Me vs. Three (So Far, Three is Winning)

I think I have found my biggest struggle in life.

My biggest struggle is 3 years old.

Graham is now 3 and a half. We still have SIX LONG MONTHS before he gets to 4. And I don’t feel like there’s been a lot of progress in these six months.

I don’t mean developmentally or educationally. Graham is doing great with his letters, I see him improving on all kinds of fronts. (Bless the people at school for expecting more of my kid than I do, sometimes. He is now fully able to go to the bathroom without accompaniment or assistance pulling up his pants. I hadn’t realized we were at that point yet.)

What I mean is that our routines at home, our dynamics, our interactions: they are all stalled.

They are stuck in what I like to think of as Talking To A Wall. I can be right in front of him saying “Do not– do not– do not–” and it does not register. When he’s scolded we almost always have the same conversation.

“Graham, that is not good listening.”

“I want to listen!”

“Then listen to Mom.”

“I want to listen!”

“Then listen.”

And so on.


I am starting to feel some of that same loneliness that I had as a parent of an autistic child before I found autism blogs and support groups. But I don’t see people out there honestly blogging about how annoying 3-year-olds are. It is like we have to keep quiet and say our children are perfect and lovable all the time. We post pictures of them looking adorable and act like this is how they are 24/7.

Sure, we can talk about their illnesses, their hijinks,  their mischief. But we don’t seem to get into the inanity of it. The part where you want to take your head and hit it against the wall because you are having the exact same argument you had 20 minutes ago and you’ll have it several more times today. 

We recently instituted a sticker chart in hopes it would help Graham. The basic idea was that he’d have a more visible reward for good behavior and that it would be a not-as-upsetting punishment for bad behavior. His response to scolding is either a meltdown or to ignore it entirely and we needed something that he could get but not freak out about.

It has been a week. He has had 2 good days. The rest have not been good.

He also hasn’t responded appropriately to the “sad stickers.” He gets just as upset about them as he does about a time-out. And he seems to forget about happy stickers most of the time.

I have no idea whether all of this is just how it goes with a 3-year-old. All I know is at the end of a bad day with him I am mentally and physically and emotionally spent. I just cannot function fully after a bad day, and as you can see we’re at about 70-ish% bad days.

Is this just something you live through? Is it like battle where you just have to put your head down and hope you’re still alive once the bombs stop falling?

The thing I feel the worst about is that I tend to feel rather claustrophobic with him around a lot of the time. It’s nearly impossible for me to do any kind of housework with him around. He always wants to sit on my lap. If I’m up doing housework he has to constantly be asking questions and getting underfoot. As he’s gotten older and more independent I moved most of his favorite toys up to his bedroom so he can have them safe from the baby’s grasp and give him somewhere to go on his own. It hasn’t worked. He barely ever goes upstairs to play. He must hover and ask for snacks (THE SNACK ASKING I JUST—- I CANNOT EXPLAIN HOW CRAZY THE ALL-DAY NEVERENDING SNACK ASKING MAKES ME).

We have few “rules” in the house. Just some like No Throwing and Do not touch the toilet paper. They don’t do any good, he violates them whenever he feels like it and still acts horrified and aggrieved and outraged when called out.

It doesn’t seem to matter how we talk to him. I’ve tried being more kind, more conversational, looking him in the eye, trying to help him express his anger, I’ve tried everything that crosses my mind.

Verbally, he’s not in a place where we can have any kind of conversation, either. He can rarely answer “why” questions. He answers most questions with “Yeah,” whether that’s an appropriate answer or not. We cannot really make a narrative or a story out of it that sticks.

How many times do I tell him to put his head in the cart? Approximately a million.

I have dealt with a lot of people. I had clients who had mental health problems, low IQ’s, little education and few morals. And yet… I could get them to understand some form of reason and find a way to walk them through what they needed to know. But I cannot do that with this 3-year-old for the life of me.

I cannot find a system that sticks in his head.

If we offer incentives, he melts down if he doesn’t get it. And he is working solely for the incentive, it’s the worst kind of bribery. And the only incentives that really work are candy. I hate that. The “happy stickers” on his sticker chart don’t seem to help much, even though he knows that if he has 10 good days he gets a Mickey Clock, the thing he’s currently fixated on.

Punishments do nothing except cause screaming tantrums. As soon as the conflict is over he’ll go right back to the same behavior.

I just–

I just don’t know how to respond.

I don’t know if there’s some way I should be responding that I’m not.

And I don’t know if I’m all on my own in this or what.

All I know is that Christmas break was nearly the end of me. I spent all last week dreading the 3-day weekend. And as I’ve started to recognize that in a few months there will be a summer break I cannot even fathom how on earth I’ll survive it. How will I ever work if I have this kid in my house every day all day? AND a toddler?

I know that I’m stumped and frazzled enough to write this post knowing full well that it could bring an onslaught of parenting advice or worse, people insisting I’m doing everything wrong.

I just don’t like how I parent at the end of a bad day. I don’t like how I feel and I definitely don’t like how I look and sound. I have got to find a way to get through the next six months of this 3-year-old. I have got to make it out alive.


  1. Andrea says

    Agree with Robin. Been there. Some days with a 4-year-old area still much the same. It gets better, bit by bit, but J couldn’t answer a “Why” question for a VERY long time. The comprehension skills just aren’t always there yet. Totally normal for the 3’s, so definitely not unique to G. Hang in there, it sucks but you’ll get through it. Charts are good, bribery with treats is also good. Good luck…

  2. JoLee says

    This is like reading about my life. Three is killing me. Beckett does not respond to incentives or punishments. Not even candy, which is why he is not potty trained. And he is not nice to Felix. I spend my whole life refereeing, and I am so tired of it. Alone he can be delightful and imaginative, we spent all morning playing firestation, but together they are combustible. It’s nearly impossible to get anything done, and I kind of think that is just reality (the not getting anything done part). I have a lot of friends who say that 3 was horrific (even if they are not blogging about it since most of them don’t blog). I’m not willing to share my woes online because i don’t want to be judged by all my acquaintaces, but i sure am willing to talk about it one on one. Let me know if you discover a magic bullet. I’ve been thinking about selling one of mine to the circus.

    • says

      Whew. I guess the one thing we have going our way is that Graham usually ignores Tessa. Sometimes he plays with her. Sometimes he gets upset about her for whatever reason. But at least I don’t have to keep them separated because OMG there isn’t room to!

    • Sarah says

      JoLee and Jess – YES. Me too. We have been having huge problems with Per and Tripp not listening lately. They are 4 1/2 and 2 1/2, so a little older and a little younger than Graham and Beckett, but Oh. My. Gosh. They both communicate really well, so it mystifies me that no matter how many times I ask them to do something or stop doing something… I am ignored. And the boys fight like crazy. I keep telling myself that these years will go by faster than I think and that I ought to try harder to enjoy this time (because that’s what “everybody” says, right?). But like you, at the end of a bad day (like today), I don’t like who I am as a parent and how I feel. I guess all I mean to say is, you are not alone. We are all in the same boat. Let’s hope we can all stay afloat!

  3. Alysia says

    So I was just going to post on Facebook that four is kicking my ass and I needed a term for it. Three and a half…for ALL three of my boys…was the hardest. They all grew out of the difficulties by four. Except my youngest. It is like talking to a wall. A super clingy, three foot tall wall.
    So I am with you.

  4. Nicole says

    I have a 3 and a half year old and I am here to say that I TOTALLY know what you mean. I have a 6 year old and believe me it does get better. Also, I think the chart could work but a whole day is a long time. Maybe he can get a happy face for an hour, or for a good morning? If you figure it out, I will be excited to hear the magic bullet!

    • says

      Sorry, the sticker chart stuff isn’t clear. He gets happy stickers and sad stickers for good and bad behaviors throughout the day. And at the end of the day if he’s been good enough he gets 1 step closer to the Mickey Clock. Technically he only needs 10 good days to win it… I wondered if it was too easy, but I guess not.

  5. says

    Hi, I’m new here and I like your blog! I’m crap at giving advice so I don’t bother, but let me tell you, you are definitely not alone! I don’t know if you really want to hear this, but my 5 year old is still exactly like that. I think there was a brief period of respite where he seemed to be able to just go and play quietly for stretches of time, I think it was between the ages of 4 and a half and 5, but he seems to have just gone back to running round manically, doing everything he’s not supposed to, not listening, DEMANDING SNACKS ALL DAY LONG (omg what’s with that??) and not registering consequences or punishments or anything like that. Zero impulse control, driving me absolutely bonkers! Sometimes just sitting down on the floor in the middle of the chaos, taking some deep breaths, and just simply refusing to talk is what helps me in these situations.

  6. says

    Everyone says 2 is bad, but those are the people who haven’t yet gotten to 3.

    For me, it’s the whining and the you-must-pay-attention-to-me-right-now-no-matter-is-going-on and the fake crying. Ugh.

    But, I will say it 100% gets better. There are new challenges, of course, with 4 and 5, but 3 is tough.

    So know that we are with you on how rough it can be….and we know that one day, you’ll think, hey, remember Graham at 3? But with a smile.
    Kimberly @ Red Shutters recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: The Best Part of Christmas

  7. says

    I don’t really have any great advice for you. I only have a two year old but I have a lot of these feelings too! he always wants me to play with him and totally asks for the same things over and over, doesn’t listen, and all of that, so I think some of it comes with the age. I will say that the e-book Parenting Wild Things by Jessica Bowman was a huge help to me and gave me different ways to look at things…like using a “time in” instead of a “time out” and saying yes instead of saying no. It sounds backwards and like that kind of thing is just coddling the child, but I did glean a lot from it and have noticed far less tantrums than we were having before.

    oh and netflix… nuff said.
    Aprille recently posted..My slow journey away from attachment parenting

  8. says

    Hi, I’m here from Honest Voices. And in my most Host Voice, I will tell you that three-year-olds are assholes. Adorable assholes who are sometimes good, and of course we love them to bits, but they are assholes. I don’t think I have blogged about that, now that you mention it… He’s turning four in two days, so maybe I’ll blog about it once “it gets better.” Stay strong. I hear it does.
    Jenn @ Something Clever 2.0 recently posted..A Custom Birthday Party for a Kid With Weird Interests

  9. says

    Oh have I been there, where you are, wondering the same exact things. It is incredibly hard. Three years old for us was soooooo sooooo challenging. I kid you not, it came upon us over night. We were finished singing Happy Birthday and bam, different child. I stopped saying: “are you listening or really anything to do with listening” and kept asking/stating: “are you following directions or am I asking you do something you cannot do (yes, I used to use that phrase all the time with the high school students I counseled)?” We talked forever, and still do, about natural consequences. I would give myself time-outs so I could regroup, stay calm, and remind myself that I am the parent and this too will pass. I feel for you, yes, I do.
    Nikki | Days With Us recently posted..CINNAMON AND EXHAUST: a smelly story

  10. says

    It’s been a while since mine were that small but I do remember standing in the mushroom every day…saying “Put your shoes on”. I used so many variations but for naught AND I wished for a recording of myself saying it so I could stop what is surely one of the seven circles of hell.
    Nancy recently posted..Quincy : A Cool Place to Live


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge