Two year olds get a pretty bad rap.
They’re often portrayed as irrational little monsters who exist purely to make their parents’ lives hell.
Admittedly, there are quite a few things you’ll have to make peace with when you have a toddler, but they’re nowhere near as bad as people would have you believe.
From as soon as you pop out a baby, people start warning you about how difficult the terrible twos are. Many parents dread the ‘terrible twos’ only to discover that, actually, they really aren't that bad.
Two year olds simply don’t live up to the hype. Thank goodness. While they’re not easy, they’re certainly not the terrors you expect.
You put it down to good parenting, and assume you skipped the terrible part — thanks to your excellent parenting skills, of course. There’s really no need to be modest when you have single handedly avoided a developmental stage dreaded by many parents around the world.
What can you say? You’re just a damn good parent.
Then your child turns three, and all of a sudden you’re in the deep end. That sweet little two year old who (most of the time) could sit nicely in restaurants, understand ‘no’ and leave you feeling smug about your parenting ability? He or she has been abducted by aliens. In exchange, they've left you with a gremlin. Not all the time, of course, more of a Jekyll and Hyde scenario. Lovely and adorable one minute, terrifyingly awful the next. Whatever you do, don't feed them after midnight.
Welcome to the threenager phase, yet another phase amongst endless others.
Threenagers Vs Terrible Twos
Threenagers are so much harder than the so-called ‘terrible twos’, and here’s why:
#1: Threenagers Can (Enthusiastically) Tell You What’s Wrong
Three year olds are much better at communicating. Whereas with your two year old you were left guessing what could be the matter, a three year old can tell you in no uncertain times.
This sounds like it should be a good thing, surely? It must be easier to empathise with a child who can clearly communicate their problems? Well, yeah, except it’s usually nonsense. The toast is cut wrong, it’s the wrong cup, the weather is too sunny.
When your child can tell you all of the ridiculous things that give him rage, parenting is much harder.
#2: They Have Razor Sharp Tongues
Two year olds are pretty good at making you feel unloved. Don’t expect to get any kisses or cuddles when you’ve upset them.
Three year olds, on the other hand, take it to the next level. They will hurl insults at you during each and every tantrum.
Your three year old might tell you he never wants to see you ever again (because the sandwiches were cut into triangles instead of rectangles), shout at you to go away (because the cat is outside) or he might tell you he never wants another kiss (because grandma didn’t answer her phone when he rang).
Or, if he’s as creative as my own daughter, “I want to put you in a tiny box and lock you in the bathroom!” really loudly at 3am because he woke up needing a wee (sorry, neighbours).
#3: Threenagers Are Really Good At Making A Scene
Two year olds have the odd tantrum, sure. But two year olds are tiny and can’t really cause too much destruction. Fast forward a year, and your threenager has honed his scene-making skills to perfection.
Three year olds are really loud, especially when they’re shouting in public. They can reach higher shelves, allowing them to be really dramatic with the toilet rolls in the supermarket if you won’t buy the brand with their favourite character on the packaging. They’re also really fast runners, and love few things more than running away from you mid-tantrum. Urgh, the running away. All. The. Time.
#4: Threenagers Listen To Their Inner Demon
We all have an inner demon, that little voice that tells us to throw caution to the wind. Most of us, however, also have a voice of reason, explaining why we shouldn’t.
Three year olds are really good at selective hearing, and simply don’t listen to that voice of reason. Instead, they follow the orders of their inner demon.
Even when you’re right there, calmly explaining why they shouldn’t empty the tub of glitter all over the backseat of the car, they will choose to listen to the demon.
If you watch your three year old carefully, you can actually see the cogs turning at moments like this, “Mama says I shouldn’t, it will be messy. Buuut, I want to. I’ll do it anyway.”
#5:They’re Good Negotiators
Sometime around their third birthday, all three year olds are secretly enrolled in an advanced negotiation skills course. They all pass with flying colours, obviously, and then make your life hell. Everything is a negotiation.
Bedtime, of course, is the first thing to go. Now there are more stories that neeeed to be read, more cuddles to be had and thirsts to be quenched. Bedtime with a three year old is basically just you unashamedly begging them to go to sleep. Three year olds barter over what they will eat, how long they can play for and whether they will have a bath.
You’ll start wearing power suits in a desperate attempt to channel your inner Alicia Florrick so that you can win at least a few battles each day.
#6: Threenagers Know What They Want
And guess what? It’s not what you’re offering.
Three year olds know their own minds. They are strong willed, determined and not about to give up without a fight. Oh, and they always want the opposite of what you want them to want. You want him to eat salad for dinner? Guess what, he wants pasta pesto. You want him to wear wellies and a coat because it’s raining? Guess what, he wants to wear only underpants. You want him to be asleep because it’s only 5am? Guess what, he’s wide awake and jumping on your face.
#7: Threenagers Don’t Want Your Help
Ah, remember when your child was two? He would try and do something by himself, but if unsuccessful he would toddle over for your help? It was lovely watching him become more independent whilst also being reminded of how needed you were. Yeah, those days are gone.
Three year olds want to do everything by themselves, and they would rather die trying than let you help. There will be lots of things your child can’t do yet, like button up a jumper properly or tie his shoelaces, but you’ll be forced to standby and leave him to it. And don’t even think about correcting his mistakes.
#8: You’re More Sleep Deprived Than You Were A Year Ago
Your parenting style is 50% ideology, 50% sleep deprivation. Hopefully, your child might be waking up less frequently these days, so you may be managing to catch some uninterrupted hours of sleep.
But don’t get too attached to your bed, because he’ll be wide awake by about 5am. And no, he won’t play quietly in his room for a few hours before coming to find you. As soon as he opens his eyes, he’ll be slamming open your bedroom door, climbing on your tummy and demanding breakfast.
Good luck having a calm and effective day of parenting after that wake up call.
#9: Threenagers Are A Shock
You spent so long terrified of the ‘terrible twos’, you totally forgot to learn about three year olds.
You thought you’d escaped those infamous toddler struggles thanks to your amazing parenting skills (smug much?). You thought you’d aced it.
So, simply put, threenagers are difficult because you’re in shock. You simply weren’t expecting your little angel to hit the roof over anything as seemingly unimportant as the shape of pasta.
#10: You Expect More From Threenagers
One reason why threenagers seem more difficult than two year olds is that you have higher expectations these days. After all, you were expecting to have a hideously behaved and uncontrollable two year old, so the odd wobble never left you panicked. Two year olds are still so little, with their adorable chubby faces and baby features, and that adorable toddler, how could you stay mad at that?!
But three year olds are bigger. They’re small children rather than big babies. They can walk the walk and talk the talk.
Maybe part of the problem with threenagers, is that we forget how little they still are.