Parenting Feisty 3-Year-Olds

Most people agree that raising a child is not an easy task. We parents don't get issued a rulebook or guidelines which guarantee raising a happy child into a well-balanced adult. Parents of young children almost always worry now and then about their parenting skills but if you are aware of what to expect from your 3-year-old as far as development, milestones and normal behavior go, you'll both enjoy that journey to 4.

3 Year Old with Crayons

You've survived your child's babyhood and also the thorny journey through the unmistakably difficult terrible twos. Now he's 3 and you hope for smoother sailing.

You look at your beautiful child and realize he's become a smarter but more demanding — and probably impolite and self-centered — little person. You might ask yourself these questions. Am I too lenient? Too strict? Is my child doing what he should be at doing this age?

What's normal behavior for a 3-year-old

Hurray! Social skills, both fine and gross motor and language skills have improved. If you know what's coming, what's normal and what milestones to expect, the future is less uncertain.

3-year-old developmental milestones

3-year-old social skills

  • no longer a toddler
  • has become more independent
  • less selfish than 2 and exhibits less aggressive behavior
  • more aware of and sensitive to the feelings of others
  • more responsive to other children and able to develop friendships
  • capable of taking turns and sharing toys
  • will begin to identify with his own sex and traditionally related activities
  • more interested in structured games
  • spends much of his time in fantasy activity and will have imaginary friends (This is actually a very creative way for your child to sample different activities, behaviors and emotions.)
  • sense of time has become clearer and he'll know his daily routine and will try to figure out the routines of others
  • will have a capacity to understand his own place spatially amongst the family and is able to view you as a separate person
  • wants to please you — will be less dependent on you because his sense of identity is growing stronger
  • will exhibit a feisty attitude on occasion and resist your requests

3-year-old motor skills

  • losing his baby fat, developing more muscle control and gaining in height
  • is quite agile and can catch a ball with arms extended
  • jumps down from object 18 inches high using two-footed takeoff and landing
  • will be interested in tools such as scissors, paper, paint and crayons
  • draws a circle
  • cuts paper into two pieces
  • concentration is required when learning to master precision finger and hand movements

3-year-old language skills

  • will have mastered the basic rules of language and should have an active vocabulary of 600 or more words with 80 percent intelligibility
  • able to talk in sentences of three or fours words and imitate most speech sounds but still has thoughts and emotions that can't be conveyed through language
  • uses plurals and pronouns
  • may mispronounce words and will become extremely frustrated when he is not understood

Delayed speech in three-year-old is a problem >>

Next page: 3-year-old parenting and survival tips >>

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Comments on "Your 3-year-old: Development, behavior and parenting tips"

Kelsey November 03, 2013 | 10:44 AM

@posh- The idea that boys have to like trucks and blue and girls have to like dolls and pink is something completely dictated by the society we live in. "A social construction is something that doesn't exist independently in the "natural" world, but is instead an invention of society. Cultural practices and norms give rise to the existence of social constructs and govern the practices, customs, and rules concerning the way we use/view/understand them. In other words, we all act as if they exist, and because of our intersubjective agreement, they do." Does it matter to you what other people will say when they see him in a pink shirt? Does it matter to you if he wants to wear a tutu and a crown instead of a firefighter suit when he dresses up? It shouldn't, in my opinion. Let him be free to express himself in any way he chooses, as long as its a safe outlet. If you are afraid this is going to lead to him identifying as a female later down the line(which is a possibility but most likely he's just trying to say he likes pink! A color isn't inherently girl-like or boy-like...don't overthink it), oppressing him now is just going to make him more confused as he grows up and most likely alienate him from talking to you about such things years down the road.

Kelsey November 03, 2013 | 10:29 AM

For all of you in situations where your kids are violant or who won't stay in their beds, even those of you who are thinking that time outs do not work: they do, but odds are you aren't doing them correctly or you aren't being consistent. Seriously, watch super nanny, write down the steps and follow them EXACTLY(don't even skip one step....if they get out, put them back even if it means hundreds of times.) Get the whole family on board and make a commitment to change. I really think Jo nails it on the head with her ideas on spanking: essentially you are teaching them that if someone does something that you don't like, it's okay to hit them for it.

Debbie October 25, 2013 | 9:35 AM

Help needed...my 3 yr old grand daughter is a sweet lil girl at times but she can turn like a dime and be a horrible lil person. She cant speak but only a few one sillable words. she whispers like a conversation to herself or a picture in her own mumble like language. she throws herself hard on the floor or runs hard into a wall not really feeling or caring of any pain she may get? We dont know what to pinpoint this behavior to. My daughter in-law was so worried when she gave birth to this child because of her alcohol or drug use. It was not a very good time for her pregnancy. The biological father is out of the picture from the time he found out about the baby. My son has stayed and married her and is raising my grand daughter as his own. What can we do to help this lil girl with her behavior and will she be able to mainstream in school?

Amanda September 20, 2013 | 7:41 PM

Have any of you ever considered talking to your children/grandchildren? a toddler is much smarter than we think, They may not have the vocabulary to make us adults understand what they're going through. Talking to them and letting them know that you're there for them, and that you love them no matter what is enough for them to re-evaluate there behavior. Most of these that I have read, seems to me they're all looking for attention from someone thats close to them, or something is bothering them. Raising children requires a lot of patience. Yelling, isn't going to help anything. Letting them know and explaining that there behavior is wrong will eventually get through to them. Repetition is huge when it comes to toddlers.

posh September 05, 2013 | 6:19 AM

I have a 3yrs old son whom i love to bit,he somthimes behaves like a gal and preferes things in a pink ,is this a normal behavour or should i be wooried that he seems likes being the opposite .

Krystal August 23, 2013 | 8:22 AM

I have a 3 year old that will be 4 in Dec. He is out of control and I can't get any help with him. He will use the bathroom maybe once a day and potty his pants the rest of the day. He will not stay in his bed all night. If I don't do what he wants then the fight is on. He spent an hour in time out today because I told him to go to the bathroom and he didn't want to. So he told me that that, "I can't know how to walk" but I told him there was Ice cream in the bathroom trust me he could walk. I have many buise's all over my body from him hitting and kicking me. I also took him to see a therapist in which she was great and I learned news ways of dealing with him that all worked for about 10 months now we are right back to square one. At this point I can't deal with him anymore and I don't want to. I've even had thoughts of giving him away.

jesus July 14, 2013 | 2:16 PM

i have a 3 year old (his birthday was yesterday). he has not developed any language skills besides a 10 word vocabulary and rarely uses his voice to communicate. On the other hand i have seen he is able to do a lot more things than communicate. he understands what he is told to do and he knows how to get exactly what he wants on his own. He is very independent. he feeds, cleans and enjoys himself. he has grasped how to use the computer for his entertainment and game consoles like the ps3 and the wii are his favorites . He watches and plays on them the entire day he can search for specific movies and games that he wants to see and knows the function of the buttons and exactly what they do. Is this normal behaviour? even in the video games he knows what he has to do.

Testimony June 28, 2013 | 2:29 PM

My 3 year old girl is active and restless. Disturb while service is going on. She is attention seeker

Shirley Thrall June 22, 2013 | 10:02 AM

I have a 3 and a half year old granddaughter who has become very aggressive. She has hit a 4 year old cousin for no reason like a guy punch, slam a piano lid down on her 11 year old girl cousin. She is not around them very much and the 4 yr old is very quite sweet little boy and the old one is patient and nice with her. She is throwing fits and hits her 11 yr old brother who is not one who picks at her. They have tried spanking her on the bottom and seems to help calm down at the time but she will do it again. When I have told her no she will look at me and scatch my hand as she looks at me in a ugly way. What has happen to this little girl. Could to much sugar have this kind of effect and what is the best approach to turning this around. My son is worried and not sure what to do that is the best way to handle it. HElp soon to get this under control as quick as they can.

Mel June 18, 2013 | 6:32 AM

I have a 3 1/2 year old, who when it is only myself and her in the house, is mostly well behaved, the minute anybody else steps in the house, normally grandparents or friends, she says NO, and throws herself on the floor, and it can take ages before she will go near anybody!, if anybody has experienced the same, or can give me any tips, please let me know, as it is very embarassing, and ruins social ocassions, we have tried ignoring it, but that doesnt seem to make any difference, she quite often tells them to go hom.

kim armstrong June 13, 2013 | 5:57 AM

hi ive recently gained a residence order of my 3 year old grandson with court orders that he goes to see his birth mother twice a week at the start everything was ok he,d go with his mum but recently he wont go he crys and gets really distressed and wont go with her anyone got any ideas to what I can do im at my wits end I hate having to leave him crying

Da May 26, 2013 | 7:02 PM

My 3 year old girl is sweet, but whenever we say no to what she wants, she is out of control. When i am there, she will just stick with me, but when im not around, she seems to socialize with other adults. She refuses to play with new kids, but she loves her cousins. She doesnt speak much language like other 3 year old kids, but she uses alot of body language. She understand our instructions clearly and follow them like throw this in the bin. Take the bottle on the table. How to make her talk more and play with other kids? How to reduce that tantrums? I cried the whole night when I searched on google and they say if kids at this age dont play with other kids may lead to autism. A bit relief to see many parents have similar issues.

Steph April 23, 2013 | 11:59 AM

I have a 3 yr old who is very smart. Smarter than my son at the same age and very imaginative. Her best friends are her stuffed animals and me when I haven't made her mad for not giving her something. She doesn't like loud sounds but she is very loud. Lol she still can go into fit mode when she doesn't feel like she is in control but I get through it with patience and prayer. What I have realized is that kids go through stages just like Frued predicted even though I am not to fawn of him. When my son wasn't progressing in speech like he should have been I needed help. Know that if you alone can't handle it that there is help out there. There beginning is so important that it takes Grandma, grandpa, teachers, pastors, close friends, family, other children and the rest of the world to help raise a child. Social skills, independence, language skills, motor skills and so much more help lead our children to self actualization when they grow up and sometimes it does takes an Army and a whole lot of patience. Our kids are not perfect and sometimes we can get jealous when someone's else's child is behaving better than our owns. There is so much that you can do as a parent until you realize that maybe my child needs more than me to raise him or her. I say don't be afraid to seek help, dont be afraid to lean on family, don't be quick to let someone diagnose your child with a disorder, don't be quick to lay a hand and don't forget about God for those that are religious. I am still learning myself and have to take a deep breath a lot but I also have a lot of love for my baby or toddler or sometimes think she is grown woman child. Lol I also give lots of hugs cause they usually help when I get frustrated. I had to stop writing about 3 times cause I had to give her peanut butter on a spoon, help her with the clock on ABC mouse, turn the tv down cause it was too loud, help her build a pillow castle and more. Lol Sometimes we just got to smile our way through it.

dave April 13, 2013 | 11:27 PM

it's natural for a child around this age to touch their private areas. they are growing and learning about new things every day. i dont understand how anyone could really be concerned about this more than the fact that up until full term schooling, the people commenting on herd are the primary educators for these children, and whilst you proclaim your children to be advanced with counting etc, half of you spell terribly and saying a child knows "the alphbet" is a shameful thing to say. lol

Hanorah March 18, 2013 | 1:11 AM

Grace I had to read ur comment twice as I could NOT believe you said you are severely beating your child so I think yes you do need help not so much for your sons learning but for your anger management... This would be a start if you let your health advisor know about this As its obvious to me you both need help..one more beat to your poor son could go to far! I also have a 3 yr old son but god forbid me if I ever thought of hitting him x

Susan March 02, 2013 | 11:52 PM

Our 3 year old is highly imaginative and loves playing games where he is one of the characters of a television series. Lately he has started saying he's Rachel. She is an adult family friend who he has met a few times. This has gone on now for a few weeks and we are a little concerned. We have ignored it, played along with it but wonder is his obsession with being a person of the opposite part of normal play?

Heather February 05, 2013 | 9:26 AM

What the heck grace, why would you beat your kid severely? I can't believe you would write that!

shibani January 16, 2013 | 1:03 AM

Hello. My 3 yr old son is too friendly. He talks to anyone on the street or in the mall he talks to any stranger. If i yell at him he yells back. m worried . the other problem is when he meets kids his age he starts pushing them and hurting them does not listen to me or my husband. what should i do. pls help

chris & jenn January 14, 2013 | 5:38 PM

We have a 3yr old daughter that will not listen at all. She runs away in public wherever we go. She always talks back, cops an attitude over everything, tells us she doesn't loves us and hurts the dog. No matter what punishment she gets, it doesn't matter. She acknowledges what she has done wrong and then continues to do it again but worse...it makes no sense?!?! We are out of options and wife is past her wits end.....what do we do? We need help!!!!

sarah January 08, 2013 | 11:00 AM

Hello i have a 3yr old boy and a 11mnths old baby boy. my 3yr old is out of conrol i.ve tryed the naughty sit it doesnt work he kicks n hits n bites n yells at me he never listens to me and his hurting his brother my 3yr old doesnt talk much as well i take the kids to the beach an parks nearly every day my 3yr old son doesnt listen i feel like iam going crazy he wont sleep at a good time please help me people say take him out during the day i do that but he still acts up an beens naughty please help

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