Everyone knows the expression “Terrible Twos,” but I can’t figure out why there is not an expression about three year olds. My friend Marianne would call her daughter a “threenager” when she was three, which is a great way to put it! As so many people who had been there before us warned us: three is harder than two.
I had Hayden’s parent-teacher conference with his preschool teacher last week. She was going on and on about how he is the best boy in her class, he is so sweet, quiet, and smart. Her only complaint was that he was too quiet – she worried that he was not getting his fair share of attention or worse that he was setting himself up to be picked on when he’s in a bigger class because he is so gentle. She asked me if he was like this at home. I couldn’t think of enough different words for “No” to answer her question adequately.
Hayden has always been a sweet, gentle boy, but in this developmental cycle we call “being three years old” he is definitely exerting his independence, trying to see what he can get away with, finding things he can control, and figuring out how to deal with things that frustrate him they don’t go how he wants. And the outlet to most of his frustration is me. Daddy gets his fair share, too. And, bless her, one of our dogs Lucy probably gets the brunt of it. Lucy has been known to occasionally eat things she shouldn’t, from tissues to his toys, and lately he has it stuck in his mind that if she is around him she is going to do something bad, so he’s constantly trying to shove her out of the room he’s in, get her on the opposite side of a gate to him, get her outside, etc. And if he can’t do that he’ll throw a fit. Lucy has a lot of things coming to her, but these outbursts are usually unwarranted, so that is something we need to get through.
It’s not just Lucy who can get under his skin, though. The list of what can upset him is quite lengthy. Many times if I try to do something for him and Daddy is home then that will set him off because he doesn’t want me to do it, he wants Daddy to. (Luckily when Daddy is not around we don’t have this trouble, otherwise we’d never get anywhere!) “No not you do it, just Daddy do it.” I do have to try not to laugh sometimes because it is SO “three,” but John and I both have had several talks with him about how that is not nice and that hurts Mommy’s feelings, but empathy seems to be a tall order at this age.
I could give examples until I’m blue in the… fingers… but the bottom line is the boy wants what he wants when he wants it – at home anyway. You get him with someone who is not me, John, or Lucy and he is a little angel. I guess that is the right way around – I don’t want him acting that way to other people, and I think it also just shows how comfortable he is with us that he can be that way around us when he is so reserved around others. And he’s not testy all the time, just more than he used to be. He still has moments in the day when he’ll smile at me, give me a hug, and say “Moooommmmmy” in his special way, or come up and give me a kiss out of the blue. The key to managing his behavior seems to be to prepare him for what we are doing or what is expected of him; he behaves much better if he’s been told in advance that we won’t be doing X (say, going out to eat) unless he promises not to do Y (not get upset if some of his food falls on the floor) – this is usually very successful. Of course, many things that come up are unexpected, such is life, and we all just do the best we can (including him)!