Realistic Expectations: Day Ten of Twenty Days Toward More Mindful Mothering

In Day Nine of “Twenty Days Toward More Mindful Mothering”, we looked at our abilities to set boundaries.  And, one thing I really wanted to hammer in was that boundaries work both ways – it is not something that we only set for our children, but something we also set for ourselves.  We need to set boundaries on how we handle the emotional things in life, especially the negative emotions in life that people hand us or that we think cause us to feel the way we do, because as we do this we model this for our children.  We must help our children rise up out of their own negativity as well, if they have those tendencies, and do that through the boundaries we set on how we allow ourselves to be treated.

A large part of setting boundaries for children is knowing what are the realistic expectations for each age. If you are setting a boundary based upon some idea that the child “should” be able to do this, but the child really is not developmentally capable of this, then this is going to be a problem!  It is one thing to help a child rise up to something that are capable of doing, but one must also be realistic and not expect ten year old things out of a three-year old!

This by itself could be a small book, but let’s point out a few highlights for realistic expectation for age three up through age eight in this three-part post!


AGE THREE: Three is very, very little.  Very TINY.  Say that with me!  TINY!   According to Waldorf parenting and pedagogy, the first three years are for the establishment for walking (which takes about two and a half years to be a very mature walker without needing the arms for balance, being able to run, stop and start suddenly, etc); then the development of speech and the development of thinking as first seen by use of the term “I”.  These are the main goals for the first three years. 

Then we start moving into other areas…

Some parents get very upset around the three and a half year mark as children start to exert some will and push against the forms of the day and the rhythms you have crafted. This is very normal.  Typical developmental things about the three and a half -year-olds include (this is according to the Gesell Institute, not necessarily my personal opinion!):


Age Three and A Half

  • Turbulent, troubled period of disequilibrium, the simplest 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 such as “I’ll cut you in pieces!” and lots of whining   — Keep your ho-hum on!
  • 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 age  four may be the height for the most “WHY?” “WHERE?” “WHAT?” kinds of questions
  • Demanding, bossy, turbulent, troubled but mainly due to emotional insecurity
  • May refuse to take part in daily routine

SO, expect some pushing against what you do daily, and have some distraction plans at hand:

Sit down and make a list of animals and how they move, so you can pull out some creative animal games to “hop over here like a kangaroo” or other animal movements you will need to get something accomplished. Think about what appeals to your boy or girl with moving objects or occupations so you can round up blocks like a shepherd rounding up sheep (clean-up) and other tasks. Think about how to structure your environment so less toys are immediately available without your help; this avoids much clean-up. Think about setting up play scenarios; at three they are just learning how to start fantasy play and making believe and they may need your help to get started!


Expect some struggles around bedtime perhaps; think about how to shorten your bedtime routine and how you will handle things when they are not going well and everyone is just tired. Think about less choices and less words all the way around for this age.


Think about the amount of outside time you will include in your day – this is very important!

Figure out how to be strong and carry the work and rhythms of the day even if your child does not participate!


REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: from a traditional physical therapy/occupational therapy perspective – According to traditional childhood development sources, a three-year-old may most likely be able to:

  • At three and a half to age four, may use a spoon for liquids; may use a fork with some spilling; may refill his or her glass from a container that holds less than the glass does; can drink from a water fountain an adult turns on.
  • Can distinguish between a bowel movement and urination; around three and a half may or may not go to the bathroom at regular intervals
  • Can turn off water in bathroom when you ask; may be able to put toothpaste on toothbrush and wet the toothbrush; can put comb or brush in hair; can pull pants up; can get clothing out and put it on by around three and a half, although the average age for complete dressing is age 5. Can pull off shoes and unzip and unsnap clothing.
  • Probably knows own name and names of siblings, may know if they or their family members are male or female.
  • Can string large beads; roll clay or other modeling material into a snake shape, probably can match objects, cut paper with scissors, may know primary colors, may be able to roll clay into a ball.
  • May be able to play a game with another person, such as rolling a ball back and forth; they can usually talk about a game that just finished and start a new game; can take turns in a game at least 25 percent of the time
  • Can sit quietly for at least one minute; this moves up to five minutes at three and a half
  • Can say please and thank you; request help when needed
  • COMPLETES 10 PERCENT OF A TASK WITH ATTENTION AND REINFORCING BY AN ADULT; will start a task only when reminded at around three and a half and at that point may be able to complete 10 percent of the task with little input from an adult. Carrie’s note: Waldorf expectations and ways of working with a child’s will is often more in line with this than mainstream methods we see out there!
  • May sing parts and phrases of familiar songs.
  • (These milestones came from the Hawaii Early Learning Profile for Children ages 3-6).


How did you do? Were you expecting MORE?


Another thing to consider is I have seen parents whose oldest is three and they are so eager to jump into Waldorf homeschooling that they are setting up things much more suitable for a five or six year old. Three is very, very little! Think rhythm, warmth, them watching you work and joining in here and there, some festival preparation and singing, getting them outside a lot and into their bodies. The other parts will come. In a Waldorf Kindergarten (school) a three-year-old may be trying to do many things with a large group of older children to carry them; at home this is not the case usually!



AGE FOUR: Please see this post:

and here are a few milestones:

  • Usually can go to the toilet when needed and has few accidents; may be able to wipe after toileting, by four and a half or close to age five may be able to tear toilet paper appropriately and flush toilet after use.   This can be in stark contrast to what many daycares expect if your child is in daycare or preschool at age 4!
  • Can allow hair to be washed without getting upset; can wash and rinse body areas with verbal help; can run comb or brush through hair by age 5; can typically put on clothing when told, by age 6 may be able to dress at a designated time without being reminded; usually can do zippers by almost age 5, can unbutton clothing now, pull pull-over clothing off completely; may be able to unlace shoes
  • Can spit toothpaste out and rinse toothbrush and put cap back on toothpaste by age four and a half.
  • Can tell month of birth before age 5 usually, and may also may know street name or father and mother’s first and last names possibly. By age 5 may know phone number.
  • Can usually string small beads; spread glue on one thing and turn it over to stick it to another piece of paper; can cut across the paper following a straight or curvy line; can fold paper in half with edges meeting
  • Can walk down stairs with alternating feet while holding a railing, may be able to jump off bottom step, stand on tiptoes, kick a stationary ball, jump at least two feet forward with feet together; balance on one foot for at least five second with eyes open, can gallop; can ride tricycle without running into things, can do a somersault; can maintain momentum on a swing; can hop at least 10 feet on one foot
  • Can try again if a change in activities or a disappointment occurs and time elapses or if reassured; by age five will take turns in a game 50 to 75 percent of the time; can sit quietly for 10 minutes; can share toys by around four and a half years of age;
  • By age four, attends to a task for 5 minutes without supervision and completes 25 to 50 percent of the task with little attention or prompting (I am not so sure this would be typical in a homeschooling environment with little exposure to a large group environment; what do you all think?)
  • May march in time to music, shift rhythm if the tempo of music changes.
  • Again, this is a traditional perspective of children involved in a classroom setting so keep that in mind

Keep reminding yourself what your three and four year old is capable of, and what  developmentally is really coming later on down the road..  Rhythm, warmth and love are the main tools this age…Keep things unhurried and unstressed…Find  your joy and wonder!

Many blessings,

6 thoughts on “Realistic Expectations: Day Ten of Twenty Days Toward More Mindful Mothering

  1. What a wonderful post! My husband and I just read over this, and commented that we were,
    a) going to print this out, and tape it up on our kitchen cabinet door,
    and b) send it on to friends and family who are in the same parenting boat as us!
    Huge thanks!

  2. I LOVE your child development posts. I like to consolidate them into a word document for my son’s current age and the next upcoming age and keep them in my household notebook to read over periodically. They help keep my expectations in check.

    I’ve been working on taking responsibility for my own emotional responses to others. Some things are not worth my time to read/engage in if I know from the beginning it is a topic that will upset me (my sister in law is fond of posting articles on baby sleep that she is so sure are the reason her daughter slept 10+ hours at night from 6 weeks on while my 26 month old still wakes at night.) Not reading, not engaging, not being willing to let it rile me – I can see that this is a boundary I should have made sooner with her. But I’m still a little confused as to what a boundary with a 26 month old looks like. Could you post a few examples? He’s not a newborn, but he’s still so little and his needs are generally still very immediate needs (at least to him.)

    • Kate – I love this; discerning our boundaries as a mother and what we can spend time and energy on and what we can’t is an important part of the mothering journey.

  3. Hi Carrie, I’m so thankful to have found your posts on 20 days toward more mindful mothering. Can you tell me if the actual book can be purchased anywhere – this would be a treasure to have in my library. Thank you for your labor of love.

    • Kim – These posts are just a series I wrote a long time ago and now have been going through them again…I hope someday to compile them into a book!
      Thank you for your encouragement!

  4. Hi Carrie!
    Thank you so much for this reminder that three is TINY. It’s hard to remember that when you have a sweet, but sometimes not-so-much boy in your face (and around your legs) all the time. I’m not homeschooling, but I can see I need to just step back and take one of those deep breaths and go play with him when he wants me to (instead of worrying about deadlines and me-time 🙂

    Thanks again.


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