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Longing for the genteel terrible twos

Submitted by on Wednesday, 27 May 2009 2 Comments

boots_madThe problem with a 3-year-old’s tantrums is that they’ve lost the mystery, the romance.

When a 2-year-old throws a fit, you can patiently run through the list of usual suspects. “Are you hungry? Do you need a drink? Are you mad at brother because he just tried to shave your head again?”

At 3, though, there is no doubt what the problem is. The 3-year-old also has developed an extra layer of willfulness that makes him unwilling to see possible solutions.

Or, at least, mine has, which is why Boots stomped angrily out of the kitchen at dinner the other night.

“Dinner is stoopit. I hate chicken. I hate you. That’s it. I’m outta here,” he screamed before throwing himself to the living room floor to weep bitterly about poultry and his mean, mean mother.

It was practically a Memorex of an incident the day before that had resulted in Big Guy and me walking 10 yards ahead of Boots at the air museum. Boots alternately demanded a bathroom, a drink and more planes. Except he wanted them all at once, which was impossible.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with that kid,” Big Guy shook his head sadly.

“Oh, I do,” I responded, all the while maintaining my “who is that heathen brat” facade for the crowd and hoping Boots calmed down before we were near enough for the police to hear.

What was wrong with him was that he’d missed his nap, he’d expended a ton of energy trying to match Big Guy’s every step and he was hot.

Ten minutes later, after he’d finally agreed to go to the bathroom, we bought snow cones and parked ourselves under the wing of a B-52. Five minutes after that, he was back to normal.

“I’m sowwy, Mommy. I didn’t mean to have the uglies,” he said.

Baby boy, I know you didn’t mean to. I know this world still is confusing and chaotic and too much for you to handle at times. It’s just that after almost six years of tantrums, I’m a little fried myself.

Boots’ performance at the air museum was not the family’s finest fit by far. That title goes to the conniption Big Guy had in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport one fall as we rushed to make a plane change and Big Guy decided he didn’t want to be hurried.

We tried the “keep walking and he’ll catch up” trick, but it didn’t work. Finally, Dad scooped him under his arm.

“My son was exactly like that when he was his age. He’ll be a great leader some day,” a kindly pilot said.

At that point, I didn’t want a leader. I wanted to get  home.

Just like I didn’t want a food critic at dinner that night. I wanted to eat in relative peace.

The aftershocks of the “stoopit dinner” hissy continued until bedtime. The guys played in the backyard, but no matter which swing Big Guy chose, it was the wrong one. They started to take a bath, but Boots decided he wanted out because the water hurt a day-old scrape.

“OK. Go ahead and get out.”

NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! I want to take a bath!”

“I need a timeout,” I said.


Within minutes, his angry shrieks turned into grief-stricken gulps. “I need a huggy,” he said, grabbing my knees.

“I’m sowwy I said I hate you. I love you,” he said.

“I know, babes.”

“It’s just that my heart cries sometimes because Daddy’s not here.”

“I know it’s hard. But when we have a problem, we need to work it out instead of doing the uglies. OK?”


He was back to normal after that, even using his teddy bear to demonstrate that he knew what I was talking about. “Teddy doesn’t like the chickens. But he’s going to eat the rest of his good food. And brush his teeth.”

If he can do all that at a relatively low decibel level, we’ll all be all right.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Chris Thompson said:

    I have to tell you something – I think the terrible threes are easier to deal with! Here’s why: Kids at that age have much better language skills, but are still easily guided by the clever use of language (used by the parent). I use NLP techniques (and other tools) to control these situations and turn them into fun. See my parenting blogfor some of my posts on what I do and teach.

  • Debra said:

    Beg to differ – well, obviously, I do, since the whole point of my post was that the Threes are harder to deal with. And part of it’s because the kids have better language skills!

    I’ve tried – and still use – a number of programs similar to yours and to a certain extent they work. But not all the time, though. At least, not for me. Maybe other parents can execute them perfectly 24-7, but in our house there’s going to come a time when someone (or everyone, heaven help us) is tired or stressed and simply unable to comply. I can talk and joke until I’m blue in the face and it’s still not going to convince a cranky toddler that he can have simultaneously a drink, a bathroom break and continue to tour airplanes. Sometimes, in fact, trying to joke my way out of it only escalates things. With this kid, at least, the only thing to be done in such situations is to ignore it until the storm breaks. After it does, he always offers a contrite “sowwy” and a sweet “I love you.”