How to Survive Life With a Threenager… And Enjoy It

Terrible 2’s are SO last season… these days it’s all about the threenagers!  I have read stories here and there of the elusive ‘threenager’ phenomenon, but my son has been pretty easy so I took it all with a grain of salt.  We sailed through the newborn days; no rocking a crying baby all hours of the night or sleep deprivation.  ‘Terrible 2’s’ turned out pretty terrific; no moodiness, tantrums or meltdowns, just lots of fun and memories!  I thought we were in the clear for sure!  But then.  A switch flipped and my perfect, sweet, mild-mannered boy turned into the dreaded threenager.


Life With a Threenager


Now don’t get me wrong, 95% of the time he is still my sweet, lovable best friend who I have  known and loved since the day he was born.  But the other 5%, oh boy.  It is a roller coaster, and we are all along for the ride!  Tantrums, meltdowns, unexplainable outbursts, random triggers and plenty of ’emotions.’  And it’s not even all bad; sometimes it’s just straight up silliness, sugar rushes (minus the sugar) and random babbling for hours on end.  The mood can shift from minute to minute and life has become highly unpredictable; much like dealing with a real, live teenager!


I know that these are trying times, friends!  But let’s not forget the big picture; these are our kids, who we love dearly.  So let’s all take a step back before we all lose our minds, and attempt to handle the threenager year calmly and rationally!


How To Survive Life With a Threenager


Ok, simple and to the point.  Also, WAY easier said than done!  Trust me, speaking first hand here, I know just how hard it can be to keep calm and not get worked up when your child is having a total meltdown for no apparent reason.  I really need to take my own advice on this one.  It’s one thing to be calm, understanding and comforting when your child is upset because they fell and skinned their knee.  It is quite another to keep an even keel when your child is screaming your face off because their Cheerio is broken in half, you gave them a waffle for breakfast even though today they HATE waffles (but ate 12 this week), or their hair isn’t the right shade of brown today.


Threenager meltdown
Just another day in the life of a threenager…


But chaos breeds chaos.  Nothing escalates a bad situation worse than responding exactly the same as your 3 year old.  And let’s be real; we are adults, they are 3.  Although keeping calm is not a magic cure-all to any temper tantrum, it will help your child step back from the ledge sooner rather than later.



Your definition of ‘rational’ may be a bit off when someone is screaming your face off, but again we need to remember that we are dealing with children.  And when your threenager is in the middle of a rage fest, there is simply nothing rational about their thought process.  We need to remind ourselves of this.


Tantrums typically stem from an immense sense of being overwhelmed by the situation.  There is so much going on at this age.  Brains are working overtime, they are teetering on the edge of independence and their eagerness to learn consumes daily life.  THESE ARE ALL GOOD THINGS!  Brain growth/intelligence, independence and willingness to learn are characteristics that truly define great people in life.  Embrace these qualities in your child, and remind yourself of this (112 times) when you are in the thick of things.


Climbing on the dresser
Climbing on your dresser when you wake up… always a great idea until you get stuck…


By all means, attempt to rationalize with your child.  “Mom, can I do ______???”  (insert ludicrous request, such as sit in the front seat of the car, eat ice cream for breakfast, run in the middle of the road, etc.)  “Why not???”    This is a great time to attempt to rationalize with your child.  Explain the reason behind your response.  Although they may not hear it now, chances are they will certainly remember it later!  Threenagers’ minds tend to retain EVERYTHING.  So whether it calms them in the moment, or you wonder if you are just wasting your breath, I am certain that 9 times out of 10 your child will remember what you taught them after the fact.



It is ok to negotiate sometimes; it does not mean that your child is ‘in charge,’ it simply gives you an opportunity to help diffuse a situation and teach your child a valuable life lesson at the same time.  As I mentioned before in my post, Raising Tiny Humans, negotiating is a great way to teach your children about give and take and compromise.  It is not ‘giving in’ to your child; I think we can all learn a little bit about the value of some give and take while negotiating!


Raspberry fingers


It’s a simple concept; if your child says “I want to do ____,” you simply respond with “You can do _____ after you do _____.”  Or if it is something entirely out of the question your response could be “You can’t do _____ and here’s why, but you can do _____ instead.”  This can be adapted to whatever situation you are in, obviously, but you get the idea.


And I’m not saying negotiate and compromise 100% of the time; sometimes we definitely need to put our foot down as parents and stand our ground.  But if you aren’t ever willing to compromise for your child, then you can’t expect anything differently from them either.  Try it out from time to time and see what happens.  Every child and parent/child dynamic is different.  You will definitely have to feel around to find what works for you.



Showing love to your child is SO important, and never more important when they are having one of their worst moments.  It is so important to a child to feel loved at their worst, rather than abandoned.  But as a parent, I also know that it can be a bit challenging to put a smile on and hug it out when the frustration is building all around.  Trust me, I am not a perfect mom.  I get frustrated too.  So let this serve as your reminder to try your best to consciously show love rather than anger or frustration towards your temperamental threenager.


Hug it out


Try this out: when a tantrum is in full swing simply reach out for a hug.  Hold your child until they calm down.  Reassure them that you love them and everything will be ok and attempt to calm them down.  My husband and I have taught my son breathing techniques to calm down when he is overly upset, and believe it or not, it actually works!  Some days it doesn’t immediately calm him down, but as soon as we say “ok, it’s time to calm down,” he at least attempts it.  (whether it works or not depends on the day but at least he tries!)


Our kids need our love and affection, and never more so than when they are feeling completely overwhelmed, in a hundred different directions.  Try it out and see how it works for you!



All right, in a perfect world, everything I have suggested would work 100% of the time.  Well scratch that; in a perfect world the third year of life would be a complete breeze and the term ‘threenager’ wouldn’t even exist, but whatever.  But in the real world, when all else fails, it’s time for ‘time out.’


Time out doesn’t have to have a negative connotation; it’s not a ‘bad’ thing.  I have always made sure, from Day 1, that time out does not serve as a punishment, but rather a time to calm down.  When things are totally off the Richter scale and your child is simply not hearing you, the best thing for your child AND you is time out.


I explain to my son that he is simply too overwhelmed and needs to go to timeout until he has calmed down.  I don’t get into why, just that he needs to calm down; this is for situations that are quickly approaching chaos and trust me when I say he is NOT going to hear the why anyhow.  I don’t set a time on it, I simply wait until his rational thought has returned.  Once time out is over, we then talk about why he was in time out.


Because of how I approach time out, he *rarely* argues me when I tell him he needs a time out.  Deep down I think he knows that he needs it too!  And even more so as parents, WE need the time out.  It gives everyone time to decompress and calm down.



Embrace your threenager; the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Remind yourself that this is just a season of life, which UNfortunately will be over before we know it.  I know that some days can be rough.  Some moments will be challenging  Your patience (and sanity) will be tested daily.  But at the end of the day, these moments go by in just a blink of an eye.


Embrace life
Cherish these days…



And most days are absolutely amazing!  My son has always been my best friend, but as he gets older it just keeps getting better and better.  He is developing true interests of his own, his excitement is through the roof and he has a heart like none other.  It is the perfect age for kids to express themselves and truly embrace their own unique personalities.  I could spend hours just watching my goofy little boy sing and dance, tell jokes, talk about his day and live vicariously through his true joy in life.  And let’s not forget when he melts my heart with little statements such as “I just love spending time with you mommy” and “I just love your heart.”  I wish I could freeze these moments in time forever.


So although the threenager year can be a doozy, just remember to try to embrace ALL of it.  When you look back I promise you that you will not remember any of the rough days; instead I am certain that your heart will be flooded with all of the amazing memories that you shared.  So embrace it and have some fun!


Threenager life
Threenager perfection


Loving life with a toddler?  Looking for more tips?  Be sure to check out How to Put a Toddler to Bed for a good laugh too!  And if you have any tips of your own for loving life with a threenager, please share!



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