Parenting a 3-year-old can feel like embarking on a wild adventure through uncharted territory. They’re not quite babies anymore, but not fully big kids either. It’s a phase filled with wonder, laughter, and yes, a fair share of challenges. Some even call them “three-nagers,” capturing that unique blend of newfound independence and unbridled emotions. As a parent myself, when I first heard the term, it struck a chord—oh, the memories! The constant negotiation over shoes, the battles at mealtime, and the inexplicable meltdowns in the middle of the grocery store aisle. But amidst the chaos, there’s magic too. Let’s explore together how we can navigate these tender years with love, understanding, and a dash of creativity.

3 Key Tools for Parenting your “Three-nager”

1: Connect before you Correct

Picture this: your little one is determined to test their limits, resisting every attempt to coax them into compliance. It’s tempting to resort to commands and demands, but what if we paused for a moment? When our words sound a lot like:

  • “Oh hey, buddy, come on over here. We got to get our shoes on”. 
  • “All right. Time to get up to the table for lunch”. 
  • “Okay, time to go get our shoes off to get inside for nap time”. 
  • “Time to go up to bath time”.

It’s what leads them to often battle against us if we are constantly just ordering them around. So, instead of rushing to command or correct, let’s take a breath and connect. Instead of “gosh, why can’t you listen?”, say, “hey, buddy, I noticed you’re having a hard time with this. I’m asking you to do a lot of things, aren’t I? Come over for a second”. Then, a gentle hug, a shared moment of admiration for their latest masterpiece, or simply meeting them at their level—these small gestures lay the foundation for trust and cooperation.

2: Distract and Redirect

The power of distraction! When faced with a stubborn refusal or a full-blown tantrum, it’s time to get creative. Rather than engaging in a power struggle, why not whisk them away on a whimsical adventure? Whether it’s a silly game of “I spy” or a spontaneous dance party in the living room, channel their boundless energy into something delightful. 

Ie. When you’re trying to get up to bath time, instead of “come on, let’s go. Come on, let’s go!”, say “Ooh, I can’t wait. Do you think that we should do bubbles tonight or no bubbles?” By redirecting their focus, we transform moments of tension into opportunities for laughter and connection.

3: Get Curious and Playful

Imagine approaching discipline with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. Instead of frustration, we lean into wonder. What if we viewed their defiance as a signal of unmet needs or untapped potential? By getting curious about their intentions and desires, we uncover new avenues for engagement.

  • Get Curious, Not Furious.  When you are about to get upset – stop and ask yourself:

“What is my child feeling or wanting?” 

And, “Is there a way I can give him an INSTEAD for that feeling or desire?” Ie. If they are jumping on the couch, pause and get get curious about the child’s feeling or desire.  You might decide that it seems he is looking for a way to jump and get physical energy out. Instead of just saying, “stop, that!”, you can give an “instead…”. “Buddy, we can definitely run and jump. Instead of on the couch, here’s where we can do it. Let’s go outside or let’s go into this other play area, or you can run around the island in the kitchen.”

  • Get Playful

Whether it’s turning chores into a game or infusing routines with a sprinkle of magic, we invite them to co-create the adventure, so it’s a win-win. 

  • “Do you wanna go to bath right side up or upside down?”
  • “Shall we run to the car like chetah’s or hop like Kangaroos?”
  • “Do you think we can get these cleaned up in 3 minutes or 4 minutes? I’ll set the timer.”
  • “Do you think the dump truck or the crane would be best for getting the blocks in the bucket?”

Amidst the moments of chaos and clamor of parenting a three-year-old, let’s remember this is actually a really special age and stage. Our little “three-nagers” are navigating a world of wonder and discovery, and it’s our privilege to guide them with love and compassion. So, let’s lean into connection, sprinkle a little curiosity and playfulness into our days, and celebrate the ways our littles help us to grow.

If you’d like more personalized guidance, contact Flora today.

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