The Wonderful Three-Year-Old (page 2)

— University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Nov 12, 2009

Emotional Development

A three-year-old can be lively, affectionate, cooperative, and good-humored. Around three- and-a-half, though, he may suddenly become strong- willed and disagreeable. He may become emotionally insecure and anxious. He may seem as if she is trying to go back to being a baby. He may also become very picky and hard-to- please.

One reason that a three-and-a-half-year-old becomes rebellious and insecure is that he is moving towards more independence. He is testing limits to find out who he is and what he can do. However, becoming independent is hard work. It can make a child feel anxious and in need of a lot of encouragement and comfort.

When your child is going through this difficult stage, remember that it is just that, a stage. Things will improve soon. Limit the frequency and duration of conflicts. Sometimes it is better to overlook certain behaviors (such as whining) and to let him have his way once in a while (for example, if he wants to wear a raggedy pair of pants). In the meantime, it is important to be calm, patient, and loving with your child. Here are a few tips for helping your child through this rough stage:

  • Continue to give your child tasks to do each day, but do not ask more of her than is necessary.
  • Give clear, simple directions.
  • Give choices when possible.

Another reason that a three-year-old may become anxious or irritable is that he has developed a new fear. He may suddenly be afraid of things he was never afraid of before, such as the dark, baths, loud noises, or animals. If your child is afraid of something, acknowledge his fears. Do not dismiss his feelings. Instead, listen to what scares his and reassure his. For example, if your child is scared of the dark, tell him it is okay to be scared and that you will help him get rid of what makes him scared. Look under the bed, look in the closet, even get a bottle of water and squirt out any monsters he believes might be in the room with him. Leave a night light on to reassure him that everything is okay.

Intellectual Development

Around age three, a child's thinking becomes more flexible. He can imagine objects and events, and loves to tell stories and play pretend. Telling stories and playing pretend lets him try out different roles and behaviors. Provide your child with dolls or action figures, animal figures, dress-up clothes, a toy telephone, or any other toys that let him act out scenes. At times he may have difficulties distinguishing fact from fantasy. This is very typical at his age. Avoid dismissing his fears or accusing him of telling tales or lying. Instead, in a calm and loving manner explain what the reality of the situation is.

Also provide your child with paper, crayons, clay, scissors, paste, pegboards, blocks, and other creative materials. With his greater hand- eye coordination, he can really enjoy creative activities such as drawing and building. As your child plays and creates, show interest in what he is doing. Get down on the floor and have some playtime with him. Do not dominate his play by asking too many questions. Instead, attend to what he is doing by describing and commenting on what he is creating or playing with.

A three-year-old can use simple sentences to make his needs known and share his ideas. New words are interesting to him. He likes to hear them and try to use them. Encourage your child to speak and try new words by listening and responding to him. When he makes a mistake, do not correct him with "no, that's wrong" or "say it this way." Instead, repeat what your child said pronouncing the words correctly. Your encouragement will motivate your child to keep trying.

You can also expand your child's language abilities by reading. Be aware, your child will probably want you to read his favorite book over and over again. Do so cheerfully. Eventually he will learn to read the book on his own, which is a skill that will serve him his whole life.

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