“Three” Is the New “Two”

November 14th, 2011 by Dionna | 15 Comments
Posted in Consensual Living, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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I’m rerunning this post that was originally published over at Mama Eve. We’re nearing the end of Kieran’s three-year-old self, and I still don’t have all – ok, even half – of the answers about these curious three-year-old creatures.
I do find it highly amusing that I wrote this post at the very beginning of my pregnancy. In fact when I wrote it – when all of the nightmarish stuff in the first paragraph was going on – I had no idea I was pregnant yet. Now that it’s been about 39 weeks, we’re dealing with a whole new set of three year old emotions, those of an almost-big-brother who is trying to process the incredible changes that are about to take place in our family.
And still, I am so glad that we practice gentle parenting. Because through all of the normal stressors that accompany preschoolerhood and pregnancy, my focus has been on connection with Kieran. And that connection makes those hard times a little bit easier, and it makes the easy times especially sweet.


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I have a confession to make to my fellow gentle parents. I find the “three-year-old” age much harder than the “two-year-old” age.

Holy. Night. Dear readers, I have been at my wit’s end this past week – what with the smoke damage to our house, the resulting stress from the clean-up, the hotel, the not having a kitchen (a.k.a. the crap food) for over a week now, the Carnival of Natural Parenting, other deadlines and activities that fell right in the middle of the mess, and the fact that our three-year-old son, Kieran, has been just as stressed about everything as I have been. Suffice to say that I have had several parenting moments that I would not want televised.

And it’s not just the stress and the lack of routine (although those two have played a large part in the past week’s frustrations), it’s the very three-ness of Kieran.

Do any of these sound familiar to other parents of three year olds?

  • The not listening.
  • The stubbornness and the agenda that just happens to be the exact opposite of whatever I wanted to do.
  • The nothing-pleases-me-ness. For example, if I change my mind to go along with Kieran’s plans? He suddenly changes his mind to want something else.
  • The constant whining and crying. Oh for the love of everything holy, the whining!!
  • The attempts to control everything in his environment. “Don’t look like that!” “Don’t hold my hand!” “Sit over there!” etc. etc. etc.

For a few days there, I thought that perhaps we had everything about this gentle parenting gig wrong. That there was something fundamentally wrong with my child. That maybe if I yelled at him or slapped him around a little, he’d get in line and the rest of this third year would be easy. (Ok, I didn’t think that – but doesn’t it sound silly when you say it out loud?!)

But here’s the thing – I had simply forgotten that three is a pretty . . . difficult . . . age.

And then today, my dear friend Acacia (of Fingerpaint & Superheroes) loaned me Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D. I read the first chapter, and then I excitedly texted my mom, sister, and husband – all of whom have been on the receiving end of my Kieran rants this week – and I said, “I’m reading a book about three year olds, and it sounds like she wrote it while standing in a room with Kieran!

In other words, my child is not a brat. He’s not being ruined by gentle parenting.

He’s three.1

It feels so good to read that Kieran’s behavior, that my frustration – they are typical.

And it was a nice reminder that part of gentle parenting is being gentle with myself – to recognize when I need breaks (particularly amidst stress!), to not feel guilty when I need someone to take Kieran for a few hours so we can both decompress, to find new ways to connect to my three year old, ways that are sometimes vastly different from how I connected to my two year old. And most of all to remind myself that this too shall pass; this three-ness, this newness.

So . . . four year olds are easier . . . right?

  1. Well, according to Your Three-Year-Old, the really frustrating behaviors are those of a “three and a half year old,” who is in a state of “disequilibrium.” By the way, as with any parenting book, take what works for you and leave the rest. Bates includes some discipline techniques that will likely not resonate with every gentle parenting or consensual living family.

15 Responses to:
"“Three” Is the New “Two”"

  1. Christy @ Adventures in Mommyhood   MommyOutnumber

    that picture of Kieran cracks me up! I fully agree, who ever coined the term “terrible two’s” must have been looking at a small or recently turned 3 year old and assumed they were 2 lol. My kids are sweet cuddly angels at 2. Something happens at 3 though and sadly, in my case, it’s still going at 5.5 for my oldest sooooo…. not really sure what to say about it getting better at 4 haha. My friends/family with older kids tell me it doesn’t really get better until like 18 :oP lol.

  2. Melissa Vose   WhiteNoiseWoman

    Ha Ha! That photo of Kieran is SO FUNNY, and stinking cute!! YES, three is the new two; I think for me the hardest part about three is that there are nearly as many tantrums and shouts for independence, but they last longer! They are harder to distract, and far more persistent.

    In my experience, four is MUCH more pleasant, and you are cool til about seven or eight. Then some attitude creeps in.

    Man, that shirt is perfect for a three year old. Did you make it? =)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Oy – I agree on the tantrums/shouting part – they are much more intense. And yes, I did make that shirt for him!

  3. Valerie @ Momma in Progress   mommainprogress

    I remember reading the original post. I have a 3.5 year old, and every word is so true. It’s madness some days. I’m hoping it ends soon. My oldest was very, um, challenging from about 2.5 to 3.5. Four was a dramatic improvement. At 5.5 she has some attitude moments, but mostly life with her is pleasant. Her sister, however, has taken things to a whole new level. The other day she told me, “I’m not listening anymore. I’m so happy.” Yeah, that’s where we are. I suppose someday this phase will just be a series of humorous notations in a baby book and fabled memories, but . . . eek. This too shall pass, right?

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Valerie – Kieran has started telling us to “hush! hush! hush!” when we’re saying something he doesn’t like. It’s not in any kind of rude way, just a “please be quiet – I don’t want to hear you!” matter of fact way. It’s kind of hard not to smile, because he is being so polite in his threeness!

  4. Kerri   giggly_kerri

    Two’s were nothing compared to three. Unfortunately for us the behavior is still around at 4. My son became a big brother 2 months before he turned 4, and 4 months later we still struggle. When things are good, he’s amazing, but when his temper flares, watch out.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Yep – Kieran will turn 4 a couple of weeks after this baby arrives, so I’m worried that the big changes will keep that 3yo behavior alive for longer ;)

  5. Melodie   bfmom

    Four has its challenges too. Oh yes! Still no listening, or doing it grudgingly with a scowl and a stomp of the foot, refusing to do what is asked (oh right that’s the same as not listening, right?) and the lying is fun too. But they sure are cute when they dress themselves funny and want to go out that way and they still come up with the cutest things to say too.

  6. First I’ll let you know how a friend classifies children. “First come the terrible twos, then the trying threes, and they’re followed by the F***ing fours.”

    That being said I do think you may have forgotten a few things – first a month away from home, with another child, with mom treating him a bit different than normal. Mom getting PG and moods not being quite the same as they had been all take a toll on a little person. Yes those characteristics do seem to be pretty common for 3 year olds, but I’d say that it’s important to look at what else tends to happen during the year a child is three.

    Many families increase in size, upgrade their home, mom goes back to work, they take big family vacations, the child suddenly finds him/herself in a ‘school’…

    Each family and child will have their own stressors, but three is a time when so many big changes usually take place. They still don’t have the resources to cope with the stress, and mom and dad are just as stressed so the help and patience aren’t as forthcoming either.

    No it isn’t really your parenting ‘causing’ it, but unless you kept him in a bubble, this would happen at some point. He’s learning a lot but it will get easier. Though really what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working (generalized statement), so change what you’re doing. Find a tactic that does work, since there is only going to be more stress as baby arrives, starts to crawl, walk, talk, run… they can be the best friends ever, but they will need help. And in all likelihood the new little baby will have a few bumps and bruises by 3 mos of age – how will you approach that – in a way to bring the siblings closer together, to reinforce your love, or in a way that pushes everyone apart?

    As mama to 3 girls I can say each child is different. Our oldest was an amazing little girl with such will at 18 mos and now at almost 5 she believes she can do everything on her own. Fun. My second is 3 and Boy is it fun ;)in order to get out the door we say “What ever you do, don’t put on your coat”… and such until she’s buckled in the van. It’s just easier. One day she clings, the next she pushes us away, but if we watch we can see how specific incidents during the day effect her behaviour and mood. We can also see a direct correlation to how we approach different situations – the more more we’re able to understand WHY she’s so hung up on something, the easier we can help her move past it. But the more we fight, the stronger she fights. Yep she’s three, but there’s been so much happening in this year 2 surgeries, a new baby, a moody mom, a new house, classes…each item is stress they have no previous experience with or the stress is as good as new b/c they’ve changed so much since they last experienced it. He’s 50% older than he was was a toddler. 100% older than he was as a newborn. That’s a lot of growing to do in such short time.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Yes we’ve had a lot going on this year (but again, this post was written in March – so much of that hadn’t happened yet) – and you’re right, 3 is a huge transition time for many kids. And I don’t know if I’d agree that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working – everything about parenting is a journey, parenting evolves along with the child (or one would hope anyway!). So of course parenting techniques that worked with a 2yo may not be as effective with a 3yo – we’re learning as we go and trying new approaches. :) Thanks for the very thoughtful comment Sarah!

  7. Ha! I keep hearing that three is the new two. I have to tell ya, I have a two year old and a three and a half year old! Aiyaiyai!

    I’m not sure which one I’d call “worse” or “easier.” They both say “no” a lot, hide under things when I try to do horrible things to them like put on their pants and take them to the park and their moods pretty much turn on a dime.

    4 is way easier. 5 is dreamy. 6 is even sweeter. She hardly ever works in tandem with the two and three year old to drive me completely bat-turd nutso.

  8. Lola

    Thank you so much for this post! I have three year old twins and was just commenting to some other moms how challenging this age is vs two years old! Everything with my son is “No, I can’t because….” usually because he is too busy with playing with something. And yes the constant whining and screaming which is what my daughter is doing. Basically everything you wrote times two! I am defintely going to check out that book. I know it is the age and they are trying to grab a little independence but there are days when mama needs a little time out :) – (we don’t do time outs for the kiddos.)

  9. Wenonah

    Three is a terribly trying time for me as a parent. It is interesting how universal threeness is though. I have four children and I would say that I really didn’t know about attachment parenting until number four. So, she got the benefit of co sleeping, gentle discipline, extended breastfeeding, being carried and worn, and yet we are now going through the same thing as my other three kids. I love the changes I made in parenting her and I will continue with all my children, but I have learned that three is three, no matter what you do. It will always be difficult to navigate. I suppose the best I can do is keep on keeping on and love her the best I can. (And hopefully in another six months, we will move on to an easier phase).

  10. Wendy

    Thanks for this – I’m near the end of my mom-of-a-three-year-old-rope and needed to read something like this. Stress. I’m sometimes so oblivious to my own stress that it stands to reason that I’m also oblivious to my 3 1/2 year old son’s AND how my own stress is affecting him. Your post has inspired me to find ways to manage my own stress WITH him. We could probably both benefit from some deep breathing right about now :)

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