If you have read any of my other articles on the topic of human development, you may have noticed that I have changed the name of the title.  Before, I was using the title Baby Development:…Now that we are talking about 3 year old and subsequently will be talking about older children, I have changed the name to Child Development:…I know you still think of your child as your baby.  My mother probably still thinks of me as her oldest baby. 


Physical Development

You are probably starting to call your child a “big boy” or “big girl” now.  This is true.  They are getting bigger.  Your child should weigh somewhere between 25-44 pound now and stand tall at 34-43 inches.  They are starting to get a body structure now comparable to that of any adult.  The are getting longer and starting to have the proportionality similar to that of an adult and not so much of that of a baby. 


They should have a full set of teeth, minus the wisdom teeth.  They hair is fully in.  They are starting to have the facial proportions that they will have a majority of their lives.  Just because they are starting to look more adult-like, does not mean they are adult-like.  In the history of the world studied by psychologist, it was assumed that children were just smaller versions of the adult.  It was accepted by most cultures in the times before Jesus, if a child started to walk they were to learn to do the things adults do.  After Jesus and even up to today, some cultures have special ceremonies for children when they reach a certain age to welcome them to adulthood.  Granted this is usually not the case with three year old as we are talking about today, but time sure does fly when raising adults from children. 

3 year oldCredit: www.earlymoments.com


The child has become accustomed to sleeping throughout the night and should sleep more than what is expected for adults.  They are still, in fact, growing.  Professionals recommend they sleep 10-12 hours per night.  They should start to have less frequent night terrors, but may have more episodes where they wake up and end up in your bed at night. 


I hope it is a given by now, but children at three years of age SHOULD NOT be sleeping with parents, with the exceptions of certain circumstances, such as very bad storms, or a recent death.  The behavior of letting them sleep with parents will reinforce any anxiety they might have, because they start to think, “I have this fear and it must be real because mommy and daddy let me sleep with them.”  There might be monsters under the bed, but it is most likely just monster dust bunnies. 


As for toilet training, they should be at least mostly potty trained by this time.  There will still be accidents.  This will occur more at night that during the day.  There are many things you can do to help with this and it will be a topic of a future article of mine.  Watch for it. 


As for getting themselves dressed, they should be able to do this better.  They will not be able to be a slave to fashion yet and will probably not be able to match clothes to each other or even to the season.  They might want to wear shorts in the winter time.  They can put on their shoes and even on the right foot most of the time.  However, they will most likely not be able to tie a secure bow yet. 


Fine motor skills are developing quite well.  They should be able to feed themselves with a spoon pretty good.  Fork use is getting better.  Buttoning buttons might be a challenge but some bigger buttons will be easier.  Snaps and zippers are hit and miss if they will be able to do it. 


On the gross motor skills front, hopping, running, and peddling tricycles are become easier.  There is a reason we call kids tricycle motors. They just want to go and go for the sake of going.  Even is a circle is going to them.  They can throw balls and sometimes catch bigger balls.  Kicking a ball is becoming easier.  Better watch out after balls comes knees, shins, and furniture.  They can climb on and off higher objects.  They can walk on their tip toes a lot better and they can hop forward with ease. 


Mental Development

They will be able to communicate pretty effective right now on basic needs and wants.  75% of what they say will be able to be understood.  They can talk in complete sentences, but maybe not elaborately. 


Their attention span is growing and they might be able to listen to short stories for 3-5 minutes.  They will also start to tell you the story in better detail that previously.  They are repeating words and sounds.  Word of warning, curse words they heard as far back as a month ago will seem to appear. 


A good way to teach these children in with sing-song types activities.  There is a reason the ABC song is the same music pattern as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  It promotes learning to songs they are familiar with.  If you can turn something you want them to learn into a song, they will remember it more.  They enjoy rhyming and singing songs.


The professional newspaper would be proud of the three year old.  They ask “who, what, where, and why” all the time.  Do not be surprise if every thing you say is questions with “why.” It is just part of the three year old inquisitive nature. 

3 years oldCredit: duplo.lego.com


They can start to put together simple puzzles, play with clay, and stacking Lego’s or blocks.  These are great activities, not only for the mental development, but also for fine motor development as well. 


They should be identifing at least one and maybe up to 10 printed letters of the alphabet.  They will be able to recognize and identify everyday sounds and quite a few animal sounds. Your child should indentify and  name 2-5 common colors and will count to 3.  That is how old they are and according to the chart will be identify that they are three.

Social Development

Erik Erickson Initiative versus Guilt stage has started.  They should be exploring more and this is the major development to occur.  If a parent of situation stymies the exploration phase, they may not be learning they way they should.  Let the children explore new things and new situations.  Do not rescue them too fast.  Make sure they are out of danger, but sit back and watch the natural scientist in your child come out. 

3 year oldCredit: www.oakmillpediatrics.com  

The Initiative versus Guilt stage is when the child starts to be proactive over their environment instead of reactive to what is thrust upon them.  The exploration is a key to learning to do this effectively.  When they become successful at this they will continue to show initiative in daily activities.  When they are not able to be successful with exploration and finds a lot of disapproval, guilt is the result. 


Your child will start to seek you out for help with more complex problems.  They may have done simple problems in the past but now they will actually be able to accept your suggestions and put them into action.  They can make simple choices between two things or ideas, such as going outside to play or playing in their room.  The outside usually wins. 


They will start to want to help around the house with simple household chores.  Don’t worry this will soon end and you will be back to doing all the housework yourself again.  I know you will miss doing it all. 


Your little child will enjoy making others laugh and smile.  They will do silly things just to get the attention.  You want to laugh at a lot of what they do, but some things you do not want to reinforce.  No matter how funny it seems when they “moon” people, do not laugh.  They will be still doing it years later, believe me. 


Parallel play increases but they will seek out other for play or companionship more often.  They enjoy playing with other children but will not like to share.  They still think of everything as “mine.”  You will also notice that they will just be sitting and observing other children.  It may seem like they are scared to go play with them or are seeking approval to go.  No, they are watching and learning.  They are still trying to decide if that person can be a “friend.”  You should never tell them the child is their friend, because if that child hits or attacks them, they will not trust your opinion of other people.  On top of that choosing friends should be a personal matter and not one your parents thrust upon you.  You can “EEEEEase” them into playing with certain children and do some encouraging, but never force. 


About this time and maybe before, the child will start to indentify themselves as a girl or a boy.  The reason I say "maybe before" is because they might not have been able to verbalize it.  Some research states that early on the baby might be capable to recognize the differences between boys and girls because of anatomical differences but also because of the way society treats boys and girls differently. 


A child who is three enjoys playing house and will have make believe play with themselves, stuffed animals, pets, and other household items.  They may imitate how they see the interactions between parents and between the parents and other people.  Remember they are sponges and will soak up anything they see or hear, good or bad. 



The terrible two are gone, but the thrilling threes are here.  Thrilling can be good and bad.  Make sure you are providing proper structure and an environment conducive to learning.  They are sponges and will absorb the good and bad.  You should be aware of the signals, behaviors, and emotions you are teaching them, either consciously or subconsciously. 


Take care of yourself and each other.  Make today and everyday a great day. 

Next article in this series:  in progress

Previous article in this series

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magnetic Responsibility Chart.
Amazon Price: $19.99 $12.18 Buy Now
(price as of May 14, 2014)
Learning Resources Pretend and Play School Set
Amazon Price: $36.99 $19.49 Buy Now
(price as of May 14, 2014)