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9 Things That Prove You’re Living with a Threenager

If you thought it would be smooth sailing after the terrible twos, think again, because now you may have a "threenager." We caught up with a child psychiatrist to get the scoop on how to deal with a transitioning toddler without losing your cool.

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They spend all day talking back and then randomly crash, because nap time is still king

“They have strong opinions and finally have the verbal skills to let you know what they want,” shares board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist in New York, Miri Rosen, MD. “It’s important to acknowledge their feelings.” It’s all part of how to raise emotionally intelligent children.

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You go through countless outfit swaps

You probably didn’t expect to see your child’s entire wardrobe strewn about the floor till at least middle school, but it’s apparently very common for threenager types to spend what seems like forever debating and choosing their best looks. Dr. Rosen explains this as, “They’re beginning to explore their independence more, and that comes with challenges.” Does independent always have to mean wearing several tutus at once with a glittering sweater in a heat wave? With a threenager, possibly yes. (If you have a fussy dresser, here’s how to ease the drama.)

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They assert their power

If your toddler has his or her hands crossed over their chest or placed firmly on their hip as they belt out “NO! NO! NO!” you’re definitely knee-deep in threenager syndrome. Everything is a senseless battle, but the good news is after 10 to 15 minutes of defiance, they’ll likely forget what they were upset about anyway. Stay your course, brave adults.

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They navigate your tech devices flawlessly from their stroller

It’s not unusual to find a full-fledged threenager sifting through YouTube videos, admiring photo albums, or playing with game apps. The universe is a strange place, and somehow toddlers seem to hold the keys to all the newest technology. Fortunately screen time isn’t that bad for kids.

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They’ll skewer you for cutting their meal into the wrong shapes

Remember at age two, when all finger foods were exciting? Forget that with a threenager, because if your sandwich halves are rectangles instead of the preferred triangles, you’re in for a serious battle—and heaven forbid the peas touch the macaroni. “These behaviors are actually developmentally appropriate for a 3-year-old, and where parents get in trouble is when they treat a 3-year-old like a teenager,” Dr. Rosen says. Watch out for tantrums over the wrong color apple slices—and keep taking deep breaths.

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They are all backseat drivers

Aside from pointing out the color of every traffic light and reminding you exactly what it means, threenagers will dictate the proper speed for the various roads you’ll travel together, the style of car you really should’ve gotten, and the appropriate temperature or music to ride along to. Don’t even think about using the car’s bluetooth speakerphone to make work-related calls, either—your threenager will chime right in.

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They negotiate so aggressively you’ll want them with you when you buy major appliances

Have you ever noticed that three-year-olds are able to squeeze an extra few minutes out of that “firm” bedtime flawlessly? Don’t even consider leaving them with a babysitter without a full set of written rules, either, or you’ll come home to a kid with a belly full of candy watching Disney movies on Pay Per View even though you explicitly said “fruit and books only!”

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They’ll tell people off even from the seat of a grocery cart

You know you have a threenager on your hands when you’re wheeling them through the grocery aisles and see them waving their little fingers at people and screaming “Hey! That’s not healfy! Put that down!” …Nothing says humiliation quite like your baby shaming other people’s food choices. Dr. Rosen says that’s par for the course, but, “Setting strong limits when necessary is always good, and letting them know Mom and Dad are boss while also acknowledging that they have strong feelings and opinions and giving them choices when possible is key to success.”

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They’ll tell you they don’t like you and then ask to sleep in your bed

If your whole life is starting to seem like an argument that finishes with a child dragging their favorite stuffed buddy into your bed for the night, pat yourself on the back—you’re raising a proper threenager! “They tantrum and have emotional reactions that may seem extreme or get upset about details that may seem irrational to you, but all these behaviors are developmentally appropriate for a three-year-old,” Dr. Rosen says. Phew, now that you know it’s normal you can focus on toddler sleep training!

Bryce Gruber
As Home Editor, Bryce Gruber is an expert in gift ideas, shopping, and e-commerce at Reader's Digest. You've likely seen her work across a variety of women's lifestyle and parenting outlets and on TV shows. She lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley with her five small children.