Third Year, 25-36 Months

Before your toddler’s third birthday, his brain growth shifts into another phase, as the brain areas in charge of more complex thinking and decision-making are growing most rapidly. At this age, your child is beginning to use his memories and experiences to make sense of the present. He has a better understanding of the relationship between cause and effect and right and wrong. He starts to see how his actions affect other people and their feelings.

Signs of Healthy Development *

  • He wants more freedom to play and explore.
  • He has better control of his body.
  • He is able to play with smaller toys (like puzzle pieces and crayons).
  • He understands more complex instructions.
  • He uses more and more words.
  • He joins his words together into longer sentences.
  • He is interested in other people, especially children his own age.

Language And Literacy

By age three, your child is putting together longer sentences, and using more words. Three year olds have favorite stories that they will want to read over and over. Young children learn how stories work through repetition. Three year olds also delight in rhyming words. These are important building blocks for learning to read and write.

What You Can Do to Help:

  • Encourage your child to make connections between different stories. (Read several stories about airplanes or farm animals, and ask your child about the similarities.)
  • Find songs and stories with rhymes. Encourage your developing poet!
  • Talk to her about what she is doing: “I really admire the way you give your dolly a bottle.”

Thinking Skills

By his third year, your child is developing an understanding of pretend-play and he is beginning to understand that a word or symbol can stand for something else. His curiosity about letters and numbers during this period is an important kindergarten readiness skill and will help him learn to read and do math problems later.

What You Can Do to Help:

  • Play together to sort playthings by size or weight.
  • Sing the alphabet song, and play with magnetic letters and numbers.
  • Make a daily schedule (include naptime, play time, and story time).


At this age, your child develops a stronger understanding of how to use words to express her wants, needs and frustrations.

What You Can Do to Help:

  • Show her how to express her feelings in words.
  • Praise her for solving problems without yelling or hitting.


Your child is continuing to develop his sense of independence and self-confidence. His self-confidence grows as he learns to get dressed on his own, and to brush his hair and teeth. He may take pride in putting away his toys or setting the table.

What You Can Do to Help:

  • Encourage her growing self-confidence by praising her for helping with small tasks.
  • At the same time, allow extra time for her to complete simple tasks, and be ready to gently redirect her when she becomes frustrated.

*Let your pediatrician know if your child isn’t exhibiting these behaviors at the appropriate age!