Your Child at 3: Milestones

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 09, 2023
4 min read

At around age 3, children’s imaginations and language skills seem to get supercharged. They’re figuring out all kinds of words, making up stories and play activities, and learning to build relationships. Mixed in with all this fun, they’re also trying to learn right from wrong and how to manage their feelings, which can sometimes overwhelm them.

Milestones can help you steer through all this change. They tell you the kinds of skills children typically learn at a given age, which helps you see if your child is learning all the right things and lets you prepare for what’s next. Along with milestones, it also helps to know how to support your child’s development and how to keep your little one safe.

These are the skills you can expect your child to know at age 3 -- or soon after. Keep in mind that milestones are guidelines -- children reach them at their own pace. Some kids have these skills before age 3, some later. Still, if these milestones give you concerns that your child might be falling behind, talk to your child’s doctor.

  • Follows commands with 2-3 steps, like “Pick out your PJs and brush your teeth”
  • Has conversations using 2-3 sentences at a time
  • Knows how to use pronouns like “I,” “you,” and “we,” and knows some plural words like “cats” and “cars”
  • Names friends
  • Names common objects and understands words like “in,” “on,” and “under”
  • Says first name, age, and gender
  • Speaks sentences with 3-4 words
  • Talks clearly enough that even strangers can usually understand
  • Climbs and runs well
  • Jumps and may hop on one foot
  • Pedals a tricycle
  • Walks up and down stairs using one foot on each step
  • Can draw stick figures and use scissors
  • Copies what adults and friends do
  • Doesn’t get upset when parents leave, like at day care drop-off
  • Dresses and undresses without help
  • Gets the idea of “mine,” “his,” and “hers”
  • Likes to help with tasks around the house
  • May be potty trained during the day
  • Openly shows affection
  • Really likes routine -- gets upset with big changes
  • Shows concern when friends are upset
  • Shows a wide range of feelings
  • Takes turns when playing with others
  • Copies circles
  • Does 3-4 piece puzzles
  • Knows what “two” means
  • Makes up stories and plays make-believe with animals, dolls, and people
  • Names some colors
  • Screws jar lids on and off and turns door knobs
  • Stacks more than six blocks
  • Turns pages in a book one at a time
  • Uses toys with levers, buttons, and moving parts
  • Knows their gender and age

There’s a ton you can do every day to help your child learn and grow, such as:

  • Allow plenty of time for play, including make-believe and running around
  • Ask your child to talk about what they see when in the car or when out and about
  • Create and stick to a bedtime routine -- nightmares and waking at night are common at this age, but routine can help
  • Give your child plenty of time to play with friends and work on taking turns
  • Read to your child every day and ask questions about the stories
  • Sing simple songs together and play rhyming games
  • Suggest activities like coloring, drawing, and doing art with crayons, paper, tape, markers, and other supplies
  • Talk and listen to your child -- ask them about what happened during the day with their friends or activities they did

To help your child learn to work with strong feelings and impulses, you can:

  • Give your child clear, reasonable rules -- focus on praising the behaviors you want to see
  • Help your child express feelings -- when you read books, show your child how to relate to what the characters feel
  • Use time-outs when needed

When it comes to TVs, smartphones, computers, and tablets, doctors suggest that you:

  • Keep technology out of bedrooms
  • Limit screen time to 1 hour a day of high-quality programs
  • Talk about what you watch together and how it applies to the world

All these new skills are exciting. You need to let your child explore, but you also need a watchful eye, especially with common dangers likes falls, burns, and poisons.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Always wear helmets on bikes, tricycles, and other riding toys
  • Check that you have window guards in place on the second floor and up -- and keep furniture away from windows
  • Don’t keep guns in your home. If you have a gun, keep it unloaded, locked away, and separate from bullets. And make sure children can’t get the key.
  • Keep a close eye out when playing near streets and driveways
  • Let your kid explore, but guard against falls, especially around playgrounds, doors, windows, and stairs
  • Make sure your child always rides in a car seat in the back -- and switch to a booster seat when your child outgrows it
  • Never leave your kid alone in the car, house, or yard -- and don’t count on older brothers and sisters to watch your child for you
  • Use caution in the kitchen -- spills, splatters, and hot surfaces can cause serious burns
  • Watch your child at all times when in or around water

As your child becomes a better climber, you’ll find that drawers, cabinets, and countertops that used to be safe are now a problem. Make sure medicines, cleaning products, and small household objects that can be swallowed -- like magnets and batteries -- can’t be seen or reached.