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Age 3 development guidelines

Your child's rate of growth is slowing at age 3.​

Understanding your child's changing and emerging growth and development is an important part of parenting.

The following guidelines will help you monitor your child's development.

It's important to note that not all children develop at the same rate, so comparing your 18-month old son to your neighbor's 18-month old daughter may not be the best method.

These guidelines will help you spot potential problems and alert your Marshfield Clinic pediatrician.

Your child's doctor can determine if there's a problem or not. 

The Growing Child: 3-Year-Olds

Three year old girl eating breakfast at a table.

How much will my child grow?

In 3-year-olds, growth is still slow compared to the first year. Most children have become slimmer and lost the rounded tummy of a toddler. While all children may grow at a different rate, the following indicate the average for 3-year-old boys and girls:

  • Weight: average gain of about 4 to 6 pounds per year

  • Height: average growth of about 2 to 3 inches per year

  • After age 2, children of the same age can noticeably vary in height and weight. As long as the child is maintaining his or her own rate of growth, there should be no reason to worry. A discussion with the child's pediatrician is recommended if there is cause for concern. 

What can my child do at this age?

As your child continues to grow, you will notice new and exciting abilities that develop. While children may progress at different rates, the following are some of the common milestones your child may reach in this age group:

  • Runs and jumps easily

  • Walks up stairs unassisted

  • Rides a tricycle

  • Washes and dries hands

  • Stacks 10 blocks

  • Easily draws straight lines and copies a circle

  • Can stand on tip-toes

  • Uses spoon well and feeds self

  • Dresses and undresses self except for buttons and laces

  • Can concentrate on tasks for 8 or 9 minutes

  • Has all 20 primary ("baby") teeth

  • Vision is nearing 20/20

  • Bladder and bowel control are usually established; uses potty chair or toilet

  • May sleep 11 to 13 hours total, may still take a short afternoon nap

What can my child say?

Speech development is very exciting for parents as they watch their children begin to speak clearly and interact with others. While every child develops speech at his or her own rate, the following are some of the common milestones in this age group:

  • Should be able to say about 500 to 900 words

  • Speech can be understood by others

  • Speaks in 2- or 3-word sentences and progresses to 4- or 5-word sentences

  • Can remember simple rhymes or lyrics

  • Uses "please" and "thank you"

  • Refers to self by using own name

  • Names colors

What does my child understand?

While children may progress at different rates, the following are some of the common milestones your child may reach in this age group:

  • Understands size differences (such as, big and little)

  • Understands past tense (yesterday)

  • Understands long sentences

  • Understands prepositions (on, under, behind)

  • Uses pronouns correctly (such as, I, you, he, and me)

  • Asks "why" constantly

  • Counts up to 4 objects by 4 years old

  • Says full name and age

  • May have fears of certain things (for example, dark, monster under bed, and going down the drain)

  • Attempts to solve problems

  • Remembers certain events

  • Can point to the correct picture when asked a simple question about it.

How does my child interact with others?

While every child is unique and will develop different personalities, the following are some of the common behavioral traits that may be present in your child:

  • Begins to share and likes to play with other children

  • Can take turns

  • Temper tantrums are less often

  • Begins to show feelings in socially acceptable ways

How to help increase your child's learning and emotional security

Consider the following as ways to foster the emotional security of your 3-year-old:

  • Spend time allowing your child to talk with you.

  • Teach your child how things work.

  • Encourage play with other children.

  • Encourage your child to tell you stories.

  • Listen to your child and show that you are pleased by your child's talking.

  • Let your child do as much as possible for himself or herself when getting dressed, brushing teeth, and combing hair.

  • Have your child help with simple chores such as picking up toys.

  • Give your child old clothes for "dress up" and allow him or her to pretend being a mom, dad, healthcare provider, cowboy, and the like. Even old sheets or towels can become skirts, capes, or turbans. You can also pretend you are an elephant, butterfly, robot, or other characters and play with your child.

  • Sing songs or nursery rhymes and teach your child the words.

  • Read stories with your child and ask your child to name pictures in the stories or retell part of the story.

  • Help your child play with crayon and paper or chalk and chalkboard by showing how to draw circles and lines and then put them together to make a stick figure. Make figure faces that are happy, sad, or surprised, and talk about the different feeling shown in each picture.

  • Let your child build things out of blocks or boxes.

  • Give your child a safe space to ride a tricycle.

  • Listen to children's music with your child and dance.

  • Practice counting with your child.

  • Give your child the chance to play games with other children. Church groups, YWCA or YMCA recreation centers, or libraries often have preschool programs.

  • Put puzzles together with your child.

  • Let your child have pretend playtime with dolls, cars, or toy cooking utensils.

  • Play hide and seek and follow the leader.

  • Let your child use his or her imagination by playing with play dough or clay.

  • Trace your child's hand or whole body and make a picture.

  • Show your child you are proud of any artwork and hang it up for display.

  • Teach your child colors.

  • Play ball with your child. Play different games with the ball, such as tossing a ball into a box or rolling the ball up and down an incline.

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What Do You Know About Child Development?

Test your knowledge of child development by taking this quiz.

1. When riding in a motor vehicle, how tall should a child be to sit in a regular seat and use an adult seat belt instead of a being strapped into a car safety seat or booster seat?
2. For which of these should you call your doctor instead of trying at-home treatment?
3. Two out of 3 teen girls don't get enough of which of these in their diet?
4. How much has the rate of obesity in children increased in the last 35 years?
5. Menstruation can begin at which of these ages in girls?
6. It's estimated that 3 to 7 percent of American school children have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Which of these famous people is thought to have had the condition?