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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 aren't 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. 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.

Congratulations, you've survived your child's babyhood — and also the difficult journey through the unmistakably terrible twos. Now that he's 3 years old, you hope for smoother sailing ahead, but what should you expect?

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

Social skills, both fine and gross motor skills and language skills have improved. Far different than your 2-year-old, kids who are 3 are easier to understand and have a better grasp of communicating their needs. Here are some of the milestones to expect from this age group.

3-year-old developmental milestones

3-year-old social skills

  • no longer a toddler
  • has become more independent
  • less selfish than 2-year-olds 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 gender-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, fingerpaint and crayons
  • can walk up and down stairs while alternating feet
  • can bend over and not fall down
  • 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
  • should be able to say her name
  • answers the question, "How old are you?"
  • 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

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

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