Sunday, 1 March 2015

The light at the end of the terrible threes tunnel

Hello again people, I'm back again, less than 12 months after my last post, so this has to be a good sign for me right?

So for anyone who has kids, you'll know what the phrase terrible threes means. It's that horrible 12 months where your child has a birthday and then all of a sudden turns into the spawn of Satan.

Ok saying all of a sudden isn't entirely accurate, the terrible threes more sneaks up on you. At first the temper tantrums your newly aged up child displays seem fairly similar to the ones you saw when they were two. Hopefully you've even gotten to the point where you recognise the first signs of a temper tantrum giving you a bit of an edge when it comes to diffusing a bad situation. However very slowly the three year old tantrum sneaks its way into your life. And this one is nothing like a two year old tantrum.

Image courtesy of
Pictured: a typical three year old temper tantrum

For one the intensity and duration of a three year old temper tantrum can be more than twice of that of a two year old. The child is just that little bit older, with just that little bit more stamina, and they use this to their advantage. They also get that rage strength that makes drunk angry people so scary, so fighting them is like wrestling with a live crocodile. But the worst thing about a three year old temper tantrum is that you can never guess what is going to set them off. It could be because you've asked them to pick up their blocks, or put on their pants, but it could be because their favourite pyjamas are in the wash and every other night time outfit you've bought them is boring. (I get the complaint that everything is boring a lot.) 

The first time you see a real three year old temper tantrum you're so caught off guard you end up giving in to your darling child just to get the screaming to stop, and hopefully save your glasses from shattering with the noise. The second time it happens, you're slightly more prepared and you try to reason with your kid. But your kid is even more prepared than you are, and now knows that you will give up eventually. This knowledge gives them the strength to out-scream you for the next thirty minutes, because they know that eventually you will break. The third time your kid throws a tantrum, you're so shell-shocked from the first two it takes all your strength to not pack your bags and run away to the circus. 

This is the point where all your helpful friends and family decide to chime in with "I told you three year olds were worse than two year olds last year..." and you'll smile grimly all the time punching them in their smug faces silently in your head while you try to wrestle your darling child out the door. You will start to read parenting advice blogs desperately trying to find the right advice to turn your newly minted devil back into the darling child they were yesterday. You'll try the naughty corner, you'll try reward systems, you'll try reverse psychology, you'll try walking away. You will curse Super Nanny each and every time one of her methods fails miserably. You'll start collecting brochures for military school just in case this isn't just the terrible threes and things get desperate. Your Google search history will become incredibly bizarre as you try to figure out if the latest tantrum is a sign you need to contact a priest, or just limit the amount of yellow food dye you're feeding your kid. You'll start looking forward to bed time more than ever because while they're asleep they look more like that beautiful child you have been raising all this time than during the day.

Life will become a mine field, and you're the brave soldier tip-toeing through it trying to figure out which patches of ground aren't going to cause a major explosion. And to make things harder, the temper tantrums aren't constant. (I know what you're thinking, how can only occasional tantrums be better than constant ones?) It's because when things start looking normal again you let your guard down. You enjoy having your sweet loving child back and begin to forget the monster that hides under their skin. You'll even bend the rules more than you would before, just because it is such a relief to have your obedient, helpful child back. But they are expecting this, and this is when they strike again. The tantrums come in waves, and the space between them can be as little as a week or as much as a month. But you never know which one it's going to be until it's too late and you're scrambling for a safety helmet in the middle of a toy storm. (trust me books hurt when being hurled by a three year old)

But one day a miracle happens. You ask your child to do something that on any other day would result in a meltdown of epic proportions, but instead of screaming and crying and telling you they don't love you anymore, they just agree to do what they are told, and wander off happily. You will nearly pass out from the shock of it all, but you don't mention it to them because you don't want to remind them they have the power to refuse this. But it happens again, and again and again. That's when you realise you've left the terrible threes behind, and you are now the parent of a beautiful four year old. That is one of the best feelings a parent can experience. 

Now I'm still the parent of a three year old for another month, and given that Miss K has always been up to 6 months behind most children her age developmentally, I don't know if that means I get an extra 6 months of terrible threes behaviour or not, (lucky me.) But I will tell you that as recently as two weeks ago, I finally managed to get her to start dressing herself, and this week she ate a slice of apple for me, something I have never been able to get her to do before. As a battle weary mum, I am happy to take both of these things as a major victory and not question things much further than that.


  1. Day by day you'll make it momma!

    The picture of the three year old tantrum is quite accurate 😉

    1. Thank you. Even Miss K agreed that it was a picture of her. Luckily she's so gosh darn cute she gets away with being a hellion.

  2. Looks like you're about to make it out of the storm. You can forever say that you are a proud survivor of the terrible threes!

    1. That's what I'm hoping for. Now all I need to know is when do I receive my medal??

    2. I remember them well. With my eldest son I avoided leaving the house for about 6 months with the reasoning that if I didn't like him very much then it wasn't fair to inflict him on anyone else! Fortunately the DO grow out of it and you are so nearly there.

    3. Thank you Sarah, that makes me feel better.

  3. We didn't have many tantrums, fortunately. He did drive me nuts by not sleeping though. Not at night, not at nap time. He'd come out of his bed to see what I was doing ALL THE TIME. I desperately needed me-time.

    One particularly annoying day I said "OK, scr** your nap, put your shoes on"
    His eyes got wide, so did his smile. I buckled his car seat, and he got excited.
    "Where are we going, Mommy?"
    "To the psychiatric hospital - that's a place where mothers go once they can't take it anymore because they are just too exhausted. There they get to sleep, read, write, paint, and somebody else is making lunch and dinner and doing laundry."
    "Can kids come, too?"
    "Nope, but they get to visit on weekends - will you be coming and visiting me?"
    While we were driving and talking about who might be looking after him while I was gone, he dozed off (naturally...)
    We ended up taking a nice walk, meeting a couple of donkeys and sheep, having some ice cream, and in the evening he told his Dad that Mommy took him to a fun place but he still didn't want her to go there so he would try and stay in his room during nap time.
    True story of a desperate and sleep deprived Mom.

    1. That is genius. And instead of sitting at home fighting with your son, you both got to go out and have fun together, and you remember it as a good day instead of a bad one.

      I remember when I used to take Miss K up to Melbourne to visit her dad and Nonna, the only way we could get her to sleep ever was to drive around the suburbs at night. Sometimes we'd take a ten minute drive, sometimes it would take up to an hour.

    2. See I refused to drive for an hour every time I wanted him to fall asleep. Plus I was tired myself all the time. Not a good condition to get behind the steering wheel.


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