The Three Hour Rule


The Three Hour Rule“I’m just not sure how to help him.”

I sat in our pediatrician’s office with tears rolling down my cheeks. We were there for my son’s three-year-old checkup, and after he had passed all physical examinations, the conversation turned to any concerns I had. I was shaking as I started describing some of the behaviors we had seen in the last few months.

If you have ever had a freshly-turned three-year-old, you might understand my emotional state. They are crazy. Legit crazy. Often hilarious, but mostly crazy. I’ve given more wide-eyed emoji faces to my three-year-old than any other human being.

So what is “normal” when it comes to three-year-olds?

The tantrums have definitely escalated from two-years-old. This makes sense because his brain is understanding more and more information, but his speech has not been able to keep up. The communication barrier seems to be at an all-time high and is accompanied by hitting, kicking, and biting. He’s also become quite the stubborn, strong-willed child. I’m confident he has a “no” reflex to any question or command. “Please sit in your chair.” “No.” “Put your shoes on.” “No.” “Do you want ice cream?” “No. Uhh…wait, yes.”

Every day felt like a marathon that didn’t end at bedtime because OF COURSE HE DOESN’T SLEEP EITHER. It’s no surprise the tears came easily when our pediatrician asked if I had any concerns. Is this normal? Is this just a phase that every kid goes through? What if it’s not? Then what do we do?

Our pediatrician, who I am convinced is the greatest woman on the face of the planet, softly stroked his curls and smiled reassuringly. She handed me a tissue and said, “It could be normal, or he may need some extra help. We have lots of resources.” She went on to describe how speech therapy may help with the communication barrier, hopefully reducing a few tantrums. Occupational therapy is an option for learning some self-regulation skills that will help him better manage his emotions. She didn’t push anything on me, but she offered referrals and left it open for me to pursue what I thought may help him best.

But the last thing she said really struck a chord with me. It hung in the air as we left the room.

“Maybe he’s just one of those boys with a lot of energy. He needs an outlet so all that energy doesn’t spill out on the rest of you. I’d recommend at least three hours of physical activity, preferably outdoors, every day.”

On my drive home, I mulled over all the therapy options I had been given, but kept coming back to her three hour suggestion. I tried to think back to when we first started noticing an increase in his behavior. It was definitely during the winter. Possibly November or December? It was THE cloudiest, rainiest winter on record. I tried to be a good mom and offer sensory tubs and Play-Doh and all sorts of things to keep him entertained, but we definitely did not have much physical activity. Certainly not outdoors. Could this simple solution really be what I was missing all this time?

I tried it that day, as soon as we got home from the pediatrician. One hour of backyard time, running and digging in dirt. One hour at the park down the street from our house. Another hour in the backyard doing an obstacle course.


He sat in his chair and ate his whole dinner that night. He didn’t hang upside down from the kitchen table once! He sat in the rocking chair with me and read book after book at bedtime. He actually fell asleep the first time at bedtime. No circus acts required.

I know some of you may be thinking, “Duh,” but this was honestly groundbreaking information for me. Of course kids need physical activity. Everybody knows that. But surely they don’t need this much. This feels excessive. It might be excessive for some kids. My five-year-old daughter doesn’t need that much, which I’m sure is why I never considered it with her younger brother. But now that we have followed The Three Hour Rule every day for two months, I can CONFIRM it was exactly what he needed.

He’s a different kid these days. He can control his emotions much more easily. We’ve seen far fewer tantrums and timeouts. He is willing to repeat himself and is much more patient with us when we don’t understand him the first time. We’ve learned that this strong, powerful child has so much energy inside him that will come out if he is not given a physical outlet. Everyone can tell if we miss a day.

I know this won’t be the answer to every struggle a three-year-old might have. Therapy is a wonderful, God-given option for many kids, but if you’ve got a three-year-old who is struggling to keep himself in check, give The Three Hour Rule a try. Maybe you’ve got a powerful child on your hands, too, and releasing that energy would do everyone some good.


  1. that’s fabulous. i have the same issue but he was worse at 2 more than 3. problem is for us we don’t have a fenced yard and i don’t have 3 hours to spend outside every day. but we will rectify that very soon. thanks for the article, it reinforces what i thought might be the solution.

  2. You described my son PERFECTLY. Over the last 6 months, I dragged him to every therapist, specialist and doctor…read every book my pediatrician would suggest, and came up empty handed every time. Each time, I was told he was “normal”. I would think “normal?? He’s like a feral cat!!” Then, like a message from God (from the endless hours of praying), I realized how accommodating, sweet and funny he was after a couple of long strenuous outside days at our family’s ranch. The following Monday, his daycare teacher said “he had such a great day!!” What’s even crazier?…on similar days, when he’d have burned off his energy, his communication would be better, too! He isn’t quite three yet, but so far instense outside activity has been our best “cure”. We are even changing daycares to a school that has 4 outside recess times, versus the 2 30-min recesses he has now.

    My nephew has anxiety and related issues, and his therapists prescription? Minimum two hours of INTENSE outside activity. It’s been a game changer.

    For moms curious, try it. I had an image in my head of my son playing in large areas during his time at daycare, similar to my childhood, and that’s not necessarily the norm today. My little guy NEEDS that energy burned off or he can’t funtion.

  3. My two sons are in college now. I can confirm that, growing up, they needed tons of physical activity and imaginative play time. Three hours sounds about right! Most boys get far less than this and I believe they are suffering because of it. I even wrote a book about it: Why Can’t We Just Play?

  4. Both of my boys are like this, and they are 10 and almost 14 now. The 14 year old is pretty chill these days, but now recognizes his need for physical activity on his own. My 10 year old is wild as a buck and really needs 5 hours. He gets 18-20K steps a day and over 100 active minutes. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to do for a run by himself!


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