Mother and 3-year-old daughter laying on a bed, laughing and smiling.

Confessions from the Mom of a “Threenager”

As a mom, the most accurate statement about parenting I’ve heard is that once you finally feel like you’ve figured things out, everything changes.

While my husband and I have tried very hard to enjoy each phase with our daughter, it’s not always easy. Looking back, the sleepless infant days were probably the easiest for us. By one year, Cate finally started regularly sleeping through the night and eating solid foods, but that’s also when the tantrums began. The terrible twos lived up to the name; we started to overcome the communication hurdles, but she began to forcefully flex her independence at every opportunity. That was also the year she stopped napping at home (we both cried a lot that year). Now, we’ve made it to year three.

Life with a Threenager

By her third birthday, we were fully embedded in Cate’s “no” phase and were bracing ourselves for the infamous threenager year. I’m happy to report that we have been pleasantly surprised, though living with a threenager is a lot like riding a rollercoaster. Here is a glimpse into the highs and lows of our life with a 3-year-old:

  • It’s a struggle to get out the door on time in the morning because she wants to brush her teeth and put on her shoes by herself, but our conversations on the ride to school are so entertaining I sometimes think we could go viral.
  • She combats me every time I try to comb and pull her hair back, but I can’t help but smile when she insists on putting on her (play) makeup while I do mine.
  • Dinner time is a battle of the wills nearly every night, but then she’s very helpful clearing the table and loading the dishwasher. Hopefully her love of chores lasts a while!
  • She gets so frustrated trying to button her pajamas and refuses to let me or my husband help. But the smile that lights up her whole face when she finally gets one – usually in the wrong button-hole – is totally worth the 10-minute wait.    
  • She interrupts every conversation and asks about 500 questions throughout the day, but will then sit next to me on the couch, open a magazine from the coffee table and ask, “So, how was your meeting today, Mommy?” *heart melting*

My #1 Tip for Parents of Three-Year-Olds

One of the things I’ve found that has really helped avoid meltdowns and keep our daily routines moving forward is avoiding the word “no.” Don’t worry – we don’t just let our threenager run the house; instead, we try to give her options or an alternate solution.

For example, when she asks for a cookie right before dinner, the answer is obviously no. However, if I say “no,” there will be screaming, crying and other uncooperative behaviors. So instead, I say something like, “Sure, you can have a cookie, after you eat all of the vegetables on your plate.” This response is usually met with some resistance, so I quickly try to redirect her attention by suggesting she help me stir something or that we set the table together. Now, I’ve likely avoided an argument with my threenager, engaged her to help me in the kitchen, and set the stage for a good bribe (or, as we call it, “negotiating tactic”) following dinner.

Life with a threenager isn’t always easy, but for our family, it has been the most fun year yet. There are still unexpected mood swings and battles during dinnertime, bath time, bedtime (basically, all of the time), but it has been so much fun watching her become self-sufficient and grow into her personality.

Not quite to the threenager phase? Check out my post on life with a 2-year-old.