Q&A: 2.9-year-old snark and fury

Before we start today's Q&A, does anyone know how to get black Sharpie permanent marker out of a pair of new jeans? Jamie needs help, and I've got nothing.

Now on to the question. Our own regular commenter Charisse writes:

"I'm really enjoying the posts on more serious subjects...I've got a couple minor but frustrating issues I'm totally stuck on.  Mouse, now 2.9, has recently started calling me by my first name just about all the time.  Especially in her imperious moods, she says "help me do this puzzle, Cyd" and "hey Cyd, I want a cup of milk please" (yes, I do pause in my annoyance to appreciate the please and recognize it for progress!).  This just bugs me, but after I tried telling her to call me mommy a couple times, she now does it with a smirk.  I also tried telling her that my name is for anyone, but she's the only person in the world who gets to call me mommy...and she said "oh am I? OK, Cyd" with more smirk.  I don't know if I should just let it go and she'll grow out of it...or if she'll be calling me by my name forever if I don't nip it in the bud.  If she had just learned that I had a name besides mommy I'd assume the former, but she's known my real name for, jeez, probably close to a year anyway--she'll tell it to other people all the time as in "my mommy's name is Cyd".  I'm not even sure if a child her age is capable of real intentional smirking, but the combination of self and Mr. C would be pretty likely to produce one if it's possible.

This seems to have coincided with some kind of mental/emotional growth spurt that also included shouting at us in rage (YOU DON'T HELP ME, I DON'T WANT YOU!!!!) if we overstep her now-revised boundaries...and some cool new skills to go along with that, including wanting to wear panties to daycare--which, yay.  But if we see her exhibiting need-to-go-potty signs and suggest it, more shouting.  Mr. C and I are having a bit of an argument about whether the yelling is ever OK--the other day on a playground a bigger kid tried to shove her off a ladder with his foot and she shouted "DON'T YOU KICK ME" which we were happy to see.  I don't know how to let her know that that's great assertiveness but yelling at mommy and daddy (if she's calling us that!) isn't respectful.  ...and we're not yellers at all (like maybe 5 incidents of raised voices in 11 years together), so I don't know where it's coming from in the first place.  And I don't know how much it's all related to the potty training, which she definitely seems to have strong emotions around, and which therefore we've mostly soft-pedaled so far.

I guess I must sound incoherent--I'm kind of confused.  Is all this the very beginning of "I hate you" and "DUH mother" and way early rebellion, or just a little harmless toddler smartassery and understandable emotional effects of growth?

Any thoughts appreciated!"

Oy. It's amazing how much earlier they start exhibiting this behavior than you think they will. I remember being stunned to hear "If you slam that door one more time I'm taking it off its hinges and you won't have a door!" come out of my mouth when my son was barely 4.

It sounds like your daughter is very advanced, and is showing a lot of the typical three-year-old behavior. On an intergenerational email list I belong to, there was just a long thread about three-year-olds getting upset about absolutely everything, including things they'd just asked you to do, and making the rudest, most hurtful comments and demands. Everyone had horror stories to tell, whether their child was 3 or 13 or 40! Apparently the behavior passes, but the scars to the parents don't ever disappear completely...

I appear to have blanked this phase out, my own self. Either that or I never figured out what to do about it. I think her using your name all the time is probably similar to the potty language (aka "toilet talk" or "bathroom talk") phase, in that she's really just doing it to get a rise out of you. If you remember the potty language post, consensus was that there are a few different ways to handle it--ignoring it, confining it to certain physical areas, or doing it yourself so much that it becomes uncool--and it's a crapshoot about which one will work for your kid. I think if it were me, I'd just ignore it when she calls you by your name. It's up to you whether that means ignoring her request entirely ("Oh, I didn't know you meant me since my name is Mommy.") or just ignoring the fact that she used your given name instead of Mommy.

I think the yelling at you is awful, and you definitely need to let her know that it's not acceptable behavior. I think she's going to continue to yell at kids who try to hurt her anyway, so you probably don't need to reinforce that (them leaving her alone when she yells will be reinforcement anough, and eventually she'll be able to get her message across just by saying it instead of yelling it anyway). Instead, you should just repeat that people don't yell in your house, but if she can say it respectfully you'll listen to her request. And then don't respond to what she actually says when she's yelling. It may take a while (like it does when the problem is whining, not yelling), but if she never gets a response to what she yells she'll eventually learn just to say it in a normal voice.

I know somebody who's living this right now has better tips than I do. As I said, I think I blocked this phase out. You have my sympathies, and I hope your own memory is as merciful as mine is and in two years you don't even remember this phase.