Acting Out Behavior in a Three-Year-Old

Three-year-olds act out for different reasons. Anger, fear, frustration, limited communication skills and growing independence are common causes. Most times, it’s a normal phase of development that eventually passes. An article published on the ParentsCanada website points out that a child’s emotions and behaviors can take crazy turns during the first five years of life when growth and developmental stages occur one after the other 1.

Poor Impulse Control

It isn’t unusual for a 3-year-old to act before thinking. In general, kids this age have poor impulse control and can’t always keep their actions in check, especially when they get upset. Since it’s normally at this stage in development that a child begins working on impulse control, how your child sees you react to difficult situations can lead him to do the same. Aggressive behavior in a 3-year-old is often due to a lack of impulse control and not being able to express his feelings verbally. AskDrSears says that when a child is able to communicate using words rather than actions, he no longer relies so much on aggressive behaviors to get his thoughts across.

Lack of Self Control

Three-year-olds lack self-control, as they haven’t yet learned how to manage their emotions. Until your little one learns how to control her feelings, acting out is probably her way of dealing with anger and frustration. KidsHealth points out that although your child’s acting out behavior may wear on your patience, you need to stay calm as you encourage her to practice self-control and help her learn what is acceptable behavior. A child doesn’t develop self-control over night so expect it to take your growing tot time as she works toward achieving this milestone.

Grownup Expectations

Sometimes parents and other adult caregivers expect behaviors from a 3-year-old that aren’t realistic. Your little one may act out less if you let him know beforehand what to expect. Kids like consistency, especially 3-year-olds who tend to get frustrated easily. Teach your child what to do in particular situations and how you expect him to behave. Part of setting limits for your child is making sure he is clear about what the rules are in addition to what the consequences will be if he breaks them.

Asserting Independence

Although what appears to be defiance to you is likely your 3-year-old’s way of asserting his independence. According the American Academy of Pediatrics, temper tantrums are often a sign of a toddler trying to become more independent. As your toddler gets closer to preschool age, he’s becoming more of his own person as he learns to depend on you less. Give him choices so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by all the rules he has to follow. You will have a better chance at getting him to cooperate if he feels like he has some control. Keep things simple by giving him only two choices.