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The Wonderful Three-Year-Old

— University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Nov 12, 2009

Overview

Age three marks an exciting time for both you and your child. At this age, children are full of energy and are very enthusiastic about living. As a parent, you can reinforce this enthusiasm by focusing on your child's positive qualities.

Your child is very curious. He watches and listen to everything that goes on around him. He will ask a lot of questions about things he sees and do not understand. Be patient and take the time to answer his questions. This is how your child learns. When you have a positive attitude about answering questions, you encourage his love of learning.

These are special times to interact with your child. When you explain an idea to him, make eye contact and get down on his physical level. Also, keep your explanation simple. Your three-year-old is not looking for an in-depth answer. A few words are usually enough to satisfy his curiosity.

As your child grows and learns, his third year will be filled with changes. Here are some ways he will develop physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Physical Development

A three-year-old can move quite well. He can run quickly, jump, kick, swing, and pedal a tricycle. He has good balance and can stand on one foot for a few seconds or carry a drink without spilling it. Make sure to provide a safe environment where your child can exercise and move his large muscles. Take him to the park and encourage him to climb the monkey bars and swing on the swings. Let him play with various toys such as a ball, a tricycle, or a wagon that he can use in active play. Also play active games with him such as catch or follow the leader.

At three, a child uses small muscles more frequently. Your child can scribble with crayons, handle a fork and spoon, and use buttons and zippers. With greater control of his hands, your three-year- old will be able to do more tasks for himself. He will be able to feed himself, help dress and undress himself, wash and dry his own hands, and brush his own teeth. Be sure to allow enough time so your child can do things on his own. When he does things on his own, your child will feel successful and competent.

Sometimes your child will become frustrated by what he cannot do. Encourage your child and give him plenty of opportunities to practice. You might even buy or make a toy that helps him practice skills such as using buttons and zippers. As your child succeeds with each task, praise him for a job well done. Try to make your praise specific by describing what you see. For example, say, "You did a great job dressing yourself! You put on your socks and buttoned your shirt and combed your hair."

Social Development

A three-year-old feels a strong need to please his parents, unlike a two-year-old, who often resists. He imitates the way they talk and act and tries to conform to their expectations. Because of a three-year-old's desire to please, he will often be cooperative.

Your child will be very aware of what you and other adults think and say about him. He will understand if you criticize him to someone else. Instead, let him "overhear" you say good things about him to other adults. This is a good way to nurture his self-esteem.

A three-year-old can be lively and talkative. He has his own thoughts and ideas and he enjoys sharing them. When your three-year-old tells you about his experiences, take time to listen to him. Show interest and ask him questions. For example, say, "You saw a dog on your walk with Granddad? What did the dog look like?"

A three-year-old likes to be around other children. He will play alongside other children, using the same toys or participating in the same game. Play time for three- year-olds can lead to fights and tears. A three-year-old can understand the idea of taking turns and he may understand that other people have feelings. However, because he is self-centered, it is still very difficult for him to share. His lack of social and communication skills might cause him to hit or shove to get what he wants. Monitor your child's play with his playmates. Encourage him to use words instead of hitting to express what he wants.

A three-year-old is naturally self-centered. He truly believes the world revolves around him. However, he is beginning to understand that other people have feelings and needs, too. For example, if you hurt yourself, your child might give you a hug of comfort, or if he hears a baby cry, he might tell you the baby needs you. You can encourage your child's awareness of others' feelings and needs by talking about them. For example, you might say, "Grandma feels sad today. Let's give her a hug." Or if your child asks for more juice, you might say, "Please wait a moment while I finish my cereal."

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