Your three year-old hovers between being a baby and a big girl, sometimes many times a day. She is mastering many physical and balancing activities like climbing stairs one foot at a time, hopping, and maybe pedaling a tricycle. She is engaging in real conversation and she loves pretend play. She is also experiencing strong feelings and may not know how to talk about them yet, which could lead to temper tantrums. On the other hand, she is also developing friendships with other children and feels real affection and empathy for them. This is a wonderful and exciting year of growth.
Is My Child On Track?
No two children will develop at the same pace, but there are some norms you can use as a guide. Physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional developmental milestones will give you a range of behaviors your baby should master and what to look forward to in the next growth stage. If you are concerned about any area of development, there are a number of activities you can do with baby to encourage growth. If you are worried that your baby is falling behind, consult with your doctor to decide if your baby needs more specialized help.
A few excellent sources for Developmental Milestones:
Center for Disease Control – Learn the Signs/Act Early and Milestone Moments
Zero to Three – Your Child’s Development
Healthy Children.Org – Ages and Stages
- She runs, climbs, and pedals a tricycle. She can use scissors and string large beads.
- She shows a wide range of emotions and shows affection with no prompting.
- She can assess her own needs and can self-comfort.
- Explores and investigates how things work.
- Has 2-3 sentence conversations and can follow 2-3 step directions.
Ideas for Learning and Growth
Physical Growth: Nutrition is still the key. Many toddlers will be picky eaters at this age and still need smaller meals offered more often. The most important thing is that these small meals pack a nutritional punch. Be sure that your toddler fills up on good proteins, fruits, and vegetables before offering treats. Your toddler is now old enough to help you in the kitchen by measuring, stirring, or even decorating her food. This will help her develop an interest in new foods.
Your toddler is getting bigger and stronger and needs a lot of exercise to master those large muscle skills. Teach her how to somersault in a soft padded area, do the Bear Walk (walking on hands and feet), or the Elephant Walk. All these exercises will improve balance and flexibility and provide great fun.
She is also developing small muscle skills. Find small safe objects to play with; try stringing macaroni or round cereal bits into necklaces or bracelets. Try art projects with your child; cut out pictures of favorite objects or people from magazines and make a scrapbook. Use tempera paint, play dough, or glue and pasta bits to create artwork.
Language: Teach your child new words by describing everyday events, places you visit or new objects. Use color, shape, and size words. Make up stories together, maybe based on her favorite books or cartoons.
Help your toddler describe what she is feeling. Talk about what makes people sad or angry and what makes people happy. Make a game of it with her dolls and toys. This is the time she really enjoys pretend play and may feel safe experimenting with feelings in the pretend world.
Read to your child every day. Read a favorite story and leave out a word or phrase so she can fill it in. Let her retell the story to you. Your toddler is developing her memory and becoming a logical thinker. Put these new skills to work by having her make up stories for her favorite characters.
Social/Emotional: Help your toddler manage her feelings by encouraging her to talk about them. Ask her to “use her words” when she is frustrated, sad, or happy. Being able to name her feelings and talk about them makes them less scary and overwhelming. She will learn to manage feelings, self-soothe, and problem solve.
Friends are very important to a three year-old. Find ways to bring her together with children her own age through play groups, library story hours, or play dates. This early socialization helps her learn to share, play cooperatively, and develop friendships.
What to Watch For
The CDC suggests you consult with your doctor if at three years of age your child:
- Falls down a lot or has trouble with stairs.
- Drools or has very unclear speech.
- Can’t work simple toys (such as peg boards, simple puzzles, turning handle).
- Doesn’t speak in sentences.
- Doesn’t understand simple instructions.
- Doesn’t play pretend or make-believe.
- Doesn’t want to play with other children or with toys.
- Doesn’t make eye contact.
- Loses skills he once had.
This may be a sign of delayed development, something that could be resolved with the right interventions. The important thing is to act early! The earlier you act, the easier it will be to get baby on track developmentally.
Muskegon Area Services: A list of community groups, agencies, and schools that can help you and your baby.
Web Sources: Carefully researched websites that will give you a wealth of information on child development and parenting.