Happy Birthday, Three-Year Old
Your son is three years old! Congratulations on completing the most challenging three years of parenting. Of course there are lots of challenges ahead and your task of parenting is only really beginning. But because of your child’s growth and development over these last three years, he is more independent and has taken the first major steps to learning for himself.
From this time on, his growth and development is not so easily mapped by monthly steps. In fact, over the last six months you have probably noticed that your child is either ahead or behind in many of the monthly developmental goals. That is because he may zoom ahead physically while he puts his verbal skills on-hold. Or he may spend a great deal of time talking to himself and gaining vocabulary, but be further behind in social development in his play with other children.
YourChildsJourney.com web site is up and ready for use. This is a place for you to interact with other moms, to get up-dates on hot-topic issues for parents, and to ask questions you may have. For security reasons, you’ll need to register to leave comments or questions. I’ll review them and post them as soon as possible. When you register, you may choose any username you like and your email address won’t show on the site. In your comments, if you would like me to answer you personally, include your email address, otherwise I won’t be able to reply directly to you. I will not post your email address, unless you specifically ask me to.
So from now on, you won’t be receiving the usual First Steps bulletin with milestones and goals to be aiming for. You will receive an email with highlights of new content on the site, current hot topics and questions for you to respond to. Of course, as always, you are welcome to email directly to me for answers to questions or with funny stories to share with moms with younger children who will continue to receive the monthly bulletins until their children reach three years.
The rest of this bulletin will discuss what most three-year olds are able to do and what they are learning.
Most three-year olds are friendly, talkative, and willing to play well with other children they know. Put them in a strange social setting, however, and they may revert to the anxious, fearful, clinging behavior more usual for two-year olds. Only children, those with only younger siblings, and those going through big changes like moves and the birth of a new brother or sister, may be even more overwhelmed by a group of their peers.
He is just beginning to figure out friendship. If he plays with one or two children more often than others, he will usually name those children as best friends when asked. He is just forming his idea of what it means to have a friend. He is more likely to be able to play cooperatively with others for a while before reverting to parallel play. Most three-year olds are still learning about sharing and need lots of practice before it is comfortable, but with an adult’s help he may be able to accept a compromise at three.
Ways you can help your child develop socially:
- Role-play or rehearsal: When you know your child is going into a strange or stressful situation, you can role-play how to respond. Take different roles and show your three-year old what will be expected of him. You can teach him to say, “Hi, I’m Billy. What’s your name?”
- Introduce him to one child at a time: Don’t expect him to go up to a group of children who are already playing and find his own way into the group. Introduce him to one child who is more outside the group and give them something to do together.
- Let him take a favorite toy: Allow him to play by himself until he feels more comfortable with the group. Others in the group may come over to him and break the ice or he may get curious enough to join the group later.
- Tell him where you will be while he is playing with others: Just knowing where you are may be all he needs to have the confidence to reach out to new acquaintances.
- Arrange play dates at your house: Because he is comfortable at home, he will be able to make friends easier at home than in a strange environment.
About 50% of preschoolers have an imaginary friend, a pretend buddy. This is not abnormal or signal some serious maladjustment. Actually, children who have imaginary friends usually grow up to be creative, cooperative, sociable and independent.
Imaginary friends may be human or animal, have a name, and have a distinct personality. Imaginary friends may be confidante, playmate, protector, or scapegoat, depending on the situation they find themselves in. They help children deal with the stresses of an increasingly demanding world. His imaginary friend may have the same fears or stresses your child is experiencing.
Don’t use his imaginary friend to try to manipulate your child to do what you want him to do. Don’t try to get involved with his imaginary friend. Deep down your child knows this is just his imaginary invention and would be terribly frightened if you jump in too. He needs you to be an anchor to reality that he can rely on when he wants to leave his imagination.
He may work out his complicated emotions about traumatic experiences with animals, dolls, or other toys. If he has seen a car accident, he may crash his cars together over and over for a while. Let him do this for a while as he processes what he has seen. If it continues or gets more aggressive, see if there are other frightening things he is being exposed to. Talk to his doctor about this if it continues.
You should be able to understand about 3/4 of what he is saying now. He uses three or more word sentences with more adjectives, correct verb tenses, and adding “s” and “ing” when necessary. He may still have trouble with r, l, s, and th. His vocabulary is too large to count now, between 300 and 1000 words.
He should be able to hold up three fingers and say “three” when asked how old he is. He is beginning to understand the relationship between the words and the actual number of things. Always have him touch items as he counts to reinforce the relationship.
His vocabulary grows naturally as he is actively doing things. He learns new words when they are used in several different situations like eating, playing, riding in a car, and walking. Continually add new words in your conversation with your son.
He is learning comparisons now; more, less, and words that end in “er.” Give him lots of practice judging size by feel as well as sight. See if he can put his arms around a tree trunk and measure the fence by reaching up to see which rail he can touch. With lots of experience touching things, he’ll become good at estimating size by sight.
He is learning to use prepositions correctly: in, out, over, under, around, and through.
Testing the limits
At about three-years, most children try to play one parent against the other. If you say “no,” they ask Dad to see if it is still “no.” You should get in the habit of asking, “Did you ask Dad? What did he say?” Dad should do the reverse and make sure you haven’t already told him “no.” Having some clear-cut rules like about sweets or TV will minimize the number of areas your child can try this game. If you catch him doing this, let him know you disapprove and whatever one parent says is the answer for both.
Learning new tasks
Mothers who make learning new tasks a game and correct in an encouraging way, give their children the self-confidence to learn later in life. Mothers who are more impersonal and authoritarian, make their children fearful of trying and less interested in learning.
Continue to read to your child as much as possible. Here are some suggestions for the types of books to read:
- Nonfiction about nature, machines, how things are made, etc.
- About everyday life: children, cartoons, and animals doing what he does
- Books that help him deal with his fears
- Nursery rhymes. The repetition will make it possible for him to memorize and “read” to himself or his younger siblings.
Your three-year old needs to know how he fits in the family. He needs to know that he is needed. Because he is limited in what he CAN do, it is easy to just do things FOR him. Even though letting him do his small part can slow down or even frustrate other family members, he needs to be expected to do his part. This helps him develop his own sense of self-worth and understand his importance to the family.
Doing things for and by themselves helps children become organized and later be ready for learning in school. Learning to solve practical problems by themselves helps them learn everyday tasks. Don’t remove all the obstacles to his doing his job. Let him figure out how to go around them.
Having jobs that are his responsibility make him feel he is needed and belongs.
Special times with Mom or Dad
You don’t need to do everything together as a family. Going out with one or the other parent for certain regular activities helps him develop a unique relationship with each parent. From time-to-time plan special outings with one parent or a grandparent. These will help your child feel special and important.
One of the best goals you can have for your child is to teach them to be a child others like to be with. No one enjoys a self-centered, rough, rude person.
Of course, the first way to teach good manners is to practice good manners at home. Use “please” and “thank you” in your home, when you are at a store, or at the bank. Use good table manners yourself to model what you want your child to do.
Before taking your child to a friend’s birthday party, explain about the pile of gifts being for the birthday child, not the guests. Role-play different things he might experience at the party. Praise any successes and forgive small mistakes.
Help if you are still working on poop-training!
There are so many possible reasons your child is still not poop-trained and so many different possible approaches I want to give you a link to a great discussion on what worked for other moms: Go to: Poop in the Potty.
Heavenly Father, thank you for this precious son You have given me. Thank you for helping me to be a good mom. Give me Your wisdom as he grows and develops and help me show him the way to a relationship with You.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.