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

Beth Stewart is a married Canadian freelance writer with three grown children and a granddaughter Isabelle whom she adores. She lives on a river, watches soaps, goes camping, loves to dance, collects Mickey Sorcerers' and is in the proce...

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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