Turbulent Threes: The Challenges of Living with a Three-Year-Old

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Last night, upon returning from work, I prepared dinner as always.
I brought my three-year-old daughter's dinner into the living room and stopped in my tracks.
There was a pile of dirt on the coffee table, and Rebecca was sitting in front of it drawing roads in the dirt.
"REBECCA!" I shrieked.
"Where did you get that dirt?" "From the fireplace," she said calmly.
Later, she volunteered to help me with the dishes.
Halfway through the stack, she began nonchalantly pouring water on the floor.
Then when we attempted to clean up, she screamed inconsolably that the rag was too big.
She wanted a particular rag.
Is my child psychotic? you ask.
She's simply a three-year-old.
Everyone has heard of the terrible twos, but I argue that the turbulent threes are ten times worse.
From whining to screaming to creative destruction, I have to be on my toes twenty-four hours a day.
Other mothers agree.
"All the horror stories I ever heard about two-year-olds were nothing compared to what I'm going through now," says Karen, a young mother in her mid-twenties.
"Did you ever try to tell a three-year-old it's time to leave and he can't finish watching his favorite show?" Nancy agrees.
"Or that he can't wear a plaid shirt with striped pants.
" More than one mother of grown children I spoke to smiled and murmured, "I remember three.
" If I chose one word to describe a typical three-year-old, it would be "active".
(My husband comments that he would choose the word "hurricane").
As two-year-olds, children are always on the go, but as the age of three is attained, coordination improves, and they have more freedom of movement.
They are continually anxious to explore the world around them.
The three-year-old can run, climb, dance, and hop, and they don't seem to be able to keep up with where they are eagerly trying to go.
They are excited by learning new things and are more independent, striving to dress themselves, brush their own teeth or retrieve their own drinks.
Life is fascinating and challenging.
On one occasion, I urged Rebecca to close her eyes and go to sleep.
"I don't want to close my eyes.
I want to leave them open!" she protested.
The three-year-old wants to absorb all the newness and wonder that surrounds them as rapidly as possible.
They are often heard asking who? where? when? why? The three-year-old likes togetherness.
They want to include others in almost everything they do.
They have elaborate fantasies, and enjoy hearing and telling stories.
Some have imaginary playmates.
They are learning to play with other children, but enjoy being with their mother most of all.
This can reach an extreme of insisting on attaining mom's undivided attention for prolonged periods of time.
The three-year-old has a distorted perception of time.
"I tried to explain to my son that we'd be back home in less than an hour, but that was beyond his comprehension," Nancy says.
She's exactly right.
A child this age doesn't understand time, and can be heard saying "last week" or "last year" for yesterday.
It is difficult for a three-year-old to wait in line, or to wait any length of time for what they want.
Keeping up with them requires boundless energy and patience, especially because the three year-old is still learning to get a handle on anger and aggression.
They will test parents to the point of reaction, and it is important not to reward this kind of behavior.
One mother suggests sending the toddler to the tantrum corner, where he can stomp his feet as long as he wants, but has to wait until she leaves the room.
This takes the fun out of the attempt to provoke a reaction.
It is around the age of three and a half that the real challenges begin.
It is a turbulent troubled age where a child's main concern is to strengthen his will.
He seems to rebel against whatever his parents want.
He really is not your enemy.
He is going through will-testing because that is his job at this age, and for no other reason.
It is easy to get drawn into anger and being reactive.
Say yes whenever you can, and save no for when you mean it.
At any age, when a child is trying to rebel, a good rule of thumb is striving to catch the child doing something good.
The three-year-old loves praise for new accomplishments.
"Look what I can do!"they beam.
Although communication skills are improving, they are still imperfect.
Approximately 75-80% of their speech is understandable.
They enjoy repeating words and sounds, such as nursery rhymes or songs such as "London Bridge" or "Old MacDonald Had a Farm.
"They also enjoy hearing the same stories told over and over, and may recite the words to some picture books.
Moments when their exact meaning is not being communicated can create frustration and tantrums.
A tantrum can be thought of as an emotional blown fuse caused by an overload of frustration.
It can be downright terrifying for a child.
All children are individuals, and some are more reactive than others and more prone to violent outbursts.
A screaming child is frustrated because she is trying and not yet succeeding.
Her efforts should be applauded.
When a child is out of control, hold her gently but firmly.
Distract her and point her to a different activity.
Encourage her to help with household tasks.
Keep in mind that the attention span of a three-year-old is roughly three minutes.
Above all, stay in control of your own emotions.
It is important to choose your battles.
Know what your own expectations and limits are.
For some mothers, having a child pick up after himself is a top priority.
For others, battles are saved for things like getting out the door in time, or bathing or bedtime.
Some days it feels like there is nothing but turbulence, and to add fuel to the fire, well-meaning friends and relatives are often judgmental and sure that they have all the answers, particularly the ones who have no children.
Parents of children with a quiet or mellow personality are quick to judge parents of more active, strong-willed children.
Remember that no one knows your child like you do.
All children are individuals, and there is no expert in the world who has encountered every problem or every personality.
Learn to trust yourself more than anyone else in the world.
The age of three can be difficult and exhausting, but it's only a stage and once it passes, a beautiful butterfly will emerge.
It is late and I have worked all day at my day job.
I have done housework, I have tried to shower Rebecca with attention, but as a typical three-year-old, she continues to ask for more.
We have built blocks, made brownies, colored, read stories.
Now I am sitting at the computer trying to give some of my day to myself.
"Mommy," she calls.
"Rebecca, Mommy's working.
" "Can you read me one more story?" "Yes, but that's all," I agree and stop to read one more story.
I am back at the computer and she calls, "MOMMY!!" "What do you want now?" I say, hearing the harshness in my own voice.
"I can't find my blanket.
"I take a deep breath and locate the security blanket.
I sit at the computer, only to be summoned again.
"Rebecca, that's enough.
It's time to settle down.
"I am out of patience and it shows.
There is silence and then a small voice.
"I love you," she tells me, taking my breath away.
"I love you, too," I answer softly.
The exhaustion I feel is suddenly not noticeable, and the day's battles are forgotten.
This age and its struggles will be lost in a flash and I know it, because I am also the mother of a teenager.
"How about one more story?" I ask.

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