13 May 2014

Lessons from Parenting a Three Year Old

from Cleveland Heights, OH, USA
Welcome to the May 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Ages and Stages
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about their children’s most rewarding and most challenging developmental periods. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Inevitably, all parents find themselves in the throes of self-discovery as they move through the thick of their children's toddlerhoods.

Have you ever wondered just how short your temper is? Were you even aware what a good handyperson you are? What about how resourceful you are when it comes to cleaning up strange messes? Did you even know how many fun, normally useless yet still fascinating facts you have amassed? How about how quickly you can come up with a variation on an answer you just gave to a question you weren't quite sure of? Is your stomach made of steel? (It'll firm up - no doubt.)

Conversely, have you ever thought about just how much you could love someone? (It's pretty infinite.) Did you realize the heart you possess to take on the task of shaping an individual into a(n at least mostly) functional person?

Somewhere between the milestones of walking and budding verbal proficiency, it isn't unusual to notice a change in children - the onset of toddlerhood, which is a time full of discovery, new emotions, boundary investigating, love, learning, and growing awareness for you and your children alike. It's a time chocked full equally of joy and frustration as children develop autonomy, personality, and become more cognizant of the world around them.

From testing boundaries to refusing snuggles to needing constant attention, toddlers can be difficult creatures to cohabit with. It's a normal time to examine limits, physically, emotionally, and disciplinarily, as well as a time for immense (and sometimes mindnumbing) curiosity. From asking "Why?" incessantly to absorbing and regurgitating every bit of information (and foul language) they come across, there seems to be little downtime much of the time, especially as energy levels pick up.

As we near the time to say good-bye to three and hello to a, from what I hear, slightly more rational four, I'd like to take a moment to share with you what has helped us get through a tumultuous two years.


Patience is the first skill to master. The situations where it will be employed are endless. From watching the same episode of the same children's show you've watched during all your recent TV times to reading the same droll bedtime book literally for the hundredth time, being able to instantly take a deep breath, center yourself, and respond calmly and thoughtfully is imperative. It gets difficult, but it's generally very manageable and much more healthy to learn to remain level-headed through small disasters and daily annoyances alike. Keep cool even as language erupts that might make a sailor blush. Maintain peace as you commit to a second bath for the day. Breathe and release.

Saying Okay

I read a post recently about a mother saying yes to her children all day. Sometimes, this is important. From entertaining benign curiosities to allowing experimentation in natural consequences to calling bluffs, saying "okay" sometimes to activities or requests you might normally deny is a healthy way to quell curiosities and elicit others, identify and process cause and effect relationships, and give your child room to explore their world appropriately. It's really delightful watching critical reasoning skills develop from miscellaneous hypotheticals and recollections from some of your favorite things that you've shared with them.. like Niko debating morality and redemption, using Darth Vader's transformation and final acts in The Return of the Jedi as his supporting argument.

Become an Abridged Encyclopedia

Really. The questions are endless. Read tidbits everywhere so you have an anecdote, answer, or reference ready on any topic at any time. Hone in on a specialty area and steer conversations there. There will be fact-based questions, requests for opinions, and imaginative, hyperbolic, and downright silly questions. Always be prepared as conversations can shift abruptly and attention spans vary wildly. While one day, you might get in 20 minutes on the facts behind and implications of climate change, another you may spend 5 minutes each covering your favorite Star Wars guy, your favorite Angry Birds Star Wars guy, when you can go to the park again and which one, and trying to tortuously extract what your three year old wants for dinner besides cereal or ice cream. In the event that you don't have an answer, it might be time for you to think about when you were planning to have that talk with your child and introduce them to Google.


Toddlers are balls of energy. Pure energy. It's important to keep them active in both play and, if they are ready, structured activities. Setting aside healthy amounts of time to play outside during all seasons and play inside, both physically and mentally, is important as toddlers like to be engaged and to burn off energy. Shortly after his third birthday, I enrolled Niko in soccer, which translated into Saturday mornings, 10am on a soccer field with about 100 other pairs of children and parents, with coaches working in earnest to translate soccer skills in activities appropriate for 3-5 year olds. They did a spectacular job, and Niko, for the most part, loved it and is very proud of having been part of the Tiger Cubs soccer program. Many communities offer similar programs, including swimming classes, gymnastics workshops, and ballet/dance classes. I felt that three was a good age to introduce group activities to help gauge how he reacts to structures likes that. All children develop differently and have different interests, so group activities isn't something I'd necessarily pursue unless you believe your child would enjoy it.


It's no lie that children pick up large portions of the vocabulary they are exposed to - so why not do diligence and provide a moderate to expansive vocabulary for your children to choose from. Quite honestly, a witty and well-spoken toddler is adorable and truly a delight. I love how Niko speaks sometimes, avoiding contractions and saying "also" and "as well" - small things that I know he picked up from listening to and imitating the way I speak. We read a fair amount - I know people who read more, but the amount we do is pretty respectable. Niko has been enrolled in the library's summer reading program for two summers now, as they let little kids join with their parents reading to them. Each week, we turned in sheets with hours of reading recorded, and we read everything - Star Wars books, the Little Mr. and Mrs. Books, Berenstein Bears, and Dr. Seuss. We have a commendable collection of books because my mother kept all of our children's books from when I was growing up, which are currently in our possession. Library book sales and stores like Half-Price Books are great places to look to add to your collection. Read at least one book a day to your child and encourage them to explore age-appropriate books on their own. We're finding at 3, board books are a nice place to start with learning how to read on our own.

Be Positive

I, not unlike a large population of adults, am rather cynical, very dry, and fluently speak sarcasm. It does not serve you well to pass these traits along to children. I catch myself from time to time wanting to give a snarky answer to an innocent question, but I realize that doing so is out of line. While instilling wit in a child is precocious and adorable, engaging children in a negative outlook on life is not good for them or for you. Three is an age where positivity and wonder should reign. Children should be inquisitive, as there is no other way for them to explore the world around them. Negative responses to their questions and requests (although, I don't mean there's harm in saying "no") can shut down their drive to find answers to questions that are constantly being processed.

Despite all of the struggles, I'm going to miss three. I feel like this year, my son's personality bloomed, and I've had to make adjustments to my outlooks everywhere to accommodate the changing dynamic, from complacent toddler to assertive child. We're each blessed with children of wildly different personalities, some which suit and complement our own, some who seems to be polar opposites. I've enjoyed his budding curiosity about everything and his ability to retain more and more information, applying sometimes abstract concepts to alternate situations, often correctly. I know four will bring much more of this, with a new intensity and new level of thoughtfulness. I'm excited.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon May 13 with all the carnival links.)
  • When Three-Year-Olds Stand Up For Themselves — Parenting Expert Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. at her blog, Parental Intelligence, enjoys the stage when three-year-olds dramatically wow their parents with their strong sense of self.
  • This too shall pass — In the beginning, everything seems so overwhelming. Amanda at My Life in a Nutshell looks at the stages of the first 1.5 years of her daughter's life and explains how nothing is ever static and everything changes - the good and the bad.
  • Age 5 – Is It Really A Golden Period? — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the developmental norms for the five-year-old set and muses over if this age really is the 'golden period.'
  • How much do you explain to your preschooler when crime touches close to home? — When tragedy strikes someone your preschooler knows, Nathalie at Kampuchea Crossings wonders how parents can best help young children cope.
  • Thoughts on ToddlerwearingThat Mama Gretchen's babywearing days are over, we're living it up in the toddlerwearing days now!
  • Parenting Challenges—Almost a man — Survivor at Surviving Mexico talks about leaving childhood behind as her son turns 12.
  • How Child Development Works - Competence Builds Competences — Debbie at Equipped Family shares how each stage of childhood builds on the next. Focus on doing the current stage reasonably well and success will breed success!
  • Making Space — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is adjusting her thinking and making room for her babies to stay near her.
  • The Best Parenting Resources for Parents of Toddlers — Toddlers can be so challenging. Not only are they learning how to exert their independence, but they simply do not have the developmental ability to be calm and logical when they are frustrated. It's the nature of the beast. I mean … the toddler. Here are Dionna at Code Name: Mama's favorite books and articles about parenting a toddler.
  • The Fab Five Stages so Far — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen couldn't choose just one stage for this carnival and is sharing her top five favorite stages in the young lives of her son and daughter at Natural Parents Network.
  • The best parts of ages 0-6 — Lauren at Hobo Mama gives a breakdown of what to expect and what to cherish in each year.
  • Lessons from Parenting a Three-Year-Old — Ana and Niko at Panda & Ananaso are quickly approaching the end of an era — toddlerhood. She shares some of her thoughts on the last two years and some tips on parenting through a time rife with change.
  • Feeling Needed — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders which developmental stage is her favorite and why. She bares it for us, seemingly without fear of judgment. You might be surprised by her answer!


  1. The patience is soooo important. And hard! And I find that saying okay is a great way to get past my own culturally (or lazily) imposed limitations and figure out what I'm really comfortable with while letting my kiddos explore their world.

  2. I feel like I am failing Ailia as a toddler mama. I did so.much.more with Kieran at her age - gave him so many varied experiences, played one on one every day, etc. And now that I have a 2yo and a homeschooled kindergartner, she often gets shuffled back in priority. Crossing my fingers that the stuff she's absorbing as a little sister will balance everything out :)