Terrible 3's, OMG!

Jainie_SFebruary 7, 2002

My son is driving me insane. He is being so bad. I got up early today and asked him what he wanted for breakfast so that I could make him a nice hot meal before pre-school. I was smiley and happy, and thought that the day was going well. Then, when breakfast was served he didn't want that. He didn't want to get dressed, he wanted to play with play dough. He wouldn't wipe his runny nose with a tissue, he used his hand and got snot all in the Play dough. I had to throw it away. Of course that brought on the screaming again. He screams for no reason. If you beg him not to scream, he screams louder and wakes up the whole family. It doesn't seem to matter if you do something nice for a 3 yr old, they do things to tick you off anyway. ARGHHHH! I gave hime a spanking after he threw the play dough container and kicked a toy across the room. What a lovely way to start the day. He sasses back even when he knows he is gonna get in trouble for it. I can't win.

Is the normal for all 3 yr olds? When does it stop? Am I going to go insane?


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First, don't beg. Draw the line and punish. Also - pick your battles. The sassing is something DD would get into in phases (if she saw someone else do it recently and picked up). So - draw the line at sassing, or throwing, or eating meals. Pick one. Then be firm.

At 2, timeouts worked. But at 3, they no longer worked. So do toy timeouts. They worked for me.

So Pick what you want to stop. Then....

If you talk back/throw something/scream/(pick one), your xyz toy (pick something he LOVES) is going in timeout for the rest of the day.

Then if he does it a second time, say "Because you screamed when you were told not to, this toy is going in timeout". Take the toy and put it away in a high place. Make sure he sees you put it away and make sure you associate it with the behavior. "When you do (-fill-in-behavior-here-), your favorite toy goes in timeout for the rest of the day."

Whatever you do, don't beg. At 3, he is smart enough to key in on that and drive you CRAZY!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 2:15PM
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It sounds like you're trying too hard, and getting too stressed out. Here's some clues --

beg him not to scream
do something nice
gave him a spanking
I can't win

If he screams, your attention to that screaming causes him to think scream = mom's attention. That's it; that simple. Ignore it. Tell him he has to go in a certain room, or that you're going to go into another room, until he's done screaming. Once he realizes that it's not going to get him anywhere (including you attention), he'll stop.

Do something nice. In my house breakfast qualifies as necessary, not nice ... but maybe you're talking about something else here? If he doesn't want to eat the breakfast, he doesn't eat it. Period. But he also doesn't get a second or third breakfast. It's hard not to take it personally when they reject something we took time & energy to do, but it's about his independence, not about your cooking (or your cooking being love) that he's rejecting. And if he doesn't get dressed, he shouldn't have the playdough. Don't reward behavior if you don't want him to engage in it.

Gave him a spanking. Well, let's open this can of worms. Spanking does absolutely nothing to teach children behavior control or modification. It only teaches the kids that: 1. if I get caught doing this, I'll get spanked, so I'd better do it when I won't get caught, and 2. it's okay to lash out. Is it really any wonder your son kicked something after you hit him?? It sounds like you could have used a few minutes to cool down and figure out a better way to react. Hard, I know -- I'm at home with my son in the mornings because my husband leaves for work before we get up -- but learning different, and BETTER, disciplining skills will dramatically improve your relationship with your son.

I can't win. It's not about winning. Try to reframe the issue. It's about nutrition, or respecting the people who are sleeping, or about being thankful/appreciative -- however else you may label it. But if you look at things from a win/lose, there will ALWAYS be someone losing. I can't imagine that you want this to be your son anymore than you want it to be you.

It's a tough time, and really hard behavior to deal with. But, I think that a lot of the problems you had this morning could be greatly minimized by figuring out how to better react to them.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 2:18PM
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You just have to figure out what your rules are and let them be known and stick to them. Figure out how you want to punish your son and be consistent (if it means spanking his butt, that's your choice and nobody elses). I guess it gets harder as they get older because kids learn more about you and how to push your buttons but take it like you did when the terrible 2's kicked in. I guess I've already probably seen a few terrible 3 moments with my 2 1/2 year old but I just handle the problem like I always have and punish him.

You've made it this far so don't give up. You still have the teen years ahead of you and it's far too soon to give up.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 3:10PM
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First, don't ask him what he wants for breakfast. At 3, he doesn't need the challenge of deciding things. Fix what he likes and have it ready for him. He may skip eating a couple of times, but he needs to get into the habit of knowing that at mealtime, he eats what's on the table. Don't worry , he won't starve.

Ignore screaming. If his nose needs wiping, YOU get a tissue and wipe it. don't ask him to do it. You could have waited until he was not looking to throw away the playdough. He couldn't see anything wrong with it. To him, you were just being mean and throwing away something he wanted. You have to think a little like he does in order to cut down on the explosions.

At this age, you could almost bet money that he will do just the opposite of what you ask. so, on certain things, don't ask. Just do. Then, as someone else suggested, pick your battles carefully. And those you pick, you win. Don't give in. You are bigger and stronger.

He doesn't want to get dressed? OK, you dress him kicking and screaming. No discussion with him. Just do it. If he wakes up everyone else, that's OK too. The faster you get on this the easier it is to solve. It may last a few weeks, a few months or a few years.

You cannot reason with him, beg him or try to please him at this stage. He is trying to control The Whole Entire World. He doesn't know how, so you control as much of it as you can.

We have been there and we have done that....we know that it is very rough. but you can make the difference as to how you deal with it.

Ignore screaming
Give him as few choices as possible. You make the decisions.
Stick to your guns. Do what you say you will do. don't waver. It just confuses him.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 4:29PM
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Yes, it is normal. I never understood the whole terrible 2s concept. Three is ever so much harder! At 3, they do it on purpose and that is frustrating.

Try to keep some perspective on what your goal is. You cannot control him. Your goal is to teach him to control himself. And, really, that is what he wants, to control his own world instead of having it controlled. He needs you to teach him how to do that and to accept the consequences of his choices. Sure, sometimes he is not going to make a good choice. He will make mistakes and learn from them.

Keeping peace with 3s has a lot to do with choices. Sometimes between cereal or bagel for breakfast, sometimes between playing nicely or throwing your toys. Put his choice to him and stick with it. Choose between A and B, sometimes a C, but no more than that or your asking for trouble. So, cereal or bagel? I know, that's what you did. Stick to it, calmly. "Honey, that is what you chose when I asked you. I am not making another breakfast. Now you can eat that or wait until lunch." The control is up to him. He cannot control you, either, by they way. If he continues to argue, keep telling him his choices, do not add another.

When he chooses between playing nicely or throwing toys, that is obviously not a choice you put to him, it's just a way of looking at what goes on in his mind. Let him know that choosing to throw toys means choosing the consequence that goes with it: sent to room and toy taken away. So, he can choose to play with it right, or not at all.

He can choose to get dressed with help or without help. Lead him to his room, give him the clothes, and say "Do you want my help or are you doing it yourself?"

He can choose to blow his nose with help or without. OK, sometimes I really only give mine the choice of "the easy way or the hard way?" Meaning, cooperate or I'm going to hold you down and wipe your nose. Or if does want to do it himself, he gets a turn then you get a turn. Teeth brushing is another one when we would take turns.

I can so clearly remember when my now 8 y/o was 3. When he gave me a hard time, refused to cooperate, I put him in the bathroom and stood right outside the door. I said "Tell me when you are ready to cooperate." And every couple minutes I'd ask him again if was ready. Sooner or later he would say "I ready to copperate now." It cracked me up to hear him say that! It also helped to motivate him to cooperate by telling him what we were going to do after he got dressed, ate breakfast, whatever. "We're going to the store with the horse ride after we get dressed."

Keeping in mind why they act this way, whether they need something physical (like sleep, a drink or a snack) or emotional (to test limits, assert independence, make choices on their own) helps you think clearly how you want to handle it. Try to think long term even when it's one incident at a time. Instead of thinking ONLY in terms of getting through this battle, think how this battle fits into the big picture of what you want him to learn. When you look at it that way you are more likely to be consistent, or pick the right battles. Think in terms of getting him to cooperate, not just obey.

My vocabulary with my kids that age is "cooperate" and "good choice." I tell them they need to cooperate, they had time out until they chose to do so. When they did cooperate, I would tell them "good choice." Sometimes I gave them a choice between one thing they'd like and one they'd hate to help ensure the right choice: "Do you want to take a bath now or go straight to bed?" Naturally they chose they bath, I'd still say "good choice."

    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 4:36PM
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I for one never asked my children at age 2 and 3 what they wanted to eat. Instead I fixed their meals and they ate it. If they refused to eat for any reason it was wrapped up and they ate it at the next mealtime. I always wiped their noses at that age instead of expecting them to know how to wipe it. Sorry but IMHO I believe parents today expect to much from toddlers.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2002 at 11:37PM
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Thanks everyone, good advise. The noses thing, though, it's not that I expect him to wipe his nose, he refuses to blow, he sniffs in when I try to assist, then it runs down his nose. I tell him to wipe it because we can't get him to blow out. One or the other. He has also wiped it on his sister, that really grosses us out.
Thanks again

    Bookmark   February 14, 2002 at 10:19AM
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Jainie and all the other mom's who posted here:
big *hugs* to you! my gentle and mellow little 18mo old sometimes wears me REALLY thin! and i haven't hit the "terrible" two's or the threes yet.

thanks in advance to everyone who posted here for some WONDERFUL parenting suggestions!


    Bookmark   February 14, 2002 at 2:17PM
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I am a mother of a 3 year old and I totally understand where you are coming from. I read all of the responses and they all make perfect sense, but I think you just needed to vent! I think that I am going crazy 9 times out of 10 during the day. Hang in there....

    Bookmark   March 5, 2002 at 6:08PM
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Well, as time goes on and we get closer to 3, I'm seeing more and more from DS! He's really into doing things and then laughing because he knows it was wrong and we're mad. It's only on some days, though and he's also starting to realize that some things he does hurts our feelings (like he broke something one day) and he's saying he's sorry. I agree with the poster who said this is more frustrating than the terrible 2's because now they are VERY aware of what they are doing!

I dont' see anything wrong with asking your 3 year old what they want to eat and other things. You have to start teaching them at some point to make they're own decsions, right? Something as little as that will help them later in life. (My mother did everything for me for the longest time, including getting my clothes out until I was about 13! As an adult I still have times when I hate making decsions. Even simple ones like, where would like to eat?, What movie do you want to watch?, etc.) I ask my DS almost every day what he wants for lunch and give him about two options. We usually eat leftovers or something quick so it's no big deal. At supper he eats what we do unless it's something I know he won't eat and then I find him something else (thank goodness he's not a picky eater though!)

Hope things are going better for everyone! There are a lot of us who are there or have been there! I'm sure we have tons of stories! LOL


    Bookmark   March 7, 2002 at 10:18AM
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Loretta NJ Z6

Its kind of sad when you go from those peaceful, smiley baby times to those tantrums when no matter what you do, they will never be happy. You can have a wonderful day. Go to the zoo, have a great lunch, a special snack and a souvenior and they still want that one more thing and you end up dragging them out of there kicking and screaming and crying anyway. Or with everything else there is to do there, they insist on climbing the rocks, or despite the wonderful day you have in store for them, they fight you to get ready to go...Welcome to the threes and fours. This is a growing period where they are learning social behaviors, how to relate to other people. They are impulsive. They have more energy than is socially acceptable at times. They don't think before they act and are just starting to learn how one action affects another. Everything has to be negotiated. Now you have to start to point out to them and explain what fresh talk is or any other new behaivor that they start on and what is expected of them. You have to tell them what is going to happen first and what is expected of them, - "five more minutes and then we have to go" "tomorrow is a school day. You promise me no crying in the morning?" Of course in the beginning, they don't even know what five minutes mean. Its a lot of repetition and yelling at them for the same stuff, even five minutes after they got in trouble last time and promised never to do it again. Time outs worked well for me as well as taking things away, an occasional spanking and a constant increase in the volume control - my son has taught me how to yell again, something I had forgotten since I moved out of my mothers house..
But sometimes extra cuddling works well for me too. Especially when the tantrum is out of frustration. Or humor. Something silly like "Oh look, there's a bug running out of your nose! Oh no, he's going back in. I got it." As you take the tissue to wipe him. But anyway, you can try all these little things and sometimes nothing will work and you find yourself constantly yelling and repeating yourself...

    Bookmark   March 9, 2002 at 1:28AM
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my litlle son s 3+.he is driving me crazy.he bothers me for eating.for clothing nd for everything.when i told him not to do this or this s bad he ignores me and doing things bad till i give him slap.the elder son is 5+.so they both quarell all the time for all the things.sometimes i feel depression.i did toy timout for them but didnt worked.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 6:29AM
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