Your Growing 3-Year-Old

Your toddler is 3 and ready for more independence. Take a look at what this exciting year will bring and how to prepare for what's next.

  • Buff Strickland

    Getting Dressed

    You're probably becoming very familiar with the phrase, "Let me do it!" One of the many tasks your toddler wants to try is getting dressed all by herself. "Three-year-olds should be able to dress themselves in basic attire, such as pull-on pants or slip-on shoes," says Mike Mosiman, coauthor of The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child's Intellectual Potential. Help your little one with this grown-up task by laying out clothes for her and choosing easy, pull-on styles that don't have difficult buttons and zippers. Be ready to assist your child, but have plenty of patience. By dressing herself, your tot is learning important skills and independence.

  • Gemma Comas

    Feeding Himself

    If your little guy insists on feeding himself, sending peas and carrots everywhere, he's right on track. Most 3-year-olds can feed themselves with a spoon or fork and drink from a regular cup. If you have a picky eater, let him know he needs to sample what's on his plate rather than allowing him to refuse his dinner. Try "disguising" fruits and veggies by mixing broccoli into his mac 'n' cheese or replacing the jelly in a PB&J sandwich with apple or banana slices. Make mealtime fun and easy with finger foods such as kabobs.

  • Kaysh Shinn

    Potty Training

    Experts and parents agree: For potty training to be successful, your child must be ready. By 3 years old, your toddler might express interest in using the bathroom; she might tell you she has to go or ask for a clean diaper. Start a routine of having her sit on the potty throughout the day to become comfortable with it. Some accidents are normal, but if after several weeks your child still has frequent accidents or just isn't interested in the potty, take a break. You can try again in a month or two when the child might be more interested or ready for training.

    When your little one is ready to learn, heap on the praise and encourage your "big girl" to go potty independently. Many parents swear by bribes and rewards, such as sticker charts. Remember, even if your child can use the potty during the day, she might not be capable of staying dry at night. Slip your tot into a pair of disposable training pants before bed for a better night's sleep.

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    Making Friends

    Your 3-year-old is ready and willing to make new friends, but he still needs some help from you. Arrange playdates with a small, regular group of peers. Three-year-olds tend to engage in parallel play, meaning playing next to, rather than with, other children. By sticking with the same kids, your child will have a chance to form relationships. Playdates are the perfect times to practice positive values, such as empathy and sharing. "Three-year-olds are not good sharers, but their awareness of other people's feelings is beginning to develop," says Susan S. Bartell, Ph.D., parenting psychologist and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. Nurture this by explaining why taking a toy makes his friend sad and by supervising short turns to encourage sharing. Keeping doubles of popular toys on hand can also help a playdate go smoothly.

  • Image Source/ Veer

    Starting Activities

    Toddler classes help your child learn and grow, and age 3 is the perfect time to try a group activity. Sports classes will teach your tots the basics of games such as soccer, basketball, and baseball while emphasizing teamwork and sharing. Or get them moving in tumbling and swim classes to develop flexibility, balance, and even overcome fear. For the creative kid, art and music classes are great ways to practice cognitive skills. No matter what type of activity you choose, your toddler will be learning important skills while having fun and making new friends. Check out your local YMCA, Gymboree, and fitness and community centers to see what classes they offer.

  • Beth Studenberg

    Doing Chores

    Toddlers love to help around the house, and you'll be surprised by how much they can do! "Three-year-olds can understand and follow simple commands such as 'Take your plate to the sink' or 'Put the cars in the basket,'" Mosiman says. Give your tot a job when you make dinner or clean up -- it boosts his self-esteem and makes him feel like an important part of the household. But pay attention to your child's capabilities. If a task is too complicated, he might feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Chores are great ways to foster valuable habits early. Encourage your toddler to put his clothes in the hamper each day and to place toys back in bins and on shelves after playtime. Make cleanup more fun by setting a timer, playing music, or inventing a game.

  • Tina Rupp

    Developing Language

    By age 3, toddlers are talking a lot. Your toddler now has a vocabulary of about 300 words and can make simple, three-word sentences, Mosiman says. Even when your child is sitting quietly, she is soaking in your conversation. And she understands more than you think. What your toddler understands is called receptive language. It's an important part of language development. The best thing you can do to help develop your toddler's language is talk. Describe what you're doing, how the weather feels, the way your food tastes -- your little one will learn new words and better grammar.

  • iStock

    Taming Tantrums

    Three-year-olds are bound to burst into the occasional temper tantrum. But when your little guy has a meltdown, try to keep your cool and avoid yelling back when he is acting out. Instead, ignore your child's outburst and continue what you are doing. When he sees screaming will get him nowhere, he'll stop. Or try to distract your tot to instantly tame the tantrum. Make him laugh, tell a story with funny voices, or give him a little squeeze. After the tantrum subsides, hug him, say you love him, and move on. Above all, keep discipline consistent.

  • PhotoAlto/ Matton

    Following Simple Directions & Making Choices

    You want your child to become a good listener and to learn to respond to your directions. Luckily, getting cooperation might be as simple as rephrasing what you want. Rather than ask your child to do something, tell her nicely but firmly. When you ask, your 3-year-old feels she has the option to decline. Say, "Pick up your blocks please," instead of "Can you pick up your blocks?" And after she does it, thank her and praise her effort. Children are also more likely to follow instructions if they have a sense of control. When she's getting dressed, ask your little girl if she wants to wear the green sweatshirt or the purple shirt with long sleeves. Offer two acceptable options, and everyone leaves happy.

  • iStock

    Sleeping Soundly

    Your toddler recently switched from two naps to one, and now he thinks he's ready for no nap at all. Don't fall for it -- most kids will need a nap until age 5. Your child might, however, be ready for a new nap schedule. Instead of sticking to the clock, put your child down when he starts to get tired. If your little one refuses to nap, try a quiet time instead.

    At bedtime, your child might stall to exercise control, even as his eyes droop shut. Stick to your routine -- such as bathtime, then reading before bed -- but let him make some decisions. Picking out his pajamas or choosing a story will make your child feel valued and more willing to climb into bed.

    Copyright 2010 Meredith Corporation.