Peaceful Life with a Three-Year-Old

So, after we have discovered all the developmental characteristics from a traditional childhood development standpoint and also a brief look at an anthroposophical view of early childhood development, the questions begs to be asked:  How can I make my house and relationship with my child a peaceful one?

The first thing to do is to start with yourself – your own inner work, your own physical environment and your own health.  You set the tone in your home, and how you respond to your child matters.   You are an Authentic Leader in your home.  For more posts regarding being an Authentic Leader, please see the series of posts I wrote, beginning with this one:http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/16/gentle-discipline-as-authentic-leadership/.  If you hit “no spanking” in the tags section, the rest of the posts in this series will come up.  This is important, as Steiner felt that the education of the small child started with the self-education of the parent, the right thoughts, the right attitude, warmth toward your small child.

Second,  take a serious look at your environment –  is there clutter that is hindering your ability to be peaceful within your own home?  Contrary to popular opinion, Waldorf education is not about having mounds of wooden toys!  Slim down your material objects, have a home for every toy, have ways to set up scenarios for play for your child.

Third, look carefully at your rhythm.  It is a fallacy in our society that three-year olds need stimulation outside of the home.  However, that being said, then you do  need a rhythm within your home in order to carry the three-year old, particularly if the three-year old has no older siblings to help carry the tone.  You will need a rhythm that could include such elements as consistent waking, nap and bedtimes, consistent meal times of warm food, storytelling, music,singing and verses throughout the day as you transition from one activity to another and celebrate the season, plenty of outside time – it is very difficult to settle down and play if you have a lot of energy!!- and time for the child to be (or not) a part of practical work.  This is the time to develop and sharpen your own skills in gardening, baking, cooking, housekeeping, laundry and ironing, knitting, puppet and toymaking.  More than anything, these are the things your child needs to see.  Your child needs to work on being in their bodies.  Stop talking and explaining so much – just do and be.  If you need help with this, please do see my post “Take My Three- Day Challenge”.

Three-year-olds need things to turn into a story, a song, a story about when you were little or they were born, a fantasy activity, a physical activity, but not scientific explanation.  There will be a time and a place for these explanations later, but the time is not now.  Logical thought is not there at age three.  Please save your logical explanations for later when the child is older; it will be so much more warmly appreciated then!

Three-year-olds are interested in being a friend and having a friend, but as we have seen in our previous post, they are not always the best at social skills.  Some would argue children need groups to develop these skills, I would argue that they will mature just fine even without a lot of interaction with their own peers.  It is interesting to me the number of mothers who have told me the pressure they have received from well-meaning family members and friends who told them that their shy child needed social interaction or school  in order to come out of their shell and by the same token their wild child needed more social interaction or school to calm down!  Children will develop well with a solid foundation of being firmly entrenched  in the home and with their own family.

If you are going to have a playdate or playgroup, please consider that a child under the age of 7 is at the height of imitative behavior, so if we have a playdate, arrive and tell the children to just “go play” they have nothing to imitate off of and therefore have difficulty getting things going.  A Waldorf playgroup is always fairly structured for this reason.   How much better to start with some singing, some seasonal verses or fingerplays, and an activity where the adults model good manners, “please” and “thank-you”, taking turns, before the children go off to play.  And please do keep the time short, a three –year old certainly does not need a playdate that stretches out for four hours!

Playdates and playgroups are inevitable really about the mothers who need to get together and talk and get support.  If there is any way you can do this in adult only time after the children go to bed or on a weekend lunch when your family can assist with watching your children, this can be so valuable.  Then the playgroup can be who it should really be about – the child.

If you have a firm rhythm, are firmly rooted in your home, and are bringing stories, music, and practical work to your child along with lots of outside time, then do be assured you are doing exactly what you are supposed to do.  If you are fostering in your child a sense of gratitude for the Earth and all her people and things, you are doing a wonderful job. 

Which, of course, does not always mean that your child will “behave”.  Many attached parents feel like failures when their children hit three or so, as the child’s sense of self and an increased need for boundaries start to come out. As a parent, you cannot count it as a “good day” if your child doesn’t cry or melt-down or not have a temper tantrum… You can count it as a “good day” if you were calm, if you helped to de-escalate the situation, if you held it together. And even then, please be easy with yourself!  Living with small children can be challenging!  This is about the path your child is taking as he or she grows and becomes their own person, this is not about you versus them.

However, the need for boundaries is there at age three.   If the child is hurting themselves or others, if the child is destroying property, if the child is just plain wild and irritating you or others – then the behavior needs to be guided.  In order to do this, you must be calm.  This is not a battle of wills, and if you as a parent think that way, you have already lost sight of what you should be doing as an Authentic Leader. 

Your child needs your calm, warm physical presence and sense of humor to help bring them back into their bodies when they are out of control.  They do not need sarcasm, judgment, guilt, bargaining, or separation to help them.  They need your warmth, your ideas for play, your smiles and hugs and love.  They don’t need a lot of explanation or adult burdens of the world.  Every child has a birthright to have his or her golden age of innocence and time of play and time of wonder.

Parenting a three-year old requires physical perseverance, emotional stability, calm words, creativity and a remembering what it is like to be small and full of wonder.  Cherish each day as your child passes through the stages; it all goes rather quickly,  even on the days when parenting seems like a repetitious, physical challenge.  On those days, call a friend and get some support; come and read the posts on this blog. I hope they are inspiring to you and give you some food for thought.  Talk with your spouse and find some time to have off for even half an hour.  Figure out between you and your spouse how all of you can be receiving enough sleep so you can be at your best.   Set the tone in your home and for your family.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world; please do pass this on to any mothers of three-year-olds that you know!

I welcome your comments and inquiries below.

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18 thoughts on “Peaceful Life with a Three-Year-Old

  1. A question on three yr olds… when you are doing tasks around the house and the child doesn’t want to assist, what are some suggestions to either get them involved w/ your work or doing something purposeful on their own? My 3 yr old usually wants to work w/ me, but occasionally she does not and often her attention to the task is quickly gone, and then she tends towards actions like bothering her little sister.

    Obviously we don’t want to force them to help us around the house, but to gently encourage and make it enjoyable…

  2. thank you so much for this. The paragraph beginning “Your child needs your calm, warm physical presence…” is really helpful.

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  4. “When the Student is Ready, the Teach(ing) will appear.”

    …thank you for this. feeling so lost lately and found this just exactly when i needed it. his is the parent i want to be…brings tears to my eyes.

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  6. Thank you so much for posting this! I cannot tell you how much I needed to read this right now…I am having the most difficult time with my three year old. I need to step back and look at my actions, tone of voice and center myself. You have truly given me a wealth of information on how to approach life with my son. thank you

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  8. Thanks Carrie! I really enjoy your blog and here I am reading an old but relevant-to-me post. Lately we have a problem with my 3-year-old screaming when she is angry or not getting the attention she wants and waking up the baby. It’s frustrating, and tonight my MIL was saying she thought there should be more of a consequence for this. We have a small house, I can’t make her be quiet, and I don’t want to punish her in order to force her to be quiet. So far the “consequence” is that we remove her outside (with a parent) when she is screaming (generally too late because baby is woken up). Do you have any suggestions?

    • Actually, I think that is quite perfect — an outside voice belongs outside. I guess the other thing would be to make sure she is is sticking to a rhythm, is well-fed, rested, etc. to try to pre-empt the screaming sessions. How else is a three-year old going to express anger and frustration other than yelling? I think sometimes we are very fearful of our children’s strong negative emotions and want to stuff them as soon as possible and turn them off, but that is something that takes time for a child (or an adult) to learn how to handle. I also have a recent post about Children Who Scream, you can use the search engine to find it I think.
      DOes that help??
      many blessings,
      Carrie

  9. Yes, that helps, thank you! :) I think it is hard to get feedback from a grandparent that we aren’t providing enough “consequences” and I start to second guess myself. The impulse in adults is often that if a child has a behavior which is inconvenient to others that we should do something inconvenient to them so they’ll stop, but of course if we buy into this power struggle type thinking then we forget to look for feelings behind the behavior and what is going on for the child. Thank you for your reassurance, and for your blog! :)
    Kelly

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  11. Since I started to follow you blog this past month, things are going much better in our house. We feel more confident as parents. It is good to read that others feel the same as we do. Thanks for this post it is helpful to know more about what to expect from our three year old.

  12. Great post! I was feeling absolutely frustrated today with my little (almost) 3 year old. I was starting to feel like a failure. I try so hard to impose non violent parenting, and I receive so much criticism that I am spoiling him especially now that he is going through a defiant stage that started this week. I was starting to think they were right. My son is so sensitive, and I understand his needs and emotions. He respects me (for the most part) because I have always shown love and respect for his feelings and emotions. I am really happy that I found this blog that shares great supportive advice from a like minded individual!

    • Angie,
      Yes, being loving and nonviolent is correct. Also, though, boundaries do matter. Rhythm, distraction, singing and verses and knowing the limits in your home are really important. Being able to uphold those boundaries in a calm, firm but loving way will carry you far as you hit the far more tumultuous ages of three and a half, four and six. Those are the ages I get the most email about..
      Keep coming here for support! It is not that I personally do everything “right”, it is a journey, but so important to support each other as we all strive to do the right thing by our children and teach them how to love. That is the main lesson.
      Blessings,
      Carrie

  13. Hi,
    I just read this blog and believe me it really helped. I have an almost three year old and have been having a constant power struggle with her. Off-late though I have started reading up a lot on the Steiner method, as my daughter, Zoe is in a Steiner school that it has helped me in my dealing with her.
    Though there are times when the day goes beautifully and others where nothing seems to be going right. One thing that I cannot get a handle on is that Zoe is being violent towards her younger brother Zac, who is barely 2 months old. I have tried explaining (which now after reading your blog I realize will not work), using a humourous approach, time-out even stories with fairies saying no troubling your siblings, but nothing seems to work. I am worried that she might unknowingly cause him some damage. She bites him, pulls him hard, boxes him even. I am at a loss and don’t know what to do. Do you have some suggestions for me on how to handle this situation right?

    • Sheetal,
      Unfortunately at that age, distraction is about your only tool, along with separation. I would never leave the baby down unless I was right there to supervise it. If the baby is not in a sling, but in a bouncy seat or something that like then your three year old is engaged with you reading or helping you cook and you are absolutely sure of where your three year old is and what she is doing. Any interaction with the baby must be supervised and directed. She can help bathe him, help rub lotion on him or whatever taking care of baby tasks you do that she could help with to give her a chance to positively interact with the baby.
      Have you seen my post on Only Child to Older Sibling? I think those could be super helpful to you — use the search engine on this blog to find. There are two of them.

      It is going to be okay, some children just have a higher energy level with babies than can be comfortable and safe. :)
      Blessings,
      Carrie

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