Three is the New Two


“What if he is an asshole forever?” my hubby bemoans as we drive home with a thrashing, screeching three-year-old strapped into the car.

“I’m sure it’s just a phase,” I reassure myself nervously.

This was our first child, so I was not at all sure that this was a phase.  After all, I had no comparison, no guarantee that he wouldn’t always be the raging, angry, menacing, tantruming, spitting, screaming, hateful asshole he had been embodying for the last month.

What had changed in the last month?  What had happened to our sweet baby?  We’d made it through the terrible twos relatively unscathed.  It was supposed to be easy sailing between now and adolescence, right?

The man who coined the term “the terrible twos” must have moved abroad for the entirety of his child’s third year.

Of course my precious boy had had outbursts when he was two, but nothing that had prepared me for what began one week after my boy’s third birthday.

After a rushed mission through Target with my grouchy son strapped into the cart, we stood in a slow moving checkout line.  Leo was growing more and more agitated, wiggling and whining, begging to be let out of what must, to him, have been the equivalent of water boarding.  Mind you, this assumption is based solely on his reaction to confinement in the cart.  I refused his requests as we were almost at the head of the line, but my repeated denials only enraged the little prince further.

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Just as the cashier began to scan our items, the dam containing the rage held within the tiny body of my three-year-old broke wide and a gush of profanity was released.  His adorable little rosebuds lips open and his squeak of a voice screams, “MOTHER FUCKER! MOTHER FUCKER! MOTHER FUCKER!”

I am literally stunned into silence, awestruck by the filth flowing freely from his miniscule vocal cords.  “MOTHER FUCKER! MOTHER FUCKER! MOTHER FUCKER!”

Holy fuck! Where the hell did he learn that kind of despicable language?  Certainly not from me!  What the shit am I supposed to do about this?  I can’t just ignore it.  Oh, bloody fuck in a fuck hole, everyone is staring.

Pondering what action to take, I am distracted by a howling laugh.  The teenage cashier thinks this situation hilarious.  Did I mention that I am a high school teacher?  Because, I went full out teacher on that kid’s ass: “You think this is funny? You think it’s funny that a three-year-old boy is screaming profanity in a public place in order to manipulate his mother into giving him what he wants? This little boy looks up to you as a big kid, and your laughter only teaches him that this type of behavior is not only acceptable, but encouraged.  Shame on you!”

Granted, this anger may have been slightly misplaced.

The Target incident, as we now refer to it, is topped only by the battle of wills our three-year-old daughter, Cecily, fought with me over the fact that a pair of shoes we’d purchased did not fit.


“I know you do, but they don’t fit. Let’s put on your sparkly pair.”

“NO! NO! I WANT THEM!!!!” she bellows as she thrashes wildly on the floor.  “I WANT THEM!” she screeches between heaving sobs.

This epically ridiculous battle continues for ten minutes as I struggle to shove her sparkle shoes onto her feet, all the while keeping an eye on the clock as I am now going to be late to work.  I foolishly forgot to schedule a 15 minute tantrum buffer.


“Okay, you do it then, but we need to hurry.”


“Then give me the shoes, and I will put them on,” I insist through gritted teeth.


I’ve reached my breaking point.  “I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT FROM ME, CECILY FRANCES. I have to go to work. I have to go,” I attempt to reason with her, in vain.  I shove the shoes onto her kicking feet, repeatedly pummeled by her flailing arms.  I stuff her under my arm (picture, if you will, a writhing, bellowing 28 pound football) and head out the front door.  Keep in mind, it is 6:15 a.m. on a frosty Winter’s morning.  It is pitch black and silent, as the majority of the neighbors are still snuggled cozily into their beds.  At least, they were.

I see the lights next door and those across the street flick on as I wrestle the still shrieking Cecily into my van.  I can only imagine that I must appear to be a kidnapper, struggling to abduct a frantic little victim.  But, no.  I can’t imagine any kidnapper would put up with this behavior.  I am simply trying to get my kid into a pair of shoes and into the damn car.

Embarrassing admission time.  In point of fact, as I write this, Cecily is acting as inspiration.  Ahhhh…my unwelcome little muse.  While jumping on the couch, an activity she has been expressly forbidden to participate in several times, she accidentally kicks her father in the face.  I calmly and firmly order her into the Naughty Spot.

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“NO!” she stubbornly affirms, topping off her insubordination by spitting at me.

I take a deep breath and begin my 1-2-3 Magic training: “One. Go to the Naughty Spot.”

“NO!” she refuses, and showers me further with saliva.

“Two. Go to the Naughty Spot.”

“NO!” she screams, dousing me, once again, with spittle.  My stomach knots as I strain to control my temper.  Holy shit!  If this is what she is like as a three-year-old, what the hell am I in store for when she’s thirteen?

“Three. Move to the Naughty spot or you will be going up to bed now, without story or song.” In her final act of resistance, she gathers a mouthful of loogy and spits forth a raging raspberry.  “Ok. Take her up to bed,” I demand of my hubby.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I don’t want to go to bed. I want a different mommy. You are NOT NICE!”  she hurls her most injurious insult at me.  The next twenty minutes are a raging storm of high pitched screams and a torrent of tears, but she is finally cajoled into her bed.

The only cure I know for this hideous behavior? A fourth birthday.

My little princess turns four at the end of December and, this year, it isn’t Christmas that can’t come soon enough.

About the writer

Erin is the mother of three beautiful and relatively happy children under the age of eight. When she isn’t wiping snotty noses, washing a seemingly bottomless pile of laundry, or cooking nutritious meals that her children refuse to eat, she is a full-time high school English teacher attempting to impart a love for Shakespeare and grammar rules to approximately 125 Seniors. Find her on her blog,


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Sk 2 years ago

The 3 year old spit on the floor in preschool yesterday. That was a new one. Worst idea? Being pregnant with a 3 year old.

Jena 2 years ago

Our daughters must have birthdays within a week of each other, then. (My 3yo was born on Christmas.) We almost always start the day well (I’m a SAHM so I don’t have a job to run late for–I assure you that, based on how often we’re on time for appointments and playdates, life with her would be very different if I were still teaching or holding another job), but by around 4PM I’ve devolved into [insert favorite villain here] and she–well, clearly, you know.

Megan 2 years ago

The 4’s are hard too? OMG please tell me it’s not true!!! Mine daughter will be 4 in 3 weeks! NO NO NO!!!!

Michele Heath-Pilotte 2 years ago

Hi Ms. Judy! All is well here. I have two young boys (3 and 5). That alone keeps me busy. Private message me and I'll be happy to catch up. Take care.

Judy F. White 2 years ago

So cute! hope all is well.

Krista 2 years ago

Wow! I didn’t know you lived at my house. 😉

Jessica 2 years ago

My daughter has been 4 for 9 months. In those 9 months we’ve had invasive testing of her bladder/kidneys, major reconstructive surgery of her bladder and a partial kidney removal, recovery, therapy for non related toe-walking and a broken collarbone…..

With all that, 4 still has been easier than 3.

Three is hell, and my most effective form of birth control.

Britanie Myers 2 years ago

Amber not every child is like your child. My son behaves very much like the boy described in this paragraph. He has even cussed a couple times and I NEVER cuss in front of him or otherwise. (I think he picked it up from some of his older cousins.) Also I am pretty strict with my discipline and he always has consequences for his actions. It doesn't help much. My daughter, on the other hand, generally listens and behaves and understands when I tell her "no". Same parents, same parenting style, different child. Some kids are WAY harder than others.

Isabella 2 years ago

Are these kids on sugar? If so, get them off ALL sugar and artificial sweeteners and there is a good chance that their behavior will improve!

Neil Bauer 2 years ago

Jenny, give a call. He's 40 now but there was a boy in our house like that, we found some resources that made a world of difference for him and our house much more sane and pleasant. He's a great man now. I can share some good stuff.

Jen S 2 years ago

I didn’t read through all the comments to see if someone else pointed this out to you, but “terrible twos” was a term coined by a WOMAN, Louise Bates Ames, who wrote a series of early childhood books beginning with “Your One Year Old” and ending with “Your 10-14 year Old.” Each book uses two adjectives to describe the age group and for two year olds the book is “terrible and tender.” She was known for saying how much she regretted that the term ‘terrible twos’ was coined from her book when it is not descriptive of that age at all. Although the books are rather sexist and dated, they still apply to the modern child of today as far as behavior goes. They are easy and great reads and will give you valuable insight about what to expect at each age.

Amber Wassenaar 2 years ago

Tiffany I completely agree with you. They can definitely learn things that aren't so great outside of the home, but for her to act totally in shock with what her son did is just absurd. Look at how she started out with her article and then of course the words she used describing what she was thinking while it was happening. That is the vocabulary of a lot of people today in our society with every other word being a swear word, which is very sad.
But yes, I do know what you are saying. Little ones pick up things so easily because their minds are like a sponge…they so easily absorb.

Tiffany Sears 2 years ago

Our 3 year old is finally getting better, but still has her days. She was absolutely wonderful until a little after this past birthday and then it got really bad really fast. I think we are coming out of this phase at least, if not into another.

Tiffany Sears 2 years ago

Maybe the child did learn it from her, but even with her humorous paragraph implying that there is every chance it was learned elsewhere. Our 3 year old has already learned a few words we are careful not to say around her because relatives have let something slip once or twice. She even picked something up once that someone said under their breath in a store.

Shaniqua Stipins 2 years ago

Traci McGough You also sound like a great mom! I wish people respected locked doors in my house. Privacy disappears for moms.:-) We hate the discipline because we love them. In the end no one wants to employ, marry or be friends with a self-centered brat. Discipline is keeping our eye on the prize, giving them long term happiness & forsaking short term comfort, though spitting kid doesn't sound all that comfortable.

It's not uncommon for brats to become bullies or the targets of bullying or be thrill seekers, drug addicts – thats what happens when you are raised to think you are above it all, when real life hits you, it's bad. Jails and courts are full of people who didn't learn boundaries as children and are learning it as adults. Love is parenting them so that they can avoid all of that pain & heartache & suffering and have a good life without wasting their life figuring out why the world is so terrible & unfair compared to Mom & Dad.

We as parents have to (in love) get our children to learn about respecting the boundaries of others, controlling themselves (and not trying to control and manipulate others) and good manners. The earlier we do it (past 12months) the easier and more enjoyable our lives together are.

My son will be 3 and went through most of the tantrum craziness before he turned 2, and now (thank God) it's a distant memory. He hasn't had a hard consequence in months. At this point I don't even tolerate whining. I can't imagine spitting. He can say No, or I don't like that or I don't want that or I don't want to do that, or I'm sad or I'm frustrated. I can honor polite words, but he must speak/ask/act properly or I tell him "I don't understand whining/impolite babies". Once they know you mean business and are willing to take the consequence 1 step farther than them, they get with the program.

Traci McGough 2 years ago

Touché, Shaniqua. If I locked my husband in the bedroom when I wasn't happy with him, then he'd probably be thrilled! Yes, our biggest consequence (at that time) was to have her bedroom door locked – with plenty of chances to make a good choice before we arrived to that point. I hated it. It felt terrible. It's crazy how it gets mixed up in your head and you're not sure if the "hating it" is because you're doing the right thing or the wrong thing. We have always had good intentions.

We also realized that there were triggers. There were some things that we wouldn't bend on and some things that we avoided (we didn't tell her that) just so that we could start our day.

We have rules in our home, but as parents we know it's okay to say "I'm sorry" when we've made a mistake (I carefully choose my words), but our children are never allowed to treat us with disrespect even if they think that we are wrong.

You sound like a smart lady and a great Mom. :)


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