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terrible twosI was just having this conversation with someone today, and it reminded me that I already wrote about this, two years ago. So, here’s my take on the “terrible threes.”


Everyone warns you about two. “Terrible twos.” “Tantrum twos.” Two sounds terrifying. But you know what? We’re about one month from three over here, and I have to say, two wasn’t that bad. Dare I say, it was EASY compared to what I can see is coming down the pike with the threes.

When my son was in his so-called “terrible twos,” he didn’t throw tantrums. He was generally easygoing and happy. I could usually distract him from his frustrations with a question or a new activity, and transitioning was usually easy, if I warned him in advance.

But not so with the threes. Now, my child has POWER. What kind of power, you ask? Well. Now, he has THE TOILET. Doesn’t want to go to sleep? “Mommy, have to pee in the toilet!” And, you know, just in case he might be right (which he is about 50% of the time), my husband or I go running upstairs and let him sit on the toilet for some indefinite amount of time, while he reads books and sings songs. Another gem: doesn’t want to sleep past 5 am? “Have to pee in the toilet!!” And…we’re up.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that my son is toilet-trained. That’s nothing short of awesome. However, this is an example of how three-year-olds become infinitely more challenging than tw0-year-olds. They are gaining independence and creativity. And how does that manifest? Often, in challenging behavior. Need more proof?  Here it is.

A three-year-old knows how to negotiate. “Why not? Why not?” 

A three-year-old is just a little too big to be carried around when he doesn’t listen.

A three-year-old is old enough to choose not to listen to his mother, and pull all the toilet paper off the toilet paper roll. Just. For. Fun. 

When your two-year-old broke the rules or played with things that were not toys, he was just “exploring and discovering the world around him.” But a three-year-old certainly knows which choices are right and which choices will probably result in time-out. But, they push the boundary anyway, because well, why not?

My friends with older kids keep telling me that three is harder than two. And even though we haven’t officially entered the year of three yet, we’ll be there soon. And I’m certain it’s going to be harder than last year. My son is already looking at me and running in the other direction when he doesn’t feel like listening. Awesome.

And since last week he decided to spread lotion all over his sister’s carpet just so he could put his cars in a “carwash,” I’ve definitely started to realize that with three comes more independence, more creativity, and more problem-solving. All positive qualities of course, but all qualities that make parenting just that much more challenging.

So I just bought a video monitor.


***Disclaimer: Now, at the very end of four with my son, I can say that for him, three was much harder than two. My daughter is not yet two and a half, so I’m not sure this theory will ring true for her, although so far, the terrible twos have not been so terrible. You know what that means. Stay tuned.


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photo credit: More goggles via photopin (license)

6 thoughts on “Is Three the New “Terrible Twos”?

  1. Ahhh! This is exactly, I mean EXACTLY, what we are going through right now with my daughter who will be 3 in early September. That toilet thing is driving both my husband and I bonkers. (Perahps you have read my tweets?!) most people warned us at her two year old birthday that three was definitely harder than two…I think I just hoped they were wrong! Another thing I have noticed is that my daughter will do something immediately after I have asked her not to do it – just to defy me/my husband! We have been doing the 1-2-3 Magic method for a while and that still works as she does not like time outs. I like it because it gives her a chance to correct her behavior. I am eager to read comments from other moms on this one! Good post!

  2. Oh, yes, three is so much worse than two! My son will be four in September, and it’s only getting worse as time goes by! And you’re so on with the using the potty as an escape route, because of course we’re going to let him out of bed or wherever to run to the bathroom, even if it’s only been 20 minutes since the last time.

    Every time we think we have a behavior-correcting strategy that works, he turns right around and defies it, so it’s a constant battle and struggle to stay one step ahead because nothing seems to work for long. Even when he knows we mean business, he has to keep testing to make sure that the rule that applied yesterday still applies today. It’s definitely stressful!

  3. 1-2-3 Magic is the best!! I use it with a lot of my work kiddos and love it for my boys! Nothing like giving them control to make their own choices and to significantly relieve stress on the parents!! It works even better at 5!!
    Two’s have nothing on three’s. A turned 3 and immediately started defying, acting out, and throwing tantrums. Someone needs to rewrite the research (know anyone??)!
    As with everything, this time will fly by and you’ll forget how frustrating it was. It’s all normal and all about learning and growing. Enjoy it… (Easier said than done, especially at Target)!!

  4. Speaking as a researcher, we have long known that 3 is worse than 2. Tantrums and willful defiance peak at 3 (but just because no one really measures it in between 3 and 4). It does get easier at 4, but the tantrums do not go away, they just become more targeted.

    The “nice” thing about 3 compared to 2, though, is that good behavior charts finally work. I really think 2-year olds are too young for good behavior charts, but you can reward good behavior for 3-year olds. Here’s what we did.

    We bought a dry erase board from Office Max, had our terror pick her prize… what did she really want to earn. Then we set up the points. In the beginning, she could earn stickers or something at the end of the day. I’d give them a selection to choose from and the stickers were theirs for the earning. The first day you really want to structure it so they win their prize. Give them points for everything so they get the hang of it. When they do something wrong, take away 1 point. By the end of the day, review what they’ve done, give them their prize and do it again the next day. In a couple of days (2 max, these kids love learning the rules), they will know the game. Then you really increase the stakes.

    I would let them pick out something really good, like Disney princesses (the little figurines are good ones) and make them really work for it. Focus on the behavior you want to reinforce and get rid of. Reinforce the good behavior and target the punishment on the bad. Mine would get points for setting the table (ok, not perfect but the stuff is on the table), going potty, picking up toys. they lose points for hitting, crying, tantrums. The chart really does work.

  5. Woooh! Kids can be a handful. I am normally not the one to comment on articles. I wanted to share my story with you guys.

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    This saved me from my endless nights of crying because everything was just that bad!

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