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:  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.

Three-Year Old Behavior Challenges

What is life like with a three-year-old?  There is something quite magical about the three-year-old year, and often something quite difficult.  I have had three mothers contact me recently about life with a three-year-old – its ups and its downs..

This is how the Gesell Institute Book “Your Three-Year-Old” characterizes some of the qualities of a three and three and a half year old”

Three Years:

Conforming, decreased physical aggressiveness, happy most of the time, friendly, pleasing

Loves new words

Likes to make a choice within realm of experience

Sure of himself

Tries to meet and understand social demands

Gets along well with mother

Helpful around house

Like to relive babyhood

Beginning of interest in babies, wants family to have one

If sibling is on the way, most really do not understand baby growing inside mother

Expresses affection readily

Desires to look at and touch adults, especially mother’s breasts

Father can take over in many situations, although Mother still favored parent

Child clings less at bedtime and may go to sleep better for father

Usually enthusiastic about other children but still immature in their social reactions

Children may be more comfortable with adults other than other children – they approach adults with requests for help or information

From page 55, “ Much of a child’s conversation with any adult is still self-initiated. He may respond to what grown-ups say to him, or sometimes, he may not.”

Temper tantrums decline


Three and a Half Years:

Turbulent, troubled period of disequilibrium, the simples event or occasion can elicit total rebellion

Strong and secure gross motor abilities may turn more into stumbling, falling, at this age

New- found verbal ability “I’ll cut you in pieces!” and lots of whining

Loves silly rhymes and rhyming words, sentence length is increasing, acquiring a large vocabulary

May refuse to do things a lot, or howl and scream, or say a lot of “I can’t” I won’t” kinds of things

Three and a half to four may be the height  for the most “WHY?”  “WHERE?”  “WHAT?” kinds of questions

Demanding, bossy, turbulent, troubled but mainly due to emotional insecurity

Mother-child relationship difficult but may also cling to mother

May refuse to take part in daily routine – may do better with almost anyone than Mother

Inwardized, insecure, anxious

Determined and self willed; emotional extremes predominate

Emotional and physical insecurity

Anxious; lots of tensional outlets such as nose-picking, nail-biting, boys may be pulling almost constantly at their penises,  etc; can see stuttering and tremors of muscles at times, visual strain

May not eat well, may still have problems with bed-wetting, may wake up in the middle of the night and walk around

Afraid of almost anything and everything

Beginning of prolonged play with dolls, house building, tricycle riding

Girls may propose to Daddy at this age

If your child tells you stories, they may have violent elements in them (page 102)


Wonder at things!

Play a lot

Invent stories to tell

Talk a lot and ask a lot of questions

Love their mommies and daddies and pets!

Get all those new words and new skills!



Frequent changing of mind

Wanting to play games constantly with mother and wanting her attention all the time

The difficulty that comes with dressing, eating, going to bed, taking a nap

The asking of “Why?” over and over and over


For an anthroposophical view of the three-year-old, let us consider the following.  Rudolf Steiner had much to say about the period of two-and-a-half until age five; this is the age that “an exceptionally vivid memory and wonderful imagination” starts to happen.  He discusses how children continue to live by imitation, and how the best things to do with children between these ages involve anything that invokes imagination.  This is where Waldorf teachers and followers of Steiner start looking toward more open-ended, homemade kinds of toys due to their beauty and warmth and how much the child can add to this out of the child’s own imagination.

Steiner felt that the child of this period “is by  no means in a position to take in ideas which bear on the moral life.  And it follows that he should not be taught to him.”  In the book “Understanding Young Children; Excerpts From Lectures by Rudolf Steiner Compiled for Use of Kindergarten Teachers”, this story is told: “Two disconsolate parents once came to Dr. Steiner and complained that their child, generally very good, had stolen money that the mother had put in the cupboard, bought sweets and distributed them.  Dr.  Steiner explained that [the child] merely copied what [the child] had seen its mother do.  And this had nothing whatever to do with stealing.  The child becomes what its environment is.”

Steiner also discusses how speech is the foundation for thinking, and how physical mobility is the foundation for speech.  Therefore, a child learns to walk, to speak and then to think.  “In the beginning, “Steiner says, “ the child merely repeats the sounds it hears, sounds that are more or less rhythmic and melodious and in accordance with the peculiar relation between its groping arms and legs.  Thinking can only arise out of speech and not before.”

In Steiner’s view, one of the most important things we can do in the first seven years for our children is to teach the child gratitude.  This becomes the basis of love, the virtue belonging to the second seven year cycles, and duty, the basis of the third seven year cycle.

“If [the child] sees that everyone who stands in some kind of relationship to him in the outer world shows gratitude for what he receives from this world; if, in confronting the outer world and wanting to imitate it, the child sees the right kind of gesture that express gratitude, then a great deal is done towards establishing in him the right moral human attitude.  Gratitude is what belongs in the first seven years.”

One thing that the Gesell Institute book points out on page 12 is this gem of a sentence, “The first is that, as we have tried to emphasize, even though he may be difficult at times, your child is not your enemy.  It is not you against him.”  They point out that the mother matters most to a three-year-old and is therefore the child is often at his best and worst with his own mother. 

Here it is again – how we are mothers respond to our children and set the tone in our home is a determinant in the lives of our family. It is not whether or not our child “behaves”; it is how we ACT toward our child.  Three is so very, very little.  Please do let your child feel your warmth toward them; it goes a long way at three.  The other piece of advice that can be offered for dealing with three is to not turn things into a personal battle between the two of you…it is not you and your child, it is just “this happens when we do this”, “we must do x in order to do x”. Sing, hum, wonder together, and love one another.   The more peaceful, matter of fact energy you can muster will really help in the day-to-day life with a three-year-old.  The more we can create for our child that sense of wonder at life, gratitude for life, the better laid the foundation is for the rest of the child’s life.

The next post will discuss some tips for more peaceful living with your three-year-old.

One of the 12 Senses: Warmth

This is an excellent article regarding one of Steiner’s 12 senses that is important developmentally for young children: warmth.

Please check out this link to read a great article on Warmth, Strength and Freedom:

Happy, happy reading!!

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

Take My Three Day Challenge

For those of you with children under the age of 7, have you ever thought how many times a day you are giving a directive to your child?  Even if it is a positively phrased directive, it is still a directive that causes a child to go up into his head and awakens the child into self-awareness.  Parents and teachers who understand child development from a Waldorf perspective believe that every time we bring a child into self-awareness and into the consciousness of before the seventh year, we are taking away energy that the child should be using for formation of the physical organs.  The belief is that this may not show up as harmful in the child’s life until they are adults.  Even if you do not believe this, I think we can all agree that in this fast-paced world, the stress and strain and viewing the small child as a miniature adult with just less experience is leading to incredible challenges of increased suicide rates and pyschological disorders in the teenaged years and beyond.  Think about how we parent and why we parent is really important!

Parenting is all about looking at the  doing the right thing at the right time within child development.  If you are providing lots of verbal directives to your small child, you are putting the cart before the horse by using a tool that is not really needed until later developmental stages. 

“But what do I use then?”  you cry. “Children need direct instruction!”

Rudolf Steiner did not think so. He wrote in his lecture, “Children Before the Seventh Year,” found in the book Soul Economy, the following passage about the first two and a half years:

“During the first two and a half years, children have a similar rapport with the mother or with others they are closely connected with as long as their attitude and conduct make this possible.  Then children become perfect mimics and imitators.  This imposes a moral duty on adults to be worthy of such imitation, which is far less comfortable then exerting one’s will on children.”

He then goes on to describe the period of the ages from two and a half through age five as one that “can be recognized externally by the emergence of an exceptionally vivid memory and wonderful imagination.  However, you must take great care when children develop these two faculties, since they are instrumental in building the soul.  Children continue to live by imitation, and therefore we should not attempt to make them remember things we choose.”

He ends with a few thoughts about the period from age five to age seven:

“Previously, unable to understand what they should or should not do, they could only imitate, but now, little by little, they begin to listen to and believe what adults say.  Only toward the fifth year is it possible to awaken a sense of right and wrong in children.  We can educate children correctly only by realizing that, during this first seven year period until the change of teeth, children live by imitation, and only gradually do they develop imagination and memory and a first belief in what adults say.”

So, if any of that resonates with you, come along with me and take my three day challenge.  For three days, try to bring a consciousness to the words you choose with your children.  How much chit chat do you do all day with your children?  Can you replace that with peaceful  humming or singing? 

How many directives do you give that could be either carried by your rhythm, done with no words at all (for example, instead of saying, “Now let’s brush our teeth!” could you just hand Little Johnny his toothbrush?) or could your words be phrased in a way that involves fantasy or movement?  For example, if you need your child to sit down at the table to eat, you could ask your baby bird to fly over to the table and sit in its nest.  “Mama Bird has food for you!”  Could you redirect your child into some sort of movement that involves their imagination that would satisfy the need for peace in your home?

Music through singing and the poetry of verses are wonderful ways to provide transitions throughout the day along with the strength of your rhythm.  Many of the old Mother Goose rhymes are fabulous for all parts of the daily routine.  Songs provide a peaceful energy and a needed source of warmth for the young child’s soul.

A mother asked, “What do I do if my child is doing something harmful to me or to another child? Don’t I need to use direct words then?”

I believe this depends on the age and temperament of the child.  As mentioned in other posts, many times the most effective method is to be able to physically move the child away from the situation or to physically follow through in a calm way.  You would never expect your words to be enough in a highly charged emotional situation for a child under 7.  A Complete and Unabridged Lecture on the Harms of Hurting Others is often not what is needed in the moment.

Perhaps in this case, helping the child to make amends after the emotions of the situation have decreased would be a most powerful means to redemption.  When we make a mistake, even an accidental mistake, we strive to make it right.  An excellent lesson for us all, no matter what our age.  We do not let this behavior slide, but we do work toward setting it all right again.

“What about giving my child a warning that an activity will change?  Don’t I need words then?”

If you are at home, your rhythm should carry many of the words you would otherwise use.  There may be older children of five or six that appreciate a warning, again dependent upon their temperament, and there may be some children that think they need to know everything that happens in advance but in reality it only makes them anxious and they talk of nothing else. 

These are all important questions, and perhaps this three day challenge will assist you in sorting out the answers for you and your family as you strive toward a more peaceful home.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.