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Don't Worry, Not Every 3-Year-Old Becomes a Threenager

The terrible twos. The effing fours. The witching hour.

It helps to have cute little names for the ages and stages, doesn’t it? It makes our children’s irrational behavior seem funnier and less terrifying. Plus, we know we’re not alone. The insanity isn't a result of something we did wrong as parents—our kids are just doing what they’re supposed to do, developmentally speaking.

Yup, mom lingo was very comforting when I had my first child. She wasn’t difficult, she was “spirited.” She wasn’t a psychopath—she was a “threenager.” And boy, was she ever! This kid had tantrums that lasted longer than an episode of "Sesame Street." Her expressions of frustration were so violent they looked more like a seizure. She'd flail her arms and legs, refuse to get up after laying on the sidewalk and would slap anything that got in her path.

Today, my daughter, now 7 years old, is a lovely child and very good company. We are actually able to laugh over the way things used to be. But make no mistake, those were some very hard times for me as a parent. That’s why when my second kid reached age 3, I braced myself for the worst.

Luckily, the worst didn’t come.

I don’t know if it was destined for my second child to be less temperamental, or if I am somehow doing a better job the second time around.

Sure, my 3-year-old has her trying moments. For example, if I bring her a blue cereal bowl, she wants a pink one. The other day she rejected four pairs of pants before settling on a tutu for preschool. And she recently left teeth marks in her sister’s arm as punishment for “hurting my feelings.”

And yet, I still wouldn't consider her a threenager, especially considering what this family endured before. Her tantrums, both brief and mild, are minor events. Biting aside, her nature is sweet. I’m not afraid to take her to the grocery store, because she probably won't have an epic meltdown. And if she does, it's nothing a cookie can't fix.

Every kid is different. I don’t know if it was destined for my second child to be less temperamental, or if I am somehow doing a better job the second time around. (I suspect it is the former.)

What is comforting is knowing that not every headache and heartache has to be repeated with every kid. Potty training might be a huge pain in the butt (pun intended) with one child and easy-peasy with the other. One child naps on schedule while another never sleeps. There can be a picky eater and a foodie in the same family. Our kids always keep us on our toes.

I am just glad my threenager arrived first or I'd be ripping my hair out right now instead of drinking my coffee and smiling at how strange and unexpected the world of parenting is.

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