Preschool Milestone 3 (3 Years, 2 Months): A Coming of 3-Year-Old Age Milestone

I read so often on forums, “I need help with 3 year, 2 month year old! I can’t get them out the door! They stall forever and won’t do as I ask. They demand I come to them and do things an exact way. What can I do!?”

This is extremely distinctive of the milestone that occurs just shy of and lasts a bit after 3 years, 2 months: Preschool Milestone 3. This milestone is “Flexibility in Applying Principles.” It is entirely marked by a child who tries out new ways of doing things. They do things they already could do in, but a new and different way. And, indeed, it has to be on their schedule. Once they’ve had their fill of what new thing they want to try out, they become entirely cooperative. To get out the door, I recommend you pad some extra time to get ready.

Further, I want to sit back and marvel at this new behavior. You see, up until now, your child has been testing out all sorts of principles, in particular about how things move and/or the “role” that people play. They’ve probably been telling you to “STOP!” at stop signs, pretending to be a bear, and/or pretending to march off their stuffed animals to jail. Now they are getting clever and inventive about these social and “moving” principles. Preschool Milestone 2 was marked by a new ability to handle disappointment well. Now they can handle disappointment AND put together a semi-strategic way to handle a problem. They are, for instance, more diplomatic in conflict resolution. They might diplomatically say “No hitting” or tell you, “Mommy, it hurt my feelings when you put my toy away.” As they put together these strategic, inventive ways of handling life situations, it will reveal more of the core personality of your child. What is it? What bounds are they pushing? What new things are they trying?

For instance, my third insisted on putting his two legs in one pant leg here at PM 3. This was so VERY him: he successfully put his two legs and walked around like this, and it was entirely to make people laugh. He is a cheeky little thing.

He also liked to grab on to my legs, then ask me to drop him to the bed. He would hang on as lightly as he could to feel like he was almost flying. I was quite honestly shocked by how precarious of a position he was willing to get in! But this is a great clue to his personality: he is a thrill seeker.

And, yup, these behaviors showed up at inconvenient times. He put his two legs in one pant leg as we were, well, trying to get dressed as to leave the house. I waited for him to try out his new idea to his heart’s content. When I asked him to finally cooperate, after he seemed done, he readily did.

My daughter, my second, on the other hand, as an example of her new, inventive way of doing something at this milestone, insisted on washing her FEET as well, after she washed her hands. This was new. We wash our hands every time we come in the house, but she wanted to wash her feet. Well, it didn’t go well at all. It was really difficult for her to do that. She was whining and really difficult to deal with. But this was an incredible clue: I can tell you, as she has grown, she is a VERY organized girl. She keeps her shoes together, loves makeup, and just keeps everything very organized and clean. I don’t have a picture of her irritatingly trying to wash her feet, but this is her dad painting her toe nails at this age. I marvel, sometimes, at how intuitive parents are at leaning in to their child’s development:

As another example, my first started drawing real life things, such as how to get to Wendy’s. His creations took on new creative twists, such as train tracks that tunnels that represented real life structures. In this case, the inventive behavior was easy to accommodate, which helps explain why some milestones are easier to endure for other children or others. It was a clue to his behavior: he has a highly “rational” personality. He is just always planning and thinking.

Back to that kid that won’t get out the door: it’s not misbehavior; it’s growth! This truly is a coming of (3-year-old) age milestone. Their personality is really flourishing. So, let me ask you: what is distinctive to your child at this age? What bound are they pushing? Be sure to take a picture of it!

See my book, Misbehavior is Growth, about the age related developmental stages go through and how to lean into them.

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