Stalling. Negotiating. Talking back. Meltdowns. Anyone who thinks the “terrible twos” are hard has, likely, never parented a three-year-old.
Littleman never really did the stereotypical two-year-old things: fist-pounding, flailing-on-the-ground, crying-and-screaming tantrums. Sure, he cried and yelled sometimes, but not to the extent that I expected after hearing about the “terrible twos” my whole life. I’ve started to wonder if, in fact, the whole thing is a bit of a myth. Because in my experience, having a three-year-old is much, much harder. These are some of the reasons why:
- Language skills: My three-year-old can communicate so much better now than he could when he was two. Sometimes it feels like I’m having a conversation with another adult, not someone who was a baby not that long ago. This means his ability to talk back to me is also very, very good. He knows how to say the right thing at the right time. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue to avoid laughing when he manages to throw a one-liner my way. For example, the other day he was whining and fussing about something for way too long. I finally lost my cool and said, “I don’t like whiners.” His response? “Well, I don’t like shouters.” Oops.
- Negotiations: Everything is a bargain with my three-year-old. When I tuck him in at night and try to leave his room, he says, “one more minute.” When he’s been allowed to watch some TV and it’s time to turn it off, he suggests, “five more minutes.” When we ask him to finish his dinner, he states, “three more bites.” When he was two, he might have refused to eat his dinner or cried when we left him in bed, but at least we didn’t end up in a constant negotiation with someone who is smart enough to find the loopholes in just about any argument.
- Going for the jugular: Somewhere along the way, my three-year-old has learned how say some hurtful things. I’m guessing it comes from kids at daycare who, perhaps, have older siblings. Already, he uses the “you aren’t my best friend anymore” line. Or the “if you say that, I won’t play with you anymore” one. I’ve tried to explain that words like that aren’t nice and they make people feel bad. But, in the heat of the moment, he doesn’t really get it. And, I suppose, making me feel bad is probably his goal when he isn’t getting his way.
- Commitment: When he was two, my son just didn’t have the attention span to stick with the fight for very long. He might have freaked out when he didn’t get what he wanted, but it was much easier to distract him and the whole mess would be over with pretty quickly. Now, though, he can really commit to his cause. This morning, for example, he endured a half hour meltdown because I wouldn’t let him watch TV. He employed every tactic he knew to try and get me to cave. He’d cry and scream. When that didn’t work, he’d stop crying and apologize. Then, he’d say “I’m not going to cry anymore, mommy.” Great! “Now, can I have TV?” Hells no. Back to crying and screaming. Mix in a little “you’re not my best friend” and some “if I do X, then can I watch TV?” and this whole thing can go on for ages.
- Decision making: “What would you like for breakfast?”, I ask. “Cheerios,” he says. Upon handing him the Cheerios, he screams, “I SAID SHREDDIES!” WTF? I calmly remind him that he asked for Cheerios as I pour him some Shreddies instead. Why do they do this? He specifically asks for a princess yogurt and then freaks out when I don’t give him a cars yogurt.
Luckily, Littleman is nearing the end of his “threenage” year and, it seems that the craziness is slowing down a bit. Yes, there are still times like this morning, but they are happening less and less. I’m sure the age of four will bring with it a whole new parenting challenge. Hopefully the lessons I’ve learned from managing my three-year-old will help prepare me for whatever comes next!