“Your Three-Year Old: Friend or Enemy?”

A friend recommended Your Three-Year Old: Friend or Enemy? by Louise Bates Ames and Frances L. Ilg to me when Drake was three, Guppy was one and I was losing my mind. Time passed, things with Drake became a little less fraught, and I didn’t get around to it. But with some of the recent, frequent struggles with the previously agreeable Guppy, I decided to look up this book. I hadn’t forgotten its memorable, and apt title.

This is an honest book, as its title might suggest, though the authors are quick to answer the title’s question at the end of the first chapter: your three year old, despite evidence to the contrary, is not your enemy. It covers child development, comparing three and three and a half year olds to two and four year olds, while also acknowledging that all kids are individuals and on similar but different timetables. Three and a half, they note (the age that Guppy is closest to) is extremely difficult. Tantrums are normal, and struggles with basic routines like getting dressed, meal times and bed times are constant sources of conflict.

First published in 1985, it’s somewhat dated, but the basics still apply. Note, however, this is NOT for parents looking for detailed science, and it might offend some attachment and homeschooling families. The authors offer no magic advice, just sympathy with a dose of realism. They recommend getting support from babysitters and daycare providers so parents and kids get a much needed break from one another. Distraction at this age, is better than discipline. Above all, they note, is just getting through the day with both parent and kid as unfrazzled as possible.

Today, for instance, I signed the boys up for swim classes. 5yo Drake went off with his teachers, but 3yo Guppy got in the pool with his group, but stopped, refused to go farther, and kept hollering for me. I tried to convince him to join the other kids, as did two of the instructors. Then I gave up, and got a refund for the class. He’ll probably be ready some other time, but it wasn’t this morning. It certainly wasn’t worth a power struggle over something that’s supposed to be fun.

5 Responses to ““Your Three-Year Old: Friend or Enemy?””

  1. Elle Says:

    The swimming school we go to doesn’t start children on their own until they’re four - up to then, one parent goes in with each child and great fun is had by all. Have you considered this alternative? But I think you are right: no matter what happens now, he’ll be ready quite soon.

  2. girldetective Says:

    They do have a mom and tot class for younger kids, and I did consider it today. But I’m ready to be done with the mommy and me type classes (we did music this past year) though he doesn’t seem to be. I’ll wait, rather than doing something supposedly fun out of a misguided sense of duty. I can do some of the same play and activities with him at our local park, which has a wading pool. Then it can be spontaneous, rather than scheduled.

  3. Elle Says:

    The main thing is the parent has to enjoy it, too, otherwise it’s just a chore. I go because I love swimming and I can’t do it as often as I’d like to, so the class gives me an excuse to be in the water regularly, and my daughter likes it as much as I do. But it’s certainly true that you see people who - and whose children as a consequence - don’t want to be there at all!

  4. weirleader Says:

    good for you! We had a similar incident with our youngest performing at a piano recital; we tried to plead and cajole to no avail. In retrospect, young kids have limitless patience when they are convinced they don’t like something.

    it’s a shame that I finally feel I’m getting the hang of this only as the really young years are coming to an end! Wish I’d really understood the bit about distraction over discipline about 8 years ago!!!

  5. girldetective Says:

    Yes, but the distraction v. discipline is only supposed to be for 3yo because they don’t have the learning faculties. Older kids are supposed to be able to “get” discipline. But that’s according to teh books, not real life.