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NYS Parent Guide

36-48 Months: Growth and Development

You and Your Thriving Three-Year-Old

Guiding Your Child

Guiding Your Child

These years are a “golden opportunity” to help your little one learn your rules for living with others—in your family and community:

Here are some things you can do:

  • Be there! Even as you notice his growing sense of independence (“I can do this myself”), he still needs you to support and guide him when needed.
  • Expect occasional periods of “regression.” A change in child care providers, a new baby in the family, or moving to a new place are all changes that can overwhelm a young child. (Adults too!) Sometimes, children respond by acting in ways they did when they were younger (regress). For example, he might have a temper tantrum, or a toileting accident, trouble sleeping, or clinging to you. These are signs he needs extra support during a stressful time.
  • Set a few simple, clear rules that he can understand and count on. He is beginning to show you that he can remember the rules (sometimes) and can use them (sometimes) without always being told. When you are clear about what is expected, it helps him remember and respond.
  • Catch your child being good! Or even if his tries to do things right. Use clear and simple words to describe exactly what was good. Saying: “Thank you for picking up your toys without me asking” helps your child understand what specific behavior you are complimenting so he can do it again.
  • Let him know about positive ways to behave. For example, explain that instead of hitting his big sister when she takes his toy, he can tell her “It’s mine” or ask you for help. Or show him how to hit or yell at a pillow when he is angry or frustrated.
  • Give him the chance to make real, manageable decisions. Talk about his choices. “Oh, you want to play with the race cars instead of build with blocks? That sounds fun! What can we do with them?"
  • Pick and choose your battles! Three-year old have a built-in desire to try new things and will push the boundaries in order to do that. The good news: they also want to please you (most of the time). Set rules and limits but only where necessary. If you keep your child boxed in by an overly strict set of rules or have too many rules, you risk crushing his creativity, confidence, persistence and curiosity, while denying his chances to practice self-control.
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