Help! I’m Raising a Threenager!

Three-year-olds are thriving little people who are strengthening their vocabulary and independence. They’re delightful, imaginative and unapologetic. They’re confident, scrappy and adorable but don’t even think about cutting their grilled cheese into four pieces instead of two; you may be in for a serious meltdown.

Like many other Millennials and Gen X’ers, I too, am raising a threenager. And the struggle is real!

To nap or not to nap: The Terrible Twos have nothing on the unwavering determination of a three-year-old refusing to nap. When my children were two, napping was like clockwork. After lunch, they would willingly take a nap, and it wouldn’t be long before they drifted off into dreamland. By age three–if you’re lucky enough to have a child who still naps–THEY will determine whether it’s a good time or day to get some shut eye, not you. I have tried nearly every nap tactic: soft lullabies, white noise, blackout shades and cuddles. And in an act of desperation, I’ve even resorted to bribery. My last-ditch effort fell flat, because instead of acting as an incentive, the thought of a sweet prize at the end of the nap prompted my child to ask what seemed like an endless number of questions about how she could get her hands on sugary treats instead of actually napping: “Mommy, where do you keep the treats?” “When can I have one?” “Why can’t I eat it now?” And so on.

If you lose the nap battle, don’t fret; it’s highly doubtful a sleep doula would win either.  But the downside is, your child–who is still awake and on a sugar high (which you single-handedly caused)–will likely pass out in the car while you’re running errands just before dinnertime.

The ‘Why’ game: “Why is it time to nap?” “Why are we eating chicken?” “Why do you have a ponytail?”

The questions are endless, and while at first the ‘Why’ game is a wonderful, positive sign of your child’s development, it can be utterly exhausting for parents. It’s not the incessant questioning that creates a dull ringing in my ears, it’s the defiance that follows the seemingly continuous inquiries. Typically, my threenager will respond to my answers with a firm “NO,” or a well crafted rebuttal, or sometimes even a pint-sized death stare.  All is good–it’s not the first time she and I have squared off with our most intense eye gaze.

The great clothing debate: Whether it’s multiple wardrobe changes or flat out refusals to put on pants, a threenager knows what she wants. I am a firm believer of choosing my battles (when it’s safe to do so). That’s why my children have worn dress shoes with sweat pants to daycare or my husband’s sweatshirt on a grocery run. The most challenging part of your child’s clothing choices may be that you’ll have little to no warning of an impending, eleventh hour costume change. You may have one foot out the door and meanwhile, your son may have both legs in his martial arts uniform instead of the pair of jeans you thought you had agreed upon. My husband and I no longer bat an eye when our daughter arrives for dinner in full princess regalia. I wouldn’t dare try talking her out of the gown, complete with a hoop. And if her awkwardly shaped ensemble doesn’t jive with the kitchen table and chair once she attempts to comfortably sit down, she will make it work come hell or high water!

Personality changes: I have found that moods fluctuate for my threenage daughter much more often that they did with my son, but every child is unique. Her needs and desires can change on a dime. She may want toast for breakfast, but later decide she no longer enjoys eating it altogether. She has been elated one minute and disappointed the next. She has even complimented the braid in my hair and tried to rip it out seconds later because only Elsa, her favourite Disney princess, should have the honour of wearing one. But as I count the number of hairs that have been not so delicately pulled from my scalp, I’m reminded that my child is exploring, learning her likes and dislikes and is determined to increase her independence as she grows.

While this stage of development brings its own set of unique behavioural challenges, I’m comforted that my child is voicing her opinion, that’s she’s not afraid to disagree, and that she’s becoming increasingly more confident in the choices she is making. My child isn’t a baby anymore, but she still needs a little handholding. She gives me unsolicited hugs and kisses, endless compliments and nighttime cuddles.

So, embrace this time in your child’s life and remember to let out a good laugh every once in awhile. A three-year-old’s actions (and reactions) can be utterly hilarious, especially when mine’s giving me the tiny stink eye!