Development in Three-Year-Olds

There are a number of milestones that most three-year-old children will have achieved. However, if your child hasn’t reached all of these markers by his fourth birthday, don’t panic. Some children are "late bloomers" and may just need a bit of extra time to catch up. There are development warning signs, though, that you can look out for and bring to your child’s doctor’s attention if you notice them.

Mental development

  • Can tell the difference between one and many; he may be able to count up to 10 things
  • Can identify some colors
  • Attention span increases by a few more minutes
  • Has a vague idea about time; has some understanding of terms like "yesterday", "not now", "later", "wait for a while"
  • Does not put everything in her mouth; can distinguish between food and toys
  • Follows simple commands like "don’t go there", "wait for me"
  • Starts with some kind of pretend play (a sheet of paper can become his airplane)
  • Can match similar shaped objects (circles, squares, etc.)
  • Identifies objects with functions; can pour juice from pitcher to cup
  • Can flip through a book by himself and can also match any object with its picture
  • Is cautious with some dangerous things like a burning stove or moving car


Social and Emotional Development

  • Knows "I" and differentiates it from "he", "she" "you" or "them"; understands what is "mine" and what is "his"
  • Knows if she is a boy or a girl
  • Understands her first and last name
  • Can play in groups of three
  • Imitates people around her, helps with simple tasks
  • Is almost toilet-trained
  • Is increasingly fond of familiar playmates
  • Can express her emotions openly by crying, screaming, laughing
  • Expresses her affection for a caregiver
  • Is not very anxious about separation; is willing to let mommy and daddy leave for some time


Physical/Motor Development

  • Is more efficient in building blocks; can manage a pile of 6 blocks
  • Does not need help in movements like jumping, climbing stairs, putting on shoes (not tying laces)
  • Is better at activities like playing catch and kicking a ball, running, pedaling a tricycle
  • Climbs, walks up and down stairs, kicks ball, runs easily
  • Can feed himself with some spilling
  • Has a better grip of pencil or crayon and can move crayons to draw up-and-down, side-to-side, and circular lines
  • Can open jars, door; can also steadily hold a glass
  • Is able to wash and dry hands without assistance
  • Can put on her clothes with some help


Language Development

  • Her vocabulary grows to accommodate 50 or more words
  • Says short sentences; uses a lot of "me", "my" and "mine"
  • Can follow 2-part commands like "close your eyes and smile"
  • If taught, picks up names of body parts like eyes, ears, and nose
  • He can make himself understood
  • Knows the "where" about things, whether the ball is "on the table" or if it is "in the drawer"
  • Knows pronouns, especially "me", "she", "we"; can also point out plurals of common words like "cats", "dogs"
  • Repeats rhymes
  • Names familiar objects


Developmental Alarms
If your child displays any of the following signs of possible developmental delay for this age range, go for professional development screening:


  • Cannot focus on things even for few seconds
  • Does not show reactions even around little children
  • Cannot make himself understood to a stranger, does not use short phrases
  • Poor pronunciation, deletes parts of words
  • Is not able to match similar looking shapes like circles
  • Has difficulty grasping a pencil or crayon
  • Has anger flare-ups or is destructive
  • Fails to notice other noises when involved in an activity
  • Doesn't engage in pretend play
  • Suddenly cannot do certain things she once could
  • Cannot comprehend simple instructions like "come here" or "keep it there"
  • Shows a lot of drooling