From Three-nager to Teenager
You know what a three-nager is, don’t you? It’s a power-packed little person, who is completely ready (in their own estimation) to be a teenager… except they’re only three. A walking-talking baby, pushing boundaries and learning how much weight they have to throw around in order to get their own way. They’ve learned by now that mom’s “no” doesn’t always mean no, so they push to find out where the hard-no lies.
Three-nager: (noun) a power-packed little person, who is completely ready (in their own estimation) to be a teenager… except they’re only three.
It’s a thrilling age! Full of self-expression, new skills, personality, muscle, and imagination. She wants to dress herself and choose her own breakfast. He tells you what color popsicle he must have for his trip to the backyard, then comes in sticky and dirty. They build with blocks, wear costumes to the grocery store, lose their shoes in your minivan, and keep coming out of bed at nap-time. They leave a trail of fun everywhere they go, like wreckage in their wake. And they aren’t afraid to challenge us when we sing our clean-up song. As a matter of fact, their exploding vocabulary is often used like ammo when we ask them to put their toys away.
As they grow into their mighty, albeit miniature, personalities, we try to balance our negative reactions with gentle correction and consistent boundaries. Three is an important age. This is when our children must start learning (really learning) to honor and obey others - mom and dad most of all. Obedience does not come naturally to a three-nager. Quite the contrary, your little Miss. or Mr. would prefer that you obey them.
However, now that I have two teenagers in our house, and a pre-teen too, I see clearly that what they learn to do at three is what they will most likely be doing at thirteen. By the time your three-nager becomes a teenager, they need to know that you can be trusted to stay calm and consistent with rules, and they can be trusted to obey.
I know in essence you agree. Who doesn’t want their little ones to grow up into honoring big ones? We all want to enjoy the people in our homes, rather than struggle year after year with backtalk and disrespect. Unfortunately, obedience training is hard. So often, when they are three, we don’t know how to require obedience and stay calm at the same time. Our children melt-down and we melt-down too. Or maybe we react to their childishness with anger, lecturing how disobedience won’t work in our home. Except it does. It works for our children each dinner that they throw a fit and still manage to walk away with the cookie. It works when they throw a fit about cleaning up their train, only to have mom graciously “help” and then go through the whole exhausting song and dance again the next day.
Here’s the main take-away:
If you want your three-anger to grow up into an enjoyable teenager, train them now. Losing a cookie for a night (when they refuse to eat their meal) and putting the train set away for a couple of days (when they refuse to clean up) is a wonderful tool. If you’re begging and pleading and negotiating with them at three… thirteen will look very similar.
How many times have you been in your car on your way to a park-date with friends, when your toddlers have broken into a full-fledged battle of will and words? You’ve tried to calm them down, giving them kind correction and modeling self-control. But suddenly you snap and try to fight the fight out of your little fighter. Unfortunately, you’ve probably learned that fighting your fighter only reinforces the fight. And negotiating with your master-negotiator each day only reinforces that fact that your “No” is always up for debate.
Sweet Mom, what would happen if you simply turned the car around drove home? Would it help them learn to obey you and be kind to one another at three… in a way that sets them up for success with the same exact stuff (and other stuff too) at thirteen?
Sure they’ll cry. Let them cry. You may cry too. After all, getting the family out to the park and then hitting Chick-Fil-et on the way home would have been a gift to you all. But the greater gift, to both you and your children, is to train them now in the way they are to go, so that when they are teenagers they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Pinpoint some of the ways that your daily fights and negotiations actually reinforce the behavior you are desperate to see them grow out of. Make a better plan and start training your three-nager to be an enjoyable teenager!
I’m cheering you on over here!
Find daily parenting encouragement from Wendy Speake
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