Some parents feel like when their child gets out of the toddler phase life gets a little easier.  Parents may hope that when their child hits three it should all start to be a little less work.  That isn’t always the case. 

Three year old’s have big emotions, big imaginations, and big ways of expressing themselves.  Working through all of this can be quite the handful. 


Emotions and Tantrums

Three year old’s can still throw tantrums and have huge meltdowns.  Usually at the worst possible moment and place.  This is still normal for this age. 

Three year old’s are learning to become little negotiators.  You may start to hear them give you options or ask for 2 more minutes, to try to delay or postpone whatever you need them to do.  When you stand firm and don’t give in, a tantrum may come your way.  This is because your three year old is trying to self regulate their emotions they are experiencing.  This does not mean you should give into your child all the time to avoid the tantrums and the meltdowns.  Just be wiser about your battles that you pick and choose. 

It can be hard for a three year old to learn and sort through their emotions.  Be patient and try to stay calm when the tantrums happen.  Remember that everyone with a three year old has probably had one tantrum today too, so you aren’t alone and you are doing a good job.  


Learning Consequences

Your three year old is also in the stage where they are learning that their actions have consequences.  So if they stomp really hard on a toy with their shoes on and it breaks.  You do not need to feel like you need to replace their toy.  They will learn not to stomp on their toys if they want to have toys that aren’t broken. 

Another example is if they fling their dessert onto the ground.  They missed out on that one.  It will help them know that there are consequences to things that they do.  Which will make them think twice before flinging their dessert the next time.  


Physical Growth

Children by the age of three will have slowed their growth.  Between the ages of three and four expect your child to gain 4-6 pounds and grow 2-3 inches in this year.  Three year old’s have usually lost their round toddler tummy and are starting to slim up. 

Your doctor will no longer be measuring your child’s head circumference.  Will mainly be concerned with their weight, height, and body mass index.  If your child is within the 5th-85th percentile there is usually no concern for their height and weight.  If you are above the 85th percentile in weight there is no reason to be concerned about your three year old being overweight.  Your doctor will let you know if there is reason to be concerned depending on their height and other measurements.  Most doctors are looking for steady growth. 

By the age of three your child should have all 20 primary baby teeth.


Picky Eating

Your three year old’s appetite may be different than what you are used to.  Some days the appetite will vary hugely.  You may experience days where your three year old seems to be eating the whole house.  Then the next day it may feel like they aren’t eating anything.  This is completely normal. 

It is also normal at this age for your child to get stuck to one food.  They only want something specific.  Keep offering them other foods on their plate to try and experience to try and keep a well rounded healthy diet. 

Don’t get caught up on what your child wants to eat at a certain time of day.  If your child wants a meat sandwich for breakfast, as long as it has nutritional value it may not be a fight worth having. 

Three year old’s may like helping pick out foods they want to eat, or help get foods at the grocery store.  Some three year old’s may also like to help prepare food with you.  



Three year old’s need 11-13 hours of sleep per day.  This can be all at night, or with an afternoon nap still.  Some three year old’s may start to fight bedtime or nap time.  Don’t give up on naps too soon.  There are some children who still need a restorative midday sleep to help them get through the day. 

Encourage quiet time if your child is determined not to nap, but you can see they still need one.  This will get them to do a quiet activity where they can still rest with limited stimulation that may end up being a nap if they are tired enough.  



Your three year old’s speech is going to grow rapidly.  Between the age of 3 to 4 your child should know 500-900 words. 

Children at the age of three should be able to speak where strangers understand them, say their name, refer to their friends by name, and retell stories from a book.  Your three year old may bombard you with “why” and “how” questions.  Their curiosity is exploding at this age.  Some children may be able to have full conversations with you and speak full sentences. 

Three year old’s should be able to count at least 3 objects and name the colors when asked.  Three year old’s should be able to use please and thank you in a sentence appropriately. 

Another milestone for three year old’s is to be able to point out action pictures and emotions. 


Imagination Overdrive

Your child’s curiosity can lead them to full imaginations.  These full imaginations can lead them to wanting to play a lot of make believe games, such as house.  Imaginations are wonderful, but sometimes children can let them go too far which can lead to your child developing some fears.  Be cautious and wary of your child’s fears.  Find out what sparks the fear and if they have any triggers.  Fears your child could develop are of the dark, or monsters under their bed. 


Gaining Independence

Children at the age of three should be able to run, jump, walk upstairs unassisted, ride a tricycle, wash and dry hands, stack 10 blocks, draw lines, draw circles, stand on tiptoes, use a spoon, use a fork, and dress and undress themselves. 

Three year old’s will also start to like to play with friends.  They will learn to share toys, as well as to take their turn.  This doesn’t happen all at once.  Some children can be possessive of their own toys so play dates can be rocky for some time until your child gets better used to sharing.  



All children grow and develop at their own pace.  Doctors check for certain milestones to make sure your child is staying on track.  If your child is behind in something there is no need to panic.  If you have a concern that your child isn’t doing something age appropriate speak with your pediatrician to see if it should be a concern and what you can do to help catch your child back up.  




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