As Spartacus approaches his fourth birthday, he is more and more his own person and less and less an extension of Hubster and me. This is bittersweet, but also the whole point of parenting, to raise our children to be successful compassionate citizens and witnesses in the bigger world, independent of us.
We’re also reaching the point that we need to be much more intentional with our parenting; not that we weren’t before, but as he remembers things and repeats things he hears, our actions and words make a more lasting impact on him and his behaviors.
We’ve found the “Three-nager” stage to be far more difficult than the alleged “Terrible Twos.” At three he is much more susceptible to what other kids say and do than he was at two. Three-year-olds default to phrases like, “You’re not my best friend!” and whining, so much whining.
Dr. Spock describes this phenomenon for Twos: “Two-year-olds live in contradictions. They are both independent and dependent, loving and hateful, generous and selfish, mature and infantile…But negativism reaches new heights and takes new forms after two. One-year-old Petunia contradicts her parents. Two-and-a-half-year-old Petunia even contradicts herself.”
Allegedly the three-year-old becomes less rebellious according to Dr. Spock, but this is not our experience in the life of Spartacus. So we’ve had to find some tricks to get everyone through until bedtime.
Spartacus’s memory is now a sponge. For example, we watched the Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie once, a few weeks ago, but he’s been saying, “Tra-la-laaaa — It’s time to fly again!” daily ever since.
We had to ban the kiddie superhero show PJ Masks in our house after watching all of four episodes: the Super Cat Jumps! had him launching himself off furniture and Super Cat Punch! resulted in him hitting us, Annabelle, or the wall (followed by, “Owwww — I need an ice pack!”), and panic and tears when we tried to turn it off. This banning brought us a new parenting line I borrowed from a mommy blog: “We don’t watch/do things that make us cry.” This line has cut back tantrums when he can’t do something he wants (“But WHHHYYYY.” “You know why.” “*Sniff* Because we don’t do things that make us cry?”).
At two, kisses made owies better. At three, no longer: we now need band-aids and ice packs for EVERY hypochondriac bump and scrape. This is his favorite ice pack, in case we frequent your house and you need to stock up.
We had some tricks that worked at two that don’t work at three. One of my church/neighbors taught us the reverse psychology response she used with her granddaughter. When Spartacus used to tell us no, we would mimic back, “Spartacus says, ‘No!’ but Mommy says, ‘Yes!'” He then would say, “Yes!” with us, then do as we asked.
|Spartacus in May 2017 and April 2018|
No more. Now he says no, and when we try the “But Mommy says –” he responds with, “But I don’t want to do that right now.” Or “But I can’t.” Or, “But I need help.” Or our favorite [not]: “We don’t say no to little boys!” <== This response earned him two days without ANY TV. We told him he was grounded.
At three, he became magically more helpless than he was at two.
There are lot of things he supposedly needs help with at home that I know he used to do by himself, and certainly does alone at school. At home, he needs help washing his hands, putting food on a fork, and putting on shoes.
With eleven other kids in his class, I know they don’t have time to help him with these things all the time at school. Half the time we pick him up he has shoes on the wrong feet, so that definitely indicates autonomy. At home, we’re stuck trying to convince him he can do something by himself, or just caving because we actually don’t have 45 minutes to watch him avoid not putting on his shoes.
At the bike-a-thon at school this spring he totally biked by himself. His teacher sent me a picture, and he got a certificate for doing nine whole laps. At home he somehow forgets where the pedals are.
Spartacus used to be a great eater too, but after his third birthday he needed to assert his independence at the risk of not eating things he used to love. We’ll put a plate in front of him filled with favorites, and suddenly he doesn’t like pizza, hamburgers, or green beans.
Lately he’s been sitting down to dinner, drinking his milk, then asking to be excused without eating anything. Cue my amazing mother-in-law who introduced our most recent parenting hack:
“How old will be at your birthday?”
“Then you can eat FOUR BITES!”
He then eats four bites (we have to count), but usually he forgets and keeps eating afterwards because hello, food tastes good.
For the whining, we’ve developed an auto-response conversation:
“But mooommmeeeee I want CHOCKLIT MILK.”
“Are you whining?”
“Do I like whining?”
“Are you going to stop?”
“Can you try again?”
“Mommy…can I have some chocklit milk puh-lease?”
When he demands anything, my auto-response is, “Try again.” I’ll keep unemotionally saying it until he asks politely, so now it’s also routine.
“Get me chocklit milk!”
“I need chocklit milk!”
“I need chocklit milk PLEASE!”
“Mommy, can I please have some chocklit milk?”
The key to Three is the art of distraction! It really is a super fun age. He’s also starting to try to teach us things – like how to roll your tongue:
*This post is a totally unscientific survey based on our own observations; your own experiences and child responses may vary widely…
We adore parenting, most of the time. He still naps and is super cuddly after waking up, so we grab onto those moments as often as we can get them, because they won’t last much longer. He loves reading and learning and playing and singing and life. It is so fun.
We’re working on learning to do chores, and consequences for bad behavior — but I’ll leave those analyses for a future post!
Have any secrets for parenting three-year-olds? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear them! Little Miss is barely one and she’s already a COMPLETELY different kid than Spartacus, so I know we’ll need new rules for her.