The terrible twos vs. the terrible threes

Ian writes about the five reasons why he thinks three-year-olds are harder to handle than two-year-olds.

By Ian Mendes
The terrible twos vs. the terrible threes

Photo: iStockphoto

We’re pretty obsessed with age in our society—or at least defining what it means.

Thirty is the new 20. And once you get older, your current age just becomes the new 30. The same thing has trickled down to the toddler age bracket as well, where I’m convinced that three is the new two. The “terrible twos” have made quite a reputation for themselves over the years.

You picture a child doing annoying things like banging a pot loudly with a spoon. Or rolling around the floor having a major tantrum. Or eating Nutella straight out of the jar with their bare hands. (Okay, the Nutella thing is acceptable since I still do it at the age of 35).

And when your kid hits their third birthday, some childless moron inevitably says, “Well, at least you’re out of the terrible twos.”

The truth is, three-year-olds are just as bad — but they just don’t have a catchy nickname like the “terrible twos.” If someone had coined the phrase “thrashing threes” or “thunderous threes”, we would learn not to raise our expectations for kids once they turn three.

Last week our niece celebrated her third birthday and it reminded me that my sister and my brother-in-law are probably in for a rough year.

So this week, I wanted to write about the five reasons why I think three-year-olds are probably tougher to handle than two-year-olds:


1. The great nap debate There is no question that a two-year-old child needs an afternoon nap on a daily basis. Most two-year-olds fall asleep around 1 p.m., coinciding nicely with when the worst daytime television hits the airwaves for exhausted parents. “I haven’t stopped moving all day and I’m getting another rerun of Montel… are you kidding me?”

But when a child turns three, the napping becomes more of a challenge. Some days they need it and some days they don’t. But good luck trying to figure out when they need a nap and when you can push them through. And there are only two possible outcomes:

Outcome #1: At 5 p.m., you will say: “He’s driving me crazy — I should have put him for a nap.”

Outcome #2: At 8 p.m., you will say: “He’s driving me crazy — I shouldn’t have put him for a nap.”

2. They’re always asking “Why?” An example of a normal conversation with a three-year-old goes something like this:


“Time to put your shoes on.”


“Because we need to go to the store.”


“Because Daddy needs to pick up some beer and Tylenol.”



“Because we ran out of both while watching In The Night Garden yesterday.”


Three-year-olds have a tendency to go through a phase where they ask “Why?” to everything you say. At first, it’s really cute and endearing. They’re showing an inquisitive nature and it’s hard not to answer the question honestly. But then, as the weeks go by, the “Whys” gradually shift and take on a more whiny tone. And by the end of the “Why” cycle, they sound eerily similar to the love-child of Richard Simmons and Pauly Shore.

3. They are pickier eaters Once kids turn three, it seems like they gravitate to only one type of food for extended periods of time. For our oldest daughter, she would only eat chicken fingers and fries at that age. For some kids they only consume cheese pizza. And you had better be clear: Does the sauce go on top of the pasta or on the side? If you prematurely put tomato sauce on pasta for a three-year-old without prior consent, it’s essentially a declaration of war.


4. The struggles potty training When a two-year-old does a poop in their diaper, it’s no big deal. But when a three-year-old does the exact same thing in their underwear, it’s the most revolting thing ever. Trying to train a three-year-old is extremely difficult, especially when you have to lug a Dora potty seat along everywhere you go. When you’re struggling with potty training you really long for the simple days when the child could urinate freely in their diaper without leaving a puddle in the middle of the aisle at Bulk Barn.

5. The tantrums are worse A three-year-old tricks you because you think you can reason with them, but it turns out they’re actually just a two-year-old in a slightly bigger body. No three-year-old truly understands the concept of sharing, but because they’re out of the “terrible twos”, we just assume they’ve reached a greater state of enlightenment.

Truth is, their tantrums are worse as a three-year-old because they are bigger, stronger and have a louder voice. Nothing raises the blood pressure of an exasperated parent like a full-blown meltdown from a three-year-old. And pretty soon, you feel like you are going to end up on an episode of Montel titled “Help: My three-year-old is acting like a two-year-old.”

Read more: Is my toddler's bad behaviour normal?
How my picky eater became an adventurous foodie Snooze control: An age-by-age guide to naps

This article was originally published on Sep 27, 2012

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