My Teenager, My Three-Year-Old

Declarations of Independence.
Three years old (give or take a few months), is the child’s first statement of independence. This is a good thing. But it’s not so easy on parents. It is important, at this age, to find a good balance in how you set limits. One thing to keep in mind is that this is boot camp for the second statement of independence.

Add ten years. That’s right, you guessed it, adolescence. One day your chubby little monkey is going to be a teenager. If you’ve established a comfortable way of setting limits, listening to your child, and following through with consequences you will have your child’s respect. They will know that when you say, “no,” you mean it. They will also know that you will listen to them, not just dictate how it’s going to be.

I’m not your friend anymore!

That’s okay, sweetheart. I’m your daddy, and sometimes daddies do things their children don’t like.

I’m still not your friend! I hate you!

It sounds like you’re very angry and frustrated, but don’t talk to daddy that way. Do you need a time-out, or can you calm yourself down?

Observe the dance that you and your 3-year-old do together now. Do you like the way that you resolve conflicts? If not, then you have some time to make changes. Otherwise, this is a preview for what’s ahead — but instead of ice cream and sticker books, the stakes will be higher, a night out with the boyfriend, a loan of the family car, an iPhone. Will your teenager have learned to tolerate frustration? Or will she descend into a mood so foul you could hardly have imagined it?

When those teenage years arrive, you will have laid a nice foundation. And let’s face it, you will have made things a whole lot easier for yourself. It won’t be easy, but it does not have to be a nightmare.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

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