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. Sometimes you need some helpful parenting tips to get through these potentially tricky developmental stages. 

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 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 essential 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 activity and more likely to even look forward to it. A lack of routine can confuse and prevent your child from understanding why the task or activity is important at all. 

These reinforcements apply 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 example, the child won’t ever know what to expect and might keep testing for different, more lenient consequences. Maintaining a set routine for the consequences helps establish the proper boundaries and set limits for their continuing development.

2. Praise Effort

As with how you want praise for the effort you put forth in your career, with your partner, and other areas of your life, so do your child during their ongoing development. Keeping this in mind, you can help your child recognize their worth in the effort they put forth. 

Your child will occasionally slip up — after all, no child is perfect. Instead, it is better to praise effort than constantly focus on their negative actions. This positive reinforcement recognizes their 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

Maintaining a semblance of balance can help give your toddler the right amount of familiarity with their routine and give them space to push boundaries and explore their world. 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 and into the child they will become.

4. Set Expectations

It is, of course, important to set expectations. This helps your child know what is expected of them and what they can expect from you. Setting and managing expectations can help minimize some of the chaos that the Terrible Threes can bring.

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

Occasionally, we get wrapped up in our own world of email, social media, and professions. 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

Your child will not always 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. Showing them, they have different avenues to get their feelings out offers that they don’t have to bottle up their emotions for extended periods.

7. Use Feeling Words

Language plays a critical role in how children learn and interact with the world around them. Encouraging language development as a means of expressing their feelings, wants, and needs will help them be better communicators later in life. 

They feel 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

In some cases, empathy works best when you’re trying to get through to your toddler. Putting yourself in your child’s place can help you understand what they are processing and even 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

Spending time with your child seems like the hallmark of a good parent; however, spending too much time can have an adverse effect on child development in the long run. It looks 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 some free play to decompress after a lot of intensive activities. Pay attention to how they feel and act in between activities; it can be a helpful indicator in knowing it’s time for some needed downtime.

10. Teach Self-Regulation Tactics

When dealing with potential behavioral problems or when it seems like your child is about to throw a tantrum, sometimes telling them to stop won’t be enough. They’re at the stage where they will test limits and boundaries while having trouble keeping a handle on their emotions. In these cases, you need to take a different approach. 

Actions work better than words on 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 vital to preserving 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 vital to plan ahead with toys and snacks if you’re running errands and know they will be out around nap time or snack time and prepare your child for what’s going on throughout the day by talking about the next activity that arises.

13. Don’t Capitulate to Whining

Whining to get what they want can lead to later child behavior issues that will affect how they interact with their peers, adult authority figures like teachers, and more. What your kids learn during their Terrible Threes can extend well into their formative years. They’ll know 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. Finding different ways to get your kids interested and being active participants in chores can help provide them with the incentive they need to have fun doing it. 

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 for some instances. Make sure it is always in the same place, for an amount of time that is explained to them, for the reason that they understand. “Time out” itself doesn’t always have to be negative, and it 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.

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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