There are a lot of things 3 years olds know how to do but there are also a lot of things they are simply not ready to learn. So, don’t worry if you still haven’t seen your 3 year old doing these things.
Sharing is a skill that parents often desperately want their children to learn but it’s really important to understand that sharing should only be taught when your child is ready. A 3 year old will probably not share because they still lack the understanding that other people have needs and wants that are different from their own. If you try to force your child to share at a young age by taking their belongings and giving them to someone else, they will believe that it’s also okay for them to take someone else’s belongings.
2. Understanding consequences
Your child knows that riding too fast on her bike will lead to her falling over, yet she still does it and ends up crying. Understanding consequences requires complex brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex that are not fully developed until about 25 years of age! That means even teenagers and young adults have trouble understanding consequences. It’s important to remember that even though they don’t fully understand the concept, you can still guide them by asking “what happens if…?” But don’t expect your 3 year old to be thinking logically all the time!
3. Taking turns
Adults take turns every day. For example, when you’re driving and merging into a single lane, you take turns. When you decide who washes the dishes, you take turns. When you debate, you take turns speaking. But taking turns requires you to sacrifice something to achieve a greater good. Children only get good at taking turns at around 5 years old. At 3 years old, they may still be more focused on achieving their own goals, which is why it’s rare to see them take turns.
Self-regulation is a complex skill that also involves the prefrontal cortex. Many parents want their children to be able to regulate their own emotions, but self-regulation takes years to learn and requires practice and guidance (even teens and adults struggle with self-regulation!) Instead, you can try co-regulation with your child. This means that when your child is unable to self-regulate, you offer support in the form of acknowledging their feelings, giving them options, and providing a safe environment.
While it is sometimes ‘too early’ to begin teaching your child certain skills, it’s never too early to model the way you want them to behave. If you are able to show your child that you can also share, understand consequences, take turns, and self-regulate, they will eventually pick these skills up from you.