This is inevitably a sensitive subject for many.
In what follows, we’ll be offering a personal view. You may find others who disagree.
What is normal 3-year-old behaviour?
The truthful answer is that there is no such thing. Children don’t conform to a behavioural template – and a good thing too!
Each is an individual with their own particular quirks and behavioural characteristics. Whatever the science may say, many parents and care providers will confirm that by 3 or thereabouts, many children have already developed personality traits that they will still be demonstrating in adulthood.
So, the first message is – avoid worrying too much about aspects of your child’s behaviour just because some 3-year-olds are different. The chances are, there is nothing wrong at all and it may well be that they are just slightly late in developing certain characteristics (like respect for others).
What are behavioural problems at 3?
Even considering the above discussion, there may be some behaviours that would justify further investigation and perhaps professional assessment.
A sample of these might include:
- Frequent rage attacks. Many children at 3 throw tantrums from time to time and they are nothing that a few soothing words can’t deal with. However, where these are starting to become regular and involve attempts to hurt other children, particularly where there was no obvious trigger event, some investigation may be required;
- Inability to concentrate. Children who are consistently unable/unwilling to focus on what others are saying, particularly parents and day-care providers;
- Regular efforts to harm others – conducted outside of a temper tantrum;
- Consistent destructive activities. It is not at all unusual for children of 3 to sometimes lose self-control and try to break things. This is part of learning control and how they can influence the environment. This is easily dealt with by gentle words, persuasion and example. Sometimes though, this behaviour becomes regular, which may indicate a problem;
- Some 3-year-olds are desperately shy and that is normal. However, children should not refuse consistently to interact with others or participate in joint activities;
- Toilet problems or misuse. By 3 or a little past, children should be in control of their bowels/bladder for the most part. Accidents are inevitable and entirely unimportant but a consistent failure may be different. In addition, children should have understood by this age that their waste products are not something to be played with;
- Not eating/gorging. 3-year-olds can be very fussy eaters. They’re are hard to predict and they certainly don’t conform to expectations but if they are regularly starving themselves or massively over-eating, it might justify attention;
- It’s perfectly natural for children to sometimes be “naughty”. It’s part of their experimentation of the world around them and their discovery of limits. This is not an issue but already they should have learned to incline towards respecting adults in the shape of their parents. If they consistently refuse to show that they understand (or respect) authority in the form of parents and daycare providers, that might give cause for concern.
Some parents are naturally but mistakenly quick to become concerned that their child has potential behavioural issues.
In our extensive experience, such things are rare and most issues can be attributed to the challenges of growing up. Kindness and support resolve the vast majority of such problems.
However, in some relatively unusual cases, it might be necessary to seek professional assessment and guidance. We work closely with parents to support them in their eventual decisions.