What Should My Child Be Doing at 3 Years Old?

Reviewed on 6/24/2021

A three-year-old has transitioned from being a toddler to a preschooler. At three years old, your child will make up stories, play, build relationships, learn right from wrong, manage their feelings and figure out different types of words.
A three-year-old has transitioned from being a toddler to a preschooler. At three years old, your child will make up stories, play, build relationships, learn right from wrong, manage their feelings and figure out different types of words.

A three-year-old has transitioned from being a toddler to a preschooler. Your child’s social development, imagination and language skills are about adequate for them to start learning with other kids. At this age, your preschooler will be busy

  • Figuring out different types of words
  • Making up stories
  • Playing activities
  • Learning to build relationships
  • Managing their feelings
  • Learning right from wrong

Most babies reach certain milestones at similar ages, but some take their own sweet time to reach those milestones. Infant development is not a science. However, you can consider these general infant development milestones for your three-year-old child.

Moving-physical or motor development

  • Climbs stairs with alternating feet—one foot per step
  • Runs with speed
  • Throws a ball overhead
  • Catches a ball with full, outstretched arms
  • Balances on one foot for one second
  • Copies circles or lines
  • Starts pedaling a tricycle or bike
  • Walks backward and climbs stairs one foot after the other
  • Stacks 10 blocks
  • Uses a spoon well and feeds themself
  • Turns pages of a book one at a time
  • Works door handles and opens twist-on bottle tops
  • Plays with toys that have small moving parts or buttons
  • Develops handedness (becomes right-handed or left-handed)

Talking-communication and language development

  • Says five or six words in a sentence and has a two- to three-sentence conversation
  • Talks enough to be understood by most strangers
  • Names friends
  • Names everyday objects and understands a few words
  • Follows two- or three-part instructions
  • Asks “why,” “where,” “when,” “what” and “how” questions
  • Follows pronouns such as “I,” “me,” “you” and “we” and uses some plurals such as cats and dogs
  • Says name, age and gender
  • Uses “please” and “thank you”
  • Remembers simple lyrics or rhymes

Interacting-social and emotional development

  • Dresses or undresses with little help
  • Has separation anxiety, but gradually overcomes it
  • Takes turns in games
  • Enjoys helping with simple household tasks
  • Shows a wide range of feelings
  • Copies adults and friends
  • Verbalizes toilet needs and is toilet trained during the day
  • Enjoys daily routine and gets upset with a major change
  • Is interested in new experiences
  • Often cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality
  • Starts finding simple ways to solve arguments and disagreements
  • Throws fewer temper tantrums
  • Starts sharing and likes playing with other children

Thinking-cognitive development

  • Counts three objects
  • Retells a story from a book in bits and pieces
  • Does simple puzzles
  • Correctly names eight colors
  • Understands the concept of same and different
  • Engages in fantasy play
  • Recites numbers up to 10
  • Starts understanding time in terms of morning, night and days of the week
  • Understands long sentences
  • Remembers certain events
  • Draws a full circle

What is considered a developmental delay in a three-year-old child?

You should visit your pediatrician if you notice any of these in your three-year-old child.

  • Doesn’t speak in sentences
  • Doesn’t make eye contact
  • Loses skills they once had
  • Drools or has very unclear speech
  • Falls a lot or has trouble with stairs
  • Does not understand simple instructions
  • Shows no interest in playing with other children or with toys
  • Knows to use only simple toys

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References
CDC: "Important Milestones: Your Child By Three Years." https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-3yr.html

Stanford Children's Health: "The Growing Child: Three-Year-Olds." https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=the-growing-child-3-year-olds-90-P02296

Understood: "Developmental Milestones for 3-Year-Olds." https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/signs-symptoms/developmental-milestones/developmental-milestones-for-typical-3-year-olds

Help Me Grow: "3-Year Child Developmental Milestones." https://helpmegrowmn.org/HMG/DevelopMilestone/3Years/index.html

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