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What’s normal (kinda annoying) 3-year-old behavior and what’s not

If you’re the parent of a 3-year-old, you’re probably reading this with one eye open — because your other eye has been poked with a pencil or spat in by that tiny little monster running around your house. Yes, the struggle is real, and the fun hardly ends after you make it through the baby years. For many parents, the terrible twos are a walk in the park compared to the 3-year-old horror show that is to come.

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? 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.

More: Pooping during childbirth was far from the worst part of my delivery

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 Up: 3-year-old survival tips

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