Children & Adolescents Clinic

 Home Parent's Guide

Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
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Well Child Care at 3 Years


Mealtime should be a pleasant time for the family. If food battles are common, ask your doctor for advice. Your child should be completely feeding himself now. Avoid junk foods. You are the parent, so you make the rules about good healthy foods.

Development and Discipline

Children at this age often want to do things by themselves; this is normal. Patience and encouragement will help 3-year-olds develop new skills and build self-confidence. Some children still require diapers during the day and night. Avoid putting too many demands on the child or shaming him about wearing diapers. Let your child know how proud and happy you are as toilet training progresses.

For all 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 he does what you want him to do.

Here are some good methods for helping children learn about rules and to keep them safe:

  1. Child-proof the home. Go through every room in your house and remove anything that is either valuable, dangerous, or messy. Preventive child-proofing will stop many possible discipline problems. Don't expect a child not to get into things just because you say no.

  2. Divert and substitute. If a child is playing with something you don't want him to have, replace it with another object or toy that the child enjoys. This approach avoids a fight and does not place children in a situation where they'll say "no."

  3. Teach and lead. Have as few rules as necessary and enforce them. These rules should be rules important for the child's safety. If a rule is broken, after a short and clear explanation, punish immediately by having the child sit alone for 3 minutes. It is very important that punishment come immediately after a rule is broken.

  4. Be consistent with discipline. Don't make threats that you cannot carry out. If you say you're going to do it, do it.

For more information see: Normal Development: 3 Years

Safety Tips

Prevent Fires and Burns

  • Practice your fire escape plan.
  • Check your smoke detector battery.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach.
  • Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees F (50 degrees C).

Car, Pedestrian, and Play Safety

  • Never leave your child alone in a car.
  • Everyone in a car must always wear seat belts.
  • Hold onto your child's hand when your are near traffic.
  • Do not allow riding of a tricycle or other riding toys on driveways or near traffic.
  • Have your child wear a bicycle helmet while riding a tricycle.
  • It is too early to expect a child to look both ways before crossing the street. Supervise all street crossing.

Dental Care

  • Brushing teeth regularly after meals is important. Think up a game and make brushing fun.
  • Make an appointment for your child to see the dentist.

Prevent Drowning

  • Continuously watch your child around any water.


  • Keep all medicines, vitamins, cleaning fluids, etc. locked away.
  • Put the poison center number on all phones. The poison control number is _____________________.
  • Ask your doctor about syrup of Ipecac. Use it only if you are told to do so.
  • Purchase all medicines in containers with safety caps.
  • Do not store toxic substances in drink bottles, glasses, or jars.

Safety Around Strangers

  • Teach your child the first and last names of family members.
  • Teach your child never to go anywhere with a stranger.

Avoid Falls

  • 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.

Next Visit

A once-a-year check-up is recommended. Before starting school your child will need some vaccinations.

Written by Robert Brayden, M.D.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems