Heaven help us. They said the terrible two’s were hard, two year-old’s ain’t nothing compared to three year-olds. I think the only saving grace at this age is that they can actually climb on a chair and not take their lives into their hands (although its remarkable how they can still fall and find the only sharp corner left in your home…). Also you can turn your back occasionally to make supper or clean up a spill (choose your timing). And sometimes they even sit through an entire episode of Pocoyo. (Did you know you can “Pocoyize” yourself on their website and order a 3D plastic toy? That’s pretty cool.)
But, oh my WORD, can they ever be contrary. At this age a child is developing a sense of will and self. They want to do things themselves, and sometimes the clothes combinations are a little odd. but bravo mom for letting them try! I like to think that where a two year-old is testing the boundaries of new skills, a three-year old is testing the boundaries of his will, what can he actually do?
So how do you guide your little sucker through this stage? Here are some thoughts.
- Be consistent. Never, ever make a “threat” you don’t follow through with. (And from now on, this is a principle for all time!) We found that 1-2-3 magic worked really well. We heard those critics who said that they didn’t use 1-2-3 counts because they expected obedience the first time. Well that’s fine and good if your kid is a baby genius whose brain happens to work about ten times the speed of a regular mind, but for the average preschooler they can’t adjust their will that quickly. Remember, behaviour is only one piece of the equation, what you really want is for a child to choose the right behaviour, and for that they may need to get right up to the count of three before they choose rightly. And if they don’t, be consistent, there has to be a consequence.
- Don’t do time-outs. Ok this was life altering for us and perhaps it was more important because we were having trouble coming up with a strategy to correct behaviour in our foster son. But think about it, do we really want to isolate our kids when they do wrong? Do you realize how many rejection events they will experience in life? We need to teach them that there are consequences, certainly, and I’m sure at times it is appropriate to give them some space to think things through quietly, but time-outs were our go-to and they aren’t anymore. Now we do “time-ins”. We pull our son close and ask for “two hands and two eyes” and talk directly to him. If he struggles to pull away or refuses to make eye contact we always try playful interaction first. “Hey, let me see those beautiful brown eyes!” We tickle and hold close and try to get a giggle because once we have that, we have his heart again and we can correct the behaviour. If it sounds a bit fluffy, it did for me too at first, but I have to tell you since implementing this strategy we have reduced the kind of behaviour that would require a time-out by probably 80%. There are still times that need much more sternness, but they are far, far less.
- Rehearse phrases and practice “re-do’s.” One of our kids has trouble keeping his hands to himself. Often he is just excited and will whap you as he runs past, but this isn’t acceptable so we often say, “Are hands for helping or hurting?” You feel like a broken record, but we are training a little brain and guiding a little heart so repetition is the key. Also we practice re-do’s so when something has gone awry, like talking back or speaking rudely, or throwing something or slamming a door, then we ask for a re-do. Motor memories are very powerful so we need to help our kids do things properly in order for them to retain that information.
The key to kids at this age is to be on your game. Pick your battles carefully and give lots and lots of love. Prevention is pretty critical and the best prevention is playful interaction. Also cuddly tightly. You know how many babies respond to being swaddled tightly? That is actually something that communicates security and it works with older kids as well. So hold them tight, wrap them in a towel after bath time for a few minutes, these actions can actually help them to calm down internally. Try it the next time things are getting a little hairy. Learning to recognize the warning signs and intervening early is a key principle with this age group.
This isn’t a complete list so leave some comments or questions below. What has worked? What are you currently struggling with? Let’s help each other out!
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