The Difference Between Acting Out & Acting 3

A couple of weeks ago, we brought our twin boys along to a family baby shower for my friend. There were a lot of kids there, and lots of people with grandchildren; it was a very kid-friendly crowd. The hostess herself is a grandmother, so she had an entire room of toys, and had even left some in her living room for the kids to play with. Despite the fact that there was plenty for them to do, it wasn’t exactly a kids’ party, so it wasn’t long until my guys started getting restless.

They’re just three years old, so while we were waiting in line for food, they started to lose it. They were pulling on us, bumping into people and trying to lick us. Oh yes, they think that’s hi-larious. My son also had a residual cough and he kept going over to grab chips with his grubby hands, despite the fact I had begged him not to touch the food.


When we finally got our tacos, suddenly, they wanted something different. And one needed a spoon to eat his rice. And then the other guy wanted a spoon. And then they wanted more grapes. And was there cake? Of course, they didn’t really need cake since they were eating half-melted M&M’s out of toy baby bottles, and smearing their chocolate-covered hands all over the tablecloth. My husband and I were getting really frustrated and the party was far from over.

The other problem: These people had a pool and my boys love the water. So once we freed them from lunch, they wanted to go splash their hands in the pool, and drop rubber ducks into the water. It seemed relatively safe, especially since their regular babysitter, a family friend, was there as well. The problem was, they weren’t the only kids hanging out by the pool, and my poor friend couldn’t keep her eyes on all of those kids. At one point, one of the older girls started to scale the brick border of the pool and, one of my boys, thinking it looked fun, started to follow her. I jumped up and started screaming, “No, don’t, don’t, that’s for big kids, you’re gonna fall.” But he was already halfway across and, thankfully, made it all the way without falling in the pool. No sooner had he made his way across, the other boy was leaning so far into the pool, it looked like he might tumble in. At that point though, my husband and I decided we were done and had to get the kids out of there.

As we were saying our goodbyes, apologising for the fact that our boys were “acting out,” a couple that have grand kids of their own said to us, “They’re not acting out, they’re acting three. Perfectly appropriate.” Yes, yesssss, that was exactly it. These people, being seasoned parents and grandparents, were exactly right. My boys weren’t really acting out or misbehaving, they were just acting their age in an environment that really wasn’t suited to them. Was that their fault? Or our fault? Neither really, but it would have been a mistake to keep them there longer.

This is not the first time that I’ve had to remind myself that they’re “just three.” They’re curious, they want to touch everything, they have no impulse control, and they definitely don’t see the benefit in listening if it competes with their desire to put their fingers in the guacamole. The other day, I asked my boys why they didn’t listen when I was trying to get them to leave a play area. One of them said, without hesitation, “Because we didn’t want to leave.” I mean, yeah, that makes sense. I get that. It’s not like I made the car ride home, or the return to their same-old toys all that enticing.

This “threenager” year has definitely been tough, or at least, has had some rough stages. It’s been really important for me though to draw the distinction between when they’re truly being defiant, and when they’re just exploring and testing the way 3-year-olds do. I’ve also had to take ownership of my own fault in the game. If they’re going bonkers after frozen yoghurt, then maybe I need to cut back on the sugar. If they’re overtired and I’m taking them to the supermarket, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised if they’re running the aisles. It’s not really fair to ask a preschooler to be a perfect angel at the restaurant. We can ask him to try, but if it’s not working, we need to just remove him from the situation, instead of putting expectations on him that he can’t meet. As their mum, I need to be aware of their triggers and know what I’m in for when I put them in challenging situations. Sometimes, they don’t know better, but I always do.

I have to say that being able to differentiate between “acting out” and “acting their age” has been huge for me. My expectations aren’t as high. I don’t take it so personally. I don’t feel as defeated. I don’t worry so much that I have ill-behaved kids. Sometimes, they’re being cray because they want to mess with Mummy, but most of the time, they’re just being little boys. I need to give them a break, and give myself a break in the process.

That being said, of course I still yell. I still get frustrated. I still worry that my boys will go to school, wild and unable to listen. For the most part though, as we’re in the final throes of the threenager year, I’m finally recognising that it’s all a phase, and nothing is permanent. For now, when I can, I need to accept that “this is three” and let them be.

Image: Getty