The 3-year old is like a 2-year old on steroids - testing boundaries and the limits of my patience (or lack thereof). But perhaps what we're experiencing is the peak of the typical terrible 2's. Perhaps the delay in his emotional development has delayed the onset of full-blown terrible 2 mode even if he is 3. And historically, Matthew lingers in a developmental phase or milestone or stage for a little longer than his typical peer. That being said, we enjoy the successes longer but we also muddle through the struggles longer.
Some say 3 is a fun age. I say parenting 3-year old Matthew makes parenting 2-year old Matthew seem like a semi-relaxing walk in the park. At age 2, Matthew certainly had his fair share of tantrums - refusing to follow directions, dropping to the ground and slipping back down between my arms whenever I tried to pick him up, throwing food on the floor, the list goes on.
With his hands behind his back, Matthew casually walks between Bill and I. He leaves a short trail of crayons behind him, discriminately dropping them behind him. Then he looks at us so innocently, as if thinking, "They're not going to notice. Nothing to see here." We find that he runs experiments like this sometimes, testing what he can get away with. This particular experiment failed as we asked him to pick up his crayons and put them in their box.
Most of the time, he's an angel to his sister. But sometimes the little horns come out. He'll bop Elizabeth on the head or give her a little push or take a toy from her. More experiments - most of which he served a 3-minute time-out or offered Elizabeth a "sowwy" and hug (with prompting).
He calmly sits in a chair or corner for the duration of the time-out but its lesson is lost. To him, there is no connection between quietly sitting alone for 3 minutes as a consequence for shoving his sister. Redirection seems to work better but the timing to redirect him has to be perfect.
We praise him for many good behaviors and actions we would like him to repeat. We try to make sure the positives far outweigh the negatives. It's quite a challenge! "NO" is a common utterance in our house, as it is in the world. We can't and won't shield him from the word "NO." Matthew says "NO" to brushing teeth. I say "NO" to throwing toys down the stairs. Matthew says "NO" to eating. I say "NO" to squeezing the juice box so the contents spill all over the floor. "NO" to pulling the cat's fur or tail. "NO" to taking toys away from Elizabeth. "NO" to pouring milk on the carpet. "NO!"
I hang on by a thread of patience as I sternly tell Matthew "NO!" for deliberately pouring his milk on the floor. A swat on the bottom seems useless as he laughs in my face. He swats my head, not playfully, as I kneel on the floor next to him to clean up the spilled milk. A 3-minute time-out doesn't seem to do much except interrupt mealtime. And I guess it refocuses him enough to stop being ornery for a few minutes. He says "sowwy" when prompted.
And when I'm at the end of my rope wondering when we might "graduate" from this terrible 2 or 3 stage, the little stinker gives me a hug and a kiss.
He is certainly more alike other kids than different. Like other kids, he's going through the stage where he constantly experiments with behaviors and tests boundaries. He's studying our reactions and learning to push our buttons.
One difference is that he may have started this stage a little later than other kids his age. It also takes more repetition for him to learn a series of action-reaction-consequence. The repetition actually makes it hard for me to be consistent with disciplining. There are many variables in play such as the circumstance, my mood, his mood, Elizabeth's mood.
For instance, pouring his milk on the floor at lunch would mean a stern "NO" from me and he would need to help me clean it up with paper towels. With the best set of variables, he and I will clean up the milk with no fuss, no tantrums. But other times, he will throw the paper towel or refuse to clean up the mess or I'd be tired and short-tempered or Elizabeth is fussing and needs her milk or something to eat or help with a toy. Then it gets hard to deal with making Matthew clean up the mess. Sometimes it's easier to just cry over spilled milk and clean it up myself.
So terrible 2's? Terrorizing 3's? Whatever it's called, it's what kids do. And being the determined, little achiever that he is, Matthew certainly does his job very well.