Now That You’ve Made It Through The Terrible 2s, Here’s How To Survive The Even More Terrible 3s.

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At Westchester Health Pediatrics, what we hear from many of our parents of toddlers is that as bad as the “terrible 2s” were, the “terrible 3s” are even worse. They turn to us for help, advice and guidance…and they need it now!

We get it. We’re parents too, and somehow we managed to live through the “terrible 3s” with our sanity intact. To help you do the same, we offer these five  simple ways you and your child can navigate the 3-year-old years with a minimum of meltdowns.

Why are the 3s so terrible?

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

As you well know if you have a toddler, there are a lot of similarities between tantrum-prone 3-year-olds and 2-year-olds: they want to be independent and control their environment but lack the physical and intellectual skills to actually do it. Consequently, they get frustrated, angry, stubborn and combative, which makes it really hard for parents, teachers and caregivers to reason with them.

How the 3s are different from the 2s

  • Tantrums are worse because they’re bigger and louder.
  • It’s harder to remove them from situations where they’re acting up because now they’re too big to carry without a struggle. They’ve gotten really good at kicking and flailing and thrashing their bodies in every direction.
  • They can talk, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Now, they can put words to their irrational, out-of-control emotions. (How you been called “stupid mommy poopy head” yet?)
  • Bribes don’t work as well; they’re onto you.
  • They have an opinion—about everything. What they wear. What they don’t wear. What they like to eat. What they don’t like to eat. How they brush their hair. How they brush their teeth. How they get in the car seat. How they get out of the car seat. Up is now down.
  • They’ve picked up on all the best and worst sides of you, and will find ways to throw that worst version right back at you, often in a mimicking, mocking tone (that can sound just like you).
  • Usually they’re on their way out of diapers but this means that now your daily schedule revolves around trips to the bathroom.
  • Getting them to nap gets a lot harder although they often REALLY need one (and you could use one too).
  • They’re always asking “why?”

5 ways to survive the “terrible 3s” with your sanity intact

1) Choose your battles wisely

Three-year-olds learn by exploring their environment and testing boundaries. While you don’t want your child to get hurt, we at Westchester Health Pediatrics recommend giving your child the freedom to make mistakes, fall down, pick themselves up and keep going. This teaches resilience as well as independence. Don’t hover!

2) Yell less, love more

Yelling is a defense mechanism we tend to use when everything else fails. But yelling can harm children, especially very young ones, more than we realize. Rather than yelling and harsh punishment, children need positive, supportive parental guidance for healthy brain development, emotional attachment and building of trust. If you find yourself yelling at your 3-year-old frequently, you need to find other options for discipline, such as timeouts, behavior stickers or simply saying something like “I love you” three times.

3) Divert and redirect

When you sense a tantrum coming on, learn to distract your child with something different than what they’re doing. For instance, if he/she is snatching toys or yelling, they might need to ride a bike outside for a while. If they’re rolling on the floor and whining, they may need a little attention and a quiet activity like you reading them a book or putting together a puzzle.

4) Provide a safe environment

Baby-proofing your home doesn’t end when your child turns three. If anything, this is the age when the real challenges (and potential dangers) begin. Curious 3-year-olds can climb, open cabinets and pull a pot of boiling water off the stove. Make sure your home is safe for your child, and yet remember that they still need constant supervision.

5) Set clear expectations

Something that our parents tell us has proven to be very helpful in their families is to write a list of family rules. For 3-year-olds, make the list short and simple. For example, 1) Use nice voices, 2) Do what Mommy and Daddy ask you to do, and 3) Don’t hurt other people.  Discuss these rules daily, and praise successes at dinner or bedtime.

Count on us for all kinds of information and advice to help you raise your toddler

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re a new parent or an old hand, you can turn to us for help, whatever stage of development your child is in. We have years of experience helping parents make it through the “terrible 3s” and we’re ready to help you with yours.

Helpful articles you might want to read:

Having issues with your 3-year-old’s behavior? Come see us.

If you’re having trouble keeping your cool with your 3-year-old and want some tips and advice, or simply have questions about any aspect of raising a toddler, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy toddler and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball