15 Tips to Survive the Terrible Threes

April 10, 2019

It’s a surprisingly pleasant morning, and everything is going smoothly. But just as you think to yourself how impressed you are with your toddler and your parenting skills, you see a tantrum brewing and can only wait for the impending fit. The terrible threes are a frustrating reality for many children, and unfortunately it’s just a phase some kids go through. Being a toddler is inherently a highly developmental stage, and one that comes with balancing a lot of emotions without many of the tools they will learn later. Read on for fifteen tips to help foster a relationship of mutual respect and to prepare your child for future stages in life.

1. Routine.

Routine is key for helping your child to accomplish day-to-day tasks. Once it becomes an ingrained part of their day, they are less likely to question the task or activity and more likely to even look forward to it. A lack of routine can cause confusion and prevent your child from understanding why the task or activity is important at all. This applies to consequences, as well. If not picking up their books results in taking away a toy in one instance, a lost snack in another, and nothing at all in a final instance, the child won’t ever know what to expect and might keep testing for different, more lenient consequences.

2. Praise effort.

There will be slip ups — no child is perfect! Rather, it is better to praise effort than constantly focus on their negative actions. This reinforces good behavior, and makes them strive for the rewards you give through praise rather than the possible desire to act out even more in reaction to yelling or punishment.

3. Keep the balance.

Because being a toddler is such a transitional period, it’s good to remember that your child will want the best of both worlds. Sometimes they will want the independence that childhood brings, and other times they will want babying and to be as close as possible. Both are fine, and embracing the variety of emotions allows your child to process these new feelings in conjunction with the ones they are slowly growing out of.

4. Set expectations.

It is of course important to set expectations. Talk through a scenario with your child — if you can’t share your toy with Nancy, you won’t be able to play with it at all. It is also helpful to talk through with your child why they are feeling how they’re feeling, and how that can affect others.

5. They want attention.

Sometimes we get wrapped up in our own world of email and social media and professions and it can be hard to realize that although your child can play independently now, they still need some good old-fashioned attention. Block out small chunks of time throughout the day to put away the phone and show your child how much you care about them with undivided focus.

6. Use creativity.

Sometimes your child will not be able to express the emotion they are experiencing, and that will be frustrating, even if it’s just boredom. Try having them draw their emotions, act out their feelings with some of their toys, or even build a tower of blocks just to destroy it and get some frustration out — and because it’s fun.

7. Use feeling words.

Because they are feeling so many things without a foolproof way to explain them, it can help to use feeling words with your child to help label. By saying, “I understand that you’re feeling tired because we have been running errands,” they will be able to put a finger on what is upsetting them.

8. Identify with your child.

Sometimes empathy works best. Putting yourself in your child’s place can help you to understand what they are processing, and even with what kind of tools they need to deal with it. It will make your child feel validated and respected, which will lead to a more emotionally competent kid down the road.

9. Give them time to unwind.

It seems like a good idea to have constant activities and extracurriculars planned to keep your child stimulated and tire them out for the day, but kids need downtime too. Make sure to schedule in some free play to decompress after a lot of intensive activities.

10. Teach self regulation tactics.

Actions work better than words in some occasions. Teach your child to cope with feelings that build up to a tantrum by taking deep breaths, counting to ten, or taking in the environment around them. Lead by example, too — if you feel yourself getting frustrated by something that comes up, take the time to show your child what you do to calm down.

11. Take care of yourself.

It is important to preserve your own mental wellbeing throughout all of this, too! You can’t keep others calm and in line if you constantly feel frazzled and stressed yourself. Whether it’s during a nap, while they’re at daycare, or after you’ve put them to bed, try to schedule in some time to check in with yourself and relax your mind.

12. Use prevention techniques.

The best defense is a good offense. If your child loves to clean out the cupboard while you’re cooking, try childproof locks. Prevention is key, and means one less time you reprimand for unacceptable behavior. It’s also key to plan ahead with toys and snacks if you’re running errands and know they will be out around naptime or snacktime, and to prepare your child for what’s going on throughout the day by talking about the next activity as it arises.

13. Don’t capitulate to whining.

They’ll learn what buttons to push because they are in such a malleable stage.

14. Turn chores into playtime.

This can be easier said than done, but it’s all in the framing. Depending on how your child is feeling that day it can be helpful to show them that sweeping or putting away books is “something that only big kids do, but they can try it,” or turning it into a game.
Either way, make it a time that you spend together bonding and it can be enjoyable for both of you.

15. Time out.

Time out is just necessary in some instances. Make sure it is always in the same place, for an amount of time that is explained to them, for a reason that they understand. “Time out” itself doesn’t always have to be negative. It’s is a time for them to take a moment and think about what caused this consequence, and what they could have done differently. Although it can be upsetting for both of you, hopefully after the time out is over you have both had time for a breather and can come together to discuss the incident and hug it out.

And there’s the fifteen that we have to offer! Have you tried any of these tricks? Is there something not on this list that works best for you? Let us know in the comments!

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