Characteristics of Three (and a half) Year Old Behavior


Some time ago I wrote a post on the Characteristics of Two (and a half) Year Old Behavior. In recent weeks, my fourth child’s behaviour has become rather challenging. I was trying to work out what was going on with him and me, that could be contributing to the situation. Going over in my mind, the behaviors he had been exhibiting it came to be straight away, that he has entered another period of disequilibrium – he is the lovely age of three and a half!

Disequilibrium is the half year period before a child’s birthday, (in this instance from 3 1/2 until 4 years old) where children are confused, emotional, temperamental and may have difficulty completing tasks that they previously have easily accomplished. They then move into phases of equilibrium where they seem to have “got it all together”.

Characteristics Of Three and A Half Year Old Behaviour

Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames.

So I did some research on this stage of child development and came across these couple of paragraphs, which instantly gave me some heart. They are taken from Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames.

In fact, Three is a highly “we” age. The child likes to say “let’s,” as “let’s go for a walk, shall we?” The sense of togetherness or “we-ness” seems to make him depend on the adult and makes him lean on him or her, though he also enjoys the sense of sharing. The very child who has been so independent earlier may now ask his mother: “Help me,” “show me.”

Three is a conforming age. Three and a half is just the opposite. Refusing to obey is perhaps the key aspect of this turbulent, troubled period in the life of the young child. It sometimes seems to his mother that his main concern is to strengthen his will, and he strengthens this will by going against whatever is demanded of him by that still most important person in his life, his mother.

Many a mother discovers that even the simplest event or occasion can elicit total rebellion. Dressing, eating, going to the bathroom, getting up, going to bed – what ever the routine, it can be the scene and setting for an all-out, no-holds-barred fight. Techniques and tricks formerly useful can no longer be guaranteed to work. The mother’s equally resistant response may be tempered by knowing that soon, when he is Four, her child will have developed a self concept strong enough so that he can sometimes conform, and also that he will sometimes enjoy going out of bounds and saying and doing things he knows full well will not be permitted. But even when out of bounds at Four, he will usually be much less difficult to manage then now, at Three and a half.

How many months is it until April (he will be four then!)????? Seriously though, reminding myself of how turbulent this age can be and understanding that it is part of his developmental growth, has already given me some feeling of relief and started me thinking of better ways to manage his behaviour. I have listed below some of the characteristics and some “possible” solutions. The solutions are only “possible” because as noted above, they may work one day, but not the next, on these beautiful 3.5 year olds!

And of course three and a half is not only just challenging behaviours! There are plenty of gorgeous and fun moments in there too, so I have ended the list with some of the more endearing characteristics of this age.

1. Indecisive

Me: “What game would you like to play?”
Master 3.5: “I don’t know.”

Possible Solution: At this stage of development, going back to offering limited choices, has begun working much better. So by asking him something like “Do you want to play lego or do a puzzle?” it limits his options, but still gives him control in choosing his activity.

2. Whining

We have hit some peak levels with whining recently. But at least I know that it is completely normal for this age:

Tensional outlets increase. There may not be only eye blinking and stuttering, but rubbing of genitals, chewing on clothes, excessive salivation, spitting, tics and whining. In fact, whining is a hallmark of Three-and-a-half, and can be extremely irritating…..Emotional insecurity, which so many seem to feel at this age, may be due to a large extent on the temporary inadequacy of the motor system.

Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames.

Possible Solution: No solutions to eliminate this one unfortunately, but am just trying to work with him on it. I calmly state that when he asks for something, he needs to use a clear and calm voice so that I can understand him and respond only once he has done this.

3. Mum Do!

Many mornings master 3.5 is not interested in dressing himself and I am told “You dress me.”

Possible Solution: Firstly he needs to repeat the request using a happy voice and with manners. I then aim for a compromise, something along the lines of “I will do your t-shirt and you can do your shorts.” Knowing that he will move out of this stage and start wanting to dress himself again, and that there are many battle grounds at the moment, I am choosing carefully which ones that I take on!

4. Volatile Emotions

Some days it takes only the smallest thing to set of a very loud and long outburst of tears. I may have said that he can only have one yoghurt or he may break his banana while opening it and its like his whole world has just fallen apart.

Possible Solution: I find trying to reason with him at this point is completely futile. I have had the best results by implementing the hug strategy. Bringing him into me and given him a hug and holding him has helped him regain his composure more quickly.

5. Falling Over

There have been many mornings recently on the walk to school where master 3.5 seems to trip over his own feet and ended up flat out on the ground. This usually then sees an episode of point 4 above, which is generally well out of proportion for the actual injury sustained.

Thus, there is at this age much stumbling and falling. Lack of smooth interplay between flexor and extensor muscles results not only in the gross motor coordination evidenced by stumbling and falling, but also by lack of coordination in the fine motor field as shown by a marked hand tremor in many children.

Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames.

Possible Solution: Encouraging him to slow down. He wants to get to places first (see the next point below). I also ask his siblings not to race him on the way to school and keep that activity for at home.

6. Winning

Master 3.5 now understands the concept of winning and likes to win. Conversely he can often become very unhappy when he loses.

Possible Solution: We have had numerous conversations about games being fun and winning not being the most important thing, but it hasn’t really done anything to change the situation. As I said at the beginning, the behaviour of 3.5 year old does vary day to day, if it looks like he is having a day where he is finding things particularly hard, then I will avoid playing competitive games. Also I make sure I choose times when he is less likely to be tired – early morning as opposed to evening, to play these types of games.

6. Attachment To Every Day Items

Particular items have taken on much more significance at the moment. He likes to eat his breakfast with a “shiny” spoon and he has a favourite colour cup he likes to drink out of. Volatile emotions can be freely flowing if substitute items are given.

Possible Solution: This is another one where it is a matter of choosing the right battles with him. It is not really a big deal for me to have the right spoon or cup available and I can then take up bigger issues, like not hitting his siblings when frustrated!

7. Enforcement Of Rules

Although he may not want to always follow the rules of the house, he certainly knows them and likes to keep an eye on every one else and see if they are following them. He will quite happily tell his eldest brother “stop swinging on your chair” or his sister “you need to pack up your mess”.

Possible Solution: It is great that he knows the rules, but I am having a number of chats with him about leaving the commenting on the other children’s behaviour to mum and dad.

8. Sense Of Humour

Master 3.5 has really started to display a sense of humour. He laughs at the jokes of his siblings and has started trying to make up his own jokes as well. Naturally the tag line involves either poo or wee, but he thinks they are hilarious and it is very cute to see him join in with the older kids.

9. Friends

Recently he has started talking about his “friends” and requesting to have them to play or go and visit them to play. He also on the whole has been managing to keep it together when he has his friends over and is so proud to tell his siblings he had his friend come to play. It is quite heart warming to see him interact with others his own age and have conversations with them.

10. Love

As he looks for more security at this stage of his life, I am having a lot more “huggles” as he likes to call them and time with him sitting on my knee. I especially love it when he has just woken up and is all warm and toasty from bed. So also on the plus side to this period of development is that I receiving a lot more physical affection.

This stage in a child’s life is definitely a challenging one and like all stages, I need to remind myself that this will too pass! In the mean time, I need to focus on choosing the right battles, removing points of conflict and helping him feel secure in his environment.

Can you recognise some of these characteristics in your three and a half year old?