She can get dressed all by herself.

The Characteristics of Two to Three Year Olds

by Alice Drinkworth

The terrible twos aren’t so terrible. His growing defiance is only one characteristic of the third year of life. Children who are 2 years old are learning to use their bodies, their words and their minds. Kiss those dimpled cheeks as much as possible. As he goes from 2 to three 3 years old, your child becomes less like a baby and more like a child.


Physical growth slows between the ages of 2 and 3, but the proportions change. Her head growth will slow while her arms and legs get longer, making her look more like a child. Baby fat will start to disappear, particularly in the face, arms and legs. The average toddler grows 2 1/2 inches in a year and gains about 4 lbs., according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.


By age 2, a toddler should be putting together two-word sentences. He can name some body parts and familiar people and animals. Your toddler can follow simple directions, when he feels like it. With about 50 words in his vocabulary, his favorite might be “no.” By the time he is 3, he will probably have 200 or more words in his vocabulary and be speaking in three- or four-word sentences. He will use pronouns like you, me and I. If you can’t understand all his words, be patient. Let him look at your mouth as you repeat the word to him. You should be able to understand about 75 percent of what a toddler says by age 3.

On the Move

At the beginning of her third year, a typical toddler can walk without holding onto your hand. She may prefer it that way. She can run, kick a ball and climb into a chair. Stairs might still be a challenge, but by age 3, she should be walking up and down the stairs by putting one foot on each step. Over the year, her scribbling might turn into drawings. She will be able to trace shapes and do simple puzzles. She will continue working on getting things open and closed, working every button and knob she finds and making herself a great escape artist.

Social Skills

Some of that toddler defiance will be him trying to assert his growing independence. Toddlers become interested in being with other children. Separation anxiety is lessening, although he will still have times he feels afraid to be away from you. Toddlers imitate others and express what they learn about the world with creative play. He will pretend to talk on the phone, put out a fire or cook an egg. By age 3, he will comfort a crying friend and take turns when playing a game. Children this age benefit from consistent bedtime and naptime routines, even if he no longer sleeps midday.

About the Author

Alice Drinkworth has been a writer and journalist since 1995. She has written for community newspapers, college magazines and Drinkworth earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Wisconsin and won a media award for her in-depth coverage of local politics. She is also a certified master gardener.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images