I have always heard of the terrible twos and so I prepared myself. The twos came and went and we didn’t really have any issues. I patted myself on the back thinking I must have been doing all the right parenting things that I read about or we just lucked out and got an easy to manage child – this parenting thing was easy I thought at the time. Then Ella turned three. I recall clearly how quickly things changed. It was like she turned into another child. Small things like what she was going to wear, when she was going to bed, what she was going to eat, when she was going to go potty etc. now became a “discussion” and sometimes a battle of the wills. What happened to my agreeable and compliant child? It was too good to be true I guess.
Then one of my regular parenting e-mails that I subscribe to popped up with a heading “Terrible Threes” – never heard of it before but boy were they right! It was time for her to exert her independence. At first I just tried what I had done successfully for two years which was just nicely tell her what I wanted her to do and expect her to do it. Of course this didn’t work so I struggled to change my style. I often became frustrated when things didn’t go as I expected (funny how looking back I was doing exactly what Ella was doing by trying to push my way on her!).
So I tried a few different things, talking in a rationale voice and trying to logic with her – yes I am trying to logic with my three year old. When she was in the right mood, this seemed to work but if something was off, this did not help as she just wasn’t interested in listening to anything I had to say. Then I tried to give her space and time to get over her emotions by explaining that I would talk to her when she was calm and then ignore her so she had time to get over her tantrum or frustration. I would then come back and try to talk to her again. Although many articles said that this technique would work, I didn’t find much success with it since she got more frustrated that I wasn’t paying any attention to her (did I mention her astrological sign is Leo?). I had some friends who used time outs with their child and although I really didn’t give this technique a good try, for me it seemed that this was a further extreme to the previous method of just ignoring her/giving her space which didn’t work for me.
After several weeks of failed attempts and work being busy and stressful on top of this all, I started to lose my cool. When she got upset and started yelling, I yelled back. I thought this might startle her since this is something she hadn’t seen me do and I was hoping might work. Of course it didn’t but in the short little moment when I was going through this, it was at least a little release for me to get my frustration out. Not very parent like so of course I abandoned this method after a few days even though it was hard after a long day’s work to try to keep my cool.
Then we went back to basics. I tried to figure out what has changed other than her age of course. We were more readily giving her treats after dinner (she loves chocolate), having her go to bed later as I wanted to have time with her since I work late and we don’t get home to close to 7pm nightly. Seems so obvious now but at the time I didn’t realize I was contributing to the problem. A child on a sugar rush (and then downer) who is over tired – no wonder she was more prone to becoming upset or having tantrums! So we cut out the sugar completely (something we were so careful about her first two years) and put her to bed at a reasonable time again. Almost instantly this drastically cut down the tantrums right away. We were left with about a once a week battle of the wills as she was still three, independent and had her own opinion about what she wanted.
Once we drastically reduced the tantrums, I remembered something one of her pre-school teachers told me about – the concept of taking turns instead of sharing. It was based on the premise that every child (and person) is not naturally wired to want to share with others and that they are only ready to pass along the toy when they are fully done playing with it. How does this relate to tantrums? I tried to use the same concept of being able to give her control over her choices when she didn’t feel she got her way. We started to discuss how “everyone has their choice”. It took a bit of work to get her to understand this since she always wanted to make her choice and then make yours for you as well. She couldn’t completely understand or maybe she chose not to understand that she didn’t get to choose for others, only for herself. We have now been trying this for almost three weeks now and it’s really starting to work. Her tantrums have pretty much become non-existent. Does she still get frustrated – yes, but who doesn’t and at least it doesn’t get blown up into a full uncontrollable tantrum. Other than one small hiccup last weekend (which I think had to do more with lack of sleep or one of the other triggers), we’ve had great success with this choices method. Some of this might be because she’s maturing as well since she’ll be turning four in a few months but whatever the reason until there’s a reason why I should stop, I am keeping it up.
If you’ve had any other stories or tips to share, comment below! At the very least it’s therapeutic to share the parenting frustrations and challenges.