Sometimes I feel like parenting a three-year old is like breaking a wild horse. When the shit goes down it comes down to who's will is stronger and who breaks first. It doesn't happen often and I don't like when it does, but if you're not prepared to match wills, it's not a good thing.
Tonight I had to plop my mostly clothed kid in the shower, which caused her to go from the 10 she had already reached, to 11. Negotiating didn't work, incentive didn't work, taking away things didn't work. It was the big time. Once the water hit her she freaked out like I have not seen, mostly because her favorite dress was getting wet. This was after about an hour of battling over dinner, over using the toilet, over breathing, culminating in her NOT allowing me to take her dress off in the bathroom. After the initial shock that I would go so far as to turn on the shower before she was undressed, she allowed me to remove the dress. That was the break, like the snapping of a tree branch.
I explained how when we wash clothes they get wet and that the water wouldn't hurt it at all. She calmed down and and then proceeded to have a great bath (negotiated down from the shower) and went to bed without any fight, despite having lost her stuffed animals and night light in the hour long fight. The second I took it to the point that she knew I was not messing around and would not allow her to win, she gave up.
This does not happen often, but every now and then it gets to this point and the reaction is always the same. She pushes until she hits a wall that she can't get over. At that point the battle is over and everything changes like a switch was flipped. We hugged after the bath and talked about how much we love each other and why we had both been frustrated. We agreed to start again tomorrow and then she went upstairs.