The terrible threes

The terrible threes. I read plenty of articles about how “terrible twos” was a lie, and that you had to watch out for the threes instead. And I thought it was baloney. I thought the frustrations in the twos – the meltdowns that were a direct result of my little boy wanting to be independent, but not being capable of doing it all on his own, would be the worst of it. I thought the 2-year-old habit of trying to get out of bed ten times, before finally giving in and submitting to the sleep he needed, would be the worst of it. I thought that the time outs that were a result of doing something even after I said no three times would be the worst of it.

Boy was I wrong. The thing about a 2-year-old is that they haven’t yet learned the following phrases: “a couple more minutes”, “but I want it”, “that’s not fair”, or my favorite “you don’t talk to me like that”. Yes, these simple phrases that turn a “no” into a fifteen minute negotiation process.

I know, I know, I’m the parent, I set the rules. If I were supernanny, I suppose I could lean down, say “This behavior is unacceptable” and the kids would go about their business. But I find myself constantly picking and fighting my battles with my three-and-a-half year old.

Bedtime has become one of my least favorite times of the day. I remember the days of looking forward to that half hour where he and I would pick out a book, and he’d get great joy out of my “big bad wolf” voice, or renaming the characters in his books to be his friends from school. It was relaxing and peaceful. It was quality time. It was a piece of cake. Now, it goes something like this:

-15 minute warning “It’s almost time for bed”

“A few more minutes, mama”

-5 minute warning “The clock says you only have a few more minutes. After this (song, scene) on TV, we’re going upstairs”

“But I didn’t have dinner yet” (complete fabrication, but who is going to let their kid go to bed hungry? I happen to have already made dinner, but that doesn’t stop me from making another one)

– Cheerios and milk, peanut butter waffle, or some other easy-to-make second dinner

“I need chocolate milk”

– Milk delivered, “Now eat up, it’s time for bed”

“I’m not hungry anymore”

-OK, bedtime

“I need to go pees” (Get him to the bathroom) “I don’t need to go anymore”

-OK, bedtime, again – this time we actually make it upstairs to his bedroom. “Pick out a book”

“I don’t like my books, I need new ones”

-Yes, we are 30 minutes in – often, this is 30 minutes past his original bedtime. I coax him into a book, usually with threats that there will be no books and no cuddle time, if he doesn’t pick one out. And yes, he gets new books – all the time – and has plenty that have yet to be read…

“I need Bailey (his stuffed dog) or Bite (his rubber dinosaur)” Downstairs I trek to find them

– We turn on his fisher price ‘birds’ – a crib toy that he still has that lights up and plays music

“My throat hurts, I need some juice in dada’s cup”

– OK, there is no fight left in me. I just want some cuddles and for him to get the sleep he very much needs. So I tromp downstairs, pour half a glass of juice, and back upstairs

“Thanks. I want you to stay for two songs” (In adult terms, this means lay down for 20 minutes. And if you are keeping track, we’ve already spent 45 minutes trying to get to bedtime. But, ok).

– 2 songs later, I’m ready to put my little boy to sleep

“I want to rock” (Translation: be held in the rocking chair and have you tell me you love me)

Thankfully, this is usually the last step. And all of the antics to get out of going to bed do tire him out, so the rocking only lasts a few minutes. The sad part is, as I re-read this, there is very little negotiation at all. Just a bunch of stall tactics, all of which I submit to. Is it working mom guilt? Is it just the way it works when you have a three year old? Is it laziness on my part, not wanting to fight the good fight? Is it lack of boundaries and an inability to set appropriate rules? Or do I just love him so much that I want him to be happy and content?

I have no idea. I do know that I am not alone in this struggle. If you are still reading, it probably means that you are going through the same thing with your three year old. And you may be wishing that I’ll pull out a magic secret to help you avoid these long, drawn out activities that lead to you being exhausted and your child missing their bedtime.

Well, I hate to admit, I have no answers. We keep plugging along, trying to get him to sleep with less and less hassle each time. Some nights we have great success. Other nights we are well-played by a three year old…and so goes life with a preschooler…

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