Lions, Tigers, and THREEnagers, Oh My!


threenager: a young boy gives a sassy look to the camera.Y’all. Three-year-olds are hard!

My son turned three in April, and I’d say about a month before that we started having some really hard days. It felt like they were becoming more and more frequent. That is when I realized we entered the threenager stage.

What is a threenager, you ask? The term represents your three-year-old suddenly acting like a sassy adolescent, and developing traits like that of a teenager.

It is so fun and exciting watching your little person’s personality grow and develop, but WOW it is a lot when they push every single button imaginable that you have. I know I am not alone when I say this stage is a lot, and frankly, it is really freaking hard! 

Why are they like this?

Well, it is completely developmentally normal for your three-year-old to start acting super moody. Toddlers want to be independent, and by age three they have a better idea of how to express themselves, their wants, and their needs. Their brain is beginning to develop rational thinking, so of course, it comes with a lot of ups and downs! After all, a person does not stop developing this part of their brain until they are in their 20s! 

Surviving the THREEnager Stage

What can you do? Here are some tips to help navigate this threenager stage:

Stick to Boundaries

No really, boundaries are both healthy and needed for our three-year-olds! Of course, show compassion to them while holding the boundary.

Our kiddos are learning how to emotionally regulate from us, so how we react to their feelings are learning opportunities for them. If we yell when they are upset, why are we surprised when they yell when they get upset? As tough as it is, respond to them like you would like them to respond to others! 

Check Yourself

Yes, learn how to emotionally regulate yourself! Did you know an escalated adult cannot de-escalate a child? It’s okay to lose it sometimes, but model how you handle those emotions to your child! Say things like, “Mommy is having a hard time right now, so I am going to breathe and count to 10.” You are the blueprint for how your child will react in future situations!

Name the Emotions

Three-year-olds are feeling a lot of things, but having a tough time expressing those things. Help them! Name the emotions they are feeling, and talk through how you are going to handle them.

Potential script: “You are feeling [insert emotion: sad, mad, silly, etc] right now. When mommy feels [emotion], she does [something] to handle it.”

“You are feeling really silly right now! When mommy feels silly, she likes to wiggle the sillies out! Should we try it together?”

Read Together

Books are golden for helping kids handle emotions and situations in real life! When they feel things in real life that their favorite book characters feel, then it is a perfect opportunity to “act” out the book and work through the situation with them!

Watch What They’re Consuming

My child eats plenty of added sugar, and he watches TV shows but I notice a distinct difference in my child when he eats more sugar and has more screen time. Yes, there are days when I am not going to care about sugar intake or screen time, but the majority of the time I do. Too much of either is going to create tougher and bigger emotions in our kids. Monitor what they are consuming. 

In every stage of parenting we encounter, there are tough moments — but there are so many more special ones. I am with you, and acknowledge how hard it is having a three-year-old! We are all in this together, and will look back fondly one day!

How are you coping and managing the threenager stage?


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