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Your Child’s Development: 3 Years


Kids this age love to play games of make-believe. But their imaginations can sometimes run away with them, and even spook them. Listen to your child's fears and be there to comfort and reassure him or her when needed.

Doctors use certain milestones to tell if a toddler is developing as expected. There's a wide range of what's considered normal, so some children gain skills earlier or later than others. Toddlers who were born prematurely may reach milestones later. Always talk with your doctor about your child's progress.

Here are some things your toddler might be doing:

Communication and Language Skills

  • strings at least three words together to form sentences
  • is understood most of the time
  • asks "why?" often
  • understands spatial words (such as in, on, and under)

Movement and Physical Development 

  • can walk up stairs with alternating feet
  • might be able to catch a ball with full, outstretched arms
  • can throw a ball overhead
  • balances on one foot for 1 second
  • can copy a circle and lines
  • dresses and undresses with a little help

Social and Emotional Development

  • is toilet trained during the daytime
  • can name a friend
  • can indicate whether he or she is a boy or a girl
  • plays make-believe
  • takes turns while playing

Cognitive Skills (Thinking and Learning)

  • knows full (first and last) name and age
  • engages in pretend play
  • can count three objects
  • does simple puzzles
  • can retell a story from a book

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Every child develops at his or her own pace, but certain signs could indicate a delay in development. Talk to your doctor if your child:

  • can't speak in sentences
  • doesn't follow simple directions
  • doesn't engage in pretend play
  • doesn't jump
  • has severe separation anxiety
  • can't make strokes with a crayon or pencil

Also, if you ever notice that your child has lost skills or shows weakness on one side of the body, tell your doctor.

Reviewed by: Beth Parrish, MD
Date reviewed: January 2020