EVERYTHING is Horrible When You are Three

This past weekend, I helped out by keeping my grandson occupied.* The terrible twos have nothing on the disastrous, CATASTROPHIC threes. EVERYTHING is horrible. Here are five things that made my grandson cry:

  1. The graham cracker came out of the package broken. Twice in a row.
  2. His father opened the door when he came home, instead of letting said 3yo open it.
  3. We were chasing each other around the house and my “footsteps stopped walking”
  4. The velociraptor is a carnivore.
  5. In the fifty times we raced to the fence, I beat him one time. When he stopped running.

To be fair, these occurred over days of constant togetherness and he is normally a sweet, loving child – but it got me to thinking about times when my students’ felt upset over seemingly inconsequential (to adults) incidences. Since I always tell teens they need to sleep almost as much as a toddler, their frontal lobes are still developing, and new experiences are bound to happen, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they seemingly overreact in any given situation.

In my early years of teaching, I had a student who had near-perfect penmanship. The students told him his drafting-look handwriting should be immortalized in font form. As a high school student, his ideas were were already as thoughtful as his printing. Early on in the year, however, I wrote on a paper, “Wow, that’s an interesting way of looking at the main char.- you’ve given me something to ponder!” He came up after class and told me he was upset. I could see the pain in his eyes. I read what I’d written and couldn’t understand what I had done wrong. I said I was sorry and asked him to explain. It turns out, he was concerned, not about WHAT I had written, but that I had written on the paper and “messed it up totally”.


Now I could have told him he needed to get used to it – to suck it up, as many people will write on his papers in the future, but I didn’t. We talked about what he would prefer. (I used sticky notes for quite a while.) Since I wasn’t dismissive of him, I formed a better relationship. By not mocking him and seeing WHY he was upset, I created a positive bond with him, which eventually led to helping him seek professional assistance for his crippling OCD.

As educators, we should pause when students are upset over something we find inconsequential and look at what is behind their frustration. (“I see you are frustrated, what’s going on?”) We can still help them learn though the experience the lesson that life has disappointments and obstructions, but our empathy and understanding offers us a teachable moment, instead of making them more exasperated.

For a student with anger issues, I had him keep a journal. He recorded what set him off, how he reacted, and what reaction he should have/could have had. In addition, he rated the inciting incident on the Problem Scale of 1 to 5, with five being a terrible problem (house on fire). After time, he saw his ratings and reactions reduce. So, instead of me telling him he was overreacting, he saw it for himself, then took steps to correct it.

Teaching a subject matter (in my case, English) often involves educating students on so much more. Have you had any “graham cracker moments” in your teaching career or with you own children? I’d love to hear about them here!

graham crackers

*My daughter was taking care of her newborn, my son-in-law was taking care of my daughter (and the baby), and my husband was building railings for their deck!