Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Review: Your 3-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy

I know there have already been a few reviews of this going around, but I'll add my 2 cents as well. (Did you know that there is no cent key on keyboards anymore? When did that happen?)

First, I do have to confess that I have an aversion to parenting books and haven't picked one up in a while. Between all the dogma the Sears family spews and the arrogance and poor writing of Dr. Weissbluth, I abandoned most parenting books in Michael's first year. So believe me, when I say that every one with a three-year-old should read Your Three-Year-Old: friend or enemy, I really, really, really mean it.

There were a number of things I liked about the book and I'll describe those, but there were three things that I was able to put to immediate use, and I'll go over them first.


This one is so obvious, yet I never would have thought to use it because it wouldn't work with adults. The idea is simple. If you are trying to motivate your 3-year-old, simply tell them you have a surprise for them. It often buys instant compliance. And the great thing is that the surprise can be something as simple as a treat.

The first time I used this on Michael it was to get him to leave my mom's. It worked perfectly, but it was so easy I felt like I was cheating. I had this feeling that when we got home and Michael learned that his surprise was a bag of fruit gushers that the whole concept would crumble. It didn't. Michael was thrilled with his treat and I've been able to use the same technique several times since.

Make Believe

The authors recommend that you play along with your child's imagination to get them to comply with your wishes. If the child is pretending to be a puppy, go along with it. Often kids will do things this way that they wouldn't do otherwise.

I sort of extrapolated on this and decided to use Larry the momma snake to make every day occurrences easier. Instead of telling Michael that it's bedtime, I have Larry tell Michael that he's getting tired and that he would like Michael to read him stories. It works! Next, I used Larry for potty training. Instead of asking Michael if he wants to go potty, Larry tells Michael she's going potty and asks if Michael wants to come too. Sure, I've had to hold a stuffed snake over the potty and make peeing noises a few times, but once again, it works!


This one was a little less obvious to me. The authors explain that many children become very insecure at this age. Sometimes what they really need is some extra attention. Seeing how Michael gets tons of undivided attention every day, I didn't think he would need more. It turns out that what he really needs is more cuddling and contact, not just attention in general. I've ended several tantrums that were threatening to spin out of control just by stopping and asking Michael if he wants to sit on my lap. It hasn't stopped them all, but things have been a bit smoother over the past week because of this.

There are a number of other benefits to the book as well.

  1. The authors describe how this stage is about a battle for control. Often the best way to handle this is by finding a solution that helps the child save face. At this point, the goal should be to avoid as many of the battles as possible, not to create a situation where you are frequently trying to "win".
  2. They follow this with some good advice on what things to let go. They recommend not worrying about table manners, daily baths, or other things that don't really matter much at this age. I was relieved to hear that it was ok for me to let Michael sleep in the same shirt he's worn during the long as it's clean enough.
  3. The authors also give a good description of what a three-year-old can do, including the fact that you can expect some regression from 3 to 3.5. They touch on things like sense of humor and story telling that aren't always addressed on milestone charts. I found their descriptions to be very useful in gauging Michael's development.
  4. They also do a decent job of pointing out that each child is an individual, and that their temperament will impact what they do, when they do it, and how intensely they do it. Some kids go through the 3.5 stage without much trouble. Others will go from the terrible twos into the nightmare of the threes with only a few week break in the middle. (Michael, raise your hand a stand up proud. You fall in that group.)
  5. There is a lot to be said for the comfort that comes from learning you are not alone. They all but say that at 3.5, children are insane. Phew, while annoying at times, at least I know it's not my parenting that's at fault. (They even list whining as a tensional outlet for 3 year olds, like thumb sucking and nail biting.)
  6. And finally, there is a certain entertainment factor to the book. The copy write is listed as 1985, but some of the comments seem much more archaic than that. The role of fathers, in particular, have really changed a lot since then. They even dare to mention that some fathers may actually cook! I got a number of giggles out of how different our culture is now compared to then.
Once again, I suggest that if you have a three-year-old, go ahead and read this book. It's an easy read and is interesting from beginning to end. Even if you don't get many ideas on how to deal with the crazy little monster running around your house, at least you will know that lots of us have crazy little monsters running around the house.


LauraC said...

So glad you liked it! Like I said, it is NOT a parenting book. It is a behavior book - here is how your child will behave and here are some ways to help.

Alex is just typical three year old. All the surprise stuff works with him, and he wants to be RIGHT ON US all the time.

Nate, oh Nate, this is going to be a tough year. Everything is extreme with him. When I tell him, sure you can do that, he ends up jumping off a 3 ft diving board into 10 feet of water.

Did you know they make books for every year? (your 4 year old, 5 year old)

DesiDVM said...

I'm so glad to hear that "make believe" is a real tool because we use that all the time in our house. When J is fighting bedtime I tell him that his stuffed animals are scared and need him to get in bed with them, and then they'll "say" things like "Now we're sleepy, please turn off the light!" He's also been into pretending he's a little bird or a puppy, so if he's not cooperating I'll talk in the "mommy bird" voice and I've found that for whatever reason he does whatever Mama Bird asks him to do LOL.

Mel said...

Thanks so much for the synopsis! Of course, I may need to read the whole book now. Sounds right on track (including the Dad cooking - does bread baking count?) I've been using the treats as motivation (or bribery or whatever) for a while now. I need to go with the flow more with her make believe, instead of getting annoyed by it like I sometimes seem to do. She is developing such an imagination and I really do not want to squelch her creativity. LOL about 3 year olds being insane! And the whining is actually good for something?

Mama Mia said...

Great review..I may have to pick it up!

Karen said...

Thanks for the synopsis! Now I will go check it out of the library. My reading time is limited and I only want to read things that are beneficial or relaxing. We already use the surprise element and it works quite well.

Karla said...

Wow interesting! Thank you for writing that review Joanna. It was very informative and of course has now peaked my curiosity so that I want to read it.

Beth said...

Thanks for the summary! I will definitely add this to my reading list. My problem is getting Ed on board--especially the part where the goal is to end the confrontation as quickly as possible, rather than to be right. Ed is of the school where "you do what I say when I say it because I'm the parent and I don't want to hear any argument." Yeah--and how's that working out for you, Ed? LOL. Anyway, great review. I need to think about applying some of the imagination stuff to William's drop-off in the morning. Maybe that will make the transition easier.

Julie said...

Thanks so much for this book review--I can't tell you how many times Laura has recommended it to me. Its been on my To Do list for a while. I like that its not a parenting book, but more of a book that will explain what is going on in their little heads with some tools on how to help. I often wonder if Lana's crazy behavior falls within the normal range. I was just working on a post about a ridiculously rough weekend with her, so your book review was quite timely.

Jen said...

I never thought of using the surprise technique before either. I have used it twice in the past week after what was looking like a never-ending battle and both times she immediately complied! The first time the surprise ended up being her vitamin and the second time I let her play with her Leapster. Just ordinary everyday things. Amazing!