What felt like a pretty perfect morning outing with my 3-year-old and 4-month-old, quickly turned ugly when my toddler decided that he did not want to leave the indoor playground and had a meltdown to end all meltdowns. I’m talking about the the scene where the poor Mom is dragging her 30+ pound screaming child out of the facility with a 12+ pound crying infant strapped to her chest. Oh yeah, and she’s also carrying a backpack, her toddler’s shoes, and fumbling with car keys–while swallowing back tears. It was bad.
Although yesterday’s tantrum was awful, sadly it was not the first of its kind. We have DAILY battles that result in whining or a full-blown stand-off. It’s exhausting. My 3-year-old has been “expressing himself” in the form of a meltdown for over a year and a half. That’s right, “terrible twos” started BEFORE he actually turned 2, and only escalated to new levels of fun as he approached 3. When he was 2, his tantrums were isolated to specific happenings. I knew what would make him upset, and I tried to prevent such things. He did not have words, which made things tough. He seemed frustrated, and withdrawn at times. Now, at 3, he is exploding with words–which can help the situation OR assist him in being manipulative and/or hurtful. I never know what’s going to make him blow up. He is extremely sensitive and particular, with teenage-like mood swings (hello, Three-nager!) which is normal for his age according to resources like ZeroToThree.org, and Happiest Toddler On The Block (a MUST read!!).
How long do we have to continue to walk on eggshells? How much do we let him get away with when “choosing battles”? When will this stage END?
These are all questions I have been asking my wise Mommy Friends and Google. What I keep reading is that 3-year-olds, while fun, imaginative, and full of wonder, have an incessant need to control. I guess it makes sense — they are learning so much and are able to communicate with the world around them, which can be overwhelming and scary. Control is what makes them feel secure. They are also pushing boundaries, because…why not? Up until now, they were complacent with being “babies” who are carted around and told what to do. Now they are encouraged to be independent and expected to be “big boys” and “big girls” (use the potty, dress themselves, go to preschool, etc.).
On top of Bubba’s 3-year developmental milestones, he has been crowned “Big Brother.” This can be good and bad for kids. Although, he seems proud and excited to have this title bestowed upon him, he is smart enough to know that this also means he is no longer the only kid in our family, and he’s naturally jealous. More on that later!
How We’re Surviving
Assuming this is indeed a phase that will improve over time (just a few months, I hope!), my husband and I are learning how to strike a balance between being the “Parents” and letting Bubba have tiny bits of control, when possible. We also try to teach him and help him navigate situations before they errupt into meltdowns. We talk about feelings, and punish him in ways that will teach rather than scare him (taking toys and/or privelages away, time-out, kind ignoring, etc.). We also rely on humor and distraction A LOT to snap him out of an tantrum-filled stand-off. We find that if we stay calm, the tantrum loses its steam a lot quicker than when we get loud and authoritative. It especially helps to be a strong united front. When we tackle a tantrum as a “team,” it seems to go down a little easier, and we leave the situation without feeling the need to drink ourselves into a coma.