What It’s Really Like to Have a Threenager
by chelsea foy
Four years ago tomorrow, my son Henry was born. He was our first, and as a first-time mom I welcomed him with stars in my eyes and wonder in my heart at the new little human that made us parents. Four years later, he’s a wild, wonderful, loving, funny kid, with a whole list of quirks all his own -- much like any other four year old. And as I sit here on the eve of his fourth birthday, I can’t help but look back on the last year and feel like I’ve earned a new parenting merit badge: Navigating Life with a Threenager.
When Henry turned two, everyone told me to watch out for those terrible twos. But truth be told, our twos weren’t terrible. They were just pretty standard, with a toddler who was learning about himself and the world around him. Nothing terrible about it. What I wish I would have been more prepared for, though, was the threenager that came next. Something happened around the time that he turned three that I was completely unprepared for. Suddenly his opinions were stronger, his feelings were bigger, the stakes were higher, and he decided that he was going to be more aggressive about testing boundaries. And oh, the tantrums.
This isn’t all to say that life with my threenager was all tears and tantrums. On the contrary, the ups and downs started coming fast and furious, and there were times when I could barely keep up with his changes in disposition. One minute he’s distraught over the fact that he couldn’t find his favorite Legos and the next he’s happy as a clam because he decided to color instead. And what I realized as I watched him try to navigate all of these feelings is that he just needed the tools to be able to do it better. I think that three year olds get the bad “threenager” rap because often there are lots of temper tantrums or behavioral issues that start to surface. But those tantrums aren’t just appearing out of nowhere -- they’re a result of a kiddo being in increasingly tough situations where they’re forced to navigate things like choices, challenges, social interactions, and more. And there’s no manual for them to figure out how to do it!
So I made a decision about my threenager. I decided not to muscle him through it with frustration and force, but to try to really empathize and help him build the tools to deal with feelings. So if Henry is angry because his toddler sister came and knocked over his Lego tower, we teach him that it’s okay to be angry. Or sad. Or frustrated. What’s not okay is hitting, throwing, or hurting others. We came up with a list of things that it is okay to do when you’re mad, and he is practicing trying things on that list when those feelings come up. It can be as simple as saying, “I’m really mad!” Or taking a few minutes alone to calm down. But those tools and lots of others are helping us see the light at the end of the threenager tunnel.
On the bright side of it all, having a three year old is also so cool. They become less like babies and more like kids, or even companions. I’ve had some of the most wonderful conversations with this kid, where he has opened my eyes to things about the world that I never considered. Kids are incredibly smart, funny, caring, and intuitive at this age, and it’s easy to miss all of that if you’re only focusing on the tough parts of a three year old.
At the end of the day, every age has its ups and downs. But there’s something magical and transformative about three year old stage that is simultaneously so challenging and so rewarding. So if you’re there, mama, hang on -- you and your kiddo are doing fine. And that Threenager merit badge is right around the corner.
Chelsea Foy is the maker, blogger, and adventurer behind Lovely Indeed, a blog about all of the little things that make life lovely. Known for its bright, fun, friendly style, Lovely Indeed has been featured on Better Homes & Gardens, HGTV, Huffington Post, Apartment Therapy, Martha Stewart, and many more. The Lovely Indeed Instagram feed has also been featured twice by Instagram as a feed to follow. Having resided for years in NYC, Chelsea now lives in her home state of California, where she spends her days painting things gold, oversharing, and generally making the world a lovelier place to be. When she's not making, she's off on an adventure with her favorite people: husband Ryan, and children Henry and Maggie.