It has been a while since I have written down a summary about what my kid was like at a certain age. I wanted to do these from the start, but I never felt like it was the right time or enough time. However, remembering milestones of my 3-year-old is just kind of important to me. Because the third birthday feels like such a big break from toddler to child.
Every month is so different. But when kids grow up, especially at that toddler age, changes happen more subtle than in the crazy hyperlapse that is the first year. It’s mostly these small moments, when you become aware of them. While sitting at the dinner table, when your kid rips a hilarious joke or makes an annotation that you simply didn’t see coming. That’s when you realize the change.
They go from word group to sentences, and from ideas to concepts
It’s not single new words, it’s whole concepts that they learn. So I will try to summarize the most important models I can think of, and to give an impression of what my kid, as a 3-year-old can and can’t do. Keep in mind that all kids are different, and that what they learn highly depends on what you teach.
I emphasize on critical thinking, making connections and theorizing. I don’t care if my kid understands musical notes or can write her name (she can recognize it though, among a few other words). It’s more important to me that she can communicate well, deal with her emotions and understand the difference between lies, stories and one’s personal truth. (In my opinion, there is no universal truth, there is only consensus.)
Our parenting »style«
My parenting style is very much inspired by the book »The whole-brain child«. The main concept discussed in it is the ability to integrate ones logical and emotional brain functionality. The goal of this is to be able to deal with emotional ups and downs in a rational and wholesome way. It is directed towards parents of toddlers, and you can read it together with your kid. There are cute illustrations even, explaining conflict situations by example. I highly recommend reading this book.
Conflicts are normal and inevitable, but you have to learn how to chill nonetheless
The hardest thing right now for us is to deal with what I call the »troublemaker phase«. I think, my kid is very late in this one. She has always been pretty independent and she likes to have her own things, set boundaries and emphasize on what is her choice and not other people’s. Lately this wish to decide everything by herself has become much stronger and frankly, much more annoying.
I think that every parent knows this. It is inevitable. And it’s important to me to say that every parent shouts and swears. If you don’t, you’re probably a creep. (Or an influencer, and therefore a liar.) I often use a technique from the book where you get down to the level of your kid to then mirror their emotions of anger verbally and make a compromise. I call my variant of it »the lame compromise solution«.
The method of the lesser evil aka »the lame compromise solution«
Whenever my kid wants some cr_p she can’t have, I offer her something slightly less awesome, but make it look like if she doesn’t comply, she will get even less. Oftentimes, by doing that, I get her to do the thing I wanted her to do in the first place. As in, she wants to take her stuffed cat into the shower.
I mean, sure, there are probably cool parents out there who don’t care about a dirty wet cat in the shower for three days and are not too tired to explain to their kid why she can’t take it to the bed now… sure. I’m just not one of them. So what I do instead is offer her to take the tiny little plastic figure of a cat (from her dollhouse) into the tub. And she will 9 times out of 10 take that compromise. Because I point out that if she doesn’t, I’ll just take away the cat and there will be no bathing, just a shower.
This lame compromise solution is like one of the best tricks to make your kid do what you want without screwing them over or disrespecting their emotions. They still get the feeling that it was their decision and they were heard, what they actually are, if you think about it. Adults compromise all the time and it’s the adult thing to do to not get upset 50% of the time, because your partner gets it their way. That’s what I want my kid to learn. It’s harder than you think though.
Who’s the boss? (Hint: not the one who answers a tantrum with a tantrum…)
Lately, she does throw quite a few tantrums, especially when I have to work or study a lot. There is really nothing I can do about that though, so I try to spend time with her as often as I can. I believe that kids just feel everything that we feel. When we are pissed, they know. And they think we are pissed at them.
I don’t actually believe that they »mirror« us. They just feel that we are upset and that makes them nervous, understandably… Just imagine your boss comes from a meeting and is in clearly a bad mood, but he doesn’t want to let you in on what’s going on. How would you feel? And why would you expect your kid to be above that if you aren’t? Also, you’re much more important to your kid than your boss is to you… at least I hope so for you.
Milestones of a 3-year-old and parenting experiences
Really complicated sentences. I would say that this is the most noticable thing. My kid is bilingual (German and English, but she also understands a bit French and Swedish from kids books). So we were expecting a some delay, or it would at least not have been a surprise. Her daycare is completely in English and she also likes to speak English at home. Nonetheless, her German is way ahead of schedule.
She has this cute habit of trying to speak in a very adult and serious tone. It’s literally killing me and I have to suppress laughing super hard (which most of the time doesn’t work out). She explains all sorts of things to us in that tone, which is truly hilarious, and boy does she get mad if you don’t answer in a serious manner as well!
Understanding of the future
Her understanding of things that will happen has become way more abstract. She now seems to understand the concept of »tomorrow« and »yesterday«. Before, like when she was two, she thought that whenever she went to bed it was a new day. Sleeping = night. Waking up = new day. I don’t know where she got this, but that was her own understanding of it. Now she understands weekdays and weekend, and she has for a while, not just since she was 3 years old.
Long car drives are still kind of difficult for her though. She has no idea how long »extremely long« is, because every drive is that to her. She doesn’t know that a 7-day drive is very much longer than a 3-day drive. And I have no idea how to explain it to her, because her understanding of numbers is limited. It’s not like you can tell a 3-year-old: Well, look, you have to sleep 5 more times, and then we will be in Kiruna. That’s exactly how many fingers you have on your hand. Can you count them? And then each day it’s one finger less, alright? That’s too complicated.
Death and sickness
I am a death-positive person, so we never lie about death to our kid. It is something sad and we say it as it is. I find it actually pretty harmful to not tell your kid that you will die one day. It is important for every human that life is valuable and you have to take good care of your life.
The balance between good fear and bad fear
It’s important to me to find the balance between fear-mongering and a healthy respect for dangerous activities, but that is something every parent struggles with. I could have a heart attack every time she climbs some frame on the playground. My idiot solution is to just not look. Got a better solution? Please, enlighten me.
There is just something terrifying to a tiny human climbing a huge latter. I can’t help it. Anyway, I pretty much try to hide my anxiety, because I don’t want my baby girl to be a little pussy like I was. I want her to have fun and enjoy her scary playground activities. I find it pretty inspiring to see other families. Most moms seem so relaxed, so I try to be a chill mom too. I don’t want to hover over my kid, but I want to be there when she needs help.
However, I also won’t take sh_t for being concerned or scared for my one and only baby. I always will be, and she’s the most precious thing in my life, so f_ck off.
Explaining death to my 3-year-old
Anyway, I wanted to talk about the concept of death. It all came up with my cat dying. He lived with my mom and he was very old. He was the best cat in the world. I got him from a shelter on Christmas, and they didn’t want to give him to us, because they didn’t want animals to end up as gifts. So we came back a few days later and got him, even though my mom didn’t want a cat. But you can all guess what happened, he became her absolute favorite beloved black old fluff and they lived happily ever after. Well not ever. So that’s that.
I use to explain death like this: All matter contains energy. When you die, your energy distributes, and some of it might leave this planet and even go to the stars. He is with the stars now.
That sh_t really gets me crying though. But also gets me through explaining the tough stuff. “With the stars” has been a phrase she used quite a few times then. I think it’s a great metaphor, because it is not religious or too spiritual, and physically spoken, it’s not entirely a lie. We all have energy.
However, she now also understands the concept of a burial. I explained it this way: When you die, we put you in the ground, and then all sorts of cute little bugs come and eat you up, poop you out, and then flowers grow on top of you. She seems to have remembered the flowers and forgot about the worm stuff. But yeah. That’s that.
Being scared of dying is normal. Growing up feeling safe all the time, that’s insane.
The whole topic usually comes up now when she does something really stupid and dangerous. It is important to me that she’s afraid of cars. That is something a kid should absolutely be mindful of. She understands that being dead means: No fun, no Mama, no Baba, no daycare, no bathing in the lake, and no visiting grandma. I think that cuts it pretty well for a kid and by now it’s clear to hear that being dead sucks and is something completely undesirable for a little kid.
On the other hand we tried to explain that it’s normal. Sad but normal. I won’t lie though. While I think this is normal, I still think dying sucks. I want to live forever. I want to be a 100 years old. Seriously. I want to become super old. And I want that for my kid too. So we do communicate that an early death is something to be avoided where possible.
Understanding sickness and death
Sickness on the other hand is not connected to death for my kid. Or not so much. She understands that if you eat the wrong mushroom or berry, you can get sick and die. But sickness as in cancer etc. is not known to her. Me, having been ill for a while is something she has adapted to. It’s part of our life.
Our daycare workers all up in my business, aka lecturing me about my chronic illness…
At this point, I’d like to share a little story from daycare, once more (because they didn’t suck hard enough yet). I can’t even believe a person said this sh_t to me… but here it goes. When we spoke to our teachers last time though Zoom, one of them confronted me directly about being sick. Since I was in super awful pain for more than two years due to a chronic inflammatory disease (one she knows nothing about), she asked how I was doing. But in such a weird way, you know? Like: Aren’t you fine again already? Well, no. I’m not fine. She kind of interrupted me to let me know that my kid had trouble processing the concept of sickness. Okay, I thought… what does that mean?
She went on explaining that Flauschi would think that another teacher who was sick, might not ever come back. And that she would have been worried about that and also talk a lot about me being ill. So far, so good. It surely is okay if they say that, but it came across in a very intrusive way, especially since I try to shield my kid from my issues as much as I can.
I really have no idea how they can not think of that. It is simply so rude. Why would you assume that a parent who is dealing with a chronic illness, does not communicate it to their kid? And why the heck would you think I should lie? If I can’t pick her up, I can’t. That’s it. I can’t lie to my kid. What should I say? Well, I can’t pick you up, because I don’t want to? What. Please, share your wisdom?
I’m not going to change my understanding of what »sick« means
They let me know that they thought it would be best if I explain to my kid that there is an end to every sickness. That being sick is not something permanent. I was really so frustrated at this point, because frankly, by definition a chronic disease does not come with a due date. It’s chronic, that’s the whole deal?! So I politely mentioned that. I really wish I had been more direct, but I was so baffled by their rudeness that I couldn’t. And after all, my kid is sick all the time. She has the cold, she gets better. She has diarrhea, she gets better. So do we.
But the thing is that I don’t call these »sick« usually. I tell my kid »Sick is if you feel bad and you want to be in bed all the time.« If she doesn’t even have a fewer and jumps around enjoying herself, while simply having a runny nose, why would I call her sick? Especially in 2020, I think, it is so important that we don’t drill that weird image of »sick although perfectly fine« into kids’ heads. All it does is create anxiety.
Having a cold is not »being sick«. You’re only sick when you can’t get up without pain.
After all, I find that my kid knows very well that a cold will come to an end eventually, but that other sicknesses may not and some can end in death. And I do not see it as my problem that other people call a common cold a sickness, a word which in my repertoire is reserved for everything up from bronchitis with a fever at least. Sometimes I think, everyone should do an internship in a hospital at least once in their life. It would really help with that utterly weird understanding of healthy being eating junk food all day and lacking the ability to walk 10 miles in a day, while sick means that you have a runny nose and feel slightly tired (welcome to mom-life, dude!).
Development of her own will, gender-neutral parenting and misconceptions
The current trend in parenting goes into the direction of giving kids the opportunity to constantly decide every little sh_t for themselves. What they wear, what they play, what you do on the weekends and so on. And I agree with plenty of that, with one annotation: The decision has to be in line with my life and it has to be easy enough for my kid to make.
I don’t consider it a meaningful decision of a kid to tell us which lake to visit on the weekend. Furthermore, I do not want to dissolve into motherhood. I am a person and it’s important that you keep your boundaries and therefore your integrity as a mother. You can not constantly make everything about your kid. If you do, you basically nurture narcissism, a trait that has been on the rise. And with the parenting trend becoming more and more lose, it does not seem to correlate with the amount of decisions we leave to our kids.
Many confuse love with things. You can’t spoil a kid with love, but you surely can with things or with handing your life over to them. I don’t let my kid decide whether or not to put on sunscreen and I do not argue with her for ten minutes about it. Because I simply don’t have time for that. I do however want to make both of our lives easier, so as explained above, I usually use the »lame compromise method«.
Anyway, when it comes to decisions and development of will, I think my kid has plenty of practice. When I think of my own childhood, it was nothing compared to what she’s allowed to do. No-thing. Here are a few examples of things you can let your kid pick/choose and what works really well for us:
- Which way do you want to go (on a hike, in the park)?
- What shirt do you want to wear (out of two)?
- Do you want to sleep in my bed tonight (only on weekends)?
- What do you want to play? (unless it’s some clay, that I don’t do, I hate clay, my husband does the clay play)
- Which one should I buy (from clothes ordered online)?
- What we eat for dinner (from a highly curated list of options, I usually offer two)?
Here are examples of what I don’t let my kid choose:
- Which icecream? Sorry, no. I think it’s pretty irresponsible. She gets the frozen yogurt or basically any other one with the least sugar. She’ll thank me later when she still has her teeth at age 80.
- Which shoes to wear? We are minimalists. We have one pair of warm shoes and sandals. That’s it. So not much to choose. We also have hiking boots and she does not get them for things other than hiking. That’s the rule, sorry 😉
- Bedtime hours. Just no. It’s 9 pm. Anything later than that = wired for disaster.
So I think, my kid has plenty of choices in her life. I can not remember that I was ever allowed to pick my clothes. Sometimes, sure. But more often than not, my mother was annoyed with my choice and it led to a fight. I basically did it this way: I only buy things that I like. I let my kid in on it when I order the things (usually 2nd hand from an online platform), so she feels that she’s part of the process (which she is). It’s exciting for her to see the things being ordered and finally delivered and it’s a fun thing to do together.
What I get out of this is a curated little capsule wardrobe for my kid, in which I like every single piece. We aren’t picky, but e.g. I make sure that clothes are rather gender-neutral than girly, and 100% yes, I will maintain that rule until she knows what “gender” is.
I always get sh_it about this from other parents, but truly, none of them really tried. They all make really stupid and superficial jokes about how this “never works” or “didn’t work for them”. Yeah, that’s because you never tried. You just took the ugly-ass pink unicorn poop shirts you got from your ignorant sister and were thankful that you didn’t have to buy anything. And that’s fine. But I don’t want that for my kid.
Doesn’t make me a better parent. Just makes me more gender-aware. And just to get one thing straight. I am a data nerd. So I do not care about some made-up “21%” pay gap. I only care about the real thing, and I know that the issue with women earning less is either choosing jobs where the wage is lower or just being away from work for too long. And that kind of thing simply results in a lower wage for anybody, male, female or circle. So no, it is not about that. It’s not some feminist attitude.
I just believe, because I can observe it everyday, that the kind of femininity that’s imposed on little girls, is too much. Too cute and sweet and innocent. My girl, she’s a figgin toddler tornado. She’s wild. And that’s how I like it. It’s unbiased by some gender crap and completely raw. I don’t ever tell her to behave like a girl. I don’t even know what that means. So why would I want her to look like one? I myself don’t value that kind of cuty-cute femininity. I think it’s awkward.
Therefore, yes, my kid does not own a single skirt. We do have two dresses though. They are just extremely practical for summer. And if I had a boy, he would get some cute little kaftan, because that sh_t is gold in the hot German summer. Airy balls, man! What more can you want?
Anyway, the gender-neutrality thing is a whole different subject. I just wanted to mention that we do this and it’s working just fine. And yes, everyone is giving me that look and that “Oh, wait until she is in Kindergarten” (age 3+). “Muahahaha… just wait. We have all been there, in your idealist dreamland. Wait to be humbled, you little arrogant one-kid-mom.” Well you wait, bi_ch. You see me rollin with my mustard yellow and bluejeans tomboy kid. You hatin. Cause you are not made out of my wood, mam. Which is totally birch wood by the way, the most awesome wood in the world.
Anyway, I have been right about 99% of things that would happen when I’d have kids, so why would this be the 1%? I simply don’t expect it because I know myself and I know my kid. After all, she probably gets the willpower from me and it doesn’t even matter if she chooses one more shirt or not.
Development of play
Role play has definitely been one of the most important things for my kid, now that she is three. She constantly wants to be Jonas from Astrid Lindgren’s Lotta. That is the older brother. He is 9 years old and goes to school. She never wants to be Lotta because Lotta is “small and stupid”.
A warning to all future parents. You dudes have no clue just how annoying role play can be. Especially if your kid wants to involve you. And trust me, you always get the part that sucks most. You will always be the little kid and they will be the parent.
Annoying traits, setting boundaries and dealing with tantrums
One thing that to this day I can’t wrap my head around is kicking. My kid, from early on in the womb to before she could walk loves to kick things. She loves to kick balls, kick down towers we build for her, kick whatever doesn’t go her way and kick us. Oh, and the trample around on our white walls with dirty feet. Yes, that one… my favorite.
My mom told me I did that too and I try to find out what exactly I messed up to get my kid to do this too, but then sometimes there really isn’t a reason. She mostly does this out of mindless stress-release and it is not super intentional. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to act on it for me. However, it is super annoying. The only tip I can give with kids, if they hit or kick. Don’t return the favor. Just hold them tight.
We have this thing where I tell my kid to “cry it out on the bed” and she is allowed to cry hard until it’s over. It helps in 50% of the cases, which, trust me, is better than 0. And in the 50% where it doesn’t work, well you’ll have to hold’em, I guess.
Nobody really knows the answer to all conflicts. There are always conflicts and meltdowns and tantrums with toddlers. It’s normal. I think, the calmer you are, the better you are at parenting. And if you can’t keep your calm, you suck and you need to work on it. However, there is also one thing I saw with moms and I call it “whatevering”.
That’s the kind of parent who just stays calm, but not in a good way, like unbothered but responsive and interacting, but more like ignoring and letting it be. That is not what I am talking about. You absolutely should interact with your angry kid that is throwing stuff at you. Don’t ignore that. That’s very silly and also often doesn’t help. It communicates that it’s okay for your kid to keep up their behavior. I personally don’t want that. I want to set boundaries, while I have them 😉
The ability to »study«
Now the last thing I want to talk about is learning new things actively, like a language, an instrument, manners or abstract concepts.
I named languages as an example and that is because small kids can also learn that actively, it’s just harder than how they do it if you raise them bilingually. E.g. I am learning Swedish right now, and my kid uses the language app with me, in a way. She also wants to see the cards and learn the new words, and so she knows that “tjugo” means “twenty”. She remembers those, but there is no pressure and I don’t try to trick her into learning it or push her or anything.
We have a few Swedish kids’ books that I read her, and she just has a natural interest in the language. The same way I handle it with guitar lessons. First of all, it is really important that you don’t do more than 5-10 min per day. That is super long for a kid that age! And we stick to that religiously.
Teaching my 3-year-old kid to play the guitar
So every other day or even once a week only at first, we just hold the guitar. I show her how to hold it properly, and extensively compliment her on it. Then I playfully introduced the “string walk” and the “picking bird”, which are both words I made up for ways to pick the strings.
You have to get your kid to the point where they enjoy being verbally and emotionally rewarded for memorizing and recalling something. Whatever you want to teach them. When they are that small, it is all about gratification and being noticed by you. You’re their friggin world. It’s weird and a bit sad, and it can easily become manipulative. So just be honest and don’t ever show them disappointment. They are doing more than you could ask.
So by now, after 6 months of guitar “lessons”, we are at the point that she can hold it and I press the strings while she plays and she can sit still and clap a rhythm. That is a huge deal and I am really proud of myself that I was able to teach her that without losing my nerve, and she can be proud of herself for being able to listen and understand so well.
Anyway, all I want you to know is that it is absolutely no walk in the park. My kid is pretty talented when it comes to music. She can remember any text, understand both English and German lyrics, she has a feeling for rhythm, and if that had not been the case, I would have waited.
Painting and fine motor skills
The next thing I pretty much do nothing about is painting. Basically, I don’t think it’s necessary to show your kid how to paint. I went to art school myself for 10 years (that is, two days each week after school) and I just don’t care if she becomes a painter. I actually hope she doesn’t, cause I would wish for her to have an income. But mostly, I believe that she will do what comes easy to her, and that doesn’t need so much assistance at the moment. She’s three. She’ll paint when she wants to.
She started painting stick figures (more like cephalopodes) when I told her to on a long boring train ride. She had never done that before. All she did was painting circles and letters. The only letters she can “write” at this point are M, A and I. A was the first. She just loves to draw that one and ignore all the begging to finally write “MAMA”…
Anyway, that stick figure thing was really a shocker. Because at that point, I pretty much thought, well okay, just draw what you want. But then she drew what I told her to and she made it her own and liked it so much. That was really cool. Also, especially if your kid is in daycare, it can always be that you don’t even take note of a development like this. It just falls under the rug and suddenly you see your kid do something new, which they have been practicing all along.
So I just encouraged her to go on with painting her cephalopodes and she also wants me to draw for her. So I do. I think it is as important as reading to your kids to draw for them.They take a great deal of inspiration from that and they observe more than you think.
Doing things together
Finally, one really prominent thing with my three year old is that she’s now at the age where you can do things together. You can talk to her. She understands things. And most importantly: She can wait. So we hike together as a family, and me and her also do yoga together. She has these cards and I don’t make her do anything she does not want, but I insist on doing it right and doing both sides – always.
I just don’t see in teaching my kid yoga the wrong way and just waiting for her to »figure it out«, when I very much have the option to show her how it’s done. People show their kids how to hold a fork and a pen too. There is really no reason to wait with this.
Same as with guitar lessons though, I never expect her to stick with it more than 10 min. And one tip: Get your kid their own mat. That way, they don’t mess up yours, which adds a lot of relaxation to your yoga practice. I also gave her her own yoga strap and when she is done with her asanas, she plays around with it.
So, that is everything I can spontaneously come up with from the development over the last year. There surely are many other things, especially emotionally and cognitively, but I feel that this article is long enough. If you want to know anything, just write a comment. And sure, there are many ways to go about the things that I described here. Usually, people make their own choices in good faith, thinking it’s the right thing to do. Therefore, I judge things for myself, whether I find them right or wrong for us. Judgement is an important thing, and being judgemental is a necessary skill as a parent. I write all of this down to share an honest view, not to please other parents or make them feel good. Please keep that in mind and keep doing what you think is best for your family 🙂