Terrible Threes? Or Unmindful Parenting?

You may have read that Monkey had the mother of all meltdowns the other week. I have been semi-joking that he is having terrible threes rather than twos because he is contrary, argumentative and testing his boundaries constantly. Driving hubs and I to distraction, and honestly it isn’t like him, yes he has his moments but on the whole he is a very sweet natured boy. We have been re-reading a couple of parenting books and thinking about rules and discipline while also wondering if we are just in another inevitable phase that will pass in its own time.

Then a couple of really interesting articles popped up in my feed (spooky timing really) and made me stop and think.

Is it a natural phase? Is it really terrible threes? Or are we at fault? Not in an I am going to beat myself up about it way, but are we making the problem worse by unmindful parenting? Could we make some simple positive changes to our behaviour that will affect his behaviour?

The first post was Obedience: Why do you have to tell them five times on Aha! Parenting. Something a lot of us ask ourselves in despair and actually it was a really great read. A reminder that our kids are human, they don’t share are priorities and don’t always want to do something just because we have said they should. The bit that really spoke to me though was the section about kids feeling disconnected from us or worse they have given up on us.

“Children naturally look to their parents for nurturing and guidance. If they’re convinced that we’re on their side, they want to please us. So if your child is defiant, or you keep finding yourself in power struggles, that’s a red flag that your relationship needs strengthening.”

It’s been a really rough month with all of us being ill, especially hubs, meaning I have had to do everything else. The result of this is that I haven’t had as much time or energy for Monkey lately. He has been left to get on with it a lot more than normal so is it any wonder then that he is not wanting to do what I say?

Throughout the article there are some great tips, not just about reconnecting, but with ways to help kids transition from what they want to do to what we want them to do and it is definitely worth a read.

The other post was How to react when your kids are disrespectful on Parenting Chaos. A little less relevant but a HUGE reminder not to engage in arguments with Monke (which I am definitely guilty of doing when I am on a short fuse and he is arguing against every single thing I say). To remember that his feelings are valid and that I need to stay calm and be the parent rather than get dragged into a daft argument. Plus, linking back to the previous post, if he is being defiant, there is a reason for it.

For example, the meltdown over going to the birthday party. I had not given him any warning about going to the party and just announced we were going. He hadn’t had any snacks (as there would be food at the party) and I know my toddler. He likes to know in advance what is going on and he is always on a much more even keel when he is not hungry. So in hindsight I can see why it all kicked off. He didn’t have time to prepare himself for going to the party and he was hungry and grumpy.

Add to this the fact that I had been tired and grumpy for a good few days by this point and he was feeling a bit unsettled anyway and it all just went bonkers. A reminder to me to let him know in advance what is happening, to take the time to explain things to him, oh and make sure he isn’t hungry! That actually if I am feeling stressed and harassed that it is even more important to spend a bit of one on one time with Monkey and make sure he knows what is going on. Otherwise I will just end up feeling more stressed and harassed with a massively unhappy toddler on my hands!

We’ve also been watching the Channel 4 series of “Born Naughty” which I have found fascinating. The premise of the programme is looking at seemingly naughty children and asking whether they are born naughty, whether the parents are to blame, or whether there is something more to it. It really is interesting and an eye opener into the scope of Autism Spectrum Disorders and I guess a reminder not to judge parents with naughty kids as sometimes there is more to it, and even if not, sometimes they just don’t know how to solve their child’s particular problems.

One of the more interesting diagnoses on the programme is about pathological Demand Avoidance, or PDA, on the Autism spectrum, where children are so anxious that they are hardwired to refuse any demand made of them. Where their instincts literally tell them to run from the seemingly innocuous request. This can build up and when they feel trapped they often become violent and the stories from the parents were quite harrowing. For example a mother having to call the Police because she is terrified of her 6 year old who is coming at her with a kitchen knife. Her story literally brought tears to my eyes.

Obviously these are extreme cases but on the programme, whether they found children did have special needs, or if they just had what they described as behavioural problems, a lot of the advice they gave to parents (in addition with making sure they had the relevant support from health visitors and appropriate schools) was about techniques to use with their kids. For example with one of the PDA children, Mum started to use sand timers to let him know when it was dinner time etc. So when the sand ran out he would come downstairs. He had warning and time to transition from what he was doing to what needed to happen next and it worked, there were less violent eruptions.

The point being that the experts in the programme helped all of the parents think about their child and techniques that would work for them specifically. There are so many techniques out there but of course the same thing won’t work for all children as all children are different. I don’t think Monkey is on the autism spectrum or think he has PDA but I think he does have some traits which respond to the same techniques they used with children with PDA. Warning him what is going to happen. Phrasing demands in a different way that makes them fun or exciting, rather than making it sound like a demand.

I have found that these things work for him by trial and error over the last few years. But when I am tired and stressed or I don’t feel like I have the energy, it is easy to forget about this. Forget how it all is going to effect him and just expect him to do what I ask him to do. Which leads to meltdowns and aggravation.

So we have been a lot more mindful of Monkey and the way we are parenting him recently. We can’t expect him to just go along with what we are saying all the time. He just isn’t that child, and actually I’m not sure I want him to be. I want him to be confident and know his own mind as an adult and for that to happen he needs to be confident and know how own mind now. That may not always make life that easy but we just have to think a bit more about our behaviour and adapt the things we say or the way we do things.

Things have definitely improved. He is 3 so of course he is contrary sometimes but he isn’t quite as defiant. I have made sure I have been spending more time with him one on one while LM is asleep. The TV has been on a lot less as we were using that far too much while things were tough, in order to get things done.

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Silly Selfie Cuddle Time with Mummy


There are still a few issues as we have been in a really bad phase of fussy eating with him lately, but last night he ate all his dinner, which is huge for us, so we will see if we are moving out of that bad phase… I will talk more about that in a whole other post as there is too much to go into here!

Do you ever have times like this? Where you realise that your child’s behaviour is actually linked to your behaviour? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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37 thoughts on “Terrible Threes? Or Unmindful Parenting?

  1. I have five children and have massively struggled with number fours behaviour.
    He is massively more challenging than the others were and I have even been to the Heath Visitor several times regarding this. The visits have all been to no avail and his behaviour has slightly improved.
    I think I need to watch the channel four series as I messed most of the episodes. This might shine a light in things for me.
    Great post X

  2. I don’t have any kids, but I learned a lot through this post about the ways people’s reactions to (perceived) misbehavior can help or escalate the situation out of control. I am an autistic adult and sometimes exhibit undesirable behavior, but when my staff see it as willful misbehavior rather than communication, it escalates the situation. I have always disliked the idea of “obedience”. Obedience is for dogs (sometimes), not kids. I know safety issues and such are important, but arguing over the TV remote or iPad just makes little sense.

  3. Sounds like it has been a really tough time with him but they books/shows that you have been reading sound really useful. I’ve had the same thoughts my girl; you have to treat them like we would want to be, like the reminders/warnings etc/planning but it’s so hard sometimes. I hope you have a turned a corner and especially now as everyone is getting a bit better! Great post xx #maternitymondays

  4. These articles sound really interesting. My little girl is only 18 months so we’re hoping to avoid the terrible 2/3s for a bit yet (fingers crossed). Will definitely try and keep these in mind when the time comes though xx

  5. I think it’s so easy sometimes to label children as ‘naughty’ when they may not be – there can be so many underlying factors. I am definitely guilty of engaging in arguments – it can be so hard not to!

  6. A really interesting read. I definitely notice my toddler gets more grumpy when I’m low. I really love toddlercalm techniques…have you come across them? Sounds like some similar things to what you are saying about transition and warning etc. Thanks for sharing, hope you have a more settled patch all round now #maternitymondays

  7. I definitely think our own behaviour influences our children’s. I had an issue with BP recently where he was sneaking his devices upstairs to play with after he’d gone to bed. I was NOT happy about it, but I tried my best not to shout. I punished him (no games for two days), but I didn’t scream about it. Instead I told him the reasons he shouldn’t do it, and told him not to do it again. For the first time ever he apologised, unprompted, and said he wouldn’t do it again. A lesson for me too – don’t yell all the time!

    Great post. xx

  8. This is such an interesting read Caroline, funny really that the post I’ve just linked up is about Alfie and his behaviour. Sometimes he is so sweet natured but other times he is a handful, although we have started to be able to reason with him a bit more now he is 3. I didn’t watch Born Naughty but wish I had. I wish toddlers came with a manual at times!

    Helen X

  9. We are having some problems as he tries to assert his independence more and I am trying to juggle the Baby. Though I am going to try the “love bomb” parenting technique which basically means saying yes to everything (within reason) allowing them to take control back, though I might need to go read those articles 🙂


  10. This is an interesting post and particularly relevant for me as I really struggle with my 3 year old’s behaviour at times. I agree – it seems like the phrase should be terrible threes not terrible twos! #TwinklyTuesdays

  11. Such an interesting post thanks for sharing…I definitely think their behaviour is linked to ours – I often find when I am tired and ratty and not very patient that it is an ever decreasing circle but when I am being more mindful, trying to be my daughter’s champion, and avoiding power struggles then everything is much better, although sometimes I DO think it is developmental and there is nothing you can do to ride the wave…We are only human eh? #twinklytuesday

  12. A lot of what you have said rings true with me. We have two girls and a big issue for us is tidying up after themselves. They are always very unwilling to tidy up the playroom before tea but one of them happily stays in the bath and tidies away the toys while I dry the other one after tea time. I wonder if it because I spend time with them playing and chatting while they are in the bath which predisposes them to want to help me.

    Definitely some interesting points to consider. #TwinklyTuesday

  13. Great post. It’s difficult sometimes to be empathetic and take time, as a busy and often tired parents. This is a great reminder. For sure most of my worst moments with my baby have been because there was something up with me, rather than him.


  14. Gwenn has always been very high needs and I’ve always been attracted to a gentle parenting way, which seemed to work for us. But now she is just the absolute limit and her behaviour is appalling. I find it so hard now to modify my behaviour as I did before. Thank you for sharing those articles. x


  15. There is definitely a huge correlation between our own behaviour and that of our children. I wrote about it in great detail after the Xmas holiday, by hubby & I being more mindful to eradicate our own negative traits it certainly filtered down positively onto the kids. Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple with my girl, and we now have an ASD diagnosis en route… best of luck with getting Monkey back on track lovely, sounds like the last few days have been great xxx

  16. Great post! It’s hard sometimes to understand that we often ask so much of our kids and that they don’t understand why things are important to us. I definitely notice a difference when
    I don’t give O enough individual attention and busy with my own agenda. So I do try my best to get A to nap and give O my full attention then. 🙂 xx

  17. A great read. I have found through my work that our behaviour as adults and the way we deal with things has a big influence on the children around us. And also that what works for one child may not work for the other. I’m hoping my experiences through work are going to have given me the tools to calmly deal with any meltdowns and preventing them in the first place as Olivia grows up.

  18. Great post – such an interesting topic. My three is pretty tough too, much harder than the so-called terrible twos! I agree that the more quality time we have together, the better the behaviour gets! It’s just hard when you are dealing with being under the weather — hope you continue to feel that you’re making progress!

  19. From what I can tell the “threenage year” has earned that nickname for a reason – it is quite universal to get massively challenging behaviour during this stage (for obvious reasons). I think you’re right though, it is always going to be helpful to have some strategies to deal with the challenge as a parent. Maybe we have been lulled into a false sense of security by tantrums which can come and go in a split second at the age of two. We really have to put a bit more effort into our parenting at this point. Any advice is always useful too. I think you’re right about giving them fair warning about some things too. They never like to have changes in the schedule sprung on them! Thanks for linking up to #thetruthabout hon and I hope Monkey is responding to your more mindful ways. Xx

  20. Really found this post useful as I am having issues with my six year old lately, but maybe he is feeling disconnected as you say, we haven’t been spending much time at all together due to my husband being so ill and it shows. We already have some time together planned so will be mindful of that on the day. Parenting at any age is so hard, and as people say it doesn’t get easier, it’s just that the issues change! #twinklytuesday

  21. It’s so hard when you’re rushing isn’t it? I know I get frustrated when I just want to be on time and I get impatient. I went to Zs parents evening the other day and there were a handful of kids just screaming and running about. The keyworker was SO unphased as she explained what Zs been doing over the last year. I think I need to be more like that. They were just playing and exploring but I bet, at home, I would have asked z to keep it down a bit.

  22. I think around the age of three years old is generally challenging for most parents, as others have said, it has the nickname of the ‘threenager years’ for a reason. We found it tricky and we got off fairly lightly, in fact if anything we found it more difficult once Harry turned four because he could attempt to answer back better, or negotiate etc. I absolutely agree though that children pick up on our behaviour and it’s important to try to remain aware, keep using tools you know work for you. For example, we use a timer to let Harry know when we are going out, how much longer until bed time etc.

  23. Caroline I love this post – It too came at the perfect time (spooky haha) as just last night we were discussing how hard some days are and our biggest issue in our fam is this not listening! SO frustrating! Megs just turned 3 last week and we have this sudden “threenager” attitude and reading your thoughts were so similar to how ive felt with both of mine.

    Thanks for sharing the links and also that channel 4 programme, looking forward to doing some research on it via those. Ill be honest im scared like you said its gonna say its me thats at fault hahahahahha eeeeek x

  24. interesting post. I’ve found there is a link between how we are with Noah and his behaviour. The more time & praise we give him the better his behaviour is. Also, where we give him choices eg. Do you want to wear this top or this too, things like getting dressed are a lot easier xx #TwinklyTuesday

  25. This post was great. I am struggling at the minute with my 3, nearly 4 year old and you made some great points and made me think. It’s such a hard time, some a phase and I think some pushing boundaries. Great read. #bestandworst xx

  26. I didn’t see this series, but I now wish I had. My little boy is 3, almost 4 and he also responds better to ‘tactful’ demands where we make it fun and exciting. I’ve also been reflecting quite a lot on this recently and I’ve found I stay much calmer now. I really enjoyed reading through this post! 🙂 x

  27. Great post. I also found three to be much more challenging than the so called terrible twos. Every child is different. I think parenting is a trial and error process until you find something that works well for you and yours

  28. I don’t think the treenager has anything on the fournager (is that even a thing?) My 4 year old is a complete nightmare at the moment, daily I find myself more attracted to hiding in the pantry for the day haha! #bestandworse x

  29. Nice post. Good reminder to be more mindfull as a parent. I regognise the things you write. In the end it’s mostly about being really there with your kid and see him / her. Like you said. They’re persons too.

  30. What an interesting post. I’m glad you’ve realised what seems to work and hopefully that will keep things under control – although as you say, being a 3 year old, he’s bound to still play up a bit! Zach will be 3 in September and we are definitely seeing a change in him – most of the time he is wonderful and lovely but he has those moments where he pushes us to see how far he can go! They never said parenting is going to be easy did they?! Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

  31. Oh this couldn’t be better timing for me too hunny I feel you on this one. I have all the sudden got two kids that aren’t listening to me at the moment and ganging up on me which is rare and lately I don’t know what is going on feel shouty all the time. Maybe I need to step back and look at myself unmindful parenting as you say. Love that. See where I can strengthen our relationships maybe they have given up on me and teamed up together. lol Like most siblings do! lol Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

  32. Thank you for this post. Encouraging to read as I have just had my second and my first has just turned 3 and has been really tricky at times. Slowly improving now and settling down but nice to know I’m not alone! #bestandworst

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