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Gross Motor Skills in a 3-Year-Old Child

The development of 3-year-old children's gross motor skills keeps them, and their moms, on the move. You wrangle your reluctant child to pause for a nourishing snack to refuel her little body, but soon she is off and running on a new adventure. Gross motor skills enable children to use the large muscles of their arms and legs, and permit the busy whirlwind of activity that fills each day. Monitor your child's progress, but remember that the variability that exists in how your child reaches gross motor developmental milestones is normal, and your little one's gross motor skills may unfold differently from those of her peers.

Typical Gross Motor Skills

Observing the gross motor skills of a 3-year-old underscores the amazing transformation of your child from a blanketed bundle to a preschool child who interacts with her environment. Typical gross motor skills for your 3-year-old include pedaling a tricycle, catching and kicking a ball, and standing on one foot for a short time, according to pediatrician-driven, child-development resource KidsHealth.org. At age 3, children incorporate climbing skills into their play activities, and usually alternate feet when tackling a staircase or steps. Hopping on one foot usually comes a little later in the developmental sequence, but your 3-year-old may jump with both feet.

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Safety Concerns

Your 3-year-old may practice his new gross motor skills with reckless abandon, and his zeal for climbing and jumping may leave you struggling to catch your breath. Your child can navigate his environment with a new efficiency that may present new risks for danger, according to PBS article, "The ABC's Of Child Development: Developmental Milestones For Your Child's First Five Years." Parental supervision remains crucial to prevent falls and climbing accidents. Ignore your 3-year-old's pleas and refuse to place him on playground equipment that he cannot climb independently. Structured play areas that include sand can cushion falls and prevent some of the bruises and skinned knees that inevitably accompany your child’s playtime experiments.


The running, climbing and jumping that help your 3-year-old to anticipate playtime with exuberance may offer additional advantages for your child. When your little one practices and investigates the limits of her gross motor skills, she gains self-esteem, according to pediatrician Dr. William Sears. When you join your child's play experience, it validates her self-worth and strengthens a secure parent-child attachment. In addition to building positive self-esteem and bonding with mom, practicing gross motor skills increases the likelihood that your child will remain active as she grows into adulthood.

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Practice, Praise and Opportunity

Your 3-year-old needs your unconditional support and encouragement to sharpen and build the gross motor skills he exhibits now. Physical growth cannot replace parental instruction when children are learning gross motor skills, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Model the correct gross motor movements when you observe a problem, and praise your child's efforts. You can help your child to acquire gross motor confidence and expertise by providing generous opportunities for play and monitoring his progress.

Becky Swain's first publication appeared in the Journal of Personality Assessment in 1984. Her articles have also appeared on various websites. She is an adjunct college instructor, licensed school psychologist and educational consultant. She holds a Master of Science in clinical psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy in educational psychology, both from Mississippi State University.

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