Parenting books can offer you advice, but until you've lived through the terrible 2s, thundering 3s and ferocious 4s, the lessons don't mean much. It's like reading a book on how to drive a car and then being put on I-95 your first time behind the wheel. The secret is, you need to keep your cool and rely on what you've learned, blended with your own common sense. You will make it.

I remember taking my 3-year-old daughter out of a meeting because she was being disruptive. In my head, it played out very simply. I would take her to the foyer, sit down and look her in the eye, and explain why she needed to be quieter in that meeting and that she could be more rambunctious once we got home. She would smile, fully comprehending what I was saying, and would behave herself until the end of the meeting.

This is how it actually played out: I took her by her sweet little hand and began to lead her out. She went completely limp in the aisle, at which point, I picked her up and headed for the door. She took the opportunity to bear false witness against me for the entertainment of the full room by crying out (while pounding my back with her fists), "Please, mommy, don't beat me! I promise I'll be good! Please, don't hurt me!"

Yeah ... so, let's discuss this.

First, a synopsis about the psychological make-up of each age group:


  • They are much more mobile and require less sleep, which translates into a whole lot more trouble and need for supervision.

  • They become very curious about their environment and need to explore it.

  • When they do have accidents, it is not malicious, but due to lack of understanding how things work.

  • They hear the word "no" a lot and don't particularly care for it.

  • They don't yet have eloquent enough language skills that they can express what's bothering them.


  • They are beginning to reason and are more capable of understanding the why not's of what they aren't allowed to do.

  • Threes are when they become the most defiant

  • They are into more, which means more "NO!"

  • They want more autonomy.

  • Autonomy + "NO!" = epic battles.


  • Their vocabulary is growing in leaps and bounds and they are more capable of responding.

  • They are probably out in the world more and beginning to model others so responses may be more "colorful."

  • On the up side, they are beginning to reason and better understand the "NO!"

And now, a few words about the tantrums that give these notorious ages their foreboding adjectives:

  • The attention you give a tantrum, even positive diversion, actually fuels it; better to let it burn itself out UNLESS it involves them harming themselves in some way.

  • Think ahead. If you know something is going to set them off, (like wearing a seat belt, putting on a coat, picking up their toys) put things in a positive light beforehand. Say, "I'm going to be so proud of you I'll clap my hands for joy when you get dressed!"

  • Use good, old-fashioned bribery. Say, "When you have finished picking up your toys, I'll read you a story," or "I've got a cookie for you if you stay buckled into your car seat."

  • When older toddlers do throw a tantrum, talk about it once things have calmed down. Say, "Do you think there might have been a better way to have handled that?"

  • If you suspect something is going to set them off, talk about it before hand so that they are prepared and have an opportunity to plan out their strategy.

  • Remember your own behavior is a powerful influence. So, if you feel a personal tantrum coming on, give yourself a time-out or pass the baton.

  • When possible, allow kids to make choices. Ask them, "Do you want to wear your pink jacket or your yellow jacket?"

These ages will pass and, though you probably won't believe it now, you will miss them. Toddlers are inquisitive, bright, curious, and help you see the world through a child's eyes once again. Relax and enjoy every thundering minute of it!

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