If you have a three-year-old, you don't need any explanation of the term "threenager." You get it instantly, as three-year-olds seem to possess all the worst qualities of both toddlers and teens. Their bodies might be tiny and short, but their emotions are enormous. I have a theory that the limited space compacts and concentrates all those very big emotions and the result is a volatile, dramatic toddler with attitude. Still, I would contend that three is one of my favorite ages ever. The "threenager" threes are the absolute best years ever, and I can give you a million reasons why (or, you know, just 12 reasons).
My love of three-year-olds actually pre-dates my own children. Back in college I worked as a teacher's aid at a preschool/daycare. It was there that I discovered the stark and fascinating differences between the two-year-olds and the three-year-olds. Something happened, it seemed — suddenly and dramatically — and my students went from being babies to being little kids. All of a sudden I was relating to these kids on a different level, engaging with them in ways that would have seemed impossible the year (or even months) before. Incidentally, these are many of the same reasons I love working with teenagers, so there's definitely something to the whole "threenager" thing.
However, I don't think we should only be looking at the negatives (though they exist and make life really, really tough sometimes). That third year of age is such an exciting moment of transition and discovery in a child's life, that I would encourage everyone to sit back (when you get a few minutes in between screaming fits, perhaps) and appreciate everything that's happening.
You Can Have A Conversation With Them
The following has happened to a great many parents I know, and it usually happens around the time their kids are three. One day, mom or dad will be going about their business when their kid will start talking to them. They will respond, their kid will respond, et cetera and so forth. It isn't until after the conversation has ended that they realize, "Holy crap, I just had an actual conversation with my toddler."
Both of my children were speaking well before three, but it wasn't until my son turned three or so that we could have a verbal exchanged beyond him basically communicating a sentence or two, usually to let me know he needed something. All of a sudden, three rolls around and you're chit-chatting about your day and asking questions outside of, "Can I have a snack?" and things get really interesting.
They Don't Require A Caravan Of Stuff To Go Somewhere
My daughter was born right before my son turned three, and it wasn't until I started carting her around that I realized how much baby stuff I'd been able to free myself from as my son got older. Infants need so much stuff to go literally anywhere. A bajillion diapers and wipes, blankets, at least one spare outfit (because you never know when they're going to poop through whatever you've dressed them in), bottles if you bottle feed, possibly a nursing cover if you breastfeed, a baby carrier, a stroller and/or infant car seat, the list goes on. Then, bit by bit, you can slough off all the gadgets and supplies and just around the time they hit three it's like, "Oh wow, I don't really need this diaper bag anymore, huh?"
And. It's. Awesome. It's like getting an arm back after three years and you feel so light and free. Well, you know, as light and free as the parent of a toddler can feel, anyway.
You Don't Have To Plan Around Their Schedules (As Much)
Don't get me wrong: you're almost certainly not going to be able to keep them out for 12 hour stretches at assorted fine art museums with no built in rest/play/food breaks. But, unlike with an infant or younger toddler, ensuring a precise nap time or demanding feeding schedule probably isn't required of a three-year-old. You're able to manage outings a little better and more flexibly because your kid is probably a bit more amenable than they have been in the past.
They Can Sit For More Interesting Bedtime Stories
OMG, guys: those friggin' board books with three words per page. I can't. They're so boring and your kid makes you read them over and over and over and over again. It's like, "Seriously, can we try something a little more plot-heavy? What about Horton Hears A Who?" And then, around the time they turn three, you can read less infantile stories and get into some of the classics and it's so much fun because you can see their literary future laid out before you.
(Of course then you get into the issue of having to read really long books over and over and you just want them to go the f*ck to sleep, but that's another article for another day. I'm focusing on the positives today.) Before you know it they'll be cuddled up with a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and you can talk about which house they would be sorted in to.
They Demonstrate Knowledge And Learning
It's really cool to see your child apply the things they've learned outside of the context of a particular situation. Whether that be describing one animal in terms of another ("That emu looks kind of like a gallimimus!") or recalling important information in an appropriate situation ("Fire! We should dial 911!"), it's really neat to see their little minds at work and realize, "OK, you are retaining this stuff. Wow. How did you go from a little bundle of impulses and reactions to a little creature that can walk and talk and knows their ABCs?"
They Start To Actually Play With Other Kids
Play dates before 3 or so are often hit or miss. More often than not, in my experience, it's not so much that the kids play with one another as they play near one another. That's cute, because how can two babies playing not be cute? However, once they turn three, something inside of them switches on and they begin to realize how much fun a playmate can be. Games become more collaborative and, as a result, more adorable.
They Are Beginning To Have Distinct Opinions
Granted, this is pretty annoying when, say, they believe they should be able to wear their bathing suit and rain boots to pre-school in the middle of December in New England (because you will not be able to convince their opinionated ass that it's a bad idea). Still, when you can take a step back and realize that they are thinking, independent people who are developing their own tastes and ideas, that's not only developmentally interesting but it instills a feeling of pride because you know that you helped get them to that point. Well done, you!
They Are Encouragingly More Self Sufficient
Praise Jeebus, they can get their own apple out of the fridge now! Sure, you're still going to have to do a ton for them (if only for the fact that it's easier than arguing with them sometimes #chooseyourbattles) but, for real, remember when you had to burp them? Because they couldn't even muster the wherewithal to burp? There's a big leap in self-sufficiency between two and three years of age. Enjoy it, because it goes steadily up from there.
Their Imaginations Blossom
That's not to say they aren't imaginative before three, necessarily, but it's around three when they go from having a sense of play to seeing the world in the most whimsical, extraordinary ways. One of my very favorite things about being a parent is getting to see just a tiny bit of that world. Oh sure, it's annoying when their newly discovered opinions intersect with their explosive imaginations and they have a meltdown about the fact that they aren't actually a dragon (this happened), but on the whole it's really incredible to see them build their own worlds.
They Are More Likely To Be Potty Trained
Granted, everyone potty trains in their own time, but 22-30 months seems to be the typical age for most kids. And OMG, it is so, so wonderful not to have to buy (or wash) diapers or clean poop-smeared butts on the regular. At first it seems miraculous, like, "Wait, how are you doing this yourself? What beautiful witchcraft is this?!" and that quickly moves into disbelief that you ever had to change diapers in the first place. (Of course, being potty trained necessitates potty training, which is deeper than the deepest recorded ring of hell, but still: worth it in the long-run.)
They Develop A Sense Of Humor
Don't expect them to have a 15 minute act of observational humor or anything, but they at least start to realize, "Hey, I can actually do things to make other people laugh so let's figure out what those things are." Often, this humor will be mostly fart-based but let's keep it real: farts can be really funny. Also, just watching them try to be funny is in and of itself pretty hysterical.
Their Tantrums Are Hysterical
Demonic possession-level tantrums are the hallmark of a threenager and they are brutal. And yet, when you can take a step back (perhaps with a beverage of your choice to sip casually) you can realize, "Holy crap this is goddamn hilarious. You keep thrashing around on the floor for whatever reason you've chosen to do that. I'll be over here with the camera. We're playing this at your Sweet 16 birthday party, dear."