10 Ways to Use Humor to Combat the Terrible Twos, the Horrible Threes, and the Horrors Beyond



It’s no secret. I’m frazzled. My clothes are wrinkled. My hair is greasy. My floors are sticky.

This is the first summer that I thought the ants might actually run me out of my home. After putting 6 traps in a 10-foot radius and still spotting a few ants on our counters, I moved all of my furniture to find that, the apple juice that had spilled on my couch three weeks ago had actually seeped through the cushions and formed a solid lake of sticky goo on the floor underneath.

The ants thought it was Spring Break ’97. I swear they had set up lounge chairs on the shores of Apple Juice Lake, were drunk on sugar, and singing Tubthumping at the top of their lungs.

Besides the messes, there are also the tantrums, the bedtime battles, the wake-up battles, the “I want the green cup” screeches, and the “Just give me ice cream forever” whiny monologues.

I am no stranger to anxiety and depression, and I’ve worked diligently my entire life to replace my own feelings of worry and sadness with feelings of calmness and joy – with whichever tools I could find: mainly humor, but also exercise, eating a box of donuts, and occasionally consuming a bottle glass of wine.

And, in doing so, I had that “Ta-da!” moment when I thought that maybe, just maybe I could use some of these same techniques on my toddler. Whoa, I mean: NOT the ungodly amounts of donuts and wine part, the humor part!

I should probably add another disclaimer: All of these silly actions are meant to simply STOP the miserable, crazy toddler behavior, so that we can then talk it out or move on from that moment. Of course, serious, repetitive behavioral issues should be discussed with a professional, yadda yadda yadda. As you’ll soon deduce from the following, I am not a professional.

Problem 1: She wants a 4th yogurt. I drew the line at 3. Now I’ve suggested a substitute snack, a banana. The pterodactyl screech is unleashed, tears are flowing.

Solution 1: Grab a wooden spoon (microphone), close eyes, deep breath, and sing, “I… had… the time of my life! And I’ve never felt this way before… Yes, I swear. It’s the truth… And I owe it all to yoooou!” Point to her. Dance it out! Twirl toddler. Spin, dip! Repeat.

Problem 2: Toddler refuses to get in car, and you’re about to be late for work. She starts threatening to take her shoes off.

Solution 2: Gently throw toddler over your shoulder. You are now an 83-year-old British bus driver. Can’t master the accent? Just throw in a few “pip pips,” “cheerios,” and “old chaps.” You’ll already be hunched over, carrying around a 42-pound 3-year-old. State loud enough for the neighbors to hear, “Ye olde bus is leaving. Best we be movin’ along ‘fore breakfast.” If toddler is still screaming, commence tickling.

Then, as soon as the screaming has stopped, offer the 2 “choices” that aren’t really choices: “Would you like me to buckle your seatbelt, or would you like to do it?” Accent is optional at this point.

Problem 3: The car ride. You know the possible horrors that can arise.

Solution 3: Pretend to pick up hitchhikers. Tell stories about their mysterious lives. I like to say, “Well hop on in, Ted!” in a southern accent. “I hear you been out farmin’ those boogers again.” Ted can be a downright loon if you want him to be. One of our pretend hitchhikers liked to eat watermelon with sand sprinkles. Or pretend that the car is a rocket ship, bus, or submarine. If you’re like me, you have a friend in the passenger seat who won’t even bat an eye when you say, “Prepare for turbo-boost/time-warp speed” and turn the AC to full-blast.

Problem 4: The unpredicted scream that seems to come from nowhere and has no clear cause. There could be a rock in her shoe, or her arm may have fallen off.

Solution 4: As long as all limbs are indeed intact, drop your jaw, droop your eyelids, and act like your face is melting.

Problem 5: Bedtime. Enough said.

Solution 5: I have no real solution. Best of luck! For the lead-up though, I do find that letting her paint my face (with washable paints) works. Make a terrified face each time she adds more paint. OR use Play-Doh to give her dolls or toys glasses, mustaches, or a huge nose.

Problem 6: Wake-Up Time.

Solution 6: This is all about just getting through the morning moodiness. Replace every noun with the word “eyeball” or “booger” or “zucchini.” Go into her room and announce, “Ahh, what a glorious booger today! Time to wake up and put on your boogers. Then, let’s eat your boogers and go outside!” It’s not, in any way, funny to me, but it is, most definitely, toddler comedy gold!

Problem 7: The store tantrum. I’ve heard it a million times – wants the newest toy, is bored, hungry, ETC.

Solution 7: I know, you don’t want to act like a total lunatic in public. I always promise cart racing, sneaking in a few laps of cart-running in the empty aisles. I also let her use anything from the bedding aisle to create a lounge in the back of the cart. Throw in some stuffed animals and a bouncy ball, and you’ll be able to shop peacefully for about 15 minutes.

Problem 8: The WHINE that we do not speak of.

Solution 8: Start talking completely gibberish. After she says “What!?” for the 3rd time, you’ll know you have her attention.

Problem 9: The fall-on-the-floor temper tantrum.

Solution 9: River Dance. I don’t know how to do it either, just kick your legs and jump a lot. And, hey, cardio done! Brag about it on Twitter!

Problem 10: I thought I’d only have 5 of these, but I guess I do a lot of weird things to restore sanity in our house. Like, when she spills something and cries as if everyone she’s ever known has died in a tragic plane crash.

Solution 10: Thank her for putting out “treats” for “the doggie” and eat the food off the floor. OR pretend you don’t realize that you’re standing in the puddle of juice. Gaze out “to sea” and say, “Argh, that’s strange. My feet be wet” in a pirate’s voice. Works every time!

SOS: Send more ant traps.

I know what you might be wanting to ask in that comment box below, “Are you teaching your child to live and cope with real-life situations in real-life, grown-up ways?”

And the answer is: I have no idea! She seems pretty well-rounded, and I’m happy. The really bad tantrums have stopped. We still talk about the behavior and what’s appropriate. She has a great sense of humor, can speak in at least 5 different accents at 3-years-old. Her New Yorker is hilaaarious. She has the vocabulary of a middle-school student and uses words like, “circumference,” “duplicates,” and “phytoplasm.” She can occupy herself for long periods of time, and she solves problems using a vivid imagination that’s been built on few limitations within the boundaries that society has set for us.

So, I guess, (shrugs), if she turns into a serial killer, I’ll let you know?


  1. Gretchen- you are so awesome! I loved this, so funny. Your daughter is blessed to have such an engaged and creative mom!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here