28 answers

Normal 3 Year Old Behavior?

Hi Moms

I am hoping that other Mom's who have already raised a 3 year old boy can give me some advice or insight. I just don't know if this is typical 3 year old boy stuff or not...

My son turned 3 this past January. He is a very bright boy, his daycare staff has always made it a point to tell us how bright he is. The troubling behaviors I am dealing with are as follows.

He is terrified of loud noises. It doesn't even need to really be loud to most people if it is a bang, buzz, whirr, thunder, firecracker, he is terrified. He trembles through any thunder storm that wakes him, I mean trembles. Memorial Day was terrible, he fell asleep with his fingers in his ears after all the noises outside died down.

He has weird food issues: he takes the ends off of french fries b/c (I think) they are crispier than the rest of the fry - he does this to every fry. Mac and cheese - must be the "kraft mac and cheese" type meaning shape and flavor. If those macaroni are damaged, he will put it to the side and not eat it. He sorts through as he goes to pull out the broken noodles. He overall a very very picky eater.

He goes from 0 - 60 in a millisecond. He is very difficult to get to concentrate on a task and takes constant prodding to get dressed, brush teeth, pick up toys. Sometimes I have to start counting to 3 with the threat of a time out etc for him to just put on socks without taking off to go do somehting else.

Talking back - I probably don't even need to explain, but he is so "fresh" at times. I don't know what to do other than time outs when he is fresh. We were in church today and I had to take him in back and make him stand facing the wall for being fresh.

Finally, since our daughter has been mobile he is very rough. He pushes and takes things from her constantly. He can't go near her without putting her on her butt or pushing her to the side or out of his way. He gets a time out for this and gets up and does it right over again. He can tell me, I had a time out for pushing and giving Caitlin a boo boo, but just does it right away again. I just don't know what to do. We are having another baby in the beginning of September and I am afraid of how it's going to affect him. I don't know if he is just seeking attention with the pushing, or if all of his quirks signal something else.
Thanks for any input from you all.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Hi Mom's

Thank you for all of your responses. It is reassuring to hear that many others have dealt with, or are dealing with similar issues with their toddlers. I contacted the Intermediate Unit today for him to be evaluated because I know that it will set my mind at ease. His daycare providers have said he interacts well but they have a very hard time with him switching tasks. They aren't sure if it's because he's the youngest in the group, or if he's too involved in what he's doing or if it's too hectic for him. They again reiterate that he is very intelligent. With all that in mind I need to find out if there is something we are not doing for him and we should be. Just an FYI, I had also placed a call to DuPont's Behavioral Health services and was very taken aback by their attitude. The person I spoke to on the phone sighed when I explained that I wanted to set up an appointment for an evaluation and then said " you know he's really young for this." Good Lord, I thought that catching any issues earlier was better than later. Thank you all again for your advice and thoughts.

Featured Answers

Hello S.

Eventhough this sounds just like a typical boy, I think you should get him phsycologically evaluated just to be on the safe side.

More Answers

Sorry this is late, but I just saw your paragraph and I hope this will be reassuring to you. You almost sound as if you're trying to describe one of the popular lists of disorders of the day, which is how many people think, especially since they hear these things listed by other people all the time. I have a friend who watches other peoples kids lining up things and doing obsessive things with their food and going, "Oh, he could have Aspbergers Autism ADD ADHD ODD spectrum blah blah blah." She self diagnosed her daughters with three disorders and the psychological evaluation backed her up not knowing that she deprives them of sleep or anything to eat but sugar etc. I know that's not you, but evaluations will almost always find SOMETHING if the moms insist on these long lists. Please take this to heart, there are oodles of kids in my family, all my sisters and brothers have like 7-12 kids each:
For boys this age:
0 to 60 in a millisecond is totally normal.
Needing constant prodding and distracted from any and all small tasks is totally normal.
Bullying younger sister. Normal-entirely a discipline issue.
Being fresh. Normal. Entirely a discipline issue-sounds like you're doing a great job.
Hypersensitivity to noises and excessive fear. Probably just that-hypersensitive ears and sensitive nature, this could pass.
Obsessive playing and manipulating food and picky eating is sometimes a side effect of something bigger, but very often not, and TONS of kids do this. I mean tons.
Whatever you do, don't lump EVERYTHING together. A lot of people think that if there is something "wrong" with the kid, they can't be diciplined, which makes the problem worse, because even if they have a disorder, the routine and structure is all that much more important.
I would act as if everything is fine, give him tons of love and discipline-this a crucial tough age where he is learning rules and self control, and only go for an evaluation of some kind if he's obviously intellectually challenged in a few years and having trouble learning. Evaluating and drugging and all that now will not help him or change anything. Lots of quirky people go far in life. He'll probably outgrow the food thing soon. If he's very bright, you are very blessed.

I do think it's best to talk to a pediatrician and not make any assumptions. My first instinct when I read your email it that is sounds like a disorder on the autism spectrum. Sounds like most feel that is it "normal behavior," but as an advocate for your son, it's better to get a professional opinion. When my pediatrician first mentioned the word "Autism" regarding my daugther, I was in complete denial. I took some time to think about it, read about it and prayed. Sadly for my daughter it is a diagnosed reality now, but we deal and we are getting lots of help for her. If your son's behaviors are "not normal," it is soooooooo much better to find out now rather than later and get him the help he needs.
Best of luck to you.


Our oldest son (now 6) was also a major handful at 3. He is also very bright, but had other issues around behavior, food, etc -- violent and scary tantrums were the worst part of it. We found three books to be helpful:

Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka;

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish; and

Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

I'd suggest reading the Spirited Child book first. It was a life-saver. Our son is still bright and can be difficult, but we've learned better ways to work with and communicate with him to suit his personality, and it has helped a ton.

Good luck!


oh god I know how you feel, same stuff I have a 3 year old boy and one year old daughter. I thought it was just me, same deal our son is extremely smart he tests at a 6 year old level, but if I want him to clean up or get dressed it takes all day it drives me nuts, me talks back and bites my daughter, I put him on time out and about 10 min later he does it again.

although he is much better when my husband is home alot but that's not always consistent with his on call job. And it's not like he lacks the ability to do the tasks I think my son is just down right lazy.we have used his trains (thomas) as punishment. I have even locked his closet more then once out of complete fustration. Is your son potty trained? cause I am still using chocolate as bribes without it he goes right in his pants.But pees with no problem. he's scared of everything these days while my daughter is fearless.

I have spoken with friends of mine that run a daycare, they tell me get him in school and then get him pushed as far ahead as you can so he isn't bored. It's like having arguements with a teenager. Sorry my advice isn't very helpful. I just make sure I spent one on one time with him, because they are constantly fighting for my attention. And I make sure he knows I mean business, last week I actually but them immediatley to bed after out supposed to be 5 min shopping trip to get a bra since the washing machine ate mine. it was a disater and it took 2 hours they were terrible.

So when he is good he gets praised and rewarded when he is bad I tell him what he did, that it makes me sad or mad cause that's pretty much the range of emotions for him and then time out or take privledges accordingly.

If anything I feel for you, your not alone. God good luck to you having another one I don't think my sanity allows one more but everyonbe says 3 isn't as much of an adjustment.

Hi S.,

You got a lot of good advice from other moms, but thought I'd add my two cents. Some of the behavior is normal, and some seems to be a "request" for attention. It's hard, I know it's hard, to find time to give each child individual attention. Little things like letting each child pick the book to read at night -- even if that means you have to read two books -- makes a difference. Talking one-on-one for a few minutes, snuggling during a movie or TV show, coloring or other activity and talking. I know they are young, but they will get used to the idea of talking and you may get him to say things that are bothering him.

There are a couple of books that have helped me. They are not new, but they were some lessons in there for me to help me. "Raising Your Spirited Child" which certainly sounds like your son, and "Siblings Without Rivalry" which may help with the sibling relationships.

Good luck to you.

I agree with some of the other moms. Most of the behaviors sound normal but you definitely should talk to your doctor and have him talk to a specialist. Getting dressed still takes my son a long time and with alot of prodding, he used to be deathly afraid of noises at around 4 yrs of age, and he still has a "fresh" mouth at 8 yrs old but I think the food thing is what makes me think there may be something else going on. You should get a doctor's opinion, maybe even two, just for your own sanity.

Hello S.

Eventhough this sounds just like a typical boy, I think you should get him phsycologically evaluated just to be on the safe side.

Ok, *don't* want to scare you, but it sounds a lot like my nephew that has Asburgers Syndrome and Sensory (ugh, really don't want to scare you!) Autism. Asburgers (and I'm not sure that's the correct spelling) is a defiant dissorder. He has *big* problems with authority and rules. Now, most kids are defiant, and I think you're doing a good job handeling it. But with his Asburgers he will throw a fit for *hours* and some of the things that come out of his mouth are terrible. He will literally go to sleep during a fit, and wake up the next day to continue it. And you never know what's going to set him off.

But more the sensory side, he will put on a winter coat on a hot day and refuse to take it off. He gets incredibly attached to things like shoes, or even when he was little a dirty diaper (he just liked feeling his was wet) etc. He is constantly looking for a "fix" of sensory stimulation. He will lick anything, he will just spin in circle indefinately to get a fix.

My other friend has a son who has some sensory "issues" but not autism. He goes to therapy and his mother has learned techniques to help him. These include rubbing his body, or doing other sensory things to "get it out of his system" so he doesn't freak out when he is out and gets excited. He would get so excited just seeing people he would shake like crazy even when he was an infant. The therapy channels his feelings physically.

Hopefully you'll see that your son just likes things the way he likes him and he's just going thru a phase. I just wanted to give you a window into what kids with diagnosed problems deal with so you can measure them against your son.

1 / 3
Required Fields

Our records show that we already have a Mamapedia or Mamasource account created for you under the email address you entered.

Please enter your Mamapedia or Mamasource password to continue signing in.

Required Fields

, you’re almost done...

Since this is the first time you are logging in to Mamapedia with Facebook Connect, please provide the following information so you can participate in the Mamapedia community.

As a member, you’ll receive optional email newsletters and community updates sent to you from Mamapedia, and your email address will never be shared with third parties.

By clicking "Continue to Mamapedia", I agree to the Mamapedia Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.