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Terrible twos? Try Threenager! A Few Tips to Survive These Trying Times

threenagerI don’t know who came up with the term “Terrible 2s,” because in my personal experience, and based on pretty much every parent I talk to, it really isn’t the 2-year-olds that are the problems — it’s age 3 that’s TOUGH.

I think in my mind, when my oldest was throwing a fit in that 2-year-olds range, it was more of a problem regulating emotions and communicating, whereas at age 3, she is totally manipulating me and it’s on purpose (this isn’t quite true, but it sure feels that way sometimes!!)

So how do you deal with the dreaded threenager? I am not an expert on this topic, and every child is different, but here are some things that are tried and true.

Catch them “being good” — nothing promotes good behavior like positive reinforcement. “My child is never good!” you may be thinking — but it’s the little things, like sharing a snack with a sibling, or listening to you and doing something when you tell them to the first time, that you can give them a quick pat on the back for and tell them “good job!” They look up to you and crave attention, so give it to them when they are doing the right things and over time they will do more of these.

Ignore the minor bad behavior — like a tantrum over brushing teeth. When you repeatedly give more attention to things like tantrums and crying, they learn this is how they get you to attend to them. You need to be prepared that often the crying and tantrums get worse for a short time before they get better, but stay strong momma and BE CONSISTENT. It will get better and stop over time.

Don’t yell — I know it is definitely hard sometimes to maintain your cool when you’ve told your child 15 times to get their shoes on, or eat their dinner, or get in their car seat (my personal pet peeve!!), but try to maintain a calm voice whenever you can, as escalating your emotions can demonstrate to your child that this is how to react when you’re upset about something. The same idea goes with physical punishment.

Contracting — just as with potty training, sometimes having a reward system for good behavior can help. Make a picture chart with whatever it is you want them to do; for example, brush their teeth, make their bed, pick up their toys, etc. Give them a sticker each time they complete the tasks, and then they can earn a reward or one on one time with a parent or whatever you choose.

Choices — at 3 going on 13, children want to feel in control of what is going on. Give your child choices, including the consequences of not completing the tasks requested. For example, “You can go brush your teeth, or you can go to your room and go to bed without a story tonight.”

Timeout — as above, kids crave attention, so removing them from positive attention from you and others, as well as from any possible fun/interaction, helps make an impression for the child. Generally speaking, time out should last 1 minute for each year old they are, and time restarts if they get out without permission.

Here are some web resources as well if you find yourself at your wits end!

Good luck, and hang in there!!


About Amanda Magrini

Amanda Magrini
Amanda Magrini, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician at Northern Nevada Medical Group’s Los Altos location in Sparks. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Nevada, Reno and her medical training at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Dr. Magrini has practiced family medicine for seven years, including residency, and enjoys her specialty, because she likes taking care of the whole family, from newborns to grandparents. She likes preventative medicine, helping people take care of themselves and the relationships she is able to form with her patients. Dr. Magrini grew up in Sparks, NV and likes that it is a safe place to live with great educational opportunities and beautiful scenery. She thinks Northern Nevada is a great place to raise a family and looks forward to raising her own children here. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, camping, boating, running and traveling the world. Dr. Magrini is also very close with her family; she is married to her high school sweetheart and values spending time with him and the rest of her family. Disclosure: "The author is a licensed physician practicing with Northern Nevada Medical Group, but all opinions expressed are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Northern Nevada Medical Group or any other affiliates of Universal Health Services, Inc."

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