Your Child At 3 Years Old
Three year olds are a joy. You have probably noticed that he or she is now telling little stories, playing well with others and learning to share. He or she can make a tall tower of blocks, copy a circle, walk easily up and down steps and use a tricycle. Your 3 year old is starting to get dressed on his or her own. He or she is aware of gender and some gender differences. A bit more than half of your child’s speech is understandable at this age. His or her sentences sound complete.
Caring for Your 3 Year Old
Three year olds are capable of caring for themselves in many ways. Your 3 year old should be able to pick up after him or herself, put away dirty clothes, and help clean up the kitchen table, for instance. He or she will conform to routines at mealtimes and bedtimes if you are consistent. Praise good behaviors! Consistent praise is a stronger motivator rather than punishment, and is much easier and more enjoyable to administer.
Three year olds are becoming more social, and should begin developing appropriate manners. They are beginning to incorporate our morals, and understand “good” versus “bad” behaviors. Encourage your 3 year old to develop respect and patience for others, e.g. taking turns, sharing items, saying “please” and “thank you.”
If your child hasn’t had his or her first dental appointment, schedule it now.
Disciplining Your 3 Year Old
Three year olds know who is important in their lives. They recognize, too, who is more tolerant or strict, and who would help them most depending on the situation. They may start asking different people the same request until they get the response they desire, so as a parent, be consistent when responding to these requests. You should teach him or her that this behavior is intolerable and will not achieve anything. Like most parents, you may have disagreements on how to handle situations with your child. When this occurs, do this privately, and return to your child in harmony with an agreed upon plan.
Your Child’s Safety
Although your child’s motor skills are great at this age, he or she still doesn’t fully understand the concept of danger. Because of this, safety is important. Keep guns locked up and unloaded, with ammunition locked in a separate location. Keep all sharp objects out of reach. Discuss water, animal, street and stranger safety. Discuss the concepts of “good touch” and “bad touch” with your child. If he or she rides a tricycle or other bike, be sure that a helmet is worn 100% of the time. When riding in the car, make sure the booster car seat you are using is acceptable. To be acceptable, the requirement is for three point restraint
Your Next Appointment
Your child’s next well appointment will be at 4 years old. We will continue to evaluate your child’s development and discuss additional information. Kindergarten vaccinations are given between 4 and 5 years of age.
The Prevention of Spoiled Children
- Provide age-appropriate limits or rules for your child. Parents have the right and responsibility to take charge and make rules. Adults must keep their child’s environment safe. Age-appropriate discipline must begin by the age of crawling. Saying “no” occasionally is good for children. Children need external controls until they develop self-control and self-discipline. Your child will still love you after you say “no”. If your children like you all the time, you are not being a good parent.
- Require cooperation with your important rules. It is important that your child be in the habit of responding properly to your directions long before entering school. Important rules include staying in the car seat, not hitting other children, being ready to leave on time in the morning, going to bed, and so forth. These adult decisions are not open to negotiation. Do not give your child a choice when there is none.
Child decisions, however, involve such things as which cereal to eat, books to read, toys to take into the tub, and clothes to wear. Make sure that your child understands the difference between areas in which he or she has choices (control) and your rules. Try to keep your important rules to no more than 10 to 12 items, and be willing to go to the mat about these. Also, be sure that all adult caretakers consistently enforce these rules.
- Expect your child to cry. Distinguish between needs and wants. Needs include, crying from pain, hunger, or fear. In these cases, respond immediately. Other crying is harmless. Crying usually relates to your child’s wants or whims. Crying is a normal response to change or frustration. When the crying is part of a tantrum, ignore it. Don’t punish him for crying or tell her that she is a crybaby. Don't tell him or her that he or she shouldn’t cry. Although not denying your child’s feelings, don’t be moved by his or her crying. To compensate for the extra crying your child does during a time when you are lightening up on the rules, provide extra cuddling and enjoyable activities at a time when he or she is not crying or having a tantrum. There are times when it is necessary to temporarily withhold attention and comforting to help your child learn something that is important, such as that he or she can’t pull on your earrings.
- Do not allow tantrums to work. Children throw temper tantrums to get your attention, to wear you down, to change your mind, and to get their way. The crying is to change your “no” vote to a “yes” vote. Tantrums may include whining, complaining, crying, breath holding, pounding the floor, shouting, or slamming a door. As long as your child stays in one place and is not too disruptive or in a position to harm himself, you can leave him alone at these times. By all means, don’t give in to tantrums.
- Don’t overlook discipline during quality time. If you are working parents, you will want to spend part of each evening with your child. This special time spent with your child needs to be enjoyable but also reality based. Don’t ease up on the rules. If your child misbehaves, remind her of the existing limits. Even during fun activities, you occasionally need to be the parent.
- Don’t start democratic child rearing until your child is 4 or 5 years old. Don’t give away your power as a parent. At 2 years of age, be careful not to talk too much with your toddler about the rules. Toddlers don’t play by the rules. By 4 to 5 years of age, you can begin to reason with your child about discipline issues, but he or she still lacks the judgment necessary to make the rules. During the elementary school years, show a willingness to discuss the rules. By 14 to 16 years old, an adolescent can be negotiated with as an adult. At that time you can ask for his or her input about what rules or consequences would be fair. The more democratic the parents are during the first 2 or 3 years, the more demanding the children who do not know what to do with power. Left to their own devices, they usually spoil themselves. If they are testing everything at age 3, it is abnormal. If you have given away your power, take it back (i.e., set new limits and enforce them). You don’t have to explain the reason for every rule. Sometimes the only reason needed is just because “I said so.”
- Teach your child to get “unbored.” Your job is to provide toys, books, and art supplies. Your child’s job is to play with them. Assuming you talk and play with your child several hours each day, you do not need to become your child’s constant playmate, nor do you need to constantly provide him or her with an outside friend. When you’re busy, expect your child to amuse him or herself. Even 1 year-olds can keep themselves occupied for 15-minute blocks of time. By 3 years, most children can entertain themselves half the time. Sending your child outside to “find something to do” is doing him or her a favor. Much good creative play, thinking, and daydreaming come out of solving boredom. If you can’t seem to resign as social director, enroll your child in a preschool.
- Teach your child to wait. Waiting helps children better deal with frustration. All jobs in the adult world carry some degree of frustration. Delaying immediate gratification is a trait your child must gradually learn and it takes practice. Don’t feel guilty if you have to make your child wait a few minutes now and then (e.g., don’t allow your child to interrupt your conversations with others). Your child shouldn’t become overwhelmed or unglued by waiting. His perseverance and emotional fitness will be enhanced.
- Don’t rescue your child from normal life challenges. Changes such as moving and starting school are normal life stressors. These are opportunities for learning and problem solving. Always be available and supportive, but don’t help your child if he or she can handle it for him or herself. Overall, make your child’s life as realistic as he or she can tolerate for his age, rather than going out of your way to make it as pleasant as possible. His or her coping skills and self-confidence will benefit from this practice.
- Don’t over praise your child. Children need praise, but it can be overdone. Praise your child for good behavior and following the rules. Encourage him or her to try new things and work on difficult task, but teach him or her to do things for his or her own reasons, too. Self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment come from doing and completing things that he or she is proud of. Praising your child while he or she is in the process of doing something may make him or her stop at each step and want more praise. Avoid the tendency (common with the first-born child) to over praise your child’s normal development.
- Teach your child to respect parents’ rights and time together. The needs of your children for love, food, clothing, safety, and security obviously come first. However, your needs should come next. Your children’s wants (e.g., for play) and whims (e.g., for an extra bedtime story) should come after your needs are met and as time is available in the day. This is especially important for working parents where family time is limited. It is both the quality and quantity of time that you spend with your children that are important. Quality time is time that is enjoyable, interactive, and focused on your child. Children need some quality time with their parents every day. Spending every free moment of every evening and weekend with your child is not good for your child or your marriage. You need a balance to preserve your mental health. Scheduled nights out with your mate, will not only nurture your marriage, but also help you to return to parenting with more to give. Your child needs to learn to trust other adults and that he or she can survive separations from you. If your child isn’t taught to respect your rights, he or she may not respect the rights of other adults.
Instructions for Pediatric Patients, 2nd edition, 1999 by WB Saunders Company. Written by Barton Schmitt, M.D., pediatrician.