It can be hard to look at our child and see anything other than the cute and adorable bundle of joy they are. However, if we peel back the layers, we can see that there is a lot of development that is going on beneath the surface.

Children are growing faster than they ever will again, and this is especially true for preschoolers. Preschoolers are just growing out of that toddler stage, but they still lack a lot of the development that school-aged children have. When we look at our three-year-olds, we need to understand what is going on with their development.

It can help parents understand why they act the way they are, why they make the choices they make, and what they cannot do. When parents have a strong understanding of that, they can help their development. They know what their child is capable of, and they can pull on their strengths and help them work through their weaknesses.

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We are going to take a detailed look at three-year-olds. We are going to look at where they are at each developmental stage, and what their behavior should be. It is important to remember that every child develops at their own pace, and these are just averages. If mom is concerned about her child, she should speak to their medical provider.

Social & Emotional Milestones

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You may notice that your three-year-old is becoming quite a social butterfly. They are starting to branch off, and they are not as shy as they were when they were a toddler. According to CDC, there are a lot of social/emotional developments that are happening at this age. One of the biggest ones that parents may notice is that they can leave them somewhere without a huge meltdown.

If they drop them off at preschool, they should not get upset at all, or it doesn’t take long for them to calm down when you leave. Your child will also start to reach out to those around them. Toddlers are known for being shy, but by the time they hit three years old, they are going to start really noticing the other children around them and join them to play games.


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Now that your child is three, you may have noticed that they have been talking up a storm. Three-year-olds have found their voice, and they are not afraid to use it, and their language development has come a long way now. They should be able to say their own name, describe actions, and ask the five “w” questions.

They are also usually able to communicate well enough that the surrounding adults can understand what they are saying. Language develops individually, and some may be a bit behind, but they are coming there. Gone are the days when mom has to try and guess what her child wants because her now three-year-old will tell her.

What Can Three-Year-Olds Do?

Child making rainbow with playdoh

We now know that they can play with others, and they are on their way to communicating, but what else can a three-year-old do? According to CHOC, a child at this age is working on all kinds of fine and gross motor skills. They are able to run and jump with no effort, and they can usually navigate a staircase on their own. They will be able to wash their own hands, and you will notice that their play skills have grown, as they can stack up to 10 blocks independently.

Your child should also be able to feed themselves independently at this age and get themselves dressed. They may not be able to manage buttons or zippers yet, but they are on their way. They also usually have full bladder/bowel control, so they are either potty-trained, or they may be ready for potty training. When it comes to sleep, three-year-olds usually still sleep about 13 hours every single day, with most of them still having an afternoon nap.

Three-Year-Old Behavior

via Pexels/Monstera

Mom may be waiting for the day when her child throws tantrums, and while children get better with this as their age, there may still be some at three years old. According to Raising Children, three-year-olds are starting to understand their body, and their emotions. They understand that their emotions and feelings are theirs, and this could mean that they still throw the occasional tantrum, but it should still be less than they were throwing before.

At three, children are starting to become fearful of imaginary things. This is when mom may see more nightmares happening, or fears of the dark and small spaces begin. Children should also be showing some empathy for others at this stage and should show concern for others around them and be concerned about their feelings.

The “Uncomfy” Stuff

Man with his hand over his face

There is something that mom should be aware of when it comes to her three-year-old, and it may make her a bit uncomfortable, but it is entirely normal. According to Just In Time Parenting, children start to really understand the differences in gender when they are three. They are going to start to get curious about what their body looks like, and the bodies of those who are different from them.

It is not uncommon for parents to get phone calls from teachers that their child and a friend were attempting to take a look at each other’s private parts. This can be concerning, but it is usually nothing to worry about. If this happens, it is important to not react too harshly, as your child does not understand why what they did was wrong when they thought they were just learning. Instead, have a conversation with them about gender, and body parts but explain the importance of privacy.

When To Worry

Even though moms know that all children grow and develop at their own rate, they may still be concerned if they think their child is too far behind. There are some things that mom can watch out for that would indicate that something is wrong. If her child does not make eye contact, is not using three-word sentences, or has trouble hearing/seeing, this is when mom should seek a medical professional. It is also important to look out for physical milestones that they have not reached, like if they are clumsy most of the time, or if they cannot handle small objects in their hands.

Sources: Just In Time Parenting, CDC, CHOC, Raising Children