Top tips for surviving with a ‘threenager’ in the house

Thought the twos were terrible? Try the threes. Copywriter and mum-of-two Ana McLaughlin shares her top tips for surviving with a threenager in the house. If you’re in the midst of three-year-old tantrums, you’ll find this extremely helpful…

Three-year-olds can be great fun, but any parent who pretends they are constantly enamoured with their ‘threenager’ is either a liar or a little nutty. And if their social media feeds are a tumble of cherubic grins, #blessed baking sessions and play that’s boisterous – but not too boisterous – in a National Trust maintained woodland paradise, they’re only telling half the story.

My three-year-old and I have fallen out in recent weeks over her demands for a pink cake for breakfast (apart from the questionable nutritional value of this, there was no pink cake in the house). Also, I thwarted her desire to eat a soft-boiled egg while reclining on a cushion under the kitchen table, didn’t know all the words to the theme to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and advised her against taking her umbrella out on a blisteringly hot day. And I told her off for hitting her baby sister with a toy tractor.

I do not even pretend to be a model parent. My parenting motto is “There are no answers” and I have applied this to every stage of our journey so far, twinned with “This, too, shall pass”. Fortunately, however, I know many parents wiser, wilier and more experienced than myself – and these are some of the tactics they and I have employed while weathering the storms of daily life with a threenager.


Remove time pressure if you can. (Often, I realise, you can’t)
Allow extra time if you possibly can. Allow enough extra time for it to be ludicrous. While you begin the process of dragging a child to something they actually really want to do (eg soft play) but you would, in fact, rather eat dog hair than contemplate, try not to think about how you once sailed out of the house in under five minutes pausing only to pick up your keys. Which were where you left them, and not secreted in a basket of plastic fruit.

Make it a game or a competition
This works well on some children, though my three-year-old has inherited my uncompetitive nature and will often just shrug at the idea that I will beat her in the race to put our shoes on. Singing “Eye of the Tiger” to make the whole experience seem more like an inspirational movie montage has so far failed to get her to move more quickly… but it does improve my mood.

Draw a line and start again
Some mornings go terribly, and sometimes it has really helped to tell her, “Oh dear. This Tuesday is going awfully. Shall we start again?” Pretending to rewind my speech and walking backwards out of the room bewildered her enough to stop the tantrum, and when I came back in with a big smile and suggested we start again, harmony was restored.

Issue a shout warning
This was a tip from a very wise friend and I’ve found it hugely effective. Issue a shout warning: “I’ll ask you nicely one more time, and after that I’m going to shout.” It calms you down, and often has the desired effect. If it doesn’t, at least some of the guilt for shouting is removed – they had due warning, after all.

Time Out. For them and for you
Self-explanatory, this one. I need it as much as her. There are days I would pay good money to sit on a step in peace for two minutes.

Magic word
Waving your arms around and shouting “Abracadabra!” is a good way to get attention. I then told her that I thought a magic word would work better than me shouting, but since I had already asked her to get her shoes twenty-seven times I wasn’t sure whether it would work. Cue a brief discussion about her selecting her own magic word – and making me promise that if I used it, she would comply. Not to be overused, this one, and it’s probably got a short shelf-life, but it was quite entertaining.

When you are itching to swear, substitute the word ‘monkey’. Eg: ‘Put your monkey shoes on.’
I have a tendency to be a terrible potty mouth but I stole this from the journalist Stuart Heritage, who recommended it on Twitter. Anyway, it really works and is curiously satisfying.

Make up
Making up is crucial, and lovely.

Forgive yourself
You are not the only one. Three-year-olds would test the patience of a saint. Write it all down somewhere so that you can all enjoy it one day in the future, when they’re a real teenager and your new parenting challenges make you view this threenager madness through hazy rose-tinted glasses.

Ana McLaughlin (@Anabooks) is a freelance PR consultant and copywriter. She has two daughters, aged ten months and three.