Terrible 3s

The “terrible 3s” is a colloquial term that refers to the behavioral and emotional changes that some children experience between the ages of 2 and 4. At this age, children are often more defiant and demanding, which can result in temper tantrums, defiance, and other challenging behaviors. These behaviors are typically seen as a normal part of child development and usually subside as children continue to mature and gain greater control over their emotions.

What Are The Terrible 3s?

The terrible 3s is an expression that many parents use to describe the behavior of their three year olds. This can include screaming, stomping, hitting and tantrums. The terrible 3s are not so terrible once we begin to understand the mind of a three year old and how to help them communicate and how to effectively communicate with them.

How Do You Deal With The Terrible 3s?

We have all heard that the terrible twos strike on the moment of your child’s birthday, but more and more families insist that the the terrible 3s not only exist but they’re worse. Not only is your little tot full of tantrums but they know how to use their words a lot better than your two year old. Sometimes, parents are at their wits end, thinking that these terrible tantrums, the Whys, the nos and so much more will never end!

We are here to not only give you confidence that you will need to get through this but also coping mechanisms with the terrible 3s with top tips on how to survive the terrible 3s and  how to thrive during this important year in your child’s development.

Are threes worse than twos?

Like a two year old the threes can be just as hard. The brain of a young child is still developing rapidly but a three year old is aware of their independence. They can show their frustrations with more confidence, ask a lot of questions and know how to be defiant. However, they still are like a two year old where they cannot fully express their emotions. The terrible threes are like the terrible twos. The good news is, its temporary.


Signs Your Child Is In The Terrible 3s

Being right in the middle of the terrible 3s can happen so swiftly, it can seem like your toddler has changed completely overnight! Here are some examples of when you know you are in the terrible 3s stage. We will also teach you how to communicate with a little person when it seems like communication is impossible. This is possible and we are going to make the transition for you and your child as smooth as we can. Here are some signs your child is in the terrible 3s.

They Are Asking Whys

“Let’s pick up after ourselves!”


“Time for bed!”


You have definitely experienced the Why’s just like the terrible twos you have experienced the “nos.” Not only do you have a toddler who is defiant, they’re asking questions as to why they have to do anything!

They Are Grabbing Things

Whether this toddler is grabbing the remote control or stealing your cell phone when you look away for one moment, this is one way to tell your child is trying to communicate with you by grabbing things that you use regularly.

They May Be Hitting

No one wants to be hit. Is your toddler hitting you, their siblings, or other children at daycare or in the park? Your child is feeling like they are not getting their way so they are expressing themselves by hitting. This behavior is unacceptable but that does not mean you lash out, yell and scream.

They Are Saying No

You ask your toddler to come over to you, use manners or just eat their dinner. All you hear is “NO!” If can be hard to get negative reactions to everything you are saying. Your child is realizing that they are no longer attached to you and that they are their own independent little being. They assert this by making up their own minds about everything. The way to do this is to say and do the opposite of everything their parents are saying! There are many ways to communicate with the No toddlers.

Toddlers Are Having Tantrums

Tantrums are when your child just has a melt down. They scream, cry, hit and throw anything that is in their vicinity. They collapse to the ground and refuse to move, sometimes pounding their tiny fits to the ground. They can spit as they scream and just look like they have been possessed! As horrible sounding as it is, these tantrums just do not happen in the privacy of your own home. It can happen at a friends house, a grocery store, or even at the park.

Parents often times find themselves embarrassed, angry at their child and feeling helpless as their child acts out. What a parent may not know, is their child’s brain is on overload. They are desperate to express themselves to their parent, a friend or another person but they do not have the ability. Their cognitive abilities have not developed yet in handling complex emotions. Similarly, they have these emotions and need to express themselves. There are ways to defuse your child and help them through this tough time.


More frequent instances of saying “no” or disobeying rules.


Acting without thinking things through, acting on immediate desires.

Mood swings

Rapid shifts in mood or behavior.

Attention seeking

Your child is acting out for attention or demanding more attention than usual. Perhaps there is a new baby in the house or they are still the only child.


Seeking more independence and control over their environment.


Refusing to compromise or being difficult to persuade.

Your child could have some or all of these symptoms. However, it is quite common as their brain is very active. They are still learning to express themselves and are having a challenging time interpreting and speaking about these complex thoughts.

Your child may be confused over a move, a new sibling, a death in the family or more. They will find it challenging to react than an older child. It is important to be mindful even thought the situation is stressful. Talk to your doctor if some of these symptoms worry you.

What is the most difficult toddler age?

Though most people say the most difficult toddler age is between 2-4, many children are just looking for a parent who can understand them. With these top tips, you will find that your child is not trying to be difficult but learning how to deal with more complex emotions.

How do you discipline a 3 year old who won’t listen?

Solutions for the terrible 3s

When you are witnessing what you consider bad behavior: tantrums, yelling, grabbing things, you are actually witnessing a young child trying to communicate with you. Whether a child is sick, tired, hungry, frustrated, or wanting attention,  they do not have the language skills to communicate with you at the moment. Their brain has not developed yet to be able to understand complex emotions and feelings. This is where you can make your toddler’s life and your life easier. You can learn through the actions what your child is trying to communicate and either meet those needs or explain in a different way why they cannot have what they are wanting. There are solutions!

If You’re In Public – Focus on You and Your Child

Many parents get flustered when their child is acting out in public. We can understand that you don’t want to disturb others and it can be embarrassing. You also do not want to deal with other people’s judgements and reactions. Free yourself of what other people think. Just focus on you, the situation and your child. Make sure your child is in a safe space (where they can’t hurt themselves, you or others) in the situation and then you can get down to solving the challenge with your child.

Stay Calm, Cool and Collective

Your child is feeling like they can’t communicate and that the feelings that they are having are over whelming. They need you not to yell and scream back at them. Make sure to keep your cool and stay calm. It may help to know that your child’s brain is not developed yet to handle emotions rationally. We can, however, guide them to be calm and calmness begins with you. You will not yell and scream but you can stay calm and cool. You understand that they are just learning to show emotion. You will be clear when you speak to them and use easy words for your child to understand.

Get Down To Their Level

Be sure to kneel down or sit down if you can to get down to your child’s level when they are angry or having a tantrum. When you face your child at their level, they feel that they are being acknowledged and listened to. Though this will not solve the problem completely, it will begin to deescalate the situation.

Use Short, Easy To Understand Sentences

“Come with Dad.”

“Don’t touch that!”

“Stay close to me.”

These are digestable sentences for a little one to understand.  Your child needs short and sweet sentences that are easy to understand, so that when they are having a hard time, they have more of a chance of absorbing what you are saying.

Don’t Give In

If they want that chocolate or cookie or to stay up, do not give in. you teach your child that they can get what they want if they scream, cry and have tantrums. When the child gets to school or interacting with other children, it will come as a great shock to them that they in fact, do not get what they want. This can cause conflict with other children and teachers and lead to more challenges. Kindly but firmly say ” You cannot have a cookie.” “It is time for bed.” Keeping firm about these things may cause more crying today, but soon your child will understand that these behaviors will not get them what they want.

Ask Yourself “Why?”

Try to take personal emotion of a stressful situation out of it and quickly analyze why this is happening. Is it close to a nap? Could your child be hungry? Has there been any stressors in their life lately (a death of a grandparent, a big move to a new place). Stressors in your life can be stressful to a toddler, even if they do not know what is going on or how to properly express themselves.

If you believe that  they are acting out over a life challenge that has happened or that they are acting out because of hunger, nap etc know that they are looking for your attention.

Spend a little more time playing with  your three year old. Even if the games don’t make sense or are extremely repetitive, your time is so precious to them. Your presence will fill their cup and lower the chance of having tantrums or breakdowns.

How Many times Are You Saying No?

Do you find that your toddler is not the only one saying “no” all of the time? Imagine being a little person and feeling like you are hearing the word “no” or “not now” many times a day. To us, a day is so short and a blip in our life. To a three year old, a day is long, a big part of their time and they want to grow, run and experience everything.

Can you find it in yourself to say “no” a little less? If you can play tag, run outside or take your child to the park. If you can make these small concessions, your child will find that life is filled with less nos and more possibilities.

Do Not Distract -Act!

If you are experiencing some terrible 3s attitude, do not distract your child with television or their favorite toy. Act! They usually are wanting their attention. It does not necessarily mean you have to be taken away from your tasks. Find was that your child can do things with you. If your child is having a tantrum, have them help you with the laundry. Give them a simple task of folding the towel. It does not have to be perfect, it just has to be progress. Giving your child tasks, no matter how small makes them feel big, involved and important. This means less tantrums later and you get brownie points for spending quality time with your little one.

Quality time does not always have to be grand gestures, it can be everyday tasks that you do together!

Show Love After The Fact

Once the last tear has shed and the last yell is out and things seem to be calm, give your child a big hug. Embrace them and let them know that you love them. The world would be a much better place if when we felt our worst, someone told us they loved us. Be that change. You’re a good parent.

Predict Tantrums Before They Happen

This may sound like you have to be clairvoyant but fear not, its easier than you think. If you see that your three year old acts out a lot before they are supposed to eat or right before bed, you can create routines that your little one can predict so they do not get ancy and work themselves into a tantrum. Your child will begin to expect the routine. Similarly, if you get your child involved in the routine: for example, if its bed time, put their favorite stuffed animal to bed first. Have your child take them to the bathroom, pretend to brush their teeth and put them to bed. Next will be your child’s turn.

Routine before a time where you believe your child will melt down is a great way to stop it before it starts. Then everyone can relax.

Positive Reinforcement

The best way to fight melt downs, anger and tears is to pre-plan! Give your child a reward chart where if they do small age appropriate chores, kind gestures or try new things. Your child will learn how to get excited about accomplishing tasks rather than being upset. Positive reinforcement is a great way for your little one to set goals and feel independent.

Redirect Your Child Elsewhere

We love our children but sometimes they are not the best playmate to their friends. Threenagers can be bossy, steal toys, hit and speak poorly to their friends. This behavior is unacceptable as we don’t want to brush this off. Sometimes, if you redirect your child, they can learn to play in peace rather than in conflict.

If your child is playing with their friends and is pushing a lot, have your child apologize to their friend and redirect your child to a different game. That way, your child knows if they are rough while they play this game, they will no longer be playing. Redirecting them to another game gives them a time to cool down and realize they cannot over power other people.

Similarly, if your child takes toys from another child, you can redirect your child with another toy. This method is best to use with children who are just learning to speak and communicate with others. Understanding more complex emotions come later in the year.

3 Year Old Brain Development

At three years old, a child’s brain is undergoing significant development in several key areas. Here are some of the key ways in which the brain develops during this stage:

  1. Language: Children’s language abilities continue to develop rapidly, and they begin to use longer sentences, ask more questions, and understand more complex language.
  2. Executive function: Executive function, which includes skills such as attention, planning, and problem solving, continues to develop at this age, allowing children to make more complex decisions and engage in more advanced problem-solving activities.
  3. Emotional regulation: Children at this age begin to better understand and regulate their emotions, which can help reduce instances of tantrums and mood swings.
  4. Memory: Children’s memories continue to improve, and they are able to recall past events more accurately and store more information for longer periods of time.
  5. Social skills: Social skills also continue to develop, and children become more aware of social norms and expectations, and begin to develop more sophisticated social relationships with others.

Overall, the brain experiences rapid development in several key areas at three years old, and these changes play a critical role in shaping a child’s future cognitive, emotional, and social development. It is important to understand how much your child is learning in this precious year.

Ask The Culpeppers – Stories and Advice For Terrible 3s

There is a lot of advice out there, but not a lot of advice from real parents, like you. Derrick and Lakisha know a thing or two about the terrible 3s, they have raised three children! Here is their honest approach with the terrible 3s and some parenting advice of what they have learned what to do and what not to do over the years. Thankfully, they assure our audience, this too shall pass. Check out Ask The Culpeppers and make sure to like and subscribe to their channel.

This family is full of love and advice!

How To Handle The Terrible 3s

The terrible 3s only seem terrible, but there are solutions on how you can handle your toddler. The solutions begin with you.

A toddler is having a tantrum because they do not have the skill set to process the emotions that they are handling. To them, feelings of loss, misunderstanding, and what they consider unfairness are complex, multi faceted emotions that they cannot comprehend. Therefore they break down. They say no. The toddler gets angry. There are so many ways to handle the terrible 3s but here are some ways to stop the terrible 3s:

Positive reinforcement


predict common tantrums (it’s possible!)

show love after the tantrum is over

do not distract- act!

How many times are YOU saying no? re-evaluate

Ask yourself “why”

Don’t give into what they want all of the time!

Get down to their level

use short and easy sentences

stay cool, calm and collective

focus only on you and your child

Your threenager may drive you crazy sometimes but with these methods the terrible 3s do not have to be so terrible! You are doing a great job as a parent.