Menu

Why your 3-year-old acts like a ‘threenager’

I go in search of whatever patience I didn’t use up when she was two, and remind myself that she’s going through some major life transitions.

Why your 3-year-old acts like a ‘threenager’

“Definition of a threenager: the little human living with you, who according to their birth certificate is 3, but according to their attitude is a teenager.” – Unknown


“Shhhhh. Mommy, I busy. Go away.”
“No, mommy, you are in timeout.”
“Mommy, I do it by myself!”

These are all statements I’ve heard countless times from my daughter—my sassy threenager. In the blink of an eye, she can go from a sweet and loving girl who wants millions of hugs and kisses, to a volatile, stubborn little woman.

As my daughter sprays her independence all over the house, with her sharp words and growing personality, I sometimes don’t know if I should laugh or serve the same attitude right back to her.

In those moments of teenage anguish, I go in search of whatever patience I didn’t use up when she was two, and I remind myself that at 3 years old, she’s going through some major life transitions.

This little one is starting to grow her own sense of self, finding her own voice and independence, and it’s my job to encourage it.

Even though she can be unknowingly rude, this developmental stage serves as a major learning experience for both of us. It’s a time for her to grow into herself, and a time for me to give her the space to do that while also showing her how to appropriately express who she is.

If you’ve got a threenager in your house, you know what a challenge it can be. But before you respond to this stage with your own sassiness, remember that it’s more important to model good behavior than it is to shut that threenager down.

Three-year-olds go through some major life transitions at this stage in their lives:

1. They’re learning to manage their emotions

Around the age of three, children start to understand their emotions. They might even begin identifying their feelings with words. However, they’re still not developmentally ready to control their emotions. If they think something is funny, they’ll laugh uncontrollably. If something happens and they feel sad, they cry inconsolably.

Their emotions are intense and can seem overwhelming— try to just be patient and understand that, at three, they don’t have the capacity to properly control their emotions.

2. They want instant gratification

Three-year-olds don’t have much impulse control. If they feel the need to do something, they’ll act on it without much thought.

For example, they might take the chocolate out of your purse even after you’ve said “No,” or they might hit another kid when they get mad. Delayed gratification has to be learned over time, and it isn’t something 3-year-olds fully understand.

3. They’re learning how to solve conflict

Three-year-olds may hit, bite or push as a way to deal with conflict. Since they act in the moment on impulse, they don't understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate conflict resolution skills.

As a parent, it’s important to show your threenager that there’s a proper and improper way to express emotions and resolve problems with others. You show them this by being mindful of how you respond to conflict, and by talking them through their own conflict resolutions.

4. They’re developing a sense of humor

I don’t know about yours, but my 3-year-old is hilarious! She’s developing a real sense of humor. I can see that she loves to make me laugh. Like most kids her age, she finds talking about things like poo poo and pee to be very entertaining. Though your taste in humor might be slightly different, remember that at this stage, 3-year-olds are learning how to be funny.

5. They’re learning empathy

Empathy starts to develop in children around age three. They can relate to others when they’re hurt, and you can get a response from them when you ask how they’re feeling. They might also cry if they think they hurt you, especially if they didn’t mean to.

6. They’re learning to play with others

At 3 years old, kids learn to play with others. Before that there’s a lot of parallel play, but at this age, they start to engage with each other. They may even start asking you to play with them, too!

Your baby is growing up quickly and turning into his or her own person. As scary as that may be, it’s also very exciting to see your children grow into themselves. They start to have their own likes and dislikes, personalities and curiosity for life.

I’ve found that the better my daughter gets at using her words to express how she's feeling, even if it’s with attitude, the fewer tantrums she has.

We all know that our threenagers want to call the shots, but they don’t always have the fine motor skills to complete certain tasks. Watching them pick out their own (non-matching) outfits and put them on backwards is frustrating—naturally, we feel the urge to help them. But we can better serve them by sitting back and letting them figure it all out on their own..

It’s important for everyone parenting a child at this delicate age to remember that consistency and patience are key. Don’t take their words personally, and try to explain things without getting overly emotional or angry.

Remember, our threenagers will have fewer meltdowns and learn to better transition through life if we act like adults ourselves.

We're so glad to live in a time when modern baby gear exists. Sure, no one is going to argue that having a baby is easy—but it can be easier with support from some gadgets designed to help your baby and put your mind at ease.

As you build your baby registry, look for products that go the extra mile to make your life a whole lot easier. For example, what's better than a bassinet? A bassinet that can rock by itself. And what's better than a traditional baby monitor? One that allows you to actually take a peek at your baby. Believe us when we say these upgrades can make all the difference.

Here are 10 baby gadgets that will make your life so much easier… relatively speaking, of course!


A bassinet to promote safe + sound sleep

HALO Innovations Bassinest Swivel Sleeper Essenta Series Nautical Net

The safest place for your newborn to sleep is in your room, but not in your bed. Thanks to the swivel function of the Halo Bassinest, you can easily tend to your baby during the night—which means more sleep for you, too. Trust us when we say that is the best gift you can give a new parent.

$239.99

A smart swing for your baby

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

Believe it or not, many babies are born with strong opinions about how they want to be rocked, swung or shushed to calm down. With the mamaRoo's various motions and reclining positions, you'll be able to find a setting your baby loves when you need to free up your hands for a bit.

$219.99

A complete travel system for car + sidewalk

Chicco Bravo Travel System - Indigo

No matter where the day takes you—or what mode of transportation you need to get there—getting a complete travel system for your baby will equip you for anything.

$379.99

A swaddle you don’t have to wrestle

Love To Dream Swaddle UP Original

What do babies and Harry Houdini have in common? A knack for breaking out of tight constraints—which can be a headache when swaddling is the best way to help promote good sleep. Thanks to a breakout-proof swaddle that allows your baby to sleep with their hands up, you don't have to work up a sweat just to get your baby comfortably swaddled.

$29.99

A nursery wherever you need it

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

During the early days of parenting (when you are feeding and changing your baby around the clock), having convenient access to everything you need with a go-anywhere nursery station can save you serious time and energy.

$99.99

A little help for stuffy noses

Fridababy NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator

Up until the point years down the road when your child is able to blow their own nose, the sniffles can be a real struggle—but not with a nasal aspirator that makes it easy for you to get that snot out of their nose.

$15.99

A way to keep an eye on your baby

VTech 5" Digital Video Baby Monitor - VM5251

Trust us when we say you'll sleep better when you know your baby is also sleeping soundly. That's why we're so thankful for modern-day video monitors, which allow you to check in on your sleeping baby without running the risk of waking them up when you sneak in for a peek.

$79.99

A bassinet for hands-free rocking

Simmons Kids Silent Auto Gliding Elite Bassinet - Odyssey

Babies are soothed by rocking motions. But what does that mean for you if you can't rock them throughout the night? With an auto-gliding bassinet, they can comfortably drift off to sleep... and continue snoozing.

$99.99

An easy way to contain diaper smells

Diaper Genie Expressions Pail

Sometimes it's the little conveniences that make a big difference in the quality of your day-to-day life. That's why a great diaper pail should not be undervalued: By containing the smell, you will save yourself dozens upon dozens of trips to the garbage can.

$24.99

A white noise machine that pulls double duty

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

A phone-controlled sound machine may be something you never considered until now, but it will be a major lifesaver for years to come, especially as it can also function as a time-to-rise clock that promotes good sleep habits for your child.

$59.99

And as for securing all these awesome products? Well, a Target baby registry is the way to do it. By creating your baby registry with Target, you will also enjoy their Year of Benefits registry program, which includes perks like a welcome kit with more than $100 in savings and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. The benefits are better than ever right now: Target just launched the Year of Exclusive Deals perk as one of its registry benefits, and this includes a year's worth of discounts on baby essentials (think diapers and formula) and comes complementary when you sign up for Target Circle.

Because while parenting may not be "easy," deciding to register with Target definitely is an easy decision. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with a Year of Benefits featuring a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

These kids dishes don’t look like kids dishes

And that's exactly why my toddler loves them. ❤️

My 4.5-year-old is, let's say, spirited in his opinions. He very clearly knows what he wants and doesn't want (oh to have the confidence of a stubborn preschooler!). And what he doesn't want right now is anything that looks too babyish. "That's for babies," he'll say if I give him anything with primary colors or looks too miniature. He doesn't want the baby fork and spoon, he wants what grown-ups use. He doesn't want the baby plastic cups and plates, he wants the glass and ceramic ones.

Well, you can see where this is going.

I had to find something that would satisfy his "not a baby" opinions but still not shatter to pieces if he accidentally drops it on the floor. I had to find him something that's made for kids but doesn't feel made for kids.

Keep reading Show less
Shop

The 6 biggest lies I believed before having kids

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves.

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves. Some of these ideas might have been based on our own ideas of how we would absolutely do things differently than everyone else. Others, we believed what everyone else told us would happen would apply to our littles, too. But, that's not always the case, mama.

Below are six of the biggest lies I believed before having kids—and the reality of what actually happened for me.

1. Put your baby down drowsy, but awake

Keep reading Show less
Life