The Differences Between a Three-Year-Old and a Two-Year-Old

a two year old boy holding hands with a three year old girl at sunset

As a first-time parent, it can be easy to get swept along with the milestone charts, the opinions of others, the ‘I did it this way’ advice and listening to a never-ending cycle of those magical words ‘it gets easier’. What many people fail to mention is that the newborn bit is actually the easiest part (in my personal opinion) – so straight away you are being led into a false sense of security that things will become easier. The terrible two’s are one of the most talked about phases yet these are not actually the worst that your child will go through. Just when you think you have come through that stage there is a whole new phase waiting for you… One which you are never prepared for and one which out tantrums any 2-year-old meltdown any day. Yes, it is the threenager. Not only are these children more stroppy, but they are also much bigger and have a better understanding of everything around them and this is where the problems lie!

So I want to be one of those parents who do tell you the ugly truth and who do prepare you for this stage because the terrible two’s are nothing compared to having a three-year-old! Here are the differences between a three-year-old and a two-year-old that I have come across…


These are to blame for everything! You will be sitting happily on your child’s third birthday and probably feeling quite smug about the fact you have survived the terrible two’s and that you now have a child that you can communicate with, one who may now be potty trained, one who can hold their attention for longer and so on. Brilliant!… Now wait around 3 weeks (give or take). In this time they must go through some sort of hormone explosion because you are suddenly presented with a child who screams and cries over the most pointless things, breakdown at any moment, grunts at you instead of speaking and a child who can leave you crying and rocking in a corner wondering what on earth you have done!

So let’s break this down.

The screaming and crying over what are seemingly pointless things

The two-year-old would do this through the frustration of not being able to do something. They are still small and are still learning to figure out those fine motor skills, discovering how toys work and the ways of the world. The three-year-old has now mastered these skills so they instead just get angry at life in general! A toy isn’t doing the impossible thing your child wants it to do, for example, toy Buzz Lightyear does not actually fly! The trains come off the track when they are pushed around a bend – in our case, this can end up with the entire track being kicked and destroyed. The marble run was knocked down because it was funny but now they are sad that it is in pieces. Other amazing reasons from my personal experience include: the bubbles dispersed in the bath and I can’t bring them back, I collected him from pre-school, I took him to pre-school, I forgot a snack on collection (never, ever again), the banana broke in half, it is too cold or raining to go outside naked and some days mine can get into a right state and even cry like a baby but when I ask what is wrong even he doesn’t know… thank you hormones!

The two-year-olds tantrums were much easier to overcome because you could talk to them, reason with them a little and give cuddles, which they were usually thankful for. They were still so baby-like in many ways at this age. However, the three-year-old is now your dry run for a teenager. Think ‘Kevin’ and you will be spot on. This phase will make your child scream and shout and grunt and cry and tell you to go away. They will get themselves worked up and hitting you and/or themselves may even come into play. The cuddles rarely work because they are too busy trying to make their massive point to you to give in to the love. It works best if you come down to their level, wait for the crazy moment to die down and allow them to come to you. The logical way to view it is to imagine you have a pregnant woman mixed with a full-blown teenager and these hormones have been put into a teeny tiny body that cannot handle them.

They Have Opinions

This is the moment you have been waiting for. Your child can talk to you, you can have fun doing home craft activities that were too tricky when they were smaller and they can tell you exactly what they want… Oh, and they know what they want! Your new battle is to rein in the fact that they have an opinion on everything throughout every day. It starts with TV programmes as soon as you get up, then breakfast choices, not wanting to go somewhere, wanting to do something right that very minute and so much more. The easiest option is to give in but as soon as you do this you will be opening the floodgates for this to be the norm. Don’t cave! Well, not every time at least. Some days you will need to in order to keep your sanity!

a little girl laying on grass with her head on her hand looking like she is about to challenge you

They Understand

Absolutely everything. They know how the telly works, where the good food is kept, they know what you are saying, they then copy what you are saying, they repeat what you have said to other people (swear words seem to be the easiest for them to copy it seems!) And they understand you. They have worked you out and try to use this to their clever advantage to get their own way. Cue the cycle. Hormones, tantrums, understanding of you, opinions, tantrums, hormones, trying to get their own way, tantrums, understanding of you. These are very bright little creatures and in a year you have lost your cute baby and now have this tactical small person who knows exactly what they want. Welcome to the world of the threenager!

They Can Do So Much More

They are now bigger in size and can do so much more without you realising that they are capable of it. You knew your two-year-old wasn’t tall enough to reach that side in the kitchen, wasn’t strong enough to lift a chair, wasn’t big enough to get onto a toilet and didn’t have the fine motor skills to unlock that door but your three-year-old can do all of these and will do out of the blue. As I write this, my son has just walked into the front room with a chocolate bar in his mouth. I just sat jaw dropped looking at him because I knew his father was in the bathroom so couldn’t work out where he had got it. I had assumed he had followed his Daddy when he left the room whereas he had in fact taken himself into the kitchen, pulled a very heavy dining chair across the floor, got up onto it, climbed onto the side and opened the cupboard where the snacks live and helped himself to a caramel chocolate bar. Time to fully childproof my home! In the last few months, he has also managed to let himself into the back garden, locked himself in the bathroom, opened the door to a delivery guy whilst I was sat on the loo, he can now use YouTube on a daily basis to watch what he wants and generally reach anything that was once safely out of the way. He knows what he wants, how to get it and has no thoughts for any consequences. This is a big step on from the innocent two-year-old.
There are, of course, so many ways that they are great. Their personalities are now shining through, they amaze you every day with what they have learnt, they can sing full songs and best of all they make your smile beam from ear to ear with their zest for fun and life. This may be one of the most challenging times but we will all get through it the same way we have done with the ones before. Keep your cool, outsmart the smart kid and blame the hormones every time!

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One thought on “The Differences Between a Three-Year-Old and a Two-Year-Old

  1. I feel like three year olds are a tiny bit less mental than two year olds. Greg is totally nuts but I remember Emma being a very sensible three year old x

    #RV&HT – it’ll be back next week x

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