Dealing with a threenager

Three year olds can be brilliant fun, but they can also be – how can we put it – a handful. Sometimes it might feel as if the other parents of ‘threenagers’ are acing it, but if their social media feeds are a tumble of cherubic grins, #blessed baking sessions and play that’s boisterous – but not too boisterous – in a National Trust maintained woodland paradise, they’re only telling half the story.

Things known to enrage our own three year olds included:

  • Being told not to take their umbrella out on a blisteringly hot day. Then: carrying their umbrella on a blisteringly hot day.
  • One insisted that Hugo was pronounced ‘Hooger’. (If there is, in fact, a kid we haven’t yet met in Pre-school called Hooger, we have some apologies to make on this point.)
  • They got told off for hitting their baby sister with a plastic tractor.
  • Leanne didn’t know all the words to (a) the theme from Beauty and the Beast, (b) King Bee’s Back by Dope Demand or (c) Bananarama’s I Want You Back. I mean, call yourself a music lover?
  • They wanted to eat a soft boiled egg while lying prone on a cushion under the kitchen table.
  • They didn’t want to go to Pre-school. (A few hours later, with grim predictability, they didn’t want to leave Pre-school.)
  • On several outings Candice’s son announced (LOUDLY, of course) he’d rather go to the pub. (We’d all rather go to the pub, and not just for the sausages in our case.)

One of our parenting mottos is “There are no answers”, which applies pretty accurately to every stage of our journey so far, twinned with “This, too, shall pass”. Fortunately, however, we know many wise and wily parents and these are some of the tactics they and we have employed while weathering the storms of daily life with a threenager.

Make it a game or a competition.

This works better on some children than on others, but gamifying your day and awarding points for how quickly they can fetch their shoes or run upstairs for a bath can get things done. Sometimes, just shouting, “Ready, Steady, GO!” is enough to inspire them to action when a whole morning’s nagging hasn’t worked. Singing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ throughout is entirely optional.

Give yourself time

Allow extra enough extra time for it to be ludicrous whenever you possibly can. While you begin the longwinded process of dragging a child to something they actually really want to do (eg soft play) but you would, in fact, rather eat cat hair than contemplate, try not to think about how you once sailed out of the house in under five minutes pausing only to pick up your keys. Which were where you left them, and not baking along with a wooden cupcake in a toy oven.

Issue a shout warning

This was a tip from a very wise friend and we’ve found it hugely effective. Issue a shout warning: “I’ll ask you nicely one more time, and after that I’m afraid I’m going to shout.” It calms you down, and often has the desired effect. (If it doesn’t, at least some of the guilt for shouting is removed – they had due warning, after all.)

Time Out. For them and for you.

Self-explanatory, this one. We need it as much as they do. There are days any parent would pay good money to sit on a step in peace for two blissful minutes.


We have headed up tantrums about all sorts of things with distraction tactics. Suddenly looking at the window, gasping and shouting, “Was that an EAGLE?” works an absolute treat. And boredom is often at the root of a meltdown. That time Candice was at the doctor’s surgery and her son became enraged because he wasn’t allowed to drink the lovely juice (actually a urine sample) he’d spotted in his bag? She whipped out “Something beginning with” and the rest of the wait passed peacefully, the ‘juice’ forgotten.

Make up

Making up is crucial, and lovely.

Forgive yourself – you are not alone. We have certainly both been there. Keep a diary so that you can tell them all about the dramas one day, when they’re a real teenager and you’re nostalgic for the madness of today.