Kids between the ages of 3 and 4 are at a very unique growth period in their lives. They are growing at a rapid rate in all areas of development and are discovering new things daily, while also learning how to cope with new challenges. Additionally, they’re in pursuit of autonomy, which can lead to behavioral issues that the adults in their lives often become frustrated with.
The problem begins because most adults have unrealistic expectations of how 3 and 4 year old’s should behave. Who can really blame us though? It’s been so long since we’ve really been able to relate to them on a developmental level, so we take the simplicity of their struggles for granted! This is mainly based on the assumption by us as adults that this escalation in behavioral development will progress in only a positive behavioral direction. The fact is, as with any growth, there will be new issues that present themselves and old issues that will still arise. In addition, the behaviors of kids at this age are not consistent or predictable.
Gaining knowledge of age appropriate behaviors for 3 and 4 year old’s is essential to helping instill positive behaviors. At this age, because they are learning new things, 3 and 4 year old’s may become more defiant as they see how far they can push their limits. They may also become frustrated or anxious when trying new things because their motor skills are not as developed and their attempts at things may not go as they planned. This can lead to behavior problems such as defiance and tantrums.
To assist them in making better behavior choices, it’s important that adults are calm, clear, and consistent. In the heat of a tantrum, it is often very difficult to remain calm, but this is vital. It’s also important to be clear in the rules that are set and maintain consistency in enforcing these rules daily. Giving choices (when appropriate) also helps children become more autonomous which will lead to developing confidence. Catch them being good and reward positive behaviors.
THE MARTIAL APPLICATION:
In the Lil’ Dragons program at Glens Falls Karate Academy, our instructors are trained on how to reinforce proper development and behavior with little or no need for disciplinary action (we’re like the bumpers in a bowling lane, always there to gently redirect a straying ball towards its target). This positive learning atmosphere makes learning and growing fun! Self-esteem also plays an important role in how well 3 and 4 year old’s learn and grow. Utilizing edutainment and communicating clear rules and directions set the tone for each class. The instructors also connect with each student to make the environment warm and positive.
Our 3 and 4 year old students love physical activity and anything involving play. They have a rich imagination and strong desire to be less dependent on their usual caregivers. The problem we’ve discovered is that many kids this age have a hard time with structure in a group environment (like what is commonly found in most Martial Arts programs). The solution we’ve developed at Glens Falls Karate Academy is to provide them with their own program that targets their stages of development in a manner that keeps them entertained while at the same time building skills that set them up for success! The result is a structured program introducing early skill-based training in Martial Arts, and has proven to be very successful.
Here’s an overview of the stages of development for 3 and 4 year olds, our typical expectations of them entering our program, and our goals for them throughout our program:
- They typically have low tone and poor hand-eye-coordination.
- We expect them initially to drop their arms when punching and fall when kicking or jumping. We also expect them to have no concept of spatial awareness, therefore they will drop things that are thrown to them and bump into people and obstacles often.
- The goal for our program is to get them to punch without dropping their arms; kick without falling; jump without falling; and catch objects thrown from various directions and distances.
- They typically have a limited vocabulary therefore learning is normally limited to visual and kinesthetic activities.
- We expect them to initially lose focus when activities are over-complicated. We also expect them to struggle with commands that have more than two instructions.
- The goal for our program is to get them to follow verbal commands with no visual demonstration. Also, our goal is for them to remember rules and commands without being reminded.
- They typically have strong preferences and fears therefore they will normally act out of bounds when their emotions get out of control.
- We expect them to run off the mat when they have anxiety. We also expect them to shut down when something either scares them or doesn’t go their way.
- The goal for our program is to help them follow directions and persevere through an activity even if they are initially emotional.
- They are typically very self-centered. Also, due to their limited vocabulary their common form of communication is mainly physical.
- We expect them to mock each other, such as falling when their classmate falls. We also expect them to crash into things when they are excited.
- The goals for our program are to help them build good social skills such as spatial awareness; not interrupting when others are talking; and taking turns properly.
By understanding the stages of development of 3 and 4 year olds, we were able to select 8 age appropriate skills that make up the foundation of our Lil’ Dragons Program:
We cover one of the above skills per class (in order). During each class we run a warm-up; deliver a mat chat about the skill; run two or three skill-building drills; and then we have them demonstrate the skill to earn their skill-stripe. They must earn all 8 skill-stripes in order to graduate to the next belt level. Once they earn their next belt they will continue to run through all 8 skills earning their skill-stripes with a higher expectation of competence in each skill as they advance to each rank. They graduate to the Little Ninjas Program after they have successfully completed all 8-belt ranks of the Lil’ Dragons program.
Here is an example of what a white belt must demonstrate for each of the 8 skills above in order to earn their next belt:
- KICKING – Front kicking in the air, alternating legs. Assessing the body mechanics used in demonstrating the technique helps evaluate the development of stabilizing muscle groups in their core and legs.
- PUNCHING – Straight punching in the air, alternating arms. Assessing the body mechanics used in demonstrating the technique helps evaluate the development of stabilizing muscle groups in their core and arms.
- BLOCKING – High blocking in the air, alternating arms. Assessing the body mechanics used in demonstrating the technique helps evaluate the development of stabilizing muscle groups in their core and shoulders.
- CRAWLING – Bear crawling across the mat. Assessing the body mechanics used in demonstrating the technique helps evaluate the development of dynamic and static muscle movements.
- HOPPING – Hopping down the floor with both feet. Assessing the body mechanics used in demonstrating the technique helps evaluate their spatial awareness and coordination.
- ROLLING – Rolling a ball down the floor while alternating hands and keeping at least one hand on the ball at all times. Assessing the demonstration of the activity helps evaluate the development of fine motor skills, spatial awareness and coordination.
- RUNNING – Running down the floor as fast as possible, stopping on command without falling. Assessing the demonstration of the activity helps evaluate the development of gross motor skills, spatial awareness and coordination
- CATCHING – Catching a ball thrown underhand from one step away. Assessing the demonstration of the activity helps evaluate the development of gross motor skills and spatial awareness.
By using elements of our traditional Okinawan karate curriculum to build a skills based program that is appropriate for 3 and 4 year olds, your child will learn and grow at a pace that is not too easy, nor too challenging. And, as with any well-rounded children’s program, the teaching team of parents and instructors is of the utmost importance. Creating consistency between school and home through our Life Skills and Parent Skills programs, makes for an easier transition through this rapid growth period for 3 and 4 year old’s.
Remember, growth is exciting, but the progress is often followed by some backtracking … that is just part of growing up. As Ross A. Thompson, Ph.D., a child-development researcher and professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis says, “The part of a child’s brain that controls his impulses and emotions matures very, very slowly. It’s easy to assume that kids are being uncooperative or obstinate when really they’re just acting their age.” Be patient and consistent and the behavioral changes that this age group experiences will go more smoothly.