3 Years Old


Just as two-year-olds acquire language, threes begin to really use it. Their improved language ability makes parenting easier, as they can sometimes even be talked into doing something they don’t want to do if you can give them a compelling reason. When your three-year-old misbehaves, a discussion will be an important part of your approach to discipline.

Your toddler has probably developed a wonderful sense of humor and enjoys listening to silly rhymes, perhaps even making up some of his own. He enjoys songs and finger plays and wants them to be part of his day. Threes love mystery words and the emphasis they give:

"This day is special."
"Do you want to know a secret?"
"When we get home there will be a surprise."
You may even be able to change the course of a whiny conversation with a mystery word and some quick thinking!

Your undivided attention in conversations with your child will enable him to share with you his accomplishments and discoveries. He will appreciate your listening ears and attentive eyes as he shares his questions and “stories.” Threes become great conversationalists, almost as interested in what others are saying as in what they say themselves. Language, at last, becomes reciprocal!

Observing these wonderful new language skills, you may be tempted to push your child in reading and writing. Resist this temptation! At this time, play is his way of learning. A child learns best who learns for himself. Although young children can learn to read (they will do anything to please their parents!) it tends to cost them something later. Watch for your child’s own desire to learn numbers and letters, and be sure the desire is coming from him and not in order to please you!

In the meantime, reading to him, talking to him, listening to him and giving him unlimited opportunities for play and exploration will prepare him well for the complex process of learning to read.


Your three-year-old may experience episodes of stuttering as he is able to think faster than he can form the words to express himself. Stuttering provides him with a little time to pull his words together and is only rarely a cause for concern at this age. Give him your full attention when he speaks and resist the urge to tell him to “slow down” or finish his sentences for him. As in so much of parenting, patience seems to be the key!


Your competent, confident three-year-old loves to do things for herself. For that reason, she will love books that invite her to lift the flap, answer a question, pull a tab, poke, squeeze, sniff, or otherwise participate actively in the reading session. Books have become very real to her, and she wants to participate in reading just as she has learned to participate in life! Here are some participation books your child may enjoy:

Ahlbert, Janet and Allan. Each Peach Pear Plum. Viking, 1978.

Hill, Eric. Where's Spot?. Putnam, 1980.

Zelinsky, Paul O. The Wheels on the Bus. Dutton, 1990.

Reading aloud is an effective way for parents to say to their children, “You are so special to me that I want to spend this time with you.” It’s the surest method for teaching a child to learn to love books. And once you’ve taught her that, she’ll spend the rest of her life teaching herself.

Information adapted from Baby TALK