How to Survive with a Threenager in Your Home
Lately our home has been filled with emotions. Big, loud, strong, exploding emotions. Why, you ask? Because we have a Threenager. We used to be in the “Terrible Twos” stage but we decided to upgrade that package. Well, let me tell you the value of this bundle! It comes complete with a variety of overreacting, so much energy that it could produce enough joules to power your coffee maker, and an overload of sweetness that will flood your heart for years to come. Now, I will say, that our “Terrible Twos” package was short lived. Since we didn’t have that party pack with child number one (by the grace of God), we didn’t even know we had that package to begin with on the second go-around. We didn’t recognize it until we started to see the lights flicker with multiple fits. But once we did, we did what we could to manage it. We have carried some of those strategies over to the threenager package as well. Aside from constant prayer and coffee on an IV drip, here are five simple ways we are surviving:
For some reason, both of our children practically came out of the womb talking. Ok, maybe not quite that early, but they both started speaking at seven months old and haven’t stopped since. I’m talking whole, eight to nine word sentences before they were one and a half. They may not have been able to go down a slide by themselves until well after most of their friends, but they’re your go-to Scrabble partner. Some might think it’s because I’m a language teacher, some might attribute it to our use of baby sign language, and some might think it’s because I, their mother, have so many words to say all. the. time. Either way, the vocabulary ability is there. We thought, let’s work with what we’ve got. Being a speaker and lover of languages, I’m constantly advocating for communication. It is a foundational layer of great relationships. I think that sometimes, we grownups, think little ones don’t have the ability to or don’t want to communicate. However, even babies can communicate needs. It’s fascinating to see communication in its different forms and how it develops at different stages. As a teacher I try to give my students, as well as my own children, as many tools as I can. Some of the most helpful tools so far have been words. You may not realize it, but kids are constantly storing language. This doesn’t mean they’re using every word they hear, but they are getting input. If I can help my kids use certain words or phrases in certain situations, it could reduce the volatility of a situation drastically. Sometimes I hear only growling and screaming from my very verbal three year old. When I ask him what’s wrong, he might eventually tell me about a certain toy that’s broken or something he can’t reach. I try to replace his frustrating grunts with a phrase he can use to ask for help, like, “Mom, can you please get my Batman costume off the top of the dryer?” Or maybe even as simple as “help, please.”Even though he is able to talk well, he doesn’t always choose to. This is a helpful reminder when the part of his brain that controls language is out to lunch...or Batman-shaped graham crackers...
2. Name that Emotion
While we are down the rabbit hole of words, I thought I might toss in feelings as well. I feel like survival is where most of us parents live. Eyeballs and nostrils above water survival. Maybe putting out the fires of why your child hates the blue sippy cup and not the purple one is key to your sanity most days. But what if I told you there was more? For the past year I have spent quite a bit of time giving my son as many names as I thought he could handle for all of those big feelings he has. I want him to not only be able to tell me how and why he feels a certain way, but also to give him back some control. Have you ever been so angry or upset you couldn’t think straight? Maybe? Definitely? And we are grownups! I imagine it’s even more frustrating for a small child to try and figure out what to do with all of that. I would ask him when he would scream and throw a shoe, “are you frustrated? Frustrated that your shoe won’t go on? That is really frustrating, I know. Do you feel frustrated?” I would do this with whatever emotion I thought he might be experiencing at the time and try to be consistent with letting him tell me yes or no, and trying to help figure it out. We started off with frustrated, mad, upset, excited, and happy. Not only would I use the repetition with him, but I would also try and offer some solution. Not just to solve the problem of the shoe, but to add some sort of explanation after figuring out those feelings and words. “Are you frustrated? Ask mom for help. Say ‘mom, can you please help me fix my shoe?’” This cut down on a lot of tiny explosions. He had words, feelings, and a way to ask for help to solve it. I recently found the feelings cards that you see in the picture in the Target dollar bin and thought I’d see if he liked them. I wasn’t expecting Christmas morning reactions or anything. Surprisingly, he was super into these. We had a conversation at bedtime the other night and I mentioned I was proud of him for being so kind to his sister. He replied excitedly with, “I need my ‘proud’ card!!” And I will acknowledge that there are days when, clearly, the blue sippy cup was the way to go and not the purple one. I will not feign any rational thoughts on that. I will also add that I employed every Daniel Tiger song that fit the bill for whatever the situation, and still do. That cat makes it so simple. I’m convinced that show is just as much for parents as it is for kids. I certainly feel more centered after watching it.
3. How to Calm Down
Do you have one of those phrases that make your eye twitch when people say it to you? Or worse, it adds gasoline to an already Burning-Man-sized raging fire? For me, it’s ‘calm down’. I can’t stand it. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Or toothpicks under nails on a chalkboard. So when these words started to come out of my mouth to my tiny human, barely able to control most aspects of his world, I thought, I have to teach him how to do that. Then I thought, oh, sugar...how do I do that? Then I had to think about how I, myself, calm down.
One of the mentalities we have recently been trying to instill in our students at school is mindfulness. We want them to focus and be aware of certain things, and in doing so, more deliberate in their thoughts and actions. This year we have taught them something called ‘take five’, where you open one hand and trace each finger with the pointer finger of your other hand, rhythmically breathing in and out slowly. I thought I might try this out with my three year old. What could go wrong? For my son, I started with just breathing. When he seemed to be spinning out of control I would sit with him, hold his hands if he’d let me, and ask him to take a deep breath. I would breathe with him, slowly so he would see the pace. Eventually he would give it a try. Then I asked him to count to five with me. He would spit those numbers out faster than you can say ‘is it naptime yet?’ with globular crocodile tears rolling down his cheeks. I would tell him to count with me as I dragged out each number…”Oooooooooooone, twoooooooooo…” until we got to five. Sometimes we would do that a few times. Once he was calm I would ask how he felt, what was wrong, and if I could help. Or, if his emotions had gotten the better of him and he’d gotten himself in trouble with the follow-up actions, we would talk about that. We talk about how it’s ok to feel angry or sad, but not ok to hit your sister or throw the toy across the room. You can feel all the feels but you can’t Hulk Smash everything. We have done this enough times now that he has started to do these things on his own or ask me to sit with him and help him calm down. I’ll take that any day over screaming and throwing.
I can link a fair share of these events to rest. I try hard to help my kids get the rest they need. There is a great deal of research about how crucial sleep is for the child’s brain, growth, and development, as well as there is for how much sleep grownups need. That doesn’t mean that life is perfect and he always gets 11-12 hours of sleep a night and a two hour nap during the day. Life gets crazy during the week. Sometimes I am soloing bedtime and they go to bed later than they should. Sometimes there’s an important family event and we skip the nap. Sometimes he flat out refuses to take a nap. Whatever the bend in the routine, I take it into consideration later when that lack of sleep manifests into something else.
I can see a recognizable difference in each of my kids when they’ve had adequate rest and when they haven’t had it. That being said, I know that I need to get enough rest as well. I’m able to think much more clearly and am a much more patient and pleasant person when I have had the sleep I need.
Some days you win some, some days you lose some...or several. Hang in there. We are learning new things about our children and ourselves every single day. Sadly, they did not come with any set of instructions. Give yourself grace in the toughest moments when you feel like you are losing the battle. Your kids need to see that you are not perfect and also that you don’t tear yourself down because of it. Sometimes my kids and I are learning together, and that’s ok. There will be days when there are small victories and he asks for help to get his shoe on! There will be days when so many things go right. There will also be days when you have done all the things you think work best for your tiny human and absolutely nothing works. Sometimes they just have to cry about the wrong sippy cup...or the broken goldfish...or the sandwich that was cut one too many times. It’s ok. Deep breath, Mama. This, too, shall pass. Give yourself the daily dose of grace that you need and extend some to them as well. To you that shattered goldfish cracker might seem silly but to them it’s an attack on humanity as we know it.
I think each stage with our kids comes with ups, downs, struggles, tears, laughter, and joy. Take the bad with the good and choose to focus on the joy. Let those sweet sparks fill your soul at the end of the day. After all, you have to do it all over again tomorrow!
Do you have any strategies that have been helpful for you and your little ones? I’d love to hear! Comment and share below!