3 Years

Caring for Your 3-Year-Old

Language and Social Development

  • Books that tell longer stories, and counting and alphabet books are more fun to read together now. You can ask your child what happens next in their favorite stories or they can make up stories about the pictures. They may be able to recognize rhymes and point out similar sounds or even recite phrases from the books. They may pretend to read to their dolls or stuffed animals. Reading together even for short times every day can continue to have a wonderful influence on their interest in reading.
  • Having conversations with your 3-year-old is important for social and language development. Ask your child to tell you about the favorite part of his or her day.
  • At this age, games like I Spy engage your child in learning about colors and shapes. Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to promote hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills. Playing dress-up encourages imaginative thought.
  • Limit screen time to two hours or less each day of age-appropriate programs and advertising. Instead of television, encourage your child’s creativity with activities such as drawing and imaginative play.
  • Toddlers benefit from interaction with same-age peers. Weekly play dates, play groups, classes and/or preschool can help your child master social skills.
  • If a new sibling is on the way, begin preparing your toddler for the baby’s arrival.


  • At this age, 1 percent or 2 percent milk is appropriate for your child. Limit or avoid juice. Even 100 percent fruit juice has too much sugar.
  • Plan for regular family mealtimes. Provide healthy, kid-friendly options at every meal to minimize eating struggles.
  • Encourage your child to use a fork and spoon on his or her own.


  • By now, many children have either mastered using the toilet during the day or are ready to begin toilet training.

Routines and Discipline

  • Refrain from slapping or hitting your child; it will teach him or her to hit others.
  • Praise your child for good behavior.
  • Set reasonable and consistent limits. When using discipline, the priority is to teach and protect your child, not to punish.
  • The length of time a child spends in time-out should be one minute for every year old (e.g., three minutes for a 3-year-old).
  • Predictable routines help your child feel safe and in control. Try to be consistent with your toddler’s bed time and daily routine.

Oral Health

  • Clean your child’s teeth twice per day. Parents should apply a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush.
  • Your child should see the dentist every six months for routine checkups.


  • Always ensure your child is under supervision in the house, car, yard, and especially near driveways and streets.
  • Helmets should be worn when riding a bike, even with training wheels.
  • Keep medications, cleaning products and other household chemicals in a secure area. For poison emergencies and questions, call the National Poison Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Keep guns and ammunition stored in separate, securely locked areas.
  • Use a forward-facing car seat in the back seat of the vehicle.

This document contains general parenting information based on American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and is not meant to replace the expert advice of your pediatrician.