DD is also getting into the testing threes!
Piratemommy, I think at 3 they are super interested in learning about how stuff works, including boundaries. I often think you could be the mellowest person ever and they are going to seek out for that one thing that drives you crazy, and they won't stop until they find it!
I was threatening alot in an effort to persuade until one day it dawned on me that persuasion just wasn't going to work. I like to focus on skill building and a lot of the other GD standards. But DD wants to see clear cause and effect. So while I never used "consequences" when she was younger, because I felt that it just didn't make much sense, I began to use consequences.
What I mean by consequences is this: these days, I find it helps me most to focus on my own behavior and be as disinterested as possible in hers. I inform rather than persuade. "The polite way to say that is, "blah blah blah" or "dirty dishes go in the washtub" or "You may not hit me. I don't like being hit." The corollary to this is: "If you hit me, I will get up and leave the room/will put you in another room and you can call for me or come back/out when you are ready for hugs, or quiet play, etc."
I try to give her the clearest possible information about my boundaries, my expectations, the actions I will take, etc. I try to be as predictable as possible. This doesn't mean she's going to make what I think are logical choices in response. But, those choices are just as important as the choices she makes that I think are wise. We say, "We will try again later," alot. She doesn't thank me for setting those boundaries and she often doesn't like them. But, I am the mom that she has, and this is what I came with, and she is allowed to dislike the outcome, or my decision.
Sometimes we talk together to get a better expectation. For instance, she wanted to change when she nurses to after meals. I agreed but pointed out that the next time she asked me at a time that was not after a meal, I would say no. Did she still want to do that? "Ok," she says. And if she hit and screamed at me because I would not give her milk, I would put her in another room because I do not like being hit and screamed at. "OK," she says, "I'll not hit you." She seemed quite pleased with the outcome.
I won't be surprised if she hits me at some point over this. Then things will happen exactly like we agreed. After some space, we will be able to "make up" and cuddle or read a book or have some other connecting activity.
Being clear about my boundaries and following through has required me to do a lot of (ongoing) soul searching about what my boundaries are, because I grew up without being really allowed to have any. I suspect it's different, maybe easier, for parents who grew up being permitted to have healthy boundaries.
Anyhow, she runs me ragged sometimes ;) but I am so happy to know her. I can't really control her behavior, but I can control mine. My stress level has gotten a lot lower since I began doing these consequences, I guess you would call them. I wouldn't have done it when she was one or even early two, because I didn't feel like her comprehension was there... but now, it definitely is.
Now that I have started enforcing a small number of boundaries very seriously, she doesn't test me nearly as much as she used to. When I say we need to do something, this is important, she says, "Oh, ok." I know part of it is that their development comes in waves but part I think is being able to form a predictable idea of what I will do.