"Terrible Twos?" How About the Frustrated Threes?

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"Terrible twos is a fallacy,” Bryan Masche, father of three-year-old sextuplets, told the TODAY Show. I know the feeling. I remember when my son turned 3 last year -- he was always my little angel. So cute and cuddly. A good listener, a helper ...he even potty trained himself at 2 1/2 years old. I had few, if any complaints.

Then he turned 3.

It was if a switch went on and the craziness came out. He became an instigator, a hitter. He told little lies and ignored me when I talked to him. What a change! Oh and the whining, how could I forget that?

I understand why he was acting like this, but it didn’t make it any easier. He was caught in a struggle between babyhood and big-boyness. He wanted to be big like his brothers, but he was still a baby.


We’ve all felt the frustration of being in a difficult situation. Did you ever date someone who was such a great person and you wanted to like him or her, but the feeling just wasn’t there? I imagine his frustration as something similar to that. It’s nice to have the security of a date, but if it’s not meant to be, then sometimes it’s hard to break up with someone who you really enjoy as a friend. That feeling of frustration. For adults, we have the advantage of being able to communicate how we feel. At 3, communication is limited, so frustration comes out in other ways. Like by hitting a sibling.

Teaching sign language can be helpful for empowering your child with a vocabulary to help them communicate. We taught my second child a few key signs when he was little. It helped when he was younger, but not when he was 3. I just think it was a phase he was in. The fact that he had a new baby in the house didn’t help either. In his world, there was a lot going on.

So what is a parent to do? I guess being patient is the first word that comes to mind. Since a lot of what he does is to get attention and to test the parents, another key strategy is to maintain control and set boundaries. This is a time when if you let the child get away with bad behavior, he’ll know he can, and the bad behavior will continue or even get worse. Be consistent. If you don’t allow something on Monday -- there should be exceptions on Saturday. At 3, he didn’t understand what an exception was. He only understood that one day was yes and another was no, so he would do whatever he could to get the yes again.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that children respond better when you sit down and talk to him at their level -- talking in a calm, nice voice and not yelling. Sure, I yell, I’d lie if I said that I didn’t, but calm, cool and collected actually works much better.

NOTE: My son is four now, and he's back to being a dream child. The baby of the family is 2 now, and he has the wild behavior. So there is hope, eventually they outgrow it. It only seems to last forever -- it's actually a flash in a moment if their life.

Renee Martinez is a working mom of 4 boys. She started her blog, Raising Boys World because she was tired of the negative stereotypes associated with boys. Raising Boys World is an online community for parents to exchange resources and seek support on issues unique to raising the young men in their lives.


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