Ah, three year olds. Everyone always talks about two year olds being a handful. They say, “he’s in the ‘Terrible Twos”. Three is hardly mentioned as a turning point in realizing we misjudged our patience. At this point in 2018 though, we are sure that people always have heard the term threenagers. A trend we’ve have noticed though is that people don’t realize that every three year old is a threenager, at some point or another. They think it’s just Frankie’s way of describing her child. So when you finally get to that point, what do you do? Know how to deal with threenagers before they turn three!
How to Deal with Threenagers
First, realize that your child is not possessed. They may make a convincing case, but dramatics are totally normal. The brain is experiencing some rapid development, and thus, three year olds now have the ability to perceive their environment as individuals. What they lack, however, is the maturation of the prefrontal cortex. Or, the area of the brain that is responsible for self-control and impulse response. So when you tell your child that you will not go into the Disney store again, and they get upset, it devolves into a tantrum. That’s because they very literally cannot control their emotions. It’s wise then, armed with that knowledge, to avoid tantrums altogether. That’s not giving in. It’s being proactive rather than reactive. And when you can’t just eschew those tasks, expect that your child may have a meltdown. Comfort them and…move to a quiet place.
Which leads us to this: once a fit begins, try to keep your cool. You expected it, right? So that takes the surprise factor away! The next step is to move into a place of comfort and quiet. By removing the input of additional stimuli, you may be able to lead your little one back to the present moment. During tantrums, the amygdala (a part of the limbic area of the brain), is working in overdrive. It tells the body to release adrenaline and cortisol in response to threat. It becomes important then, to try to reduce outside stimuli, which can further signal danger. Obviously, if you are in public, that becomes more difficult. And by the way, your body and brain begin to experience a stress response too. How can we help our children manage stress when we feel the same? That’s why it is important to learn ways to deal with stress and anxiety outside of tantrums. If we practice a skill, we can use it more efficiently in times of need. Tell yourself that people might judge you, but you don’t have control over their response. You are doing what you need to do for your little threenager. Then, focus on your child. Simple. (Or at least, it sounds so!)
Lastly, as mentioned above, to become better at something, we must practice. You and your child can practice stress-reduction techniques when they are not being a threenager. Listen to guided meditations before bedtime, practice fun breathing exercises together, and repeat meaningful affirmations that make sense. Work on practicing appropriate responses to anger and frustration through role-playing with your child’s favorite stuffed animal. Teach your child that it’s okay to be angry, and we can say that! Let them know that there are multiple healthy ways to deal when we don’t get what we want. Just remember, it takes practice and lots of patience.