The push and pull of three years old

Hello from North Haven!

This is probably old news to anyone with a child older than three, but apparently three is a preview of 13. My own daughter, generally a delightful person, has of late been given to the following behaviors:

• Stomping upstairs

• Yelling “And DON’T FOLLOW ME!”

• Slamming her bedroom door

• Shortly thereafter yelling “MOOOOOM! COME UP HERE RIGHT NOW!”

What precipitates this extreme behavior? Crises such as:

• Her Buddha Board fell on the floor and I asked her to either paint with it lying flat or put it away

• The sound wasn’t turned on the instant the television was turned on

• I asked her not to yell at the cat for looking at her

What’s a mom to do? I think it’s great that Penrose feels comfortable taking the initiative to give herself a break. And I don’t want to ignore her when she’s yelling for me. But I also don’t want to reward the part where she’s yelling (and, if I tell her I’m waiting for her to feel more calm before I go upstairs she comes down and starts pulling on my hand, which I also don’t want to reward.)

How could anyone this angelic looking slam a door, honestly? (photo by William Trevaskis)

I see the same push/pull when we’re getting ready for the day, or getting ready for bed. When I hang out in the bathroom as she’s getting dressed or getting into pajamas, she gets distracted and I nag. When I wait in my room instead, she often gets ready much more quickly. And sometimes it’s her idea for me to give her some space. But after she asks me to leave, she starts yelling for me to come look at something, help her with an item of clothing she’s managed to put on all by herself many times before, or just sit next to her.

I think I get it. She’s asserting her independence – great! But at the same time, she’s still so little, and needs to know that I’m immediately available. And I’ve heard that three-year-olds have some sort of hormone surge, similar to adolescence, although that seems up for debate.

Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh as Penrose rides her extreme emotions, although I recognize how disrespectful that is. But to see this tiny person, who loves hearing lullabies before bed and wants the whole world painted pink and purple, behaving like an angsty teen, creates a cognitive dissonance that I’m not sure how else to process.

Pink, purple, and Pen and I having a moment of accord in a tree

I’m glad Penrose feels confident enough to express herself, and although I want her to be polite when she asks, I’m also glad that she seeks me out for reassurance. And if this behavior is the extent of the teen brain she’s sure to get in a decade or so, we’ll be lucky indeed.

Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!