Crisis of three years

Crisis periods of development are different from stable occurrence of qualitative changes in the psyche, the presence of a conflict between the new needs of the child and the established social relations, forms of activity. 

Signs of a three-year crisis are observed between 2.5 and 3.5 years, the result is the psychological separation of the child from the mother, father, older sisters, brothers. 

The severity and intensity of symptoms range from subtle vagaries to regular frequent tantrums, constant negativity, resistance to adults. Regardless of the characteristics of the flow, the transitional period ends with the appearance of new growths necessary for further correct development – self-awareness, volitional qualities, and independence.

The causes of the crisis of three years

The child seeks to establish rules, norms, building relationships based on social roles, personal qualities. At the same time, parents retain their previous patterns of behavior – orientation toward objective activity, limiting the field of opportunities for manifestations of independence. The conflict is accompanied by quarrels with adults.

The severity of this period is determined by the combined effects of certain factors:

  • Authoritarianism. The desire of adults to establish strict standards, the requirement of unconditional obedience suppresses the will, independence of the child. The crisis proceeds with reactions of rebellion, open resistance to parents.
  • Hyper-Pharmacy . Excessive parental care in the conditions of the formation of the personality of the child, increasing independence becomes the cause of negativism, obstinacy, disobedience. The intensity of hypertexturing is directly correlated with the duration, brightness of the crisis.
  • The composition of the family. In the presence of brothers, sisters involved in education, the crisis usually proceeds more easily. The child has more opportunities, options for building relationships. Siblings are more flexible, change behavior more quickly.
  • Temperament. The intensity, stability, ease of occurrence of emotional reactions are partly determined by the innate characteristics of the nervous system. Conflicts provoke a greater response in choleric people, melancholic.
  • Health status. The severity of emotional and behavioral abnormalities is determined by the presence of diseases in a child. Painful children often experience increased dependence on the mother, the development of independence is delayed, the crisis comes later, it flows smoothly. In neurological diseases, an imbalance in the processes of arousal-inhibition is manifested by greater emotional instability, hypertrophy of crisis manifestations.


The new formations of the crisis are a new level of self-awareness, independence, building social relations, volitional regulation of activity. Positive changes are hidden behind negative symptoms – disobedience, obstinacy, moods, tantrums. The basis of emotional, behavioral disorders becomes the discrepancy between social circumstances and the changing needs and capabilities of the child. Motivation of actions is now connected not with the content of the situation, but with relationships.

The social position of the child is rebuilt, he begins to separate himself from adults not physically, as in a crisis of 1 year , but psychologically. An image of oneself as a personality arises, an image of “I” is formed as a system of desires, needs, will, activity. In order to test new opportunities, the child contrasts his actions with the actions of adults – he argues, stubbornly, refuses. The direction of actions is determined by the person, and not the wishes of the child, as before.

Symptoms of a three-year crisis

The course of the crisis stage is described by the “sevenfold symptom” (L. Vygotsky). At the age of three, children’s behavior is marked by stubbornness, negativism, self-will, obstinacy, protests, depreciation, despotism. Negativism is a negative response, a failure caused by a situation of interaction with an adult. Reactions occur selectively to certain people. The difference between negativism and ordinary disobedience is that affect and action are separated: the child wants to perform the proposed activity (go for a walk, listen to the tale), but refuses. Negativism allows you to highlight your own motives, to show independence.

Stubbornness is accompanied by a steady tendency for the activity chosen by the child. The social aspect – making demands to an adult, relentlessly following one’s own words, promises. It is important for the child to remain committed to his decision, regardless of the circumstances (he is cold, but does not go home). The difference between stubbornness and perseverance is to follow the chosen action against the wishes of the adult. Disobedience is a negative tendency against the norms of upbringing, lifestyle, relationships. The child demonstrates dissatisfaction with games, daily rituals, leisure activities, and visits to kindergarten. With this reaction, he emphasizes his own opinion.

The need to show independence is realized by self-will – a demonstration of an initiative of action that is inadequate to opportunities and conditions. The need for respect, recognition of the opinions and desires of the child is realized through protest reactions. The desire to demonstrate will, independence, independence is expressed in provocation of conflicts with adults. Frequent quarrels lead to depreciation. The child recognizes the insignificance, unimportance of people, things, activities, which was carried away earlier. Begins to swear, tease, call parents, break favorite toys. The desire for despotism arises as the need to control others, to rule. Manifested by orders to parents, jealousy, manipulation.


The crisis is accompanied by changes in attitudes, the emotional sphere, the value system of the child. Intense deep experiences form internal and external conflicts. A difficult period can provoke neurotic reactions. Children develop enuresis, night terrors, nightmares, stuttering. The extreme aggravation of the crisis is manifested by hysterical attacks: the child screams, cries, falls to the floor, knocks with his fists, and arches. During a tantrum there is a risk of injury. A protracted crisis leads to the formation of hysterical personality traits – the symptoms become qualities of the character of the child.


In most cases, the crisis passes without the intervention of doctors, adults perceive changes in the child’s behavior as a natural stage of development, which ends on its own. When symptoms are pronounced, parents seek advice from a specialist – a psychologist, a neurologist, a psychiatrist.

Diagnosis is made by clinical and physical methods:

  • Conversation. Clinical survey allows you to find out the history, time of onset of symptoms, their frequency, severity, duration. The key markers of the crisis are negativism, stubbornness, obstinacy, self-will.
  • Observation During the conversation, the specialist observes the behavior of the baby. The symptoms are most clearly manifested in the random interaction of the parents and the child.
  • Inspection. During hypobulic seizures (hysteria, convulsions), the neurologist performs a physical examination. Evaluates the sensitivity, muscle strength, tone, reflexes, coordination of movements. Carries out differential diagnosis of a crisis with neurological diseases.
Recommendations for a three-year crisis

Overcoming the negative symptoms of the crisis occurs faster when you change the attitude to the matured child, accept its new needs and capabilities. Psychologists conduct individual counseling, group lectures, telling parents about the methods of communication, interaction with the child, and organization of pastime. General principles:

  • Promotion of independence. A kid who is willing to act alone does not need help. It is necessary to take care of safety, to praise for success, to support in case of failure, to offer help in the form of a question.
  • Evaluation of actions. You can not call the child name, give “labels” (greedy, evil, bore, evil). Punish, reprimand need for action.
  • Keeping calm. Shouts, irritation of an adult increase the emotional attacks of the baby. It is necessary to demonstrate balance, calmly voice the refusal, respond to the demands.
  • Providing the right of choice. In the daily domestic issues should take into account the opinion of the child. The choice of cartoon, drink, books, places of walking is recommended to provide the baby.
  • Analysis of the situation. After a conflict, a dispute, hysteria, it is necessary to calmly discuss the experiences of the baby, to share your own emotions. During such discussions, the child learns to understand, verbally express feelings, thoughts, states.

With the correct correction of the relationship with the younger child, the crisis of three years passes more smoothly, calmly, and ends several months later. The neoplasms of this stage of development are the psychological emancipation of a child from an adult, the emergence of self-esteem, and the evaluation of one’s own actions. Strong-willed qualities, independence actively develop, social relations are complicated.

Prevention of a protracted crisis, neurotic and psychopathic complications is the creation of new conditions for development – building relationships taking into account the changing needs of the child.

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