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HomeHealth & BehaviorSocial Skills

Developmental Milestones: Age 3

Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track with his peers or alert you to potential concerns. Below are some milestones to watch for your 3-year-old.

By Joyce Destefanis, M.A. , Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.

Since birth, you've watched your child grow and develop. You've noted his height and weight, when he crawled, stood, and walked, even when he spoke his first words - and perhaps compared all of these milestones of his infant and toddler years to the "norms." The preschool and early school years are also full of changes. From three to five your child's motor skills, language, thinking, and social development change dramatically.

Knowing what to expect as your child grows can reassure you that your child is on track with his peers or alert you to potential concerns. Below are some milestones to watch for.

Milestones: 3-Year-Olds

Motor Development: Gross Motor Skills

  • Walks with an agile, almost adult style
  • Runs around obstacles
  • Catches large balls and throws overhead
  • Climbs ladders; uses slide independently
  • Rides a tricycle
  • Alternates feet when climbing stairs

Motor Development: Fine Motor Skills

  • Assembles simple puzzles
  • Manipulates clay; finger paints
  • Copies simple shapes, such as a cross or circle
  • Stacks blocks up to nine high

Language and Thinking Development

  • Understands most of what is said and 75 percent of speech is understandable
  • Speaks in complete sentences of three to five words
  • Matches pictures to objects
  • Learns by doing and through the senses
  • Understands concepts of "now," "soon," and "later"
  • Begins to recognize cause-and-effect relationships

Social and Emotional Development

  • Follows simple directions; enjoys helping with household tasks
  • Begins to recognize own limits - asks for help
  • Likes to play alone, but near other children
  • Does not cooperate or share well
  • Able to make choices between two things
  • Begins to notice other people's moods and feelings

Tips for Parenting 3-Year-Olds

No longer a toddler, your 3-year-old takes in knowledge about himself and the world around him.

  • Transitions are difficult at this age. Provide warning of changes so your child has time to shift gears: "We're leaving in 10 minutes."
  • Rituals are important. Household routines and schedules give your 3-year-old a sense of security.
  • Point out colors and numbers in the course of everyday conversation: "You're wearing your blue shirt" or "We made six cupcakes."
  • Encourage independent activity to build self-reliance.
  • Provide lots of sensory experiences for learning and developing coordination - sand, mud, finger paints, puzzles.

And Finally...

Remember that these milestones represent averages, not rigid developmental deadlines. Children move through these changes at varying rates, some sooner, others later. You're the best judge of your child's development and what is "normal" for him, but if you have any concerns, discuss them with your child's pediatrician. Just when you think you've figured out your child, something changes. Today he demands constant attention; six months from now he may be pushing you away. You may find strategies that once worked no longer have any impact on him. Don't worry, this is normal!


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