Terrible Threes? - Eatontown,NJ

Updated on June 18, 2012
M.T. asks from Eatontown, NJ
15 answers

My oldest daughter is about to turn three and until recently she was a very well behaved (with few adjustments and time outs here and there) and helpful lovable child. Obviously she had her moments where she would disobey and whine and what ever esle a three year old does but the past couple of weeks she has been intolerable. I will say that I got VERY lucky with the "terrible two" stage with ver few tantrums and was ALWAYS well behaved in public. Now I find myself having to leave stores without getting what I need because my child is out of control. She purposly does the oposite of what I say and is down right mean to everyone around her. Now I have never been the parent that yells at their kid but I have found that raising my voice is the only way she will take me serious. She has been working on potty training but is not fully potty trained. WHen she has an accident she gets very upset with herself and is ver hard on herself. I try to tell her it is ok but then she will refuse to go on the potty the rest of the day. My youngest daughter is going to be one is is a COMPLETE terror. The exact oposite of my three year old. She is walking, running, climbing, screaming (or to her talking) and oh yes throwing plenty of tantrums. My three year old is a follower and copies every bad behavior that my one year old does and has even start talking baby talk again. She has been taking a drop off art class and has been getting in trouble for following the other kids who are not listening to the teacher. My first reaction is to take her out of the class to punish her but I feel if I do that she will never learn how to act once she starts pre-school in the fall. I know I can be strict with her because she is a very bright and smart kid and if I let her slack it takes a lot longer to get her back on track. Any ideas as to why the drastic behavior change? What can I do to get her back on track and back to the sweet girl I know she is?

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answers from Chicago on

IMO the terrible two's were just getting you ready for the monstrous three's.

Good for you for acknowledging that if you slack with disciplining her it will take longer to get her back on track, keep up the good work, that's the only way to do it. Sorry to say but things might not get better till she's 4 1/2-5.

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answers from Milwaukee on

Yes with all 3 of my kids the 3's made the 2's seem easy. My 3rd (son) just turned 3 last week and has been so freaking terrible the past 2 months. He has an 8 year old brother and a 4 year old sister whom he copies all of their bad behaviors and then adds his own personal "naughty" touch. LOL You name it he's doing it. Making messes on purpose, running in the street when told no, taking off in stores, screaming, yelling, hitting, throwing things, taking toys from others, laughing and hiding when it's time to get dressed, not getting into his car seat.. etc.. etc..etc..
Hang in there, as I do know, that it for sure, gets better. It's just a rough ride till we get there. I am glad he is my last kid because after this I never want to go through the 3s again!!

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answers from Washington DC on

I call it the terrible twos, horrible threes, and challenging fours. Threes have always been the worst of it for us. Twos were a breeze in comparison. Although it probably isn't any consolation, she is normal. She may be trying to get some attention by imitating the one year old. It will get better. But, to this day, my almost 6 year old can turn into a different child if he is with another wild child. Good luck and hang in there.

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answers from Columbus on

I don't know why they call it terrible twos -- three was much worse than two for both my kids! Patience and consistency is the key -- she'll get back to her old sweet self with time, but right now she's really trying to figure out what kinds of powers she has. If she pushes your buttons and you're still consistent and patient, she'll figure out where she fits more quickly than if you react in ways that are unexpected (e.g., giving in to her demands, flying off the handle, punishing too harshly or not at all). But it does get better, and three is definitely worse than 2!

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answers from Boston on

Welcome to 3. I don't know why the phrase "Terrible Twos" exists because two has nothing on 3. Three was far and away the worst age for all of my kids. They all seemed to work up to a peak of horror at around age 3.5 and then return to normal people by their 4th birthday.

Buckle up...it's just the age. Be consistent in your discipline, be patient, and know that the only real cure is time.

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answers from Honolulu on

2's are hard.
3's are harder.
4's are harder... in a different way.

So head's up.

Teach them the words for their feelings.
Teach them how to say it and that they can say it, to you.
Even if they are grumpy.
I taught my kids that from 2 years old. And by 3 years old my son would actually tell me (instead of tantruming about it) "Mommy, I am... frustrated... I'm going over there. I don't want anyone to bother me..."
And then he'd go in the other room, have alone time... then when he was over it, he'd come back and join us. All fine.
So in conjunction with teaching them about names for feelings, and that they can tell you... teach them coping-skills. There are so many ways, to do things, etc.

Teach them, that just because other kids are doing something, it does not mean THEY have to do it. I would, point blank say that to my kids.... from when they were Toddlers. And teaching them about situations, and ways to manage. ie: role play with them.

Kids this age: do not have, fully developed impulse control, nor the ability to have rocket-scientist reactions. So but you teach them, and in time they will master it more along with the understanding of it.

Perhaps, you 3 year old is not ready for formal group lessons.

There is the maturity of a child, and then their age-stage... and these aspects are not always synchronized.

With my kids, along with the things I mentioned above.... when disciplining or "teaching" them behavior, (because my kids are spunky/bright/smart too, like yours. Many kids are), I would just point blank, say things in the most brief and direct way possible. Not sugar coating it, not talking baby talk to them about it, not plying them with things. I would just point blank, tell them what is acceptable or not, and then the correct outcome, I expect. Because, that is what got them... back on track.

Another thing is, okay, your daughter is 3. But when a child is also TIRED or overtired or hungry... they act like this.
So, have your daughter nap. And yes, many kids this age still need a nap. Even in Preschool or Kindergarten, they nap. AND have her graze throughout the day. In addition to her meals. My daughter... especially, is susceptible to mood crashes dues to low blood sugar... when she is hungry. (even I am that way when I am hungry) ie: it means their tolerance and patience and behavior capability is nil... when they are hungry and/or tired. So, with my daughter, I have to make sure she grazes all day. To keep her even keeled. And she still eats her meals just fine. And I do this, because I know her... and I know her triggers.

You need to know your child's triggers, as well.
And when/if tired, that is also not the time to go out or do errands. If it can be helped.

Also, since your daughter is being opposite and cantankerous... I would, sit her down and have a talk with her. Don't scold... but in a "serious" big girl manner... talk to her and tell her... her actions is unacceptable. Help her to think of DIFFERENT ways to act, (even if she is grumpy), instead of lashing out. Tell her that. Tell her you and she are a TEAM. And being mean... to family and others is not acceptable. Teach her how to say things... in a more palatable way. Come up with alternative things she can do... to "signal" to you... that she is frustrated/irritated/or just not able to smile.

The thing is: discipline/punishments/boundaries are taught to a child from this age or younger... BUT, if you don't also teach them or show them ALTERNATE ways of problem-solving, they may not be "able" to do it. Because, coping-skills and problem-solving by themselves, at this age... is simply not in their sphere of natural reactions. They are not, 10 years old. So start teaching the child already, these things.
At this age, they do not have fully developed nor mastered deductive or inductive reasoning or the ability to analyze, every situation.

What I also taught my kids is: that everyone gets grumpy or frustrated, even adults. BUT, it does not mean, they have to be mean, to others about it. I don't expect them to be smiley robots everyday... BUT, they can tell me things, *WE* will problem solve it and be a team. Tell your kids when they are fussy/grumpy/frustrated "What can you do, instead of just being fussy about it?" Then see what they come up with. Make it interactive. And compliment them if they come up with a good idea. That goes in conjunction with teaching your child coping-skills and problem-solving. And in time, they will get better... at managing situations and themselves. And this will also help them deal with others... once they hit school.

Also, when/if my kids are grumpy/fussy... I will sometimes validate them first. So they know I am not "against" them. I'll say "... you really aren't happy right now, feeling grumpy huh? Mommy can see that..." And they say yah... and then they often will TELL me, why. Which a parent doesn't always know why they are grumpy. Then, we talk about it... and the different ways they can "choose" to be, instead. ie: getting it off their shoulders by telling me. Then trying to do something else. Or even just being by themselves to deflate. Kids, with siblings all the time, they need to deflate too. Just like Mommy. I have taught my kids to TELL me that as well... when they just need to deflate.

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answers from Detroit on

My daughter is a great kid, has always been a great kid, and while 2 had it's challenges, there was definitely a turning point at 3 in terms of her just deciding not to listen to me right away, having to be disciplined more, etc. - especially giving me a hard time when she wasn't getting her way. Now she is 4 (turning 5 in August) and some of it has gotten better, while other things have sort of morphed into a whole other set of annoying "seriously?" type behaviors. I agree with what someone else said - their little minds are developing so fast and they start reaching new levels of understanding and new stages but then seem to forget what have always been the rules and what has been expected of them. My daughter likes to challenge me and push boundaries constantly and needs to be consistently reminded of what will not fly with me. All I can say is, hang in there and stay strong - I am really hoping 5 and 6 will be better like it has been for a lot of people!

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answers from Cleveland on

Besides being a follower, it sounds like your 3 year old has noticed that mom is paying more attention to the 1 year old because of her more active behavior. As they say, negative attention is better than no attention. I'd start by first carving out some one-on-one time with your 3 year old by getting a sitter for the little one for a few hours. That should help her gain some of the attention she needs. Keep it free to inexpensive, like time at the park. I would not remove her from the art class but ask the teacher what she is doing for the behavior (time out, etc.) and have conversation with your little one about what the expected behavior is. You may create an incentive chart with the art teacher ie. if she earns 3 stickers, she can have an outing with you for an hour, pick the ice cream flavor from the grocery store, have her favorite dinner, etc. Keep in mind that it's hard for one this young to wait a long time for a reward so keep them doable.

Best of luck!

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answers from New York on

It varies a bit depending on the kid but it is a pretty common stage. My son was always a high energy kid and hard to handle but at 3 he was a real terror. But by 4.5 there was a lot of improvement. My kids are 3 years apart so I'm sure it contributed too. My daughter is 3 now. Definitely some problems with her getting into things and disobeying but nothing like my son. We are working on potty training and that is easier than with my son as well.



answers from Phoenix on

2 was nothing for us. 3 was absolute hell. DD was another child during that time period. It got better when she turned 4. I don't know how we got through it. I think I blocked a lot of it out! Now that she is 6, she is great!



answers from Miami on

Hi M..
I love the parenting newsletter by Dr. Laura markham. It has helped me a great deal.


Best, Jilly



answers from Washington DC on

M., I do not have any real advice for you but I can tell you that I could have written this same exact post. My son is 3 and has always been an angel, he is still polite and loving but he has turned so defiant lately. we never had terrible twos with him so now that he has just turned 3 in march he has been a PILL! He knows exactly what button to push on his brother to make him cry and shreek :) Good luck to you and know that it will get better :)



answers from Dallas on

Three is so much harder than 2's (I won't say "worse" because it's harder in a different way than the 2's.) They are more vocal, more mobile, more independent, and more able to test limits to see what the reaction is to different things that they do. They want independence and to do things themselves, but they don't have the physical dexterity or other ability to do it. They want control but have little control...YOU seem to have all the control in the world. They learn how to be angelic or funny for the reaction that it gets and also will act out to see what kind of reaction that gets, too. I think the smarter they are, the harder it is to stay one step ahead of them, too. A few things that help me:
- Don't reinforce "baby" behavior such as talking baby talk. I usually say something like "gosh, it's a shame that you aren't a big girl because big girls get to do a lot of fun things. Babies can't eat such and such...babies don't get to do such and such" and ignore the baby behavior.
- Choose your battles. Save the biggest reaction for the worst behavior (thing that are dangerous, etc). Avoid giving negative attention....completely ignore her when in midst of a tantrum. When speaking unkindly to you, tell her you will not be talking to her until she can speak to you in a nice voice...and then don't.
- Ask her to be your helper. Kids this age LOVE to help, and a helper is occupied doing good vs. looking for trouble. It also gives them attention that they crave.
- Stick to a daily routine as much as possible as it gives them security
- Provide reasons with rules or requests. "Please put your shoes on so that we can go to school." "It's time to take a nap so that you can be recharged to go _____ this afternoon." That helps them understand that you aren't just being arbitrary in what you demand of them
- Let her know that you don't get to do everything you want either. Let her know about rules that are hard for you to follow sometimes, as it teaches that we don't get to do everything we want to either.
- Help her identify and discuss feelings. Draw different types of faces or make different types of faces. Then talk about faces for when we're angry, when we're happy, when we're silly, when we're sleepy. Every so often, ask her to show you her face for how she's feeling right now.
- Give TONS of positive reinforcement and set up time that's just for her everyday to give her a lot of positive attention, too.

Good luck!



answers from Seattle on

Sounds like you skipped the terrible 2s!!!

This is really common. We had the lovebug 2s in our house as well, but I was super lucky in coming from a BIG family, and psych background... So I knew my chances of skipping the whole shebang were slim.

Those who skip the terrible 2s don't usually skip the whole milestone... They just are working on other areas of development that year, and then along come the terrible 3s!!! (My good friend 'Hates' me right now because she was soooooooo 'Im the best parent ever, other patents just don't have discipline/consistency/etc, because MY 2yo is blah blah blah'. She didn't believe me that the terrible 3s were coming and thinks I jinxed her. LOL... Nope!! Ahem. She doesn't 'really' hate me, but you know what I mean. The nickname 'terrible' is earned. She THOUGHT she had them with 4 or 5 tantrums, but she's learning that 4-5 tantrums a DAY is what really happens during toddler independence phases.

Whether at 2 or 3, this milestone lasts for about 1 year.

While I'm sure there's some normal regression and sibling copying (nearly always is with new babies... Even for 10yos!)... Don't worry. She'd be doing this even if she were an only child.

As difficult as this year is going to be... You actually WANT this to happen. It's a major cognitive and emotional milestone.

Wee ones usually have a similar SHORTER milestone between 12-18 mo. But we're talking 1-3mo long. A lot of parents 'miss' noticing it because it often gets occluded with teething or separation anxiety.

And you'll go through this a few more times. Between 6-8, 9-11, and 12-17. Don't worry! They don't last that long, it's just the normal milestone range for the cognitive emotional milestone to start. Like infancy, the elementary one often gets 'missed' by parents (in part because of school, in part because it's sooo much easier than the toddler phase, they tend to cycle through faster and combine great days and Aieee! Days in the same week), but the preteen and teen years one are unmistakable. Just normal (wanted) development. Independence/rebellion phases usually last about a year.

BEST tricks I ever learned:

-Tge harder they push away, the faster they come running back
- never get emotionally invested in an argument with a child
- consistency



answers from Washington DC on

Three is a challenge and so is four. I'll say that it's been more like 3.5+ has been tougher. DD will totally ignore us, or will do one more thing (usually the wrong thing) and DH especially has no patience for it.

I think sometimes when they do this (or like when DD backslid on her potty training) it's because they are reaching a new level and you need to go back to basics - be that reminding her to potty more often, leaving a store, etc. I've also done time out IN a store or skipped a treat during an outing if I absolutely had to get something done with a cranky kid in tow. It's like she wants control and if she acts up I have to decide what's the best thing - to leave (is that what she wants?) or manage it while we are still out? I've also noticed that kids of this age like to play control games - directing, bossing, making the rules, etc. I think that speaks to what's possibly going on in their little heads.

Next question: 3 Is the New 2??