Whole Parenting Family

Three & a Half Year Old Bad Habits & Mama Bad Habits

bedtime babies

There is simply nothing out there like waffling on the precipice of your third trimester of your third pregnancy to put you in full-deal-with-behavioral-stuff-now mode as a mom. I had a great interview with Jamie from Behave Your Best and am working that up, so stay tuned for the expert of all expert’s advice on handing challenging behavioral issues with your child. But in the meanwhile, I have to share that having this next baby on the horizon has encouraged me to address any unresolved long standing habits with both my kids. Nip it now, right? Before my hands are completely full.

I’ve shared in the past detailing our lovely toddler behavior battles. A whole section on ’em. A few I need to re-read periodically for myself are the ones on how

fear & power parenting doesn’t work,

wiggle it out: my spastic son needs to move,

helping the emotional little boy find his voice & listening ears,

big boy battles: loving discipline for your toddler,

two & a half year old terror? that’s my kid,

three key steps to taming your tantruming toddler,

toddler tantrums abound . . . help! {hahaha–I just laugh when I think about how I thought these were actual tantrums. They were nothing in comparison of what came!}

My list of SuperBoy habits I’m working on right now:

1) Discerning the genuinely 3.7 year old melts versus the stinky tantrum.

Is he melting down because she took his markers and he doesn’t want to share? Or is he genuinely disturbed that she’s coloring on the paper he already colored on for someone else and she’s totally trashing his gift? Not that both responses aren’t “genuine” but the former means he has to get over it and share and the latter means she has to apologize and his ruffled feathers merit smoothing. Ye old melts happen less and less frequently the more the child matures, and their brain’s emotional center grows, but he can truly morph backwards into toddler mental state and that needs to be respected. As in, raised voices don’t work. Punishing doesn’t work. Threats don’t work. A little light coddling & redirecting may be appropriate if it’s the melts & not a stinky bomb tantrum.

2) Obeying the first time. (Or to use softer terminology: following directions without kickback discussion.)

Hate to break it to you, buddy, but you’re not in charge of the bigger picture here. That would be me & my job. Le sigh. Something that’s helped in explaining the hierarchy of our household is to point out the saints on his new icon-wall in his bedroom. And remind him they listened to God and trusted Him to help them. And that I’m an intermediary for God until he gets old enough to be on his own. Too much theology for a tike? Maybe, but he calms right now!

He’s a great arguer. I wonder if having two lawyer parents have influenced this ability? Or did we fan the flames because we thought it was adorable when he was younger. Well, negotiating isn’t adorable now. And every time he’s asked to do something and instead proffers his own idea of how things should roll out? Not adorable either. It’s not every single time. We’ve come a long way in the last 6 months. But it’s still present enough to trigger a tantrum if he can’t control the timeline.

Solution? Immediate consequences regardless of how bad a tantrum they trigger. You don’t listen to me, you lose something. Stop your play and have a sit-out on the back stair. You lose a privilege. A book. A workbook. A treat (“oh, look, this WAS going to be yours but not now.”) And if the tantrum goes full-bore? That’s actually a great thing. Get it out, man. Get all those ickies out so we can address the behavior. My mom’s always reminding me to go into the storm of tantrums, not avoid them. Easier said than done.

3) Controlling his temper with his sister.

A really helpful solution has been to give him specific trigger words to use when he’s triggered. Instead of wringing his hands, shaking them in her direction, and jumping up and down while screaming SHE’S TOUCHING MY STUFF. or NO, NO, NO!!!!, he’s encouraged to alert the adult in charge that she’s “budging in” or “not sharing” and then we’ll take appropriate action. It’s not always giving him his way, sometimes it’s even making sure he shares with her. But having these phrases that get him the adult help he needs empowers him. He feels less of a victim of his little sister’s total budging in, and more in charge of his life.

Sometimes I tell him that they need to work it out with the toys or they lose all of them. That helps. Of course, she doesn’t quite get it, but it helps give him the incentive to lure her away from the desirable toy with a pretend-interesting one over here. Lallalalalala and then he can scurry back to the one he really wants. He knows she wants what he has, and he knows she’s got a short attention span. It’s hard to be the eldest, though.

She also bites on occasion, giving her the upper (cut?) hand. A terrible habit, but it has seemed to prevent him from actually hurting her physically, with deliberation and intent, that is. I’m sure he’s got plenty of motive.

4) Me & realistic expectations of capabilities.

He can listen well. He can listen poorly. Sometimes he needs a bribe to help in that department. Sometimes he needs extra cuddling. He’s not 7. He’s 3 and 7 months. When you’re around your kids all the day long, and they can converse with you, it’s easy to think they’re more culpable and cunning than they are. Maybe we project as parents. Kids this age aren’t manipulative. They’re also not dumb and know how to get what they want. We have high expectations, but a big stepping stool and cushion of understanding to help him reach them.

I’ll have to mull over SweetPea’s. Once you have an older child, it’s hard to take a little one’s pseudo-tantrums seriously. I mean, I know she is looking for shaping and help, but she’s still so small and cute I just want to laugh and cuddle her when she has a spastic moment. Not good parenting here.


  1. Kate on March 5, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    “When you’re around your kids all the day long, and they can converse with you, it’s easy to think they’re more culpable and cunning than they are.”

    This is SO TRUE. My little guy communicates so well with words that it’s sometimes easy to forget he’s TWO. Practically a baby. And when his behavior is infuriating and illogical, it’s not because he’s intentionally set out to make us crazy, it’s because his little learning brain doesn’t really do “logic” for a good while yet.

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 6, 2014 at 10:10 am

      Yes! Two is still so little, and the line between intentionality and sheer experimentation is so fine. Fine enough I think I miss it most of the time! I read a great book on this called “The Whole-Brain Child.” It’s a quick read for us lawyerly non-science types and goes through how & why their brain is the way it is. When you want to scream!

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