Q&A: almost 3 years old

Ellen writes:

"I have a 2 year and 10 month old son and he is very independent andwants to do or have whatever he wants. everything ends up in either
crying for 30 minutes or screaming till he gets it. he does not want to
go to bed to sleep at night and he says no we have to stay downstairs
and play. he used to like going out to places and play but now every
time we ask him do you want to go out to even places he likes and he
says no I want to stay home.he does not want to learn to potty and he
says do not put pull ups on me. he does not let me change his pull ups
either. My husband and I are frustrated and need help."

Oh, yeah. That all sounds veeeery familiar (but through the lens of time not as distrubing as it actually was when it was happening). I remember that stage well.

I also remember thinking I was doing something wrong, or that there was something wrong with my son. Then I ended up buying the Ames & Ilg book about 3-year-olds, Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy. The name pretty much says it all, no?

(I’ve talked about the Ames & Ilg books before. They were written in the ’70s by researchers at the Gesell Institute of Human Development, and they go into all sorts of little details of children’s behavior at each age. Lots of what they say is totally anachronistic–the assumption that all mothers are at home with their kids all day, for example–but the descriptions of child behavior is dead on. I definitely recommend them as references to let you know that your kid is normal, but don’t expect to get much current evidence-based advice about what you should do about your kid’s I-though-it-was-strange-but-it-turns-out-to-be-totally-normal behavior.)

The thing that truly freaked me out about that age was that my son suddenly didn’t want to go outside anymore. He really would have stayed inside our small apartment for months at a time if I’d have let him. It made no sense, and I thought somehow he’d gotten agoraphobia until I read that this was a feature of the age (and here I thought it was a bug).

As for the screaming, would you like to guess what Ames & Ilg say to do? Have the child spend as much time with a babysitter as possible. (Because often kids that age cooperate with people they can tell aren’t as invested in getting them to do something.)

Reading that made me laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Then I laughed again. Partly because it wasn’t practical, partly because it just seemed so Mother’s Little Helper, and partly because it made me realize that it wasn’t me and it wasn’t my kid. Apparently many of them are just unbearable sometimes at this age.

What I ended up doing was sitting down and figuring out what were the exact rules I cared about (bedtime–yes, what he ate for supper–no, etc.) and standing absolutely firm on what I cared about, and allowing everything else from the get-go. That meant I never said "no" and then changed it to a yes. It was either always no, or OK as soon as he asked. After many arduous weeks, he finally started to get that the crying wouldn’t get him what he wanted. And it was either that or just the passage of time that eased the situation for us.

So I’d say to pick your battles (probably you’ll enforce bedtime and insist on changing his diaper, but give in on going outside all the time) and just know that it’s a phase. If you can give him enough choices to feel like he has some control over his life it might be easier, or it might not.

Anyone have any amazing tricks for that age? Please share.

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