Terrible Three’s: Is There a Problem Behavior?

Girl Crying Belta Folic Acid

Children who are in their horrible three phases repeatedly say “No!” and throw tantrums, exhausting parents. However, the onset of the “horrible three” stage has its own characteristics and varies from person to person, and in some cases, there is “my child doesn’t have the stage at all” or “it’s mild.” That is cause for concern.

Here, we will explain the causes for cases in which the horrible three-stage does not come.

The horrible three periods are a preparation to establish “Self”

The “horrible three” period is officially called the “first rebellious period”. When they do not get their way, they cry out, throw things, hit their mothers, and explode.

The seemingly endless storm of “horrible three” slowly but surely damages the parents’ hearts and minds. Many moms feel exhausted and feel dull every day. And they are so afraid to go out that they stay indoors, which only adds to the stress.

However, the “horrible three” period is an important developmental process for a child to establish his or her “self”. By expressing their own will during this period, even in the imperfect form of “no,” children can lay the foundation for their ability to judge the pros and cons of things and to chart their own course in the future.

To be honest, parents who have to deal with this kind of “horrible three” every day may get fed up with it. However, the “horrible three” period does not have to last forever. Think of it as a temporary trial for your child to grow up and get over it.

The horrible three-period does not always come.

In general child-rearing books and child-rearing information websites, it is often written that the earliest stage of horrible three comes around the age of 2 to 3 years old. However, it has been found that in reality, there are large individual differences.

According to the “horrible three emergence rate survey” (2018) conducted by Hakuhodo, an advertising agency, on 9,250 parents of 0- to 5-year-olds, the highest horrible three emergence rate (77.3%) was between 2 years 0 months, and 2 years 5 months. Although this age range is the peak, horrible three is recognized as early as the 0-5 month infant stage, and one out of three or four infants seems to be in the horrible three-stage even after the age of 4 years old.

Some children may finish their horrible three before they reach the age of two, while others may not start their horrible three until they reach the age of four. Children’s development is not uniform, and the timing of the onset of the “horrible three” can be considered one of the characteristics of each child.

The horrible three-period never comes. What are the causes?

In some cases, there are children who never seem to experience the horrible three periods. Parents must feel uneasy when their children do not show any signs of “no,” despite being told that “horrible three is a sign of a normal developmental process”. So, what are the possible reasons for not seeing the horrible three-stage?

The timing is simply off.

Generally speaking, the horrible three-stage is around 2 to 3 years of age, but as the results of the aforementioned survey show, it is not uncommon for horrible three to occur at other times. Therefore, there are cases where “what we thought was just a baby’s bad mood was actually horrible three” or, “we thought there was no horrible three, but it came when the baby turned 4 years old.”

Parents handled it well.

Even if a child is going through a ” horrible three,” if the parents do not feel stressed about the child, they may not even notice that the child is going through the horrible three-phase. Mothers with older children are particularly adept at dealing with children who throw tantrums, and they may be able to calm them down before a full-blown tantrum occurs. The aforementioned research has shown that parents’ stress due to horrible three is reduced if the child has older siblings or is a third or later child.

The child’s personality is less likely to be frustrated.

A child’s natural disposition has a great deal to do with how the horrible three stages appear. Children who have been dragging or crying at night since they were babies tend to express negative emotions such as discomfort or anger, and this tends to affect the way they show up in their argumentative moods. On the other hand, so-called “easy-to-raise children” are less likely to feel stress, and their horrible three tend to be mild.

Perhaps a lack of attachment.

Between the ages of six months and two years, children form “attachments” to those around them, such as mom and dad, who protect them. According to British psychiatrist John Bowlby, this “attachment” refers to the bond that a child forms with a particular person through trust and affection.

However, if the child does not receive sufficient physical contact and talking to others during infancy, the formation of attachment will be inadequate. As a result, even if the child becomes assertive at an age equivalent to the “horrible three” stage, he or she may not be able to express his or her feelings due to a lack of trust in his mom or dad. Saying “no” is a major task that consumes a lot of energy for the child. The only reason they make the effort to be assertive is that they trust that “mom and dad will understand my thoughts and feelings.”

Developmental disabilities can also be the cause.

Many parents may be concerned about their child’s developmental status if he or she does not go through the horrible three stages. Although most children will grow up without any problems even if they do not go through it, some children may not go through it due to developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder. If you notice any significant concerns in daily life, such as delayed speech, lack of eye contact, shyness, or difficulty in group activities, please consult with a medical specialist.


The “horrible three” period can be exhausting for both parents and the child. No matter what they do, they always say “No!” in succession, and in some cases, it becomes difficult to lead a daily life. However, while judging whether there is no need to worry excessively or whether there is a need to take some kind of action, please give your child your full attention and love.

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