I have a three-year-old, a two-year-old and a newborn and the most curious (as in Alice in Wonderland odd, strange) little guy is my three-year-old. Perhaps it’s the age; perhaps it’s that I’ve been through the newborn stage and the twos and know what to expect. Regardless, three-year-olds are the strangest little things! Here’s why:

They Constantly Surprise You By How Smart They Are
Many parents have their kids in school/daycare all along, but a majority of the rest start preschool around three years of age. If this is the case, it is the first time your kids are away from you and learning things you didn’t teach them. They talk about what they learned in school (for my child it’s mostly, “I played. I ate a bar. And grapes!” Food and play is the highlight of any of his days.), but you also start to see them putting together concepts, learning the things you’ve been trying to teach, and playing with kids their own age. It’s amazing to see them soak up information. The question game is trying, but at the same time they are sponges, trying to absorb as much knowledge as their little brains can hold.

They Constantly Surprise You By How Dumb They Can Be
A three-year old’s curious mind can work against his favor, as well. I feel like I am constantly trying to save mine from himself. They get into things, not with a two-year old’s reckless abandon, but with a well (to them) thought out plan. They know how things work (for the most part) and are quick to imitate something they’ve seen their parents do, but sometimes the execution leaves something to be desired. My son knows how plugs work, for example, but I freak when he tries to plug things in. Putting a chair on the bed in order to reach something high, is not the best plan. Nor is bringing your battery-powered car into the bath.

Their Concept of Why is Questionable
I don’t know if this is true for all three-year olds, but it’s definitely true for mine. I ask him, “Why did you snatch that from your brother?” His answer? “Because I did.” “Why are you hungry after all you ate?” “Because I am.” He cannot answer my whys and I don’t know why! Is it that he doesn’t understand the concept or that he just doesn’t have an answer? My thinking is that he knows why he did something and it makes perfect sense to him, he just can’t articulate his thought process.

They Will Make You Laugh Like No Other
Now that communication between you and your child is well-established, his personality and sense of humor shine through. My two-year-old is funny from the way he runs (arms pumping at shoulder height) to his crazy dancing and yoga moves, but my three-year-old surprises me AND makes me laugh with his commentary. He wants a rundown of his day from the time he opens his eyes to the time he goes to sleep and then the following morning as well. He measures time in awake periods and needs to know what’s going to happen the next time he wakes up. He’s serious but unintentionally funny. I told him we were having spaghetti for dinner, wasn’t that a good idea? And he said, “Yep! I like spaghetti! Yep, that’s a good idea!” with his head tilted to one side, lips pursed, nodding sideways. I threw back my head and laughed at the picture he made.

They Have No Shame
I have yet to meet a kid under five who gets embarrassed. Three-year-olds are a dangerous blend of vocabulary, self-awareness and an unfiltered running commentary of anything that comes to mind. A three-year-old will think nothing of telling you what it smells like in a public bathroom, either because you’re dropping a deuce or the person next to you is. They think nothing of piping up to their teacher or their grandmother that mommy let them have cookies for breakfast. The best thing a mother of a three-year-old could have is an underdeveloped sense of shame.

They Are Not Above a Tantrum
I’m sure everyone remembers the tantrums their little bundle (of joy?) had at two. Take those tantrums and make them one hundred times more frustrating and you have the tantrum capability of a threenager. They aren’t necessarily more in sheer number, just in the amount of frustration caused. This is because that little threenager is so much smarter than he or she was at two. You have a (perhaps false) sense that you can reason with him, because it works sometimes! You have a logical discussion with your three-year-old; he or she recognizes the practicality of what you are suggesting and falls in line. Then you can have a perfectly logical reason that said three-year-old can’t let the dog in (i.e. baby brother is on the floor and when said giant dog weighs 100 pounds so it’s better to leave him outside) and the three-year-old loses his mind. You’re completely shocked (though you probably shouldn’t be) at the sounds of screaming, pounding feet, slamming doors and, on more than one occasion in our house, a fist pounding the wall. It’s baffling and maddening and sometimes you feel like you might lose your mind.

Don’t lose hope. Your three-year-old is still the sweet guy he’s always been. You might just have to dig a little into your stores of patience and wait it out. He’ll come back with a sweet smile and want to sit on your lap, maybe give you a kiss or a hug and settle in to watch Paw Patrol.

Jen Mearns

My name is Jen Mearns and I live in NC with my husband, three boys under four, a geriatric cat, an enormous dog, and two chattery parakeets. My work has been featured on Scary Mommy, Pregnant Chicken and Babygaga. I am a former microbiologist turned writer, pet sitter and stay-at-home mom.