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How to deal with the terrible threes

Forget the terrible twos. Any mom of a toddler becoming a preschooler will tell you that three is when the real challenges come up. From potty training to safety tips, learn how to handle your wild child.

Three-year-olds are overflowing with personality. They have new-found language skills, improving motor skills and a greater desire to socialize.

They’re insatiably curious and playful, but lack the common sense to know that the hot burner on the stove is not a fun thing to play with. While delightful to parents, they can also be frustrating, especially with it comes to discipline. Learn how to navigate the wild ride of parenting a 3-year-old.

Choose battles wisely

It’s impossible to completely control a three-year-old. Why would you want to? Three-year-olds learn by exploring the environment and testing boundaries. While you don’t want your child to hurt herself, you do want her to stay busy in a variety of situations that help her learn about the world. Try to be flexible about behavior unless it’s related to safety and important rules like staying out of the street, avoiding the hot stove and keeping away from bodies of water. If you try to control every less-than-ideal behavior, you’ll find yourself reprimanding your child all day long, and neither of you want that.

Approach potty training peacefully

If your child is 3 and still wears diapers, he isn’t alone. Don’t stress about it. Comfort yourself in knowing the end of diapers is near. You can try a variety of approaches, from a targeted no-diapers weekend to a rewards chart. At 3, your child has a better chance of understanding reward systems and bribes. Be sure to handle accidents with patience and love. They’ll happen once in a while, and a child should never be punished for them.

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Divert and redirect

You can spend all day explaining why your child shouldn’t engage in certain problem behaviors, but it won’t make an impact. As much as you frantically say, “You could cut yourself,” your 3-year-old isn’t going to be able to comprehend why he shouldn’t grab a knife. While it might seem like spoiling your child, diverting and redirecting is actually the most effective way to encourage good behavior in 3-year-olds. Distract him with favorite toys, characters or songs when he’s acting up. Offer him an appropriate toy or activity when he’s doing something mischievous. It doesn’t take much time to get a 3-year-old back on track.

Provide a safe environment

Baby proofing doesn’t end when a child turns 3. If anything, it’s when the real challenges start. Curious 3-year-olds can climb, open jars and dash away rapidly. They’re little balls of energy that can leave a path of destruction. Make sure your home is safe for your child, with the understanding that safety measures aren’t a substitute for appropriate supervision. You know your child best. If she’s still putting small objects in her mouth, she may not be ready for toys that are labeled for ages 3 and up.

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