Struggling with a 3-year-old?  Dealing with tantrums?  Want to rip your hair out because the pink plate was in the dishwasher and there were no other acceptable plates in the house?  NO PLATES.  OH THE HUMANITY.  The very wise community of Ask Moxie commentors have a theory about the terrible, no good, very bad 3’s: HIRE A BABYSITTER.  My Little C is just over 3, and we are having a time.  The BIG emotions, the BIG tantrums, the BIG willfull and challenging attitude… it’s all big and it’s all exhausting.

If you know anything about my parenting, you know that Moxie has saved me thousands of hours of heartache.  She’s helped me find my way through breastfeeding, sleep training, co-sleeping, sleep regressions, working, relating to other mothers, relating to my partner, and more.  She (and the community) have had a profound impact on the way I choose to parent my particular children, whether we’re in a dreamboat phase, a demon phase, or somewhere in between.  Or all three at once.

No lie, in one easy site search, I came across no less than 8 Ask Moxie posts related to the TERRIBLE YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME WHEN DOES THIS END “3s”.  Most of the posts and comments dealt with the Pain. Exhaustion. Difficult. Freaky. reality of 3-year-olds.  And to top it all off, I found a book review for Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames, PhD and Frances L. Ilg, MD.

FRIEND or ENEMY.   So don’t fear, there is actually a book out there that agrees with you: your 3-year-old is certifiably insane, it’s not you.

My girls are 18 months apart.  So I’ve basically been dealing with a 3 yr old and her issues for the better part of 3 consecutive years.  Because it’s more than a year: it starts building a few months before 3, then it ebbs and you’re ok for a few weeks, then it comes back with a vengeance and sticks around for 9 or 10 months, then it ends, but then it comes back for a week or two right after they turn 4.  And oh, glorious 4.  The best part about 4 is that it’s not 3.

So here are my top 10 tips, my best lessons learned, Buzzfeed style, but without the gifs.  Sorry about that, gifs make me happy, too.

1. Hire a babysitter.

2. Make sure that babysitter has friends in case you need a back up.

3. Buy plates, cups, silverware, tissues, napkins, juice, candy, socks, underwear, towels, soap (yes, even soap) ALL IN THE SAME COLOR.  Do not dare offer your child a dinner on a blue plate.  That is the wrong plate.  The red plate is right.  Until you give it to them.  Then the red plate is wrong, too.  HOW DARE YOU.  Everything should be colorless.

4. Cut off all of the tags.  No tags in shirts, pants, underwear, stuffed animals, towels, blankets, sheets, pillows, mattresses, NO TAGS.  If you miss one, they will know, and it will itch them at 3 o’clock in the morning.  No matter if that tag is on a hook in the mudroom and nowhere near them, it itches, bitches.

5. Get a little more relaxed about screen-time limits.  Remember when you had an 18-month-old, and you were all, “My baby only watches 8 minutes of educational TV a day, and doesn’t even know who Elmo is, blah blah blah…”?  Well, first of all, we all know you were lying, and second of all, we know that 3’s need a little bit more stimulation, but they also need a lot more down time.  I’m not suggesting that you plop your kid in front of the TV for 9 consecutive hours, but I am saying that 3 is a good age relax a little bit on the screen time limits.  When they’re 3, you can introduce movies and they might even make it through one of them – my girls have been obsessed with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang going on 3 years now – and that is a crazy ass long movie.  They’ve moved through Mary Poppins, the Wizard of Oz, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and, of course, an arsenal of Disney movies.  Now that we’re gearing up for Christmas, they’re losing their minds over Frosty, Rudolph, and the whole claymation gang.  It’s HEAVEN.

6. Buy all of the paper and all of the crayons.  Coloring books, seasonal pages and printouts that someone with way more free time than you put up on Pinterest, lined paper for practicing letters: buy it all.  The girls will usually sit at the kitchen table for 20 minutes or so while I’m making dinner and color – as long as there are enough perfect non-broken crayons or pencils to keep them happy…

7. Remember that nature is a nurturer.  Outside time is essential.  Even if it’s only a 10 minute walk around the block (which is what we’re limited to, now that it’s dark and freezing by 7 o’clock) anything helps.  It calms emotions, it gets the wiggles out, it changes the scenery – it may not work every time, for which I apologize to my neighbors, but it works a lot.

8. Remember when your baby was a 4-month old and you were slogging away through that 4-8pm window that all the books called the “witching hour”?  Mary remembers, because I would call her every day and cry on the phone while I was holding a crying baby trying to keep the furious rhythm of my bouncing and shushing going and, at the same time, trying not to lose my mind.  Well, some moms think that the witching hour comes back at age 3.  It might be tied to a blood sugar dip or something, but I remember reading somewhere that “tea time” was a perfect time to give kids a light dinner.  Since 4pm dinners are out of the question at my house, as soon as we get home from daycare, everyone gets a little fruit or a cheesestick and some crackers, pretzels, or dry cereal.  Even as I’m cooking dinner.  Just enough to hopefully distract them and satisfy them until the main dinner is ready.  Just a thought.

9. Think glass-half-full: I mean, all of those half-full wine glasses.  This is the perfect opportunity to discover your favorite wine.  Buy all of the wine, and have at it!

10. Where’s that babysitter again?  She should be here by now.  Better yet, she should move in.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled that we’re out of the baby stage, and the diapers, and all that goes with it.  I love that my kids are learning to effectively communicate their needs, their little brains are firing on all cylinders all the time – just thinking of what’s going on inside their heads is exhausting!  They are fun, and silly, and creative, and learning as much as they can, as fast as they can.  But to be perfectly 100% honest – 3 is a really hard and frustrating age.  So, if you’re in the weeds, and looking for some help – sometimes these tips work for me, sometimes they don’t.

And your methods may be completely different: I’d love to hear how you’re surviving with your 3!  Also, if you’re willing to share your babysitter’s name, feel free to send her my way!!


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Also a transplant to New Jersey and Mercer County, Merritt McGlynn is walking a tightrope between career woman and devoted mother: hanging on for dear life with her dishpan hands. Merritt is a mom to two of the most adorable children in Jersey: a darling and spunky 4-year-old and a certifiably insane but heart-melting almost-3-year-old. Married to the always-working "Coach", Merritt tries to maintain some appearance of a work-life balance, and often finds that the scales are usually tipped in one direction or the other - but she’s still trying! In her spare time, if she ever gets any, Merritt would like to read books, travel with her husband, drink margaritas on the deck, and one day, if she’s really lucky, enjoy a phone conversation without interruptions. For now, she’ll settle for 20 minutes of an Audrey Hepburn movie and a diet coke.


  1. Hi, great tips! I use some of those techniques too. And for the screen time, I add apps: Mr. Potato Head is my 3yo’s new favorite. I also use WAY too many bribes. From candy to promises to show “how it works” (e.g., ill show you the toilet pipes if you eat a chicken nugget) to toys, we use bribes of all sorts.

    Lately, one of our biggest headaches is trying to get him to stay still for a meal and eat. We still haven’t figured that me out- he used to be a champ. Now almost every meal is the ongoing dialogue: you have two options – time out chair or dinner chair. So he sits in the dinner chair. Then I get distracted by my 9 month old and next the 3yo is out playing trains or torturing the dog. And then 3yo goes to the time out chair until 20 seconds later he promises to eat if I let him out… And it starts again.

    But the flip side is that I’ve never been more enamored, fascinated, or impressed by anyone’s creativity and brilliance than I am w my 3yo. What an age!

    • Love this comment, Sarah – thank you!!
      Yes to the bribes. I used dark Hershey Kisses for potty training – a LOT. I figured the dark ones had antioxidents and were essentially a vitamin.

      And OMG to the meal times. When did I become that person that begged my child to eat just-one-bite-of-chicken-nuggets?? I hate begging them to eat, or making meal time an exercise in discipline, but in our world – there’s only so much time to eat, and sometimes we have to go out in public to be among society where you’re expected to behave better than a yellow lab puppy. Call me crazy.

      And yes to the wonder – I think 3 is when the really good parts of the personality come through: the story telling, the singing, when the lights go on inside their heads and they figure it out! So cool.