three year old birthday cake


Wow, your child is 3! Three-year-olds want to know how everything works, and aren’t afraid to ask questions. That doesn't mean you need to have all the answers, though. You and your child can have a lot of fun simply pondering and exploring his curiosities together. So when your child asks something like, “Why is the sky blue?” try saying, “I don’t know. What do you think?” before launching into a scientific explanation. If he's asking lots of questions about a specific topic and you don't know the answers, head to the library and find a children's book about it that you can read together.

3-Year-Old Development

Age 3 is time for a thorough checkup with the pediatrician to make sure your child's growth and development are on track.

3-Year-Old Weight & Height

Average weight for a 36-month-old is around 30.7 pounds for girls and 31.8 pounds for boys. Average height is around 37.1 inches for girls and 37.5 inches for boys, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

At your child's checkup, the doctor will plot her weight and height on a 3-year-old growth chart. The chart shows a child's measurements at each visit, as well as a curve of average growth for each weight and height percentile. This will help the doctor confirm your child is growing at a healthy rate.

3-Year-Old Milestones

What should my 36-month-old be doing?

Here are some milestones your 3-year-old may have hit or may be working on:

Speech. Most likely, your 3-year-old is talking like crazy. He's probably using three- or even four-word sentences (“Go outside now!”) and uses a variety of words. In fact, it's normal for a 3-year-old to have a vocabulary of about 500 words. (And why might just be his favorite.) If your 3-year-old is stuttering, mispronounces words, or is using improper grammar, it's probably not cause for concern. He's still learning proper speech. Still, you should bring up any worries to the doctor, so she can keep tabs.
Motor skills. Your 3-year-old should be climbing and running with ease. She can probably walk up and down stairs one foot per step.
Potty training. Potty training a 3-year-old is quite an accomplishment. You might find that even if your kid stays dry during the day, nighttime is a different story. Bed-wetting is not a concern at this age. In fact, some kids continue to wet the bed up to age 7. That's what they make nighttime training pants for.
Teething. For your 3-year-old, molars should have emerged in the past year, and now your child has all the teeth he'll have until age 6 or 7, when the first permanent molars cut through.

Worried your child's development isn't on track? The US Centers for Disease Control publishes a 36-month-old developmental checklist you can go over to see if your child is on par with her peers. At the three-year checkup, the pediatrician should ask you a series of questions that will help determine whether your child might be delayed or need a little extra help developmentally. This is where you can bring up any concerns you may have, such as signs of ADHD or autism in a 3-year-old.

3-Year-Old Behavior

Meltdowns and tantrums. A 3-year-old may have a good idea of what she wants to do—like build a giant block tower—but doesn’t always have the physical skills or ability to make it turn out as well as she’d hoped. That may mean frustration and tears. Sure, you're officially out of the terrible twos, but you're not quite out of tantrum territory yet.
Separation anxiety. A 3-year-old with separation anxiety may turn drop-offs at Grandma's house or at school into a whole lot of drama. Sure, she may be making you feel guilty, but she'll never get over it if you keep her close at all times. Keep goodbyes short and sweet. Remind your child what time you'll be back and what you'll do together. And try not to linger before you go.
Other 3-year-old behavioral problems. In an informal poll, most parents we talked to said age 3 was more terrible than 2. It's not surprising to hear of a 3-year-old biting, running away from his parents in public, and otherwise breaking the rules we thought they'd get by now. How to get a 3-year-old to listen? Remember: It's all a process. Disciplining a 3-year-old doesn't mean getting angry; it means setting clear rules and age-appropriate punishments. It will take a lot of repetition and time for your child to finally start behaving, but after her tenth time-out for trying to hit her brother, we're pretty sure it will eventually sink in.

3-Year-Old Health

Health is always a top concern for parents, and this age is no different. Some common health questions parents of 36-month-olds have are:

• My 3-year-old has diarrhea. What should I do? • My 3-year-old is constipated. What should I do? • My 3-year-old is throwing up. What should I do? • My 3-year-old has a cough. What should I do? • My 3-year-old has a fever. What should I do?

3-Year-Old Sleep

Bedtime for a 3-year-old might be a struggle. Stick to the routine—and stick to your guns. When you say “One more song,” really just sing one more song and say goodnight.

How Much Sleep Does a 3-Year-Old Need?

Most 3-year-olds need around 10 to 13 hours of sleep total, including both daytime and nighttime sleep. At this age, some kids are still napping for an hour or two in the afternoon and others are willfully ditching naps altogether. So adjust your child's schedule accordingly. For example, if he's not napping, move his bedtime a little earlier. And if he is napping, don't let him snooze so long or so late in the afternoon that it interferes with his ability to fall asleep at night.

Every kid is different, but your child's schedule may look something like this:

36-Month-Old Sleep Schedule

Image: Smart Up Visuals

3-Year-Old Sleep Problems

Sleep regression is common at this age. For a 3-year-old waking up at night, experts recommend short and businesslike visits. In other words, comfort her if she's had a bad dream or bring her water if she's thirsty, but don't linger long. Kiss her goodnight and exit the room. If your 3-year-old won't stay in bed, experts say you should always lead her back to her own bed if you want her to break the habit.

At 3 years old, night terrors can wreak havoc on families' nights. But remember: These episodes are more upsetting to you than they are to a child. During a night terror, a child may begin crying, screaming, sitting up, walking or flailing. He may seem to talk but he's not awake, and he doesn't remember it happening the next day. This happens as kids transition from a deep sleep phase to a lighter one. If your child gets night terrors, don't try to wake him, just keep him safe, try to calm him, and put him back to bed. He'll eventually grow out of them.

3-Year-Old Food

Ideal nutrition for a 3-year-old is pretty similar to ideal nutrition for the rest of the family, just in smaller portions.

How Much Should My 3-Year-Old Be Eating?

Three-year-olds should continue to eat three meals per day, plus two snacks. Offer her a variety of foods in all food groups—vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy—daily. Focus on foods with high nutritional value and try to avoid junk foods and sugary drinks as much as possible.

How many calories does a 3-year-old need?

Doctors recommend about 1,000 calories per day for 2- and 3-year-olds, but you shouldn't have to count. Your child is a good judge of his own appetite, and during times of extra exercise or a growth spurt, he may be hungrier and need more calories than at other times.

Instead, consider that your child should be having approximately 1 cup of fruit, 1 cup of vegetables, 3 ounces of grains, 2 ounces of protein and about 2 cups of dairy each day.

How much milk should a 3-year-old drink?

If she's not getting dairy elsewhere in her diet, make it two cups. But if she's eating lots of yogurt and cheese, for example, or if you're breastfeeding your 3-year-old, she may need to drink less milk. Talk to the pediatrician for a personalized recommendation.

What to Feed My 36-Month-Old

Looking for some tasty and nutritious meal inspiration? Check out these food ideas for a 3-year-old:

36-Month-Old Feeding Schedule

Image: Smart Up Visuals


Activities for 3-Year-Olds

As your 3-year-old gets more and more creative and expressive, he's also learning some important facts that will help him get ready for school.

What to do with a 3-year-old?

Fun activities, games and educational toys for 3-year-olds are:

Colorful toys. Your child is learning her colors. Play together with colored blocks, balls or Play-Doh, and talk about the different colors. You can sort the blocks or balls by color too.
Crayons and nontoxic paints. Your little Picasso is probably starting to take pride in creating some pretty artwork. Remember to hang a few faves on the fridge or corkboard.
Songs. Keep singing simple songs with your kid. Three-year-olds love singing almost as much as they love to talk.

3-Year-Old Baby Checklist/Tips

• Take your child to his 3-year checkup.
• For a 3-year-old, shots aren't typically necessary, but you may choose to have your child get the flu vaccine at this appointment.
• Plan to take your child for her next checkup around her fourth birthday. For the rest of her childhood, well visits should happen annually.
• If you'd like your child to start school this year, sign him up for 3-year-old preschool, if you haven't already.
• Take a trip to the library for some new books with a fresh perspective—and that answer some of your 3-year-old’s most probing questions.
• It's rare (but not totally impossible) to find a 3-year-old reading. Still, you may notice this year your child starts to recognize symbols and signs, and know that they say "stop" or "open" when she sees them. This means the ability to read is emerging.

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