Three year-olds are self-determined individuals with a good sense of right and wrong. They understand that they can influence the world around them and have discovered the art of talking their way out of a situation. It’s the delightfully funny, yet tiresome age of “why, why, why.” I resolved as a mother I would never answer “because,” yet I find myself struggling at times to come up with another answer after the tenth “why?”.

Safety

  • Car: Use an appropriate-sized convertible car seat in the back seat of the car. I like a 5 point harness style. Some large/tall 3 year-olds will outgrow their convertible car seats during their third year and need to move to a booster seat. However, most children will be in a booster seat between 4 and 8 years-old and 40-60 lbs. Seat belts shouldn’t be used alone until the belt fits securely across the child’s hips; and it should not come up on the stomach at all. The shoulder strap should cross at the collar bone (not the face or neck). Note: Do not use products that adjust the shoulder strap on a car vehicle. Most children will not fit this size until about 9 or so.
  • Teach playground/street safety.
  • Teach stranger safety (who is a safe adult should they get lost).
  • Smoking: Make sure your home and cars are smoke free zones. Also, check smoke alarms to ensure they work properly, and change batteries annually.
  • Water:
    Do not leave children in the bathtub unattended.
    Do not allow children to swim unattended. Use sunscreen.
  • Wear a helmet on all things a kid can ride (e.g., bicycles, tricycles, scooters, ATVs, as passengers on adult bicycles, etc.)
  • Guns need to be unloaded and locked (Disturbing fact: More children are killed from guns every year than intruders).
  • Do not leave your child unattended in the house, yard, or car.
  • Keep matches, cleaners, chemicals, and toxic household products out of reach. (FYI: Post the poison control’s number near your phone [1-800-222-1222]).

Sleep

  • Total sleep at night is usually 10-12 hours. Most 3 year-olds still need one nap or rest period a day, usually in the afternoon. As your child approaches 4 years of age, he or she may start to wean off the nap. Every child’s need for sleep is a little different. If your child is acting sleepy and grumpy by 4 or 5 in the afternoon, he or she may not be quite ready to eliminate the nap.

Nutrition

  • Provide 3 meals and 2-3 nutritious snacks a day.
  • Limit the number of fats and sweets your child gets in a day. In addition, you child does not need juice, it is essentially fruit sugar. If you choose to give it to your child, do so in limited quantities (e.g., 4 oz a day). There is no place for soft drinks/soda in a child’s diet.
  • You choose the menu. I am a firm believer in good nutrition at an early age, building good lifetime eating habits. Consider the fact that you’re fueling your child’s growing brain. It is my opinion that we as a society are propagating this notion of “kid food” (e.g., mac n’ cheese, hot dogs, French fries, chicken nuggets). These have very little nutritional value. Offer meats with good protein, fruits and vegetables with good vitamins, etc.
  • Dairy products should be low fat. This includes all milk (unless your child is failing to thrive and you are directed to do otherwise by your pediatrician). All members over the age of 2 in a family should be drinking low fat milk.
  • Eat meals as a family (around a table with the television off). Not only does eating together as a family develop good nutritional habits, it has multiple lasting effects on the social support of a family.
  • Model good eating habits.
  • Keep in mind it is very difficult to eat healthy when eating out (especially at fast food restaurants).

Oral Health

  • Continue to brush and floss teeth twice a day.
  • Schedule an appointment to see a dentist every 6 months.
  • Fluoride supplementation depends on the level of fluoride in the drinking water in the city where you live (your pediatrician or dentist can prescribe it if needed).

Milestones

  • Jumps in place
  • Can kick a ball
  • Knows name, age, and sex
  • Draws a circle and a cross
  • Can dress self
  • Can feed self
  • Rides a tricycle
  • Shows early imaginative behavior
  • Speaks in 3-4 word sentences

Other

  • Media Exposure: Limit total media time (TV, movies, video games) to no more than 2 hours a day, ideally less than 1 hour. Watch programs together so you are aware of what your child is exposed to.
  • Sexual Education: Expect normal curiosity, use correct terms, answer questions frankly, and teach that certain body parts are private.
  • Social Interactions: Praise good behavior, encourage talking, consider structured learning (e.g., preschool).
  • Read together, encourage safe exploration, physical activity.
  • Provide choices, reinforce limits, use “time out.”