. It may mortify you, but respect the innocence.
- They are creative. They are so proud of their artwork, their towers and their forts. My three year old brought home a “watercolor” entitled, “My Favorite Colors” from preschool yesterday. It had not one colorful mark on it. Dark gray, light gray, black and a sort of muddy green color. He was proud of of it and so was his Mommy. It is not necessary to praise every piece of artwork, every high test score, every star they received for good behavior. Just praise the ones that will really build them up. After all, we build them up so that they can one day build themselves up when we are not there. Confidence is necessary for the many successes we imagine for our children.
Some say that threenagers are stubborn. I like to decribe them as insistent. If you give them two choices, they will insist on a third. If you firmly state that TV time is over, they will insist on watching “just one more”. While this can be irritating for us, lets view it was our toddlers being confident enough to insist. They are being active not passive, yes? This is not a green light to praise them for this, but rather a time for you to practice your positive discipline skills. The “kind and firm” approach where you reiterate that TV time is limited. Engage them in the next activity. Assure them that they can have another show on another day (no concept of time at three!) Usually this ends with a “tank you mom.”
They can say things with a certain expression, in a certain voice, with eyes looking up at you, that can make you feel like your heart is just melting. The best kind of melting. The one that is not describable. The one that makes all of the “line up my sock!” arguments worth it.
Love your threenagers.