Your 3-Year-Old


Discipline should be firm and consistent, but also loving and understanding. Praise your child’s good behavior and accomplishments, and if he falls short of a goal, don’t criticize or mock him. Children at this age are still very literal, so you have to say exactly what you mean. They will take you seriously, even when you’re joking. 

  • Three-year-olds like to do things for themselves.
  • Having security objects (such as a blanket or a favorite stuffed toy) is normal. Your child will give it up when he’s ready.
  • Keep family outings short and simple. 
  • If you are expecting another baby, talk to your child’s doctor about how to prepare your 3-year-old.
  • Be sure to spend time every day enjoying your child. Read, sing and play with him as often as you can.


For working parents, child care is already part of the family routine. For stay-at-home moms, preschool a few mornings a week can be a very good option. It gives moms a break and their child an opportunity to meet new friends and prepares him for a life of learning. Whether preschool is a success or a disaster depends on your child’s maturity and the quality of the preschool.

Better Beginnings, Arkansas’s quality rating system for licensed child care facilities, will be a great resource in helping you select the best child care for your baby. The Better Beginnings website ( in Arkansas and in Tennessee make it easy for you to:

  • Learn what to look for in a child care facility.
  • Know what questions to ask about child care.
  • Find licensed Arkansas child care providers in your area.
  • Compare child care providers based on their quality of their programs.

Both websites provide a checklist of everything you should consider when choosing a child care provider. Print out a checklist and take it with you when you visit a possible child care facility.

Early learning 

Three-year-olds are known for three things: questions, questions and more questions. Nothing is off-limits, so be prepared. Curiosity shows their desire to learn. Encourage this by:

  • Reading books to your child.
  • Making time to explore outdoors.
  • Allowing your child to play with others his age. Three-year-olds are usually very social. 
  • Accepting imaginary friends.
  • Limiting TV viewing, and watching programs for his age with your child.

Children this age begin recognizing gender differences and will correctly say “I am a girl” or “I am a boy.” When they ask questions about body parts, keep your answers simple and always use the correct terms for genitals (vagina, penis, testicles, vulva, etc.).



Your 3-year-old should be able to:

  • Boy wearing helmet playing on trikeName pictures in a book.
  • Name at least one color.
  • Know his own name, age and sex.
  • Use pronouns, like “he” or “she.”
  • Put on his own shirt (but will need help with shoes and buttons).
  • Start to ride a tricycle.
  • Jump in place and stand briefly on one foot.
  • Open doors.
  • Speak intelligibly 50% of the time. There may be temporary episodes of stuttering during this time.
  • Understand such words as “cold,” “tired” and “hungry.” Comprehends the meaning of “on” or “under” and “bigger” or “smaller.”

If you’re concerned, talk to your child’s doctor. 

As a parent, you know your child best. If your child is not meeting the milestones for his age, or if you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks or acts, talk to your child’s doctor and share your concerns. Don’t wait.

Eating right

A familiar complaint from mothers of 3-year-olds is that their child will not eat. Remember, children will eat when they are hungry. If you try to force your child to eat or make a big deal about eating, you’re setting yourself and your child up for eating problems down the road.

  • Three-year-olds will have definite food preferences and are able to feed themselves.
  • Avoid choking threats like nuts, hard candy, uncut grapes, hot dogs or raw vegetables. 
  • Limit sweets and avoid junk food.
  • Eat dinner together as a family whenever possible.
  • Begin teaching proper table manners, and encourage conversation during family meals.
  • Turn the TV off during meals.
  • Make sure your child’s caregiver is following your feeding instructions.


Little girl sucking her thumb

Oral health 

Thumb sucking

Many experts say to ignore thumb sucking in children who are preschool age or younger. Most young children stop sucking their thumbs on their own between ages 3 and 6.

Thumb sucking isn’t usually a concern until age 4 or 5, when the habit may begin affecting the roof of the mouth or how the teeth line up. If your child is a frequent thumb sucker at age 5, talk to your child in a gentle, supportive way about breaking the habit.



Dad reading to sonSleep

  • An afternoon nap is usually still needed by 3-year-olds.
  • Fears of the dark, thunder, lightning, etc., are common at this age.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime and naptime routine. Using a night light, security blanket or toy are all ways to help lessen nighttime fears.
  • Read to your child before he goes to sleep.
  • Nightmares are very scary. They can be triggered by changes or stress. Gently reassure your child and put him back to bed.






Stuttering is a speech disorder that involves repeating or drawing out a word, syllable or phrase, or stopping during speech and making no sound for certain syllables. Stuttering is common among young children when they’re learning to speak, and most outgrow it on their own. Stress, fatigue and excitement can make stuttering worse. For children whose stuttering is persistent, speech therapy often can help decrease stuttering.

As a parent, you can help by not making a big deal about your child’s stuttering and by providing a calm, relaxed environment at home where he feels comfortable speaking freely.

Stuttering may be accompanied by rapid eye blinks, tremors of the lips or jaw, and tension, tightness or movement of the face or upper body.

Call your child’s doctor if stuttering:

  • Lasts more than six months.
  • Becomes more frequent.
  • Occurs along with facial tension, tightness or movements.
  • Affects your child’s schoolwork or social interactions.
  • Causes emotional problems, such as fear or avoidance of situations where your child has to talk.
  • Continues beyond age 5 or first becomes noticeable when your child begins reading aloud. 


Bed wetting 

  • Many 3-year-olds that are successfully potty trained during the day may still not stay dry at night. Remember, the age children use the bathroom by themselves varies, and it is based only on a child’s readiness to be potty trained and the positive attitude of the parents.
  • Avoid putting too many demands on your child or shaming him about wearing diapers. Instead, let your child know how proud and happy you are about any potty successes.

Exercise and activity

Motor skills  

Little girl playing on slideRunning, skipping, kicking, jumping, hopping, catching and throwing are fundamental skills. Toddlers and preschoolers spend a lot of time trying to master these skills. These activities really do take some effort for children because they are learning to move in different ways without falling over. 

As infants, children relied mostly on information from their eyes and mouths; but as toddlers, they are beginning to process signals and cues from their brains and inner ears. Until they get used to it, this new focus can cause them to lose their balance. They can get overloaded with these signals while walking or running, and it takes all of their concentration just to stay upright. Putting all of their attention into balance control may also mean they don’t pay attention to the rules of the game and just run around wildly. With time, running, skipping, kicking, jumping and hopping all become easier without requiring as much concentration on staying upright. Then children can begin focusing on catching a ball and throwing it back. 

Your child’s safety begins with you  

The greatest risk to your child’s health continues to be car crashes. It is impossible for you to protect your child during an accident by just holding him, so make sure he is in the proper safety seat. Car crashes aren’t the only things that pose a danger to your child. Here are some safety tips that may be especially important now:

  • Begin teaching your child his full name, address and phone number and not to talk to strangers.
  • Insist on helmet use when you go bike riding.
  • Your child always belongs in the backseat of the car, and he should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. When he is about age 4 – if he has outgrown the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat’s manufacturer – you may move him up to a booster seat held in place by a seatbelt. 
  • If your child isn’t in the car with you, always walk behind your car before backing out of the driveway.
  • Never buy a home trampoline or allow children to use home trampolines.
  • Ensure your child wears a life vest if boating.
  • Don’t allow your child to play with plastic bags or balloons because suffocation from these objects can still occur at this age.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a car or a house.
  • There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. So reapply sunscreen often, especially when your child comes out of the water, and avoid being in the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun is the most dangerous.


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