Now that the child is typically equipped with some language skills, this can be a really fun stage of purposeful parenting because of the feedback your child can offer in each of your interactions. Likely by now, your child has gained some control and insight into his or her emotions and you can continue to talk more about managing those as they learn to navigate social relationships.
By age three, children are moving out of the parallel play of toddlerhood and begin seeking and securing consistent friendships. While the idea of sharing possessions can be difficult for any child, “turn-taking” is a great way to introduce this concept that is often easier for a child to accept.
At any stage of development, it is important for the parent to remember that what may feel like challenges you face with your child are really practice ground for the social dynamics and expectations your child will have to learn to cope with his or her whole life long. Self-control and behavior management are not innate, and social etiquette is something we teach and learn. Because it is learned, that means every child will need opportunities to practice. Any skill that is practiced is bound to have some missteps and setbacks. What children do possess innately is an insatiable curiosity and this can serve them well in their endeavors to grow and understand the world around them.
One great way to parent purposefully at this age is to provide for your child choices they can decide between when they face difficult moments. What do we do when we are angry? How do we handle feeling afraid? Discussing different emotions and what they mean, learning to recognize them, and putting together some ideas for how to handle them appropriately are all great conversations to have at this age.
The more proactive you can be about this, the better. When emotions are high (maybe for you both) is not the ideal time to try and think of a way to appropriately deal with anger. But after your child has had some time to calm down, find a way to circle back to the anger and think through with your child some things he or she could have done differently. This ability to circle back to a behavior productively also illustrates to your child your willingness to follow through on something that is important. If you allow an out of control tantrum to go without any kind of acknowledgement, you may be sending the message that either you are okay with that behavior or you don’t know what to do about it. Sometimes the feeling of not knowing what to do about a big emotion can be more destructive to the child’s growth than the emotion itself.
By now the child’s gross motor skills have become well-tuned. Fine motor activities are a great focus for stimulating your child’s growth at this stage. Toning fine motor skills helps with developing the muscles needed for handwriting, hand-eye coordination, and maybe best of all, helps the child practice developing patience.
Throughout development, your child’s threshold of frustration will naturally and gradually increase. You can also provide opportunities to expand this tolerance through engaging activities in which your child must practice patience and follow through. The key here is balance, because if the task before your child is too arduous or too discouraging, they will give up. But if you can provide an activity they are interested enough in to stretch their threshold of frustration just a little bit, then you have provided them with a great opportunity to expand their ability to be patient. As adults, I think we know all too well the value of being able to maintain patience.
Many toys made for this age group are designed to practice patience and fine motor skills simultaneously. Fuse beads, Lego blocks, jewelry making, etc., are all great for small hands working on coordination and steadiness. As a parent, your role will be to assess the appropriate time, if any, to assist your child with these works. Some children will need your physical help, some will just prefer to do a task like this with you nearby. Some children will only need some encouragement to keep going in order to finish. Wherever your child is, meet them where they are, always moving your goal toward their incremental progress in growth and independence.