7 Rules for Surviving a Threenager

(THRĒ-nay-jur) noun;
A child who is three years old, but possesses the behaviors, habits, and attitude of a teenager.

The title of this article sort of implies that I have actually survived parenting a threenager. I apologize for misleading you. I have yet to successfully come out the other side of the fourth year of my child’s life, although I am three quarters of the way through it. Regardless, I cannot be considered an expert, just a terrified and exhausted observer of the behaviors and habits of my own threenager. And I’m here to offer my support, along with some advice that I’ve come up with since embarking down the dark and unpredictable path of parenting a three-year-old.

You know what? No. I’m not sorry for misleading you. Let that be Rule Number 1: Trust is a thing of the past. That’s right. Just when you thought it was safe to take down the 24-hour surveillance camera you installed in your child’s room three years ago (better known as “baby monitor”), you’ll now be relying on it more than ever. Oh, how wonderful that little Theodore has gone up to play by himself quietly in his room. Nope. Think again, Mom. When you have a threenager, quiet usually means someone or something is being destroyed. It is crucial that you keep an eye on Theodore. There are ways to still let him feel as though he’s independent, though. At our house, we do an occasional, “How’s it going in there?” yell up the stairs. If there’s any response, then you’re probably fine. If you get nothing but silence in return, then run. Run like the dickens and find out what on earth that child has decided to make his next victim. Which leads me to another point about not trusting your teenager-in-training: they lie. A lot. You ask them what they’re doing? Whatever they say is most likely a lie. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this is your life now.

Rule Number 2: Maintain consistency. Girl, I know it sucks when you have to tell your kid for the 83rd time that they cannot eat a bag of Cheetos for dinner. I’ve been there. It’s so easy to just throw your hands in the air and give in. The thing is, if you give in on the 83rd attempt, then you’ve let the enemy win. Same with the 84th time, and the 184th time… Trust me on this. All it takes is one time of you being a pushover, and then your kid is suddenly the dictator of everything. Don’t let it happen. Stand strong. When you threaten them with a consequence, follow through with your promise. Trust me, it will happen, and you will have to follow through. That being said, be sure not to threaten consequences you’re not willing to actually dish out. A great example: “Stop pulling the dog’s tail, or you don’t get to watch TV for the next two days!” Although you’d think that would be enough to keep little Barbara from yanking Fido’s tail, odds are it’s not. She goes ahead and pulls poor Fido’s tail one more time, and then you get to deal with sweet Barbara for two days straight as she’s whining about not being able to watch Team Umizoomi. You thought whining for 5 minutes was bad? Try 48 hours. No thanks. Make the consequences reasonable, for both of you.

Rule Number 3: Never negotiate with a threenager. Although I recently was informed that the whole “America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists” thing is a complete fabrication of facts by Hollywood, I’m sticking with it. Threenagers are no better than terrorists. Do not negotiate with them. Once they know there’s wiggle room when you make a statement, you’ve lost control. They then have the upper hand. I know you’re tired. I know you’ve been hearing them complain and cry for the past 45 minutes about how unfair it is, but you are the boss. Besides, even when you do negotiate with them, they’re completely unreasonable. My son once asked for a cookie, so I generously offered him three (they were the tiny Famous Amos kind, and I was feeling exceptionally charitable), and he argued that he wanted two. I was then arguing with my child that he was getting three cookies, even though he wanted two. You honestly can’t expect to reason with an insane person. Or a three-year-old. Just take any negotiations off the table from the beginning, and you won’t have any trouble. Probably. Maybe.

Rule Number 4: Join a support group. Or a “playgroup,” as laypeople refer to them. Whatever sounds less desperate to you. I’ve found that other moms of threenagers are extremely helpful. Even if none of us has any advice for the others, we at least have this one thing in common, and it’s a very strong bond. Getting together, whether with or without your threenagers, is good for your souls. Sharing stories, struggles, successes, and a few drinks will do a world of good for your sanity. I promise. Not to mention the conversation. You’d be surprised what a toll only conversing with a three-year-old dictator can take on your mind.

Rule Number 5: Get a frequent buyer card at a liquor store. Just trust me on this one.


Rule Number 6: It all gets better eventually. In the short term, this means that eventually little Frankie will forget why he’s screaming his head off and kicking his legs on the ground in the middle of Target. He’ll see a Ninja Turtles sweatshirt, and move on. Random tantrum over. Long term, this means that eventually this phase is over. Eventually your child will turn four, and magically things will improve. Right? Right?! Someone recently informed me of a thing called the “fourmonal fours,” and I feel like the light at the end of the tunnel got further away. But hey, that’s what the frequent buyer card is for, right? And they’ll eventually move out of your house and get married, and then they’re someone else’s problem.

Rule Number 7: Cherish the calm moments. Even if it’s when they’re sleeping. Even if it’s only thirty seconds, while they lay on your lap because they’re exhausted from being dramatic and sassy all day. Cherish it. Because just like every other age your child has been, this is a precious one. This is one that will someday pass, and you’ll look back and wish you had paid just a little more attention to the funny way they stuck their bottom lip out when they realized they hurt your feelings. Or the sweet way they interlaced their fingers with yours when you watched movies with them. And at the end of the day, you can look into their eyes, see the love and admiration they have for you, and smile knowing that someday their kids will put them through the same misery that they’re putting you through right now.



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