5 Tips For Surviving The “Terrible 3s” With Your Sanity Intact

If you’re the parent of a toddler, you might have breathed a sigh of relief once the “terrible 2’s” were over. But wait…just as you thought all the tantrums and tears and diabolical behavior was behind you, here come the “terrible 3’s,” which in many ways are worse than the 2’s. To help you make it through these difficult years, we offer this blog by Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with our Westchester Health Pediatrics group (excerpted below).

At 3, tantrums are worse, and louder

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

At this age, toddlers want to be independent and control their environment but lack the physical and intellectual skills to actually do it. Consequently, they get frustrated, angry, stubborn and combative, which makes it really hard to reason with them. Here are some key ways in which the terrible 3’s are worse than the terrible 2’s:

  • It’s harder to remove 3-year-olds from situations where they’re acting up because now they’re too big to carry without a struggle.
  • They can talk, which means they can put words to their irrational, out-of-control emotions.
  • They have an opinion—about everything. What they wear. What they don’t wear. What they like to eat. What they don’t like to eat.
  • Usually, they’re on their way out of diapers but this means that now your daily schedule revolves around trips to the bathroom.
  • Getting them to nap gets a lot harder.
  • They’re always asking “why?”

Take heart! Here are 5 tips for dealing with your 3-year-old tyrant

1) Choose your battles wisely

Three-year-olds learn by exploring their environment and testing boundaries. While you don’t want your child to get hurt, we at Westchester Health recommend giving your child the freedom to make mistakes, fall down, pick themselves up and keep going. This teaches resilience as well as independence.

2) Yell less, love more

Yelling can harm children more than we realize. If you find yourself yelling at your 3-year-old frequently, you need to find other options for discipline, such as timeouts, behavior stickers or simply saying something like “I love you” three times.

3) Divert and redirect

When you sense a tantrum coming on, learn to distract your child with something different than what they’re doing. For instance, if he/she is snatching toys or yelling, they might need to play outside or put together a puzzle.

4) Provide a safe environment

Baby-proofing your home doesn’t end when your child turns three. If anything, this is the age when the real challenges (and potential dangers) begin. Curious 3-year-olds can climb, open cabinets and pull a pot of boiling water off the stove. They’re not responsible yet and still need constant supervision.

5) Set clear expectations

Make a list of family rules. For example, 1) Use nice voices, 2) Do what Mommy and Daddy ask you to do, and 3) Don’t hurt other people.

Helpful articles we recommend:

Reaching the end of your rope with your 3-year-old? Come see us.

If you’re having trouble keeping your cool with your 3-year-old and want some tips and advice, or simply have questions about any aspect of raising a toddler, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy toddler and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.


To read Dr. Adler’s blog in full, click here.

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