Prev Next
The Terrible (Horrible Not-So-Good Very Screechy) Threes

The Terrible (Horrible Not-So-Good Very Screechy) Threes

By Amalah

Dearest Amalah,

I have a wonderful, mostly agreeable, sweet 3 year old boy who I love with all my heart. What I do not love are some of the sounds that come out of his preshus little mouth. The screeeeeeeching and the whiiiiiiiining when he doesn’t get his way is really starting to get to me. We’ve tried ignoring him when he makes this sound, we’ve tried time-outs, we’ve taken away tv time, we acknowledge his feeling of frustration/anger/sadness. All to no avail. We constantly encourage him to use his big boy voice and words (which he has a ton of by the way. This kid is constantly chatting and telling detailed stories.) So what else can I try as a way to lessen the amount of whining and screeching? Sticker chart for good behavior? Or do we just have to wait for him to mature? Will this get better as we get closer to the age of 4 (that’s not til November).


Save my Ear Drums in Philadelphia

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: One of the main reasons I am not having any more children is because I do not care to deal with another 3 year old.

My current and last 3 year old turns 4 in less than two months and I am counting the minutes, y’all.

You’d think after three children I’d have an amazing answer to your question, or at least some vaguely helpful insight or guidance. Instead I’m thinking back to this morning, when my 3 year old started in with the whiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnning and the screeeeeeeeeching before he was even out of bed, and did not let it up for a single freaking minute until I dropped him off at school and maaaaayyyyyybe pealed away from the curbside drop off a little too enthusiastically. Everything was a problem, everything was not what he wanted, every request triggered an argument. He demanded custody of toys that were not his, he became violently and suddenly anti-sock for some reason (OKAY FINE WHO CARES), he did not want the strawberries I gave him until it was too late to eat the strawberries, and oh my God, it just went on and on.

We ignore. We redirect. We use three-minute time-outs and a star/behavior chart. We take away privileges if the behavior escalates into rule breaking (throwing toys, hitting his brothers, etc.). We send him to quiet time and often to bed early in an attempt to keep him well-rested. We offer frequent healthy snacks and meals to keep him from getting hangry. We try to stay calm and consistent. Sometimes we fail and raise our voices in a desperate attempt to just startle the freaking whining out of him, which I’m not proud of, but gaaaaaahhhhhhhhh child PLEASE.

I cannot lie. None of it really works all that well. I mean, sometimes, sure. We might win an individual tantrum battle now and again but overall we’re losing the overall “I am unhappy about something and am going to react in the most draining, annoying way possible” war.

(From what I’ve heard, he’s more or less perfectly behaved at school. Just a bit stubborn, is all. So I guess that’s good?)

So I don’t know. Maybe we are just spectacularly inept at just this one age, but after living through this three times I am tempted to say that the only way through 3 years old is through. It’s a maturity thing. Your 3 year old is like the preschool equivalent of an angsty tween, stuck in between true babyhood/toddlerhood and little kid-dom. He has many, many emotions and very little control over them, and while the vocabulary and expressive language skills are GREAT when he’s calm, they still tend to go right out the window when he’s upset and he reverts back to crying instead.

So you just have to do your best to teach him self-calming strategies, attempt to fend off the freak-outs before they happen, and keep on working and working on getting him to talk to you about what he wants and how he’s feeling instead of tantrumming. Let him know he is loved unconditionally, but set limits to what you’ll tolerate (especially out in public).

I know. That’s a garbage paragraph of advice because you’re doing all that, every day, over and over again. But you just gotta keep doing it and get through this age/stage. He will become a 100% lovely, non-screeching human being at some point, I promise. (Though I’m still waiting on my other two to hit the 100% mark…we still have a somewhat screechy household when they are all together and up in each other’s business.) Don’t take his behavior now too personally, or as a mark of your failing as a parent. He’s just 3. And it sounds like he’s REALLY GOOD AT IT.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon