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Development milestones - your child at 3 years

6-minute read

Your toddler will reach a lot of development milestones between ages 2 and 3 and you can help them achieve these in several ways.

It’s important that your toddler gets enough sleep — 12 to 13 hours a day, including a long sleep at night. Some children don’t need daytime sleeps at all, especially as they approach the 3-year-mark, but they may still need some quiet time.

Children benefit from early exposure to a variety of healthy foods. Offer several options including vegetables and fruits at every meal and let your child decide how much they’d like to try. Model good eating behaviours (remember, they love to imitate you!) by sitting down without distraction and eating a good variety of healthy foods.

Overuse of screens and devices by young children can cause delays in their development such as delayed ability to write or colour and slowed gross motor skills such as running and jumping. Try to keep screen time (including television) to less than 2 hours per day from ages 2 – 5 (ideally no screen time for children under 2).

Physical and skills milestones

Toddlers are likely to start (and perhaps complete) toilet training between ages 2 and 3. Try to be patient and wait until they’re ready.

Toilet training requires a lot of different skills, which some children develop more quickly than others. Signs that your toddler may be ready to begin toilet training usually appear from the age of 2.

Read more about toilet training.

By the age of 3, many toddlers will help you wash them in the bath.

With encouragement, they will become better at using a spoon, but you might need to be patient and expect some mess with meals.

Your toddler is likely to enjoy playing with other children, in pretend play, singing, and games that seem to copy things that family members do such as cooking or using household items and tools.

You will see improvement in your toddler’s ability to:

  • throw, kick and catch balls
  • walk up and down stairs while holding a rail or your hand

They are also likely to:

  • jump on the spot
  • ride a tricycle
  • get dressed (with your help)
  • copy a circle with a pencil or crayon
  • screw and unscrew jar lids and turn door handles
  • turn the pages of a book

Emotional milestones

This is an important time for your child’s emotional development. They will begin to feel more complex emotions such as guilt and shame and these can feel confusing.

In this year, toddlers become more aware of other people’s feelings including how their behaviour can affect you and that your behaviour affects them. They may show concern for friends or family who cry. They also separate from parents or carers more readily.

Temper tantrums are likely to continue as they struggle with strong feelings and an inability to express them in words.

They may seem to like routines and be upset if things change, although they are getting better at these transitions and can often settle more quickly than younger children.

Thinking and language milestones

At 2 years, your child will probably know and use 50 or more words, sometimes in sentences of 2 or 3 words. They will begin to use ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘me’, and understand these words when you use them. By 3 years, your child has a vocabulary of 200 or more words and can connect them in longer sentences of 3 or more words. You may start having a conversation in which you and your child speak in turn. Much of their speech will now be understandable.

As your toddler approaches their 3rd birthday, they may be able to explain in a few words what they’ve done or where they’ve been. Strangers will be able to understand them most of the time. They will be able to follow a 2 to 3 step instruction.

During the year, you’ll also notice your toddler starting to use grammar rules of language such as using past-tense verbs such as “I walked with daddy” instead of “I walk with daddy.”

Children who grow up in homes where multiple languages are spoken will develop similarly but not exactly the same as those who grow up with a single language. For instance, your bilingual child might not be saying 50 words in one language but can likely say 50 words across two languages.

Your child will start to try and solve problems, match objects or pictures and answer ‘who, what and where’ questions.

Your child will understand more about how events and actions are connected, for example, that changing from slippers to shoes means they’re going out.

You’ll notice your child talking or singing to themselves when playing and giving voices to their toys. Find out more about speech development in children.

Helping your child’s development

You can further help your child develop and reach milestones by:

  • allowing them to take part in a range of play activities that help show them how to get along with others and improve gross and fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination
  • encouraging and praising efforts at both existing and new skills to boost their confidence to keep trying new things
  • reading, listening and talking to your toddler, to encourage conversation, build communication skills and make them feel valued

If you’re concerned

Children learn and show the ability to perform skills and tasks at different ages. But you may want to talk to your doctor or child health nurse if your 3-year-old child:

  • falls down a lot or has trouble with stairs
  • cannot balance on one foot
  • has very unclear speech
  • can’t draw a simple line or cross, use cutlery or undo buttons
  • doesn’t speak in sentences
  • doesn’t seem to understand a 2-3 step instruction
  • doesn’t pretend play
  • doesn’t want to play with other children or toys
  • doesn’t make eye contact
  • loses skills they once had

Vaccinations

Apart from the annual flu vaccination, there are no standard vaccinations for your child between 2 and 3 years of age. They should have had several vaccines at 18 months of age. If any of these were missed, you can talk to your child's doctor about a catch-up schedule.

Find out more about the Australian vaccination program.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2021


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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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