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Well Child Care at 3 Years

Eating meals together as a family has many benefits. Mealtime is a great time to let your child tell you about her interests, concerns, and worries. Encourage your child to talk and to listen to others as they share stories and experiences. This helps your child to learn new words and keeps your family feeling close and connected. Don’t have the TV on during family meals.

You can model healthy eating by what you eat and how much you eat. Serve healthy snacks like cheese, fruit, and yogurt. Avoid junk foods and soda pop.

Your child should be feeding herself completely on her own now. If you are having problems at mealtime, ask your child’s healthcare provider for advice.


At this age it is normal for you child to want to do things by herself. Patience and encouragement will help your 3-year-old develop new skills and build self-confidence.

Your child will learn reading skills while watching you read. She will start to figure out that printed symbols have certain meanings. Your child will want to participate with you and will make comments, ask questions, and point things out while you read.

Set rules about TV watching. Limit TV and video watching to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day. Don’t let your child watch shows with violence or sexual behaviors. Don’t put a TV in your child's bedroom. Having a TV, computer, or video game in your child's bedroom increases your child's risk for obesity, sleep disorders, and attention problems.

Many 3-year-olds still need diapers during the day or night. Avoid putting too many demands on your child or shaming him about wearing diapers. Let your child know how proud and happy you are as he learns how to use the toilet.

Behavior Control

Here are some good ways to help your child learn about rules:

  • If your child is playing with something you don't want her to have, replace it with another object or toy that she enjoys. This approach avoids a fight and does not give your child a chance to say no.
  • Make rules and let your child know what will happen if she breaks a rule. Make consequences logical. For example, you might say, “If you don't stay in your car seat, the car doesn't go,” or “If you throw your toys, I will put them away.” When your child breaks a rule, follow through each time and do what you have said you would do. Your child will learn that you mean what you say.
  • If your child breaks a rule, after a short, clear, and gentle explanation, immediately find a place for your child to sit alone. It’s very important for the "time-out" to happen right after the rule is broken. Time-outs should last 1 minute for each year of age.

    Don’t send your child to their room for time-outs. A bedroom should not feel like a place of punishment.

  • For behaviors that you would like to encourage in your child, try to "catch” your child being good. That is, tell your child how proud you are when she does what you want her to do. Be positive and enthusiastic when your child does things to please you.

Talk to your child’s healthcare provider if you have questions about discipline or need help with behavior problems.

Dental Care

It’s important to take care of your child’s baby teeth because they help your child chew food and speak clearly. They also help save space for the permanent teeth that will come in later. You can help care for your child’s teeth by following these tips:

  • Avoid sugary foods to help prevent cavities.
  • Make sure that your child brushes her teeth after meals. Check your child's teeth after he has brushed.
  • Teach your child how to floss every day.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider or dentist if your child still sucks a finger or pacifier, or still uses a sippy cup. These habits can cause problems with permanent teeth.
  • Your child should see a dentist every 6 months or as often as the dentist recommends.

Safety Tips

  • Go through every room in your house and remove valuables or anything that is dangerous for a child. Preventive child-proofing will stop many possible accidents, injuries, and discipline problems. Don't expect your child not to get into things just because you say no.
  • Teach your child the first and last names of family members in case your child gets lost.


  • Do not allow your child to climb on ladders, chairs, or cabinets.
  • Make sure windows are closed or have screens that cannot be pushed out.
  • Always buckle the safety belts or straps when your child is in a shopping cart.

Car Safety

  • Make sure that your child is buckled into an approved car safety seat. Children under 13 should always ride in the back seat.
  • Never leave children alone in a parked car, even for a few minutes. Children are at risk for heat illness and injury when left alone. Always check to make sure your child is not still in the car when you leave your car.

Traffic and Tricycle Safety

  • Hold onto your child's hand when you are near traffic.
  • Practice crossing the street. Make sure your child stays right with you.
  • Your child and all family members should always wear a bicycle helmet, even when riding a tricycle.
  • Do not allow riding of a tricycle or other riding toys on driveways or near traffic.

Water Safety

  • NEVER leave your child in a bathtub alone.
  • Watch children and never leave them alone around water, including wading pools, swimming pools, spas or hot tubs, ponds, lakes, streams, or any other open water. If a child is in the water, an adult should also be in the water close enough to reach and grab the child if needed. Children who have completed swimming programs are still not safe from drowning.


  • Keep all medicines, vitamins, cleaning fluids, and other chemicals locked away.
  • Buy medicines in containers with safety caps.
  • Do not store poisons in drink bottles, glasses, or jars or anywhere children can reach them.
  • Put the poison center number on all phones.


  • Teach your child never to take anything or go anywhere with a stranger.

Fires and Burns

  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach.
  • Turn your water heater down to 120°F (49°C) or lower.
  • Install smoke detectors. Check your smoke detectors as often as recommended by the manufacturer or at least once a month to make sure they work. For all detectors that use batteries, replace batteries at least once a year or when they are low.
  • Practice a fire escape plan.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in or near the kitchen.


  • Children who live in a house where someone smokes have more respiratory infections, like colds, flu, and throat infections. Their symptoms are also more severe and last longer than those of children who live in a smoke-free home.
  • If you smoke, set a quit date and stop. Ask your healthcare provider for help in quitting. If you cannot quit, do NOT smoke in the house, car, or near children. It helps keep your child healthy and sets a good example.


Immunizations protect your child against several serious, life-threatening diseases. Your child should get a flu shot every year. Your child’s healthcare provider will let you know if your child is up to date on all recommended vaccinations. Be sure to bring your child's shot record to all visits with your provider.

Next Visit

A routine checkup every year is recommended.

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-10-03
Last reviewed: 2013-10-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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