Three Year Old Psychology

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The three year old little girl had a wonderful time with her cousins but it was time to go home.

Filled with energy, she slammed into her aunts and uncles with big hugs and turned to put on her red shoes. They were not there. At the door, she found her white sandals. Despair filled her heart and she fell to the floor in sobs.

Her father recognized that his daughter was 3 years old, in transition from party to home, and exhausted from excitement. It was raining out so the red shoes in the car were staying in the car. In a gentle but firm voice, her father said to her, “You can put your white sandals on and walk to the car or Daddy can carry you to the car without putting on your sandals.”

The sobbing ebbed. The little girl thought about this and decided that being carried to the car was not such a bad option and she raised her arms up to her dad and was carried to the car.

What went right here?

First of all, the father understood the developmental age of his daughter: she was three years old. Her brain had 22 years left to develop into a fully functioning adult so he was willing to cut her a lot of slack. Her emotional brain was in charge with very little ability to assess that she was in transition from one place to another, always a stressful time for children. She is self focused, as all three year olds are by nature and when things don’t go right, it is upsetting.

The dad decided he was not going to meet his daughter at her level, getting angry and upset at her behavior, telling her to stop it, to calm down, and quit acting like a baby. Those statements set up defensive responses in adults, to say nothing of a child.
Instead, she was treated as if she were important in this process. She had two choices. She could be active in determining the next step. Life wasn’t all momentary tragedy, but she had a daddy who saw her distress, did not get angry, but instead offered her a dignified out. Two choices for a three year old. She understood.

Brilliant, wise dad.