The two-year-old stage ain’t got nothing on the 'threenager' phase. Most first-time parents don’t think the toddler years can get any more troublesome than they already are… until the next stage rears its head. Veteran parents, on the other hand, brace themselves from the moment their little ones make an appearance into the world because they know what awaits them.
It’s easy to daydream about how the three-year-old stage will be filled with lovely trips to the store, peaceful mealtimes, enchanting bedtime routines… only to actually be left wondering when the magic is supposed to happen as the months start to fly by after the third birthday.
After all, the three-year-old stage is often referred to as the “magic years” and while it may seem magical as parents look back and reminisce, it’s certainly not that way in the moment.
As much as there are lots of things the toddlers themselves shouldn’t be doing anymore by the three-year mark, parents are often at least 85% responsible for the more troublesome moments. This isn’t to say that a three-year-old’s head-turning temper tantrum in the middle of the store, over not being allowed to load the cart with junk is the parent’s fault per se, but the parents may be enabling future similar behaviors with their responses.
Let’s have a look at 20 things parents absolutely need to stop doing by the time their little toddler transitions from two-year-old to the 'threenager' stage.
20 Saying ‘No’ To Everything
Getting caught up in a whirlwind of no’s is beyond easy. But at a certain point, it’s important for parents to realize that they need to give into their child’s demands sometimes. As Parents.com explains, it’s important to pick your battles, "If you're always saying, 'No, no, no,' your child will tune out the no and won't understand your priorities," says Pearson, author of The Discipline Miracle.
There is a big difference between a child wanting to do something unsafe that definitely warrants a solid “no” and that same child wanting to brush their teeth before putting on their pajamas, even though you asked them to get ready in the reverse order.
19 ‘I’ll Give You A Cookie!’
With my first child, I fell into the unfortunate habit of offering a cookie to get her to take a nap. It was great at first because she would actually listen and go to sleep without fuss while saving me a headache, but this tactic quickly went downhill. Eventually, it became impossible to get her to sleep without a treat and bedtime turned into a nightmare.
The same goes for any situation though, whether it’s trying to stop a temper tantrum at the store or getting your child to go to daycare in the morning when they have decided they don’t want to go. As David Gruder, a family therapist and author of The New IQ: How Integrity Intelligence Serves You, Your Relationships, and Our World pointed out, “[offering treats] teaches children to expect rewards for basic behaviors.”
In difficult situations when it might be tempting to offer a treat, try other tactics instead such as re-direction or making them understand why they can’t do something.
18 Focusing On The Negatives
As WebMD points out, “It's easy to hone in on your child's negative actions -- like yelling and screaming -- and ignore the good ones.”
Days spent with a toddler of any age usually revolves around saying, “stop jumping on the couch,” “don’t scream,” “don’t pull your sister’s hair,” “get off the table,” and many more annoying statements that just get repeated the next day.
It’s a hard cycle to get out of but it starts with focusing on the positives instead of the negatives. If your child has a bad habit of pulling their sibling’s hair, then instead of yelling at them when it happens, praise them for gently running their fingers to their hair instead. Encourage them to hug and be nice with statements such as, “Wow, you’re being so nice! I love to see that!”
17 ‘Fine! Here!’
There is nothing worse than ignoring a temper tantrum for a few minutes, only to eventually give into it. Although kids realize the effects of their tantrums early on, it’s at three years old and onwards especially that the habit becomes harder to eliminate. If you’re still giving into tantrums by the time your kid is three, then it’s especially important to make a conscious effort to stop.
Kids need to learn that it’s not by crying and throwing themselves on the floor that they are going to get what they want. KidsHealth explains that prevention is the best approach, as is a distraction, time-outs and sometimes simply ignoring the tantrum. No matter what, remember to stay calm.
16 Closing Your Eyes To The Mess
Kids are notorious mess-makers. Does it mean it’s OK? Absolutely not. When a baby starts crawling and walking, a mess is to be expected as they learn about their surroundings. However, the situation becomes starkly different for a three-year-old who at that point, understands exactly what they are doing and may even do it on purpose, just for giggles.
Rather than focusing on the negative, you can mitigate the situation by praising them when they clean-up. If you see them putting toys away after playing with them, then do not hesitate to rush over and lay on the praises thick as syrup. Not only will your little one beam with joy at his own doing but he will likely do it again next time.
15 Making All The Decisions
As parents, it’s inevitable that we have to control all aspect of our kids’ lives. But even kids need to feel some amount of freedom. While you’re not about to let them decide everything, you can start with basic choices that make them feel like they’re more in control of themselves.
“Would you like an apple or a banana with your breakfast?”
Rather than deciding for them, start giving them options. Whereas getting dressed may have been a challenge before, the simple act of letting them pick can make a world of a difference with regards to their overall cooperativeness.
14 ...And Still Dressing Them
With presenting them with options, you also don’t want to actually be pulling their shirt over their heads anymore or putting on their socks. By three years old, your not-so-baby can and needs to be dressing themselves. First of all, this too will make a big difference in their cooperativeness (going back to the whole feeling that they’re in control over their lives).
Secondly and most importantly, there’s so much time you will save in letting them dress themselves. By the time they’re three, you might even have another baby cooking in the oven. Whether you do or don’t, wouldn’t you rather spend some extra time perfecting your make-up in the bathroom?
13 Gifts Instead Of Experiences
Any time Christmas is right around the corner, parents everywhere lose their minds.
Repeat after me: it’s about quality, not quantity!
The last thing a three-year-old needs is 5 big presents, 9 medium ones and 33 small ones that range from a new toothbrush all the way to little accessories that will drive you up the wall within minutes of unwrapping the gift.
“The average child in the developed world owns over 200 toys but only plays with 12 of them on average per day!” states Wellness Mama.
Do your toddler and yourself a favor over the holidays (and birthdays!) by opting for experience-based gifts instead of 20 toys that will be forgotten the next day. A trip to the museum, indoor playground… any experience-based gift is guaranteed to be 100x better than a material one.
12 Doing Everything Yourself
It’s way easier to just do everything ourselves. However, not letting our three-year-old’s help is actually not all that great for their own development. Choosing between taking 10 minutes to do the dishes yourself or spending double the time with your toddler’s help can seem like a no-brainer.
As Smart Parenting explains, “Chores at a young age will foster independence, a sense of responsibility, empathy, self-reliance and makes your little one feel part of the family. The skills he learns will also be carried into his adult life when he has a home to run on his own.”
Practically Functional suggests letting them put clothes in a hamper, picking up their toys, feeding the pets, helping with laundry, etc.
11 Giving Into Food Pickiness
Long before even having kids, everyone tells themselves that their kid won’t be a picker eater. That delusion keeps up all the way until one day, their toddler crinkles their nose at something they ate just yesterday and proclaims they don’t want it or that it’s “yucky!”
Dumbfounded, parents try everything to get their children to eat, only to be unsuccessful. But at three-years-old especially, it’s important not to make too many accommodations.
“Avoid becoming a short-order cook and preparing special meals for your child. But do make sure that at each meal, there is something he knows and likes on the plate. Also, give him what the rest of the family is eating in toddler-sized portions,” suggests Zerotothree.org.
10 Labeling Your Kid
“Oh, he’s just shy!”
“She never listens. Don’t mind her.”
By the time kids are three years old, they understand a whole lot more than we think they do. For this reason, it’s particularly important to avoid attaching negative labels onto them.
“Labelling a child as ‘shy’ can make him feel there’s something wrong with him, or there’s nothing he can do about his shyness,” explains Raising Children. “Instead you can say, ‘Lila takes a little while to warm up. Once she’s comfortable she’ll be happy to play’. This sends the message to your child and others that you understand how she feels, and she can deal with the situation when she’s ready.”
9 Engaging In ‘Tit For Tat’
A two-year-old’s screams are bad enough but a three-year-old's are worse (just wait until you get to the four-year-old stage!)
However, the last thing you want to actually end up doing is screaming right back at them. It can be hard not to when you’re trying to get them to hear you but consider the fact that nothing you yell at them will actually be heard.
Bounce Back Parenting suggests practicing “pausing before reacting,” followed by “listening to their emotions,” counting to 10 and finally recapitulating what happened later. “You can revisit a situation that went downhill and talk about how you each could have handled it better. If you’ve also lost your temper, you can offer a genuine apology.”
8 Keeping Diapers On The List
Sorry not sorry but if your child isn’t potty-trained by the age of three yet, there’s a problem. Potty-training a stubborn toddler can seem like an impossible feat but oftentimes, the issue really does lie within the parents who are too wary to rip off the Band-Aid and go diaperless for a few days.
Yes, there will be countless messes. Yes, you will watch your child like a hawk all day long and won’t be able to get anything else done… but by the time they are three-years-old, they 100% need that extra little push to finally start going on the potty. So take off the training pants and let them soar like an eagle.
7 Skipping The Essentials
Speaking of stubborn toddlers, teeth brushing can be another seemingly-impossible task. How do you brush the teeth of a willful little human who refuses to open their mouths and let you in?
The tooth brushing challenge is very real but under no circumstance should you ever give in to their refusals.
“This can be a challenge because 3-year-olds are motivated mainly by fun and pleasure, not by health and necessity. If you want to end his resistance to brush, your best bet is to make this nightly chore a fun ritual for him,” helpfully states Dr. Sears to Parenting.com.
Rather than making you three-year-old feel forced to brush their teeth, “play copycat” and make it fun.
6 Holding Onto The Crib
Up there with potty-training, another thing you want to 100% be done with by the time your not-so-little one is three years old is having them continue to sleep in a crib.
Not only are they ready for either a toddler bed or a regular one but you also want to be transitioning them into their own room by this time if they’re not there yet.
Many parenting sites recommend keeping the little ones in the crib for as long as possible. But as Baby Sleep Site points out, “If the crib just isn’t working anymore, it may be time to make the switch. For instance, if your toddler is routinely climbing out of her crib, and you feel that her monkey-like antics are starting to become dangerous, consider switching her to a big bed.”
5 Bye-Bye Binky
Wait, if your child is almost three (or past that age) and is still very attached to their pacifier, don’t stop reading! As sore of a subject as this one is, it’s still an important one to cover. By now, all parents already know the importance of ditching the pacifier because of the problems it can cause to the child’s teeth.
That’s all fine and dandy but what do you do when it’s your child source of comfort and you just can’t bring yourself to take it away by force? It doesn’t have to be that hard.
Let your toddler decide they’re done with it using some creative techniques. Today.com outlined just some of the ways parents got rid of the pacifier for good but there are lots more ideas on the web:
- Send it on an airplane ride;
- Cut the tip off;
- Season it with something safe (no spicy sauce!);
- Just act oblivious (at its disappearance.)
4 And Nap!
Once again sorry not sorry but there’s a good chance you might need to drop the last and final nap by the time your rambunctious toddler is three years old. “About a quarter of kids stop napping altogether by the age of 3,” states BabyCenter.
As worrisome as that is, at a certain point, you’re simply going to have to stop trying to put them for a nap. If all it’s causing is a slew of unpleasant emotions and your little one not getting any shut-eye anyways, then you might as well just work on getting them to bed earlier for the night, as long as he gets 12 hours of sleep.
3 Dealing With Nighttime Wake-Ups
If you thought you were done getting woken up every night after the baby stage, think again. Whether you have transitioned your three-year-old out of the crib yet or not, there is something every parent deals with at some point or another: frequent nighttime wake-up.
As Child and Youth Health explains, it helps to figure out why your child is waking at night. Is it because they’re sick, feeling separation anxiety or are affected by changes in the family, such as moving houses?
Going in to briefly reassure them and then walking out is a solution, as is bringing them back to their room if they come to see you during the night.
However, if your child is three and has been waking up every night since they were babies and you’re still going to see them right away every time, then that’s something else entirely… If that’s the case, then you might want to try to give them enough time to go back to sleep on their own first.
2 Leaving Storytelling To Tomorrow
The importance of reading to children is highlighted in every parenting book, website and resource. But if you find yourself often telling your kids, “Mommy will read a book tomorrow,” then you might want to re-think your postponing actions.
Even reading for just 10 minutes can be beneficial enough! Aside from the fact that reading to children helps develop their language skills and spurs their thirst for knowledge and learning, there’s an even more important aspect of reading to three-year-olds.
As Bilingual Kid Spot explains, “A range of books teaches children about different topics.”
Late on potty-training? Get a book on it. Want to nix the pacifier? Get a book on it. Want to help your kid understand his emotions? Get a book!
1 Being Lazy On The Bedtime Routine
Up there with reading a book, every parent also always hears and reads about the importance of a good bedtime routine. And yet, too many well-intentioned parents let their kids stay up past 9 pm (sometimes even 10 or 11 pm!), only to still have them wake up early.
As we already covered, kids need at least 12 hours of sleep per night. Some naturally sleep only 11 hours but the importance of a good bedtime routine that allows kids to know they’re always going to be going to bed at the same time can’t be stated enough.
As A Mother Far From Home points out, “routine is very important” but so is the “wind down routine,” which can consist of a warm bath, reading books, turning the lights down low, etc. And no, the wind-down routine shouldn’t include watching another episode of Paw Patrol!