Socialization in the fourth year

As Baby reaches their third birthday, they are PROBABLY moving past some of the behavioral issues of the second year which can make socializing with a two-year-old so exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

What’s the difference between two and three?

At age three, you should begin to see a shift in Baby’s behavior, especially on the social front. Overall, three-year-olds start to show more independence from parents and caregivers, aren’t so focused on themselves and have even stronger language skills than they did the year before. These traits make life feel a little less frustrating to them, and when they are less frustrated, this can lead to better behavior during playtime, while interacting with family members, and when out and about.  

What does playtime look like for a 3-year-old?

In general, playtime becomes more interactive for children in this age group, as they’ve moved on from parallel play. Here are two key themes you’ll notice:

  • Increased imaginary play: Superheroes and princesses reign once children hit age 3. Through costumes, dress-up games, and role-playing, fantasy play helps Baby to learn more about themself and life beyond their day-to-day experiences.
  • Better cooperation: Around the time Baby turns three, you may notice that they are better able to share and cooperate with playmates – moving beyond the conflicts over toys that dominated interactions at age 2. Plus, with better language abilities, 3-year-olds can even begin to settle their own squabbles when they occur. 

How can you support your three-year-old’s social development?

Spend a few minutes on a playground with a group of three-year-olds, and you’ll start to spot the differences in behavior from just a few months before. You can help them continue to grow and develop socially as they heads into their fourth year.

  • Reinforce evolving behaviors: While these new behaviors make playtime less chaotic, three-year-olds still fall back on old behavior patterns sometimes. When Baby has a hard time sharing, or can’t resolve conflicts peacefully, it’s okay to step in and remind them to use their new social skills.
  • Look for opportunities to socialize: Especially if Baby doesn’t attend pre-school, or goes part-time, it can be helpful to find extra opportunities – playgroups, lessons, or parent-child activities – for them to do, to give them the chance to interact with other children their own age. At this age, toddlers love having a say in decisions, and asking Baby whether they would rather take an art class with mom or tumbling lessons can help to get activities off to a great start.
  • Help foster new interests: By age 3, Baby will start to show more of an interest in exploring new ideas and environments. They may not be comfortable jumping headlong into something entirely new, but encouraging them to try new things – from inviting over a new friend to play to visiting the petting zoo with playgroup friends – can help to foster a sense of adventure, and broaden their horizons.

Many parents watch their toddlers’ transitions to age three with a sense of wonder. From newfound sharing abilities to increased empathy to a more settled demeanor, three-year-olds continue to demonstrate improved social skills, showing day-in and day-out how far they’ve come.

  • “Developmental Milestones: 3 to 4 Year Olds.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/2015.
  • “Social Development in Preschoolers.” Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/2015.
  • Amanda Morin. “Developmental Milestones for Typical 3-Year-Olds.” Understood. 2014-2017.
  • William Sears, MD. “Three Year Old Behavior.” Ask Dr. Sears. 2017.
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