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Aim

The aim of this article is to provide insight into the developmental milestones that parents can anticipate when a child is three years old; and provide some information on what delays may be a reason to speak to a pediatrician.

Outline

Introduction
What are developmental milestones?
Motor skills
Cognition
Language
Social and emotional skills
What if I’m concerned about my child?

Coming soon to this article

In the future, we hope to add helpful resources – including links to vetted third-parties – on child development; and provide an assortment of activities and games that you can work on and play alongside your child to support their growth.

Introduction

Your child has turned three! Not only have they officially exited the terrible twos, but they’ve also learned a myriad of skills and abilities during the early years of their life. At three years old, your child will start showing incredible growth across all developmental domains. It’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily an immediate cause for concern, though, if they’re delayed in attaining or reaching a milestone. Children all develop at a different pace, so it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when your child will learn to walk up the stairs without help or count up to 10.

If you do have an instinct that your child is truly struggling, or if your child has missed more than a few milestones, then it might be time to consult your pediatrician or family doctor for help and advice.

What are developmental milestones?

The journey from babyhood to toddlerhood is marked by developmental milestones.

Developmental milestones are simply the skills or abilities that a child will have generally acquired by a certain age, as compared to other healthy or typically-developing children. These markers are sometimes classified by what are known as developmental domains. Each of these domains corresponds to a different type of skill or ability. For example, motor skills are abilities that involve children planning and carrying out movements.

Motor skills

So, just what are motor skills? When we swim across our favorite pond in the summer or hit a tennis ball at our opponent during a friendly match, we’re using an assortment of abilities that allow us to plan and carry out our movements. These are also known as motor skills; and like most other things, children pick these skills up incrementally as they grow.

By age three, children typically can:

Gross motor skills

  • Jump, hop and stand on one foot up to five seconds
  • Walk upstairs and downstairs without support
  • Kick a ball in front of them
  • Throw a ball overhand
  • Catch a bounced ball most of the time
  • Move forward and backward with agility
  • Pedal a tricycle
  • Bend over easily
  • Run and walk without tripping over their own feet

Fine motor skills

  • Draw a person with 2 to 4 body parts
  • Use safety scissors
  • Draw or copy circles and squares with a crayons or pencil
  • Begin to copy some capital letters
  • Play with toys that have small moving parts and/or buttons
  • Build towers of more than 6 blocks
  • Turn the pages of a book one at a time
  • Use a cup, fork, and spoon with ease
  • Get dressed, although they usually still need some help managing buttons, zippers, and snaps
  • Hold pens and pencils using thumb and forefinger
  • Screw or unscrew jar lids or turn door handle

Cognition

Fine motor skills include learning how to grip a peencil.

Cognition relates to processes, like thinking and memorizing, that allow children to learn new things and understand the world around them.

By age three, children typically can:

  • Understand the concept of counting
  • Approach problems from a single point of view
  • Start understanding time in terms of morning, night, and days of the week
  • Can work toys with buttons, levers, and moving parts
  • Play make-believe with dolls, animals, and people
  • Turn book pages one at a time
  • Know their own name, age, and gender
  • Grasp the concept of “two” (but not higher numbers)
  • Memorize a string of numbers (without counting) or the alphabet
  • Enjoy working with puzzles that have 3 or 4 pieces

Language

From babbling to carrying on a conversation, a child’s language ability will also continue to progress as they grow. Learning to listen and make themselves heard intelligibly are pivotal parts of this skillset.

By age three, children typically can:

  • Understand the concepts of “same” and “different”
  • Speak clearly enough for strangers to understand
  • Remember and retell favorite stories
  • Follow commands with 2-3 steps, like “pick out your PJs and brush your teeth”
  • Have conversations using 5-6 words in a sentence, and speaking 2-3 sentences at a time
  • Know how to use pronouns like “I,” “you,” and “we,” and knows some plural words like “cats” and “cars”
  • Name friends
  • Name common objects
  • Understand comparison or location-based words like like “in,” “on,” and “under”
  • Say their first name, age, and gender
  • Use the basic rules of grammar, but make mistakes with words that don’t follow the rules, like saying “mouses” instead of “mice”
  • Understand words like in, on, behind, and next
  • Ask “wh” questions like “why?” to get more information about things
  • Choose words to indicate tense: “I walked with daddy” instead of “I walk with daddy”
  • Use words or sentences that show an awareness of concepts such as time, size and how things work
  • Learn new words quickly
  • Understand most of what they hear

Social and emotional skills

Social and emotional skills continue to progress when a child reaches age 3.

By age three, children typically can:

  • Show interest in new experiences
  • Cooperate with other children
  • Engage in inventive, fantasy play
  • Dress and undress without help
  • Find simple ways to solve arguments and disagreements
  • Show more independence
  • Imagine that many unfamiliar images may be “monsters”
  • View themselves as a whole person involving body, mind, and feelings
  • Copy what adults and friends do
  • Part with parents leave without becoming too upset
  • Understand the idea of “mine,” “his,” and “hers”
  • Enjoy helping with tasks around the house
  • Be potty-trained
  • Show affection for friends and family without prompting
  • Enjoy routine and get upset with big changes
  • Take turns when playing with other children
  • Start being able to comfort and show concern for an unhappy friend without prompting
  • Play “real life” with toys like play kitchens
  • Show (but maybe not name) a variety of emotions beyond happy, sad, and mad

What if I’m concerned about my child?

It’s natural to be a vigilant parent and to be concerned if your child does not meet a milestone. However, it’s crucial to understand that children all develop at a different pace; and so if a child is delayed in attaining a given milestone, it usually should not be a major cause for concern. If you notice your child really seems to be struggling, or if they have missed more than one milestone, it may be time to consult a professional.

Speak to your pediatrician or family doctor if your child:

  • Cannot throw a ball overhand
  • Cannot jump in place
  • Cannot ride a tricycle
  • Cannot grasp a crayon between thumb and fingers
  • Has difficulty scribbling
  • Cannot stack four blocks
  • Still clings to you or cries whenever you or another parent leaves
  • Shows no interest in interactive games
  • Ignores other children
  • Doesn’t respond to people outside the family
  • Resists dressing, sleeping and using the toilet
  • Lashes out without any self-control when angry or upset
  • Cannot copy a circle
  • Doesn’t use “me” and “you” appropriately
  • Falls down a lot or has trouble with stairs
  • Drools or has very unclear speech
  • Can’t work simple toys (such as peg boards, simple puzzles, turning handle)
  • Doesn’t speak in sentences of more than three words
  • Doesn’t play pretend or make-believe with other children or toys
  • Doesn’t make eye contact
  • Loses skills they once had
  • Cannot balance on one foot
  • Can’t draw a simple line or cross, use cutlery or undo buttons
  • Doesn’t seem to understand simple or 2-3 step instructions