Raising Active Kids

Vigorous physical activity will help your child develop muscle strength -- and self-confidence. We tell you the developmental norms for a 3-year-old.


Among the many skills you should encourage at this age are those pertaining to gross motor development -- use of the larger muscles of the body. Parents who were awed by their baby's early efforts to crawl and stand lose interest in physical milestones once walking and running become commonplace. Often, we're too fascinated by the child's social and intellectual strides to notice physical development, or perhaps too afraid of injury to encourage active play.

This is unfortunate -- and it may even be harmful. Vigorous physical activity affects 3-year-olds in many positive, long-term ways: It builds up muscle function and strength, enhances the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, releases tension and stress, and, best of all, boosts self-confidence. If you don't encourage gross motor development now-through positive reinforcement, setting a good example, and providing the right space and equipment for safe play-it can lead to poor physical fitness and coordination later in your child's life.This is not to say you should set your sights on training a future Olympian. All that children really need right now is somebody to show them just how enjoyable, healthful, and painless regular exercise can be. But before you begin, it helps to understand the developmental norms for 3- to 4-year-olds. Pushing a child to acquire skills beyond his limits or natural abilities can lead to serious harm -- both to the body and to self-esteem.

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