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Your Child at 3 Years


How your child plays, learns, speaks, acts and moves offers important clues about your child’s development. Developmental milestones are the things most children can do by a certain age. Check the milestones your child has reached by his or her 3rd birthday and talk with your child’s doctor at every visit about the milestones your child has reached and what to expect next.

What Most Children Do at This Age:

Social / Emotional

  • Copies adults and friends
  • Shows affection for friends without prompting
  • play small buttonTakes turns in games
  • Shows concern for a crying friend
  • play small buttonUnderstands 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 o Dresses and undresses self

Language / Communication

  • play small buttonFollows instructions with 2 or 3 steps
  • play small buttonCan name most familiar things
  • play small buttonUnderstands words like “in,” “on” and “under”
  • Says first name, age and sex
  • play small buttonNames a friend
  • play small buttonSays words like “I,” “me,” “we” and “you” and some plurals (cars, dogs, cats)
  • play small buttonTalks well enough for strangers to understand most of the time
  • play small buttonCarries 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
  • play small buttonUnderstands 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
  • play small buttonRuns easily
  • Pedals a tricycle (3-wheel bike)
  • Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step



Act Early by Talking to Your Child’s Doctor if 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

Tell your child’s doctor or nurse if you notice any of these signs of possible developmental delay for this age. For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/concerned or call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).


Help Your Child Learn and Grow 

What You Can Do for Your 3-Year-Old

You can help your child learn and grow. Talk, read, sing and play together every day. Below are some activities to enjoy with your 3-year-old child today.


  • 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 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 a time out for 30 seconds to 1 minute in a chair or in his 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 she can go up and down easily, encourage 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.


Learn the Signs. Act Early.

Learn the Signs. Act Early.

For more resources and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call 1.800.CDC-INFO (232-4636). 

Or Visit the CDC's Website

Content provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program. The milestone checklist is not a substitute for a standardized, validated developmental screening tool.

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