What's to Love: The reasoning skills that can make life with a 3-year-old trying also make it easier for him to understand why he has to wear sunscreen. And his ballooning vocabulary means no more misunderstandings. Plus, how cool is it that you're having a conversation with your kid?
What's Tough About It: “Research shows that age three is the peak of defiant behavior,” says Kazdin. You're more controlling (you have to be—he's a force of nature now!), but he wants autonomy desperately, which makes life a series of battles. And your child is up for it: That improved reasoning lets him enter into high-level negotiations (“I'll put on my pajamas now if you give me a piece of chocolate”).
How to Make the Most Out of It: If what he's doing—say, taking all the clothes out of his drawer—isn't hurting anyone, ignore him. “Behavior that gets no attention will go away,” promises Charlton. In nonnegotiable cases, carefully restrain your child or move him to another place.
What's to Love: Your child's personality expresses itself more, so you'll know her triggers and what to do when something does set her off. And since she's likely in preschool now, you both get a break from each other. That makes a big difference in your energy and patience.
What's Tough About It: Think age 3, but with an even larger vocabulary with which to slay you. Plus, 4-year-olds are navigating new social waters in the outside world, so they're more likely to act up at home.
How to Make the Most Of It: When she has a fit, stay calm. Afterward, ask “Can you think of something better to do next time?” Share your own tricks, too: “When I get upset, I like to close my eyes and take a deep breath.”
Do you have a terrible or terrific 1, 2, 3, or 4-year-old? Take our quiz!