Your Child at Three Years

What Most Children Do at this Age:


  • Copies adults and friends
  • Shows affection for friends without prompting
  • Takes turns in games
  • Shows concern for a crying friend
  • Understands the idea of “mine” and “his” or “hers”
  • Shows a wide range of emotions
  • Separates easily from mom and dad
  • May get upset with major changes in routine
  • Dresses and undresses self


  • Follows instructions with 2 or 3 steps
  • Can name most familiar things
  • Understands words like “in,” “on,” and “under”
  • Says first name, age, and sex
  • Names a friend
  • Says words like “I,” “me,” “we,” and “you” and some plurals (cars, dogs, cats)
  • Talks well enough for strangers to understand most of the time
  • Carries on a conversation using 2 to 3 sentences

Cognitive (learning, thinking, problem-solving)

  • Can work toys with buttons, levers, and moving parts
  • Plays make-believe with dolls, animals, and people
  • Does puzzles with 3 or 4 pieces
  • Understands what “two” means
  • Copies a circle with pencil or crayon
  • Turns book pages one at a time
  • Builds towers of more than 6 blocks
  • Screws and unscrews jar lids or turns door handle

Movement/Physical Development

  • Climbs well
  • Runs easily
  • Pedals a tricycle (3-wheel bike)
  • Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step

The Milestone Child Development Chart is shown Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

What You Can Do for Your Three-Year-Old:

  • Go to play groups with your child or other places where there are other children, to encourage getting along with others.
  • Work with your child to solve the problem when he/she is upset.
  • Talk about your child’s emotions. For example, say, “I can tell you feel mad because you threw the puzzle piece.” Encourage your child to identify feelings in books.
  • Set rules and limits for your child, and stick to them.
  • If your child breaks a rule, give him/her a time out for 30 seconds to 1 minute in a chair or in his/her room. Praise your child for following the rules.
  • Give your child instructions with 2 or 3 steps. For example, “Go to your room and get your shoes and coat.”
  • Read to your child every day. Ask your child to point to things in the pictures and repeat words after you.
  • Give your child an “activity box” with paper, crayons, and coloring books. Color and draw lines and shapes with your child.
  • Play matching games. Ask your child to find objects in books or around the house that are the same.
  • Play counting games. Count body parts, stairs, and other things you use or see every day.
  • Hold your child’s hand going up and down stairs. When he/she can go up and down easily, encourage him/her to use the railing.
  • Play outside with your child. Go to the park or hiking trail. Allow your child to play freely and without structured activities.