The Clumsy Three-and-a-Half Year Old

Thursday July 21, 2016

Have you had any experience with a sudden clumsiness at the three-and-a-half mark? I think we may have just lived through it.

Louise Bates Ames mentions this in Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy. At three and a half, the child might acquire a physical insecurity and things that used to come easy to her are now difficult. “A child who six-months earlier may have walked a proud-one-foot-to-a-step up the stairs may now go back to a babyish two-feet-to-a-step.” You may also notice the child become more cautious and hesitant as she moves at the playground, whereas just months before she was very sure and confident of her balance and movement.

Ms. Ames writes that this is part of an emotional and physical disequilibrium that hits at three and a half years old, and that once the child is through it, she’ll suddenly have become even more capable than she was before.

If only I’d actually remembered any of this a few weeks ago when Bean took two terrifying falls down our apartment building steps – she was OK both times but this was a child who’d been going up the steps by herself since she was two, and had never fallen down.

She also started falling. A lot. Like a newly walking toddler who hasn’t figured out how balance works. She’d be standing next to us in the kitchen and then be sprawled out on the ground blinking up at us. Even she would have no idea how or why she got there.

Along with this came a lot of emotional need. She was “off.” Bean is a pretty happy-go-lucky kid (if not with a will of steel). For two weeks, our days were chaotic, full of demands and screeching and anger.

In my head, I started comparing it to similar episodes when she was around 18 months old. You know, two years ago. When she was a baby.

Then a week ago, it just stopped. And she suddenly didn’t fit in her shoes or any of her clothes.

She also seems a lot older suddenly. As though she’s finally shaken off the baby and toddler stage. Her ability to converse with us – in a conversational way, not just blurting out what’s in her head – has suddenly matured too. She tells us stories of things that happened, and explains things to us that we didn’t know before.

If only we had created a Google calendar for this — just when she seems to have thoroughly lost it, a ping on our phones would announce “Your 3 year old is now going through a developmental period of emotional and physical insecurity. It will be over in two weeks, just wait it out.”


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