Your Child’s World at 36 to 48 Months

Three-year-olds tend to be lively, fun companions. Some of 2-year-olds’ frustrations fade now, and they’re able to say more and do more. Your 3-year-old is likely curious and sociable. At the same time, her imagination is taking off. Keep up the encouragement and good nutrition that helps fuel your child’s progress.

Here are specific developments you’re likely to see about this time.


Your child learns to make the connection between words and numbers and what they represent. The number two means that there are two of something, for example, and the word “yellow” describes objects with that pale color, which might be as different as a banana and a school bus. This big mental leap sets the foundation for later academic skills. Your child’s mind is also deep in imagination mode. She can imagine things that don’t exist and consider “what if” and “why not” situations in her play: What if I was the mommy? Why not pretend my ride-on toy is a real horse?


It could be time for a set of wheels. Most children learn to ride a tricycle between their second and third birthdays—when they have the strength and skill to push pedals with the feet while steering with the hands. Your child is also likely to be running, hopping, and stair-climbing with greater ease. Fine motor skills like drawing are developing at a fast pace, too. Scribbles become more recognizable images—your child may draw a circle head with lines branching out as a self-portrait. Clear a gallery space for your emerging artist!


Your child’s vocabulary is growing: typically 300 words by the start of the year and possibly more than a thousand by age 4. Keep in mind that most of these words are small and some may be minor variations, but they all add up. In fact, it may seem like your 3-year-old doesn’t stop talking from the minute she wakes up until she falls asleep. She’s excited to tell you about all the new things she sees and does—at friends’ homes or preschool, on walks and at the playground, around the house and yard. Although she can form most adult sounds, she hasn’t mastered pronunciation and mixes up some sounds. Most adults outside the family can now understand her well, though.


Thanks to a blossoming imagination and a little trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy, this year is when imaginary friends often pop into your household. For some children, these are occasional playmates; for others they are constant companions who, your child may tell you, need a place at the table or who may be blamed by your child for her own misbehavior. Things that are scary or upsetting—like shadows at night—may be associated with monsters. Tantrums should happen less frequently and be less intense by the middle of this year. In their place, your child is starting to develop the ability to negotiate solutions—which helps you and her.


“Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5 (5th Ed)” by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones” by the American Academy of Pediatrics.