WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR 3-YEAR-OLD: EXPECTATION VS REALITY
So. I’ve got a tricky and kind of annoying question for you…
When you really think about it, how many of the struggles and arguments and tantrums you experience with your little people are not because they’ve done anything terrible, but actually just because they’re not meeting your expectations?
If you boil it down, a fair few of the conflicts we have with our kids come back to this: We want them to behave in a certain way, and they don’t. Which isn’t to say your expectations are unreasonable, because they might not be. But, it could be worth asking yourself: Are your expectations reasonable for your child, at their age, AND in that moment?
I’m writing this post because I recently tried to take a three-year-old to a cafe. I’m not sure why, fatigue? Heatstroke? I have two older kids, so I really should know better. But sometimes I swear I can hear coffee calling me, making all sorts of promises about how much better things could be if only I’d come and drink it. We’d had a bad night, kids up multiple times for no good reason and not enough sleep for anyone. We’d had a tedious morning running errands, with lots of driving. My three-year-old does not like the car. He likes to run and jump and dance and generally cause havoc, and it’s hard to do that in a moving vehicle (although he gives it a crack!).
So, I took him to a cafe where I could get a big, fat coffee. And I did not, ladies and gentleman, order a takeaway. Instead, I threw caution to the wind and ordered a latte to stay. With a generous wedge of carrot cake that I wouldn’t have to share because of, you know, the carrot. So, I sat there, trying to drink my scalding hot latte while my child licked salt from the table and shredded napkins onto the floor, all while screeching tunelessly and banging our metal table number against various other surfaces like some sort of hideous orchestra. He ate the chocolate off his babycino in about seven seconds, then pushed it away and returned to the screeching and banging. I didn’t want to give him my phone to watch Bluey because I was hoarding screen time for later that day when I had to get work stuff done/mindlessly scroll Instagram.
People were looking, because of course they were. The staff were muttering, because we were being pests. The three-year-old was getting louder, rattier, and more bored by the minute.
‘Go home, Mummy?’ he asked about thirty times, getting increasingly whiny.
‘Just a bit longer, Mummy just wants to sit here and finish her coffee,’ I answered.
A blank stare, then a frown. ‘Go HOME, Mummy?’
I shook my head resolutely, and he gently edged his babycino cup off the table, where it fell and shattered on the floor, right in the path of the staff coming out of the kitchen to ferry food out to tables.
I leapt up and grabbed a fistful of napkins to sop up the milk, and knocked my own latte glass over in the process. I now had coffee all over the table and myself, and milk all over the floor. My child started crying because chaos isn’t fun if you didn’t create it, and there’d been a lot of loud noises. A waitress arrived with my carrot cake, saw the scene and then turned around and headed straight back into the kitchen, taking my precious cake with her. I almost cried then, too. But I didn’t.
Because, you know what I realised?
This had been a dumb idea of mine. I had asked for something unreasonable, and I hadn’t gotten it. Surprise!
My three-year-old child was totally justified in not wanting to sit in a cafe and watch me drink coffee. There was nothing in this scenario that ticked any boxes for him, and he’d actually done well to tolerate it as long as he had. I don’t think kids need to be entertained or even happy all the time, so it wasn’t about that. It was just about my expectations, what I knew about my child and what he was capable of, at his age and in that moment.
I knew he was already tired. I knew he needed space to move after being contained in the car all morning. I knew he needed a bit of stimulation after being bored out of his brain at the bank and the dry-cleaners. I knew he needed some focused attention after I’d been distracted by my to-do list for too long. I knew he’d only eat the chocolate off his babycino, because that’s what he always did. I knew this cafe didn’t have toys. And, I knew my child was only three years old.
So, this one was on me. I ordered another coffee to go, got the cake in a takeaway container, and we hustled on out of there pretty quick-smart. Lesson learned. Hopefully. Really, it was a good reminder that life is much easier if you don’t ask for things that are unreasonable. And, that cafes without toys are stupid.
On that note, here’s a list of things you can reasonably expect of a three year old:
Three-year-olds will be messy
Three-year-olds will be loud
Three-year-olds will ask lots of questions
Three-year-olds will not like sitting still for long periods
Three-year-olds will not be able to regulate all their emotions
Three-year-olds will have epic tantrums
Three-year-olds will do lots of imitating/mirroring
Three-year-olds will love things one day and hate them the next
Three-year-olds will be joyful and hilarious and angry and sad all in one day
Three-year-olds will push you so they know the limits
Three-year-olds will seek control and power so they know who’s in charge
Three-year-olds may or may not know how to ride a trike, it doesn’t matter
Three-year-olds may or may not speak in full sentences, it doesn’t matter
Three-year-olds may or may not be able to draw a circle, it doesn’t matter
Three-year-olds will be ridiculously cute, they will snatch your heart from your chest and run away with it giggling, and you will forgive them and let them do it over and over again.