Threenager Diaries: Field Notes from a Mom Raising a Threenager


Before having children, I always heard about the “terrible twos.” It wasn’t until I had my own child that I heard the term, “threenager.” Once my son turned three, I started to understand what people meant by this term.

However, now that my daughter is three years old, I have a deep and comprehensive understanding of what someone means when they say they have a threenager.

Here are 10 ways I know there is a threenager in my house.

1) She’s dramatic and her moods change.

I can tell when she’s actually hurt and when she’s just crying for the drama. She has a tendency to start fussing over hardly anything when she wants the attention. I find it hilarious that if I distract her from being dramatic, she can go from crocodile tears to a normal voice instantly. It’s as if I flipped a switch. I’ve lost track of how many times this happens in a day, on average.

A crying threenager, child, girl, crying

2) She’s really particular.

She has five different water bottles, but if she doesn’t have the one she “needs,” it becomes a tragedy. I never quite know which one she desires at any given time, either. Just when I think I have her figured out, she changes her preferences. God forbid I try to give her the shirt she wore three times last week (because she, “Loved it so much”) to wear today. I should just know that this week is different. Her actions say, “But that shirt is soooo last week, Mom.”

3) She cannot seem to make up her mind.

I know two year-olds do this too, but I feel like this got worse with my daughter at age 3. You know, the times when your child chooses a jelly sandwich for lunch, so you give them one, only for them to throw a full-on tantrum because they actually didn’t want a jelly sandwich? Or maybe they did but two seconds later they don’t anymore?

Well, it’s not just food anymore. It’s everything. First, she wants the purple but when you give her purple, she says she wants pink. It just took me TWO DAYS to figure out which of four sets of bedsheets she wanted to order online for her new bed.

4) She wants NONE of the choices presented.

On the rare occasion that she knows what she wants, this is what happens. As a therapist, I was always taught a good technique to use while working with young children is to give them 2-3 choices. It helps you accomplish what needs to be done while giving the child some control over the situation. Maybe my children choose just fine between two choices when another adult is providing the options. However, when I give choices to my daughter, it is ALWAYS a struggle. I ask her if she wants choice A or B and she always picks C, or sometimes A AND B. Sometimes we go in circles and if she doesn’t pick one of the two choices, I pick for her. Then what inevitably happens leads me to the following point.

5) She’s got the sigh and the pout mastered and her angst is real.

I don’t know where she picked this up from. Do I sigh like that? I’m not sure. If pouting were an Olympic event, she’d win the gold. Hands down. She’d earn a perfect 10. Her facial expressions and body language are just too perfect at conveying the horror and grief she’s feeling over improperly cut toast.

Oh my, but it’s not just the pout, it’s the angst behind it. Sometimes the tantrum, too. I swear her two main modes are ridiculously excited or just plain old mad. The cry is only real if she actually hurts herself. At least she is expressive and there’s not a whole lot of guessing what to expect out of her. I already have a good idea about her reactions to some of my actions before anything actually happens.

6) She is fierce and independent.

These are some of the stereotypical threenager characteristics that I hope stick around later but I’m not always so appreciative of them right now. I just look at her and think of the Shakespeare line, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” He must have had a gold medal worthy female threenager in his home. I suppose at least I know she’s going to be a strong woman who no one will want to mess with when she gets older.

There are, however, downfalls to her possessing these characteristics. One is the amount of time it takes her to complete a task. Especially when we’re trying to get out of the house in the morning. She wants to do everything herself and tells me this in her emphatic, angsty tone of voice. I intervene when I cannot wait any longer for her, but usually, this causes mass chaos. It is a never-ending struggle that leaves me longing for the day when she can balance her need to be independent with some patience and compliance.

7) She’s persistent and determined when it comes to getting her own way.

Basically, she’s exhausting.

If I say no once, she asks me again five minutes later. Then five minutes after that. Sometimes, two minutes after that, and so on. Forever.

The other night, she was overtired and didn’t want to go to bed. Within thirty seconds of my husband announcing that it was time to get ready for bed, I knew she was going to be difficult. First, she found 95 ways to stall for a half hour. Then, she couldn’t decide if she wanted her hair brushed or not. Then she decided to use that as a stall tactic. After that, she ended up in meltdown mode and told me that she wasn’t going to go to sleep. It took about 45 more minutes before she finally gave in to the sleep she desperately needed.

8) She seems to have forgotten her manners at home.

“Please” and “thank you” became part of her vocabulary ages ago. She was using them consistently with everyone, from me to the cashier at the grocery store. I don’t know what happened, but recently, I have to remind her time and time again to say “thank you,” to her father, her brother and me, especially. In her defense, she is usually still better about it when she isn’t at home. I don’t know if she’s in a hurry to move on to the next thing, or she just can’t be bothered. Whatever the reason, I miss my polite little girl! Knowing my son went through a similar phase at this age, I know I’ll hear those sweet little words again without having to prompt her. My polite little girl will come back if I’m consistent and firm.

9) She can be really bossy.

I know this is partly her holding her own. Her brother can be pretty bossy at times, too. However, I find myself telling her to, “Stop being a mother hen,” multiple times a day since she turned three. I do this so often that even she can predict when I’m going to use this line. If I say her name with a warning tone, there are times when she will reply, “I know, Mom! No mother hen!”

10) She often acts before she thinks.

I find myself asking her, “Why did you think this was a good idea?!” about ten times a day. Her answer is always, “Because I did.” This exchange is always followed by me explaining why what she did was not a good idea. Of course, most three year-olds do this frequently. Their young brains haven’t mastered the “stop and think before you do something” principle; their executive function skills are lacking. They have a basic understanding of cause and effect but they don’t utilize it much as a threenager.

messy, girl

Despite all this, I’d also describe her as sweet, loving, hilarious and endearing. I love this little girl even though she drives me absolutely insane sometimes. Other times, her antics are just funny and I have to look away and try to stifle my laughter.

I think the fact that she is my second child makes it more bearable. I feel like I have a better grasp of what battles I want to pick the second time around. At the end of a long day with her, I remind myself that I’ll probably want my threenager back when she is thirteen, sixteen, and twenty.

For now, I’ll hang on through this wild era with my threenager, teach her how to use her persistence and determination in good ways, and foster that strong independence.

Does this all sound familiar to you? What other stereotypical threenager characteristics did I miss?



  1. Amanda, Loved your honesty and humor in this post. I don’t have a three-year old yet, but I’m glad I read this and I hope I remember it when stuff gets real at home, haha.


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