How to Handle a Defiant Three Year Old

Readers, what are your best tips for how to handle a defiant three-year-old, aka the threenager (or a kiddo in the terrible twos)? How do you deal with discipline as a working parent in general — and how do you get your nanny or babysitter on the same page?

Everyone says the that the twos are terrible, but for us it was the threes that have been truly, truly horrible with both kids. When my eldest, J, was a threenager, we were giving him time-outs on a regular basis. (That’s him pictured — after a particularly rough night we woke up to find that he had stripped the bookshelves in his room and thrown all of his books in a pile behind the couch in his room. Sadly, I have no good picture of the time he painted the same couch with poop.) We were constantly frustrated and screaming, and it felt like we were never, ever, ever going to be able to live in peace with our child again. Then, one day we sort of looked at each other and said, “Huh… we haven’t given J a time-out in a thousand years. That’s so weird.” It had just sort of ended. Now he’s a perfectly insane six-year-old who gets up to his own mischief, but thankfully we’re mostly past the screaming/time-out stage of things. But: now my youngest, H, is three and a half, and if the slightest thing goes wrong, he is screeching and screaming. He excels at making messes, and his favorite thing right now is taking a pillow and throwing it to knock things off of high shelves. Charming!

(It’s also interesting to note that in the classic, must-read POOPCUP article, this is a growth stage for parents also — the article was joking about how parenting is pretty easy for “parents of one perfect child under preschool” age, but stuff starts to hit the fan once you get into the preschool weeds. Here’s our whole roundup on great articles on pregnancy and motherhood…)

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