Helpful Mom: Parenting Threenagers

Who's in charge here?!

Me: “Adrian, please do not go down the stairs.”

My son: “Okay Mommy, I go down the stairs.”

Welcome to my life with a threenager.

This display of willful defiance from toddlers is no laughing matter. So don’t even think about laughing. Seriously. Not even when you see my son in all his glory…

...peacefully protesting in front of your car by lying limp in the road because walking is just too much for him today

...throw his pasta on the ground saying “YUCK” after he just happily ate half a plate of it

...or when he gives me stink eye until I say “3” and have to physically remove him from a situation while onlookers decide how much better they would handle it if they were me

Urban Dictionary says a threenager is “a three year old spouting attitude like a spoiled teenager.”James C. Dobson, psychologist, parenting expert, and author of The Strong-Willed Child refers to threenager behavior as “The Challenge of Chief.” He is referring to the defiant game that toddlers play with their parents in an attempt to determine who is the toughest.

So...who’s in charge at your house?

Is it you?

Your kid?

The dog?

If it’s not need a game plan, STAT! And don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

#1 Understand it’s not your fault that your child is strong-willed. Children come into this world with their own temperament.

#2 Stop wasting time with guilt and self-blame over your threenager’s sassy attitude. Without the heavy weight of guilt plaguing you anymore, you can channel that newfound energy into a useful form, such as patience and willpower (trust me you’ll need it for the next few steps!)

#3 Don’t default to screaming. Or worse, letting your child rule. Realize that adult leadership is rarely accepted unchallenged. If you need a wake up call - ask your own parents for childhood stories about yourself!

#4 Be a worthy adversary to your threenager. Carefully select the issues that are worthy of confrontation. Then, accept your threenagers challenge on those issues, and win decisively.

#5 Reward with love. Pay attention to the cooperative behavior and offer your affection and verbal praise so your child knows how to please you.

Parenting threenagers effectively involves a balance of love and control. Nothing gets fixed quickly. And being strong-willed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Embrace the goal of competent parenting and give these ideas a try. If you run out of patience and willpower, come talk to us...we know how to get more and we’re in your corner!


Talia Filippelli, LCSW, CHHC, CPT is a licensed psychotherapist, certified holistic health coach, certified personal trainer, and the Chief Happiness Officer at Starr Therapy in Hoboken. She has been featured on CBS News as a mental health expert and was voted a Top Kids Doc by NJ Family Magazine in 2014, 2015 and 2016!

For more information on Talia or Starr Therapy, visit her website:

Starr Therapy, LLC

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