3-Year-Old Milestones (Checklist): Language, Physical Development, and Social Skills

What 3 year old milestones should your child have reached?

At three, a child should reach essential social, physical, and cognitive developmental milestones. A delay in any developmental milestone could potentially indicate an issue.

But at 3, everything starts to become more complicated. And because it’s all becoming so much more complicated, you may not know exactly where your child should be.

A checklist of developmental milestones can help.

How important are milestones, really?

Milestones are important for parents to track as they indicate typical development. Milestones can help identify potential delays that require further medical assessment.

But that sounds really scary.

Look: Did you take a long time to parallel park? Or learn how to whistle? Some people cooked their first pot of scrambled eggs when they were eight. Others didn’t learn until they were 33.

Milestones are a really important indicator of how your child is doing. But if your child isn’t hitting the right milestones, that doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them — or you. It just means that you need to figure out why and make an adjustment.

Language

At this age, children should be able to say around 900 words (some say up to 1,500) and understand most of what adults say.

Some children excel at learning words while others don’t, but at minimum, your child should be relatively easy to understand when trying to form and communicate ideas.

Your child should be able to name objects in a picture book and carry out simple instructions such as “put your shoes on.” (Your child may even be able to counter with an argument regarding why they don’t want their shoes on.)

By the end of the year, they may even be able to tell simple stories.

A developmental delay in language could be as simple as having a tongue tie or a lisp. Early intervention frequently helps, especially with a professional speech therapist.

The more socialization a child has (and the more exposure they have to language), the more likely they will start forming longer sentences.

Physical Development

Children at this age should be able to walk up and down stairs with one foot per step. A 3-year-old should be able to kick a ball forwards. But perhaps they may stagger a bit.

They should also be able to stand on one foot for a few seconds, draw basic shapes such as circles and squares, dress independently, and pedal a tricycle.

You can help your child practice motor skills through simple activities, such as playing catch with a large, small ball.

Some children lag in physical growth or may be naturally uncoordinated, but it’s still something to look into if your child cannot do things such as holding utensils.

The more a child gets to play outside and engage in outdoor activities, the more likely the child is to be able to excel in hand-eye coordination.

Social Skills

By age three, children should be able to share toys, take turns in games and express their feelings with words.

They should also understand the concept of right and wrong and follow basic rules such as not hitting or biting.

They will likely begin to show more independence by wanting to do things themselves and refusing help when it isn’t necessary (or just refusing help altogether).

At this age, children should also be able to recognize familiar faces and make friends with other children. If a child’s emotional development is lagging, it’s possible that you need to create more opportunities to practice empathy.

The more children interact with their peers, the more likely they will develop these social skills.

When should you test these milestones?

Much like your baby’s other “firsts,” you should keep an eye on these milestones throughout your child’s development.

These milestones are something that your child should be able to hit at the end of three. But it would be best if you were watching for them and progressing toward them throughout.

If you notice that your child, for instance, still seems to be struggling a lot with putting on their clothes in the morning, it may be better to spend extra time on the task before they miss the milestone rather than after.

What if your child isn’t hitting these 3 year old milestones?

If your child isn’t hitting the 3-year-old milestones, don’t panic. It’s time to start talking with your pediatrician about what could be causing delays in development and take steps to get them back on track.

Your doctor may suggest individualized therapies or special programs to help your child reach developmental goals. A child’s brain can be complex; it’s not always easy to tell what is causing a delay, and you shouldn’t assume.

As an example, a child may seem to be socially delayed, but they could instead have difficulty hearing due to an inner ear infection or some other issue. If you don’t look into it, you won’t know — and you could assume the wrong thing.

Sometimes it’s something really simple. Maybe a child is just a little more uncoordinated than their peers. Maybe, for now, they really hate sharing.

These milestones also form a baseline. You may not need to be concerned about not hitting 3-year milestones — your child may easily hit 5-year milestones earlier. But if your child always seems behind, there could be more they need to thrive.

3-year-milestone checklist

This is 3 year old milestones checklist recommended by the CDC, but do note that there are other checklists, too. At this age, though, most milestones are pretty similar.

  • Does your child calm down within 10 minutes after you leave them?
  • If your child notices other children, does your child join them for play?
  • Will your child hold a conversation that includes at least two exchanges?
  • Can your child ask questions using who, what, where, or why?
  • Can your child identify actions such as running, eating, or playing?
  • Does your child know their first name?
  • Can your child form sentences that others understand?
  • Can your child draw a circle, if directed to?
  • Will your child avoid hot objects or other dangerous objects?
  • Can your child put their clothes on themselves?
  • Can your child string beads on a string?
  • Can your child use utensils, such as a fork?

Developing these skills is an important part of a child’s growth, so it is wise to observe their progress and provide the support they need to reach these milestones. Encouraging playdates, taking them outside to play, and reading books together can help children reach these milestones.

Sometimes children also just need a little extra help. If, for instance, your toddler has just never strung beads on a string, you can’t expect them to know how to do it the very first time.

Conclusion: By the end of three years…

By the end of three years, your child should be communicative and inquisitive. They should have moderate physical control over their bodies and be able to engage with and have friends. They should be able to express themselves on a basic level — and be ready for so much more learning ahead.

But “should” is a messy word. Everyone’s development is different, including these 3 year old milestones.

As your child grows and learns, you’ll learn more about what makes them unique. At any point, if you feel that your child needs help, you shouldn’t feel afraid to ask. The earlier you get help, the better.

Academic tutors, educational specialists, and doctors can all help you determine whether something could be holding your child back. It could be that your child, for instance, needs corrected eyesight — a simple glasses prescription could help your child identify more things and interact better with their peers. But you don’t know what you don’t know!

As you continue to track your child’s milestones, you can also start developing learning plans that are just for them. You can figure out what they might need a little extra work at — and what they could excel in.

FAQs

What is the milestone for a 3-year-old?

There are a few of them! At three years old, a child should be able to communicate in two-way conversations, imitate movements, engage in problem-solving tasks and activities, draw circles, avoid dangerous situations, dress themselves with loose clothing items, use a fork and spoon correctly, and string beads.

What should I expect from a 3-year-old?

More than you might think! 3-year-olds should already be developing their social skills and their hand-eye coordination. They should be able to listen to you and engage in simple tasks and form full (if simple) sentences.

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