I have to say I have grown quite smitten with our new parenting contributor, Jessica. (It was the poop post that did it.) Her relatable (and somewhat sarcastic) wit is right up my alley and I’m pretty sure we’d be fast friends if we lived in the same city.
Today she’s tackling the misnomer that is “the terrible twos”. Asserting that it is, in fact, threes that deserve such a moniker.
What do you think? For our son it was 2 1/2 – 3 1/2, our daughter 3 1/2 – 4 1/2.
And while I can see the writing on the wall and definitely agree that baby M is probably going to be a whole lot sassier than his siblings ever were, thanks to their role modeling, I’m not so sure I agree with Jessica that girls are easier to reason with than boys.
No matter what age was the worst for you – or if you have girls, boys, or both – I guarantee this post will make you laugh, and shake your head, and roll your eyes in commissary!
The terrible twos were a breeze in our house. Seriously, is it just the perfect alliteration that makes it a saying? And can we blame the same genius who dreamed up the term “morning sickness,” when any woman who’s ever been sick for nine months straight can tell you otherwise?
In my experience, the trouble really started when our kids all turned three. Things that were cute and forgivable at age two lose their charm fast during the third year, which we’re currently living all over again. Our third kiddo is smack-dab in the middle of his terrible threes, and so far, he’s the most terrible of them all.
If you had asked me seven or eight months ago where exceptionally naughty children learn their bad behavior, I would have waxed on about parental modeling and treating your kids as you want them to treat others.
I probably would have mentioned tone – being careful about your own so it’s not thrown right back in your face with major attitude when you least expect it – and nipping bad behavior in the bud so it doesn’t escalate and become totally out of control.
Our son turned three six months ago and guess what, I have no idea what I’m talking about. For all our good-behavior-modeling and (mostly) respectful tones and (usually) swift approach to correcting bad behavior, this child is naughty.
Not all the time, but there’s enough sass and disobedience mixed up in this adorable and disarming little boy that we’re dealing with major attitude. Every. Single. Day.
Me: “No, Ben, no chocolate for breakfast. Sorry, kiddo.”
Him: Ear-splitting, unintelligible screaming followed by “You’re stupid!” as he runs away sobbing.
Me: “Cereal bars are not a good dinner. Eat what’s on your plate, bud.”
Him: “Oh yeah? I don’t care! I’m putting it in the gawbage!” as he marches to the trash can.
Me: “Benny, no bikes in the house, remember?”
Him: Dragging his tricycle in from the garage and muttering, “Oh my, you awe the biggest bwat. Why do I haff to do evwyfing.”
Me (talking to other moms at school): “Just a sec, Ben.”
Him: Yanks on my shirt and yells about the swings before slapping me on the thigh.
Me: “Ben! Stop shaking Emme’s jumper!”
Him: Shakes it harder and stares straight at me.
So, yeah, he’s a little charmer. He also says dammit all the time (gulp) and he’s not averse to threats, even though he really doesn’t get how those work – like threatening to pull the puppy’s tail if I don’t go play in his kitchen? Poor Marley!
He was the epicenter of a truly spectacular Target meltdown – my very first. I’ve been through two rounds of terrible threes before, but I was still totally defenseless when he freaked out over a $50 Minnie Mouse vacuum that I refused to buy.
I thought fast, mind racing through all the HuffPo parenting articles I’d ever read about quickly and easily neutralizing tantrums. I tried whispering – obviously that was stupid, there was no way he could hear me over his own howls. I tried kneeling down to hug him in an effort to show him I appreciated his feelings – he backed away, clutching his precious pink vacuum and screaming even louder.
I told him I was leaving, and that he needed to put the vacuum down and come with me. He totally called my bluff, planting his feet in grim determination. So I started walking away, slowly, down what turned out to the longest freaking aisle in the entire store, making “whose kid is that?” eyes at staring strangers and wondering what the hell I was going to do when I came to the end of the aisle.
Eventually, I ended up leaving my cart full of whatever, marching back to my screaming child, prying the vacuum away, stuffing him under one arm and hightailing it out of there a hot, sweaty mess. Character-building stuff.
I can appreciate that at three, his life experience is pretty limited. He doesn’t have the capacity to deal with disappointment right now – I get it. And he’s kind of trying.
Like he knows he’s supposed to say please, so now we have to work on his delivery. Call me picky, but screaming it at me like it’s an order – “Pweeease! Pwease! Pwease! Mom! I said pwease, now give me chocolate!” – isn’t quite right.
Maybe I’m just blocking it all out, but I can’t remember our other two acting like this. I know I traded stories about the terrible threes with friends, but it was nothing like this. And that makes sense, actually.
Our oldest son had no competition and two parents who had all the time in the world to be patient and defuse tantrums before they really got going. Our oldest daughter, being a girl, responded well to reasoning, so we relied heavily on that.
And then along comes Ben, into a life and a home with two older siblings, where sharing is basically mandatory. Turns out, he is modeling behavior – and it’s not just his parents’.
Nope, he learned to call me stupid because he’s heard his sister use that lovely term before. And he picked up “I don’t care” from his worldly almost-eight year old brother. It’s been a lesson for the both of them, actually, when their belligerent little brother dishes out the attitude and they look to us for a response.
Half the time, my husband and I are staring at each other, big-eyed at this pint-sized display of naughtiness and hiding our laughter and our hysterical whispers to each other –“I can’t even… he is so bad” – because the whole performance is so outrageous.
But we do hide it, because I want to avoid any self-fulfilling prophecy of Benny knowing he’s the naughty one and living up to it.
So we do what we’ve always done – treat him as we want to be treated. Mind our tone of voice. Call him out when he acts like a jerk. And even though it’s probably a waste of time at this point, we still take the time to explain why his behavior is inappropriate.
Is this the right approach? I have no idea. Like I said, I have no idea what I’m doing. But I do know that he won’t be three forever. And one day, he’ll be equal parts abashed and amused when I tell him what a little punk he used to be.
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