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What To Expect From Your 3-Year-Old: They Can Dress Themselves, Take Turns, And More!

A checklist of developmental milestones and red flags you need to watch out for.

You’ve learned (and discovered) the month-by-month developmental milestones for your baby, as well as the milestones for 2-year-olds. But now your child is approaching the (feisty) age of three and in your preparation for dealing with a threenager, you may have forgotten that there is a checklist (and watchlist) for your 3-year-old’s development and milestones.

The start of early childhood

There are different stages of development in a person’s life. When your child reaches the age of three, they leave the stage of infancy and officially start their early childhood stage. This is when your child would begin to learn to be more independent, as they would seek more playtime with other children.

Early childhood is an important part of your child’s life as it is the stage when they gain basic academic skills such as learning to read, write, count numbers, and identify colors. That is why it is also called the preschool age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as children progress to their early childhood years, their world will start to open up and widen. Children will begin to focus more on individuals, adults and children alike, outside of the family. They also say that the way your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves offers important clues about your child’s development.

The milestone checklist

Developmental milestones are things most children can do at a certain age. According to the CDC, these are the following milestones you should be able to see in your 3-year-old:

Cognitive milestones (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 using a 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
watch now

Social and emotional milestones

  • Copies adults and friends
  • Shows affection for friends without prompting
  • Knows when to take turns, for example, when playing 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 (shows independence)
  • May get upset with major changes in routine
  • Can dress and undress self

Language and communication milestones

  • Follows instructions with 2 or 3 steps
  • Can name most familiar things
  • Understands words like “in,” “on,” and “under”
  • Says first name, age, and gender
  • 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

Physical development and movement milestones

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

Milestone watchlist

Because every child develops in their own pace, it is impossible to tell exactly when they will accomplish a certain skill. Some reach their milestones earlier while others achieve it a little later. Do not panic when your child seems to have difficulty performing the skills mentioned in the checklist above. 

Talk to your child's pediatrician about the milestones your child has reached. You can also consult with them about any concerns and they should be able to inform you on what to expect next.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you need to alert your pediatrician if your child shows any of the following signs of possible developmental delay in your 3-year-old.

  • Cannot throw a ball overhand
  • Cannot jump in place
  • Has difficulty riding a three-wheeled bike
  • Cannot grasp a crayon between thumb and fingers
  • Has difficulty scribbling
  • Cannot stack four blocks
  • Still clings or cries when mom or dad leaves
  • Is not interested in interactive games
  • Ignores other children
  • Does not respond to people apart from family members
  • Does not engage in role play or make believe
  • Resists dressing up, sleeping, or using the toilet
  • Lashes out with a lack of self-control when angry or upset
  • Cannot copy a circle
  • Does not talk using sentences with more than three words
  • Does not use "me" and "you" appropriately

The CDC also recommend you to act early and talk to your child’s doctor if they display other possible developmental delay signs such as falling down a lot or having trouble with climbing stairs, drools or has very unclear speech, does not understand simple instructions, does not make eye contact, or loses skills he once had.

Click here to read more about developmental delays in toddlers and children.

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