Ever since Maya was a tiny tot, we knew she was going to be opinionated and headstrong. Given who her parents are, this comes as no surprise: we’re both stubborn as hell, headstrong, and think we are right all the time. Naturally.

And from an early age, even before she could talk, it was evident she had a stubborn streak in her. When she was really small, it was cute — endearing, even. And ironically as an adult, that assertive, confident attitude will carry her far (provided she doesn’t stomp on the little people on her way up … !) But as a preschooler, it’s been a challenge, to say the least.

There’s a great phrase to describe these adorable little opinionated monsters/angels … #threenagers. They’re moody teens squished into toddler bodies, irrational as hell one minute and then clinging to you the next …

As most of my friends with threenagers contend, I’m not alone. Regardless of gender, we seem to fight the same battles each day: what to wear, what to eat, who to talk to, who not to talk to, what to watch, how to walk, when to go to bed, which book to read, which  bath toy is acceptable and which lovey simply cannot be in bed tonight with said child … With threenagers, you name it, and it has the potential to be the instigator of WW3.

So the solution has been to encourage choices — providing two realistic choices for most situations: leggings or jeans; red bow or silver headband; Cheerios or Rice Krispies; silver ballet flats or black boots. We’ve been following this since Maya for probably three of her nearly four years and it’s worked fine.

But sometimes there is no choice: if it’s 20 degrees, a tank top is not gonna fly.

Which brings me to this weekend.

We were doing Ben’s one-year photo shoot on Sunday (fortunately with my awesome friend Staci who knows me and my crazy family quite well and not some stranger … as you’ll see why below).

I had mentioned to Maya casually that although she usually has two outfit choices, on Sunday, we would only have one — because we needed to look nice with Benny and match his outfit. (She understands “matching” very well and is pretty insistent on cup lids matching cups, socks matching, toys lined up by color, etc.) So I figured that would work since I was speaking her language.

I thought I’d win her over when I told her she could pick her shoes and her headband — two choices. And she seemed excited when she saw the outfit — slate gray skinny cords, a long-sleeved white T with a sparkly silver design, and a navy lace-patterned cardigan. All soft, cozy … the makings of a fine, preschooler-approved ensemble and which I knew would look awesome coordinated with Ben’s outfit (navy-and-gray plaid button-down/gray cords) and against the gorgeous fall foliage. She seemed agreeable, so I didn’t talk it up … and she promised me she would not fight me.I thought we were good.

But then Sunday came … and I might as well have never had a conversation with her.

I should have known the stars were practically aligned for a meltdown. She had her nap later than intended (due to some tummy issues she was having, poor kiddo). Then I had to wake her up from said nap, which meant she was in a mood. (Weekends she can nap for three hours easily). Plus, she hadn’t eaten lunch yet (due to having had a late breakfast and not being hungry at nap-time) and she was hungry.

So a sleep-deprived, hungry, irritable preschooler and her mom trying to take pretty pictures came to blows.

Basically, she threw a tantrum of epic proportions, thrashing herself all over her bed, telling me she HATED the clothes and trying to pull them off. She insisted on wearing a dress, anything but what I’d picked …

Though I was seething and wanted to call her an ungrateful little brat (because she was acting like one), I told her she looked beautiful and she and Benny would look so nice. But I might as well have been speaking Mandarin to her; she heard none of it. All she did was turn away, cry, and kick her legs in the air.

Luis ended up coming in and helping me finish getting her dressed, explaining to her in a much calmer voice than me why she needed to wear it today and telling her how pretty she looked. Of course, when he said it, she calmed down … but then she kept bursting into hysterics on and off, and the hysterics, attitude and overall miserableness continued well into the shoot — which of course stressed me out even more.


With parenting, you seem to be  damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Had I not told her about her one-option-outfit, surely she would have still thrown a fit had I just sprung it on her. So I thought telling her in advance was the better solution. And in some cases it might be … but in this case, it seemed to backfire. (Which is why I am not going to talk up her dance class she starts this weekend too much!!)

In retrospect, I do wonder if maybe I should have just let her wear something else  given the situation at hand (we had a photo shoot to go to, where I’d want her to be happy or at least not belligerent …  and I had a sweater dress in mind that she could have worn as a back-up …). Had I given in, she might have calmed down quicker, we would have been less stressed …

But then, devils’ advocate says, what would she learn? While she has choices most of the time, sometimes we just need to listen to our parents and do what they say, and that’s that! Because we’re three, that’s why! Yes, I could have saved us all from an argument and drama, but I didn’t want to let a 3-year old call the shots on principle. And, selfishly, I had a vision in my head of how I wanted to see my kids look together … and that overpowered the reality I was facing: a miserable, attitudinal threenager. And that (stubborn) insistence on sticking to my guns only heightened an already stressful day … causing more stress than necessary.

I still don’t know if I handled it the right way …. But I do know this: in spite of the drama, in spite of the tears, the stress, and her hating her outfit and wanting to tear it off her little body … she did lighten up and the pics came out absolutely beautifully. I can’t wait to share them with you! Special thanks to Staci for putting up with us 😉

How about you? How do you handle meltdowns? What’s your threshold for “giving in”?


3 thoughts on “Choices

  1. It gets better. I call Nate a “four-nado” now, but four is still better than three. I see my niece who’s three and I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s right. Man, three was BAD.” I’ve almost already forgotten just how exhausting it was daily. But from what I’ve seen and been told, four generally gets better (around the 4 1/2 mark).

    Nate would be the same way even now if he was tired and hungry. I would never attempt to do anything with him in that situation because it would be pointless, so I applaud your commitment to keep going (understanding that a scheduled session is a scheduled session).

    One of my family’s favorite pictures is my brother’s preschool photo. He cried for the picture so it’s just him, a little red in the face, with a huge frowny pout. It’s hysterical. As much as I get wanting the perfect picture, part of me also thinks a picture of how the day actually went (tantrums and all) would be funny, too.

    It’s hard when you have a strong personality and so does your child. I’m lucky that Nate is very laid back (like my husband) because my personality is more like yours. My niece is very strong-headed and tells me “no” about stuff all the time or just gives me dirty looks. LOL

  2. Oh I SOOOOOOOOOOOOO hope you’re right, Candice! Three has nearly toppled me 😉 The attitude is just … if I say yes she says no. I have to do so much reverse psychology on her … that I often forget what my original intention was!

    She did eat before the shoot — which I didn’t mention (that’s when she was in between hysterics) — but yes, the conditions were ripe for a meltdown and had we been able to reschedule on the fly it probably would have been better but for a bunch of reasons, that wasn’t an option. Plus, selfishly I wanted fall colors in the background 😉 Sooo …

    YES–I love the real pics like that … like even Ben terrified of the bear Maya held in his last shoot, or pics I snap on my iPhone that are totally NOT “photo-worthy” but SOOOO are.

    So good Nate is laid-back. She has her moments (not moments I am blogging about lately, clearly!) but she is way headstrong. Sounds like your niece and Maya would get along 😉

    Praying 4 is better …

  3. Oh threenagers! Four really is better and I don’t really know how two got such a bad rap given my experience. My primary photo subjects tend to be 2-5 years old and the three year olds are tough.

    Can’t wait to see how your photos turned out!

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