The short answer to the question “What to expect from your three year old” is: Not much!
But that could just be my jaded view from here in the deep dark depths of threenager-ville.
While I was researching for this piece I came across an article stating that, at three, a child “wants to please adults, conforms; easily prompted or redirected.” Honestly? Don’t expect that.
Tantrums, stubbornness, growing independence? Yeah, expect that.
The reality of life with a three year old is that your baby is growing up. But they are still your baby. They will have times when they feel like they can rule the world (and they undoubtedly rule YOUR world) but other times they will be scared of their own shadow.
As they learn they are separate entities from their parents, children around this age are continually pushing boundaries to discover the lay of the land. They want to know who is in control and need constant reminding that it’s not them. This isn’t a bad thing either. While they may think they want to hold the power in the relationship, if this occurs it scares them and creates more problems.
Three year olds are still learning emotional regulation. I often compare living with a child of this age to living with ticking time bomb. You never know when they will go off. The good, or perhaps not so good, part of this, is that their communication skills are continually developing, so most of the time they are able to let you know exactly what they are not happy about. Whether their reasoning makes sense to you is a completely different thing!
Developmentally, I could rattle off a list of milestones such as balancing on one leg or drawing a circle but these are not always helpful. It’s so important to remember that your child will develop at their own pace.
Do not bother comparing your child to another three year old who can already write their name while yours is still drawing indistinguishable scribbles. Just like the body, our brains mature at an individual rate.
Unless there are glaring developmental delays in speech or motor skills, be confident that your child will get there in their own good time.
So what should you expect from your three year old?
- Expect them to be loud.
- Expect them to be messy.
- Expect them to make mistakes.
- Expect them to ask a LOT of questions.
- Expect them to imitate what they see. (That probably means YOU!)
- Expect them to not like something they loved yesterday.
- Expect them to be cute at precisely the right moment to get them out of dire trouble.
Perhaps it’s easier to list what your three year old should expect from you as a parent. Here are some things you can do to help your three year old develop emotionally and physically:
- Provide opportunities for imaginary and independent play, indoors and outdoors.
- Read to them. Lots.
- Talk to them (because they will certainly talk to you!)
- Model desirable behaviour like sharing, empathy and healthy displays of emotion.
- Offer them a healthy variety of food (don’t necessarily expect them to eat it).
- Aim for consistency and clear boundaries.
- Love them openly and unconditionally.
The bottom line is; try not to be too hard on them or on yourself. Parenting a child of this age can be challenging and exhausting but it is also an amazing time filled with lots of giggles, cuddles and joy. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.