Milestones: birth to four years

Children aged two to three years

This is a time when toddlers want to become more independent.

They have new things to learn and strong feelings to deal with.

They can lose control of their feelings and this can scare them.

They need lots of physical contact and reassurance that they are lovable.

Relationships and feelings

By two-and-a-half years toddlers usually:

  • will try hard to be independent and say ‘no’ a lot, or ‘me do’
  • are not able to control their feelings - tantrums are common especially when they are tired or frustrated
  • are not able to share with others or take turns
  • may try to resist attempts to stop them doing things
  • can play imaginative games like putting a doll to bed, driving a car around on the floor or feeding toys.

Talk to a community nurse or your doctor if your toddler:

  • has frequent tantrums
  • does not play with adults or older children.

By three years children usually:

  • try to copy adults and are able to be helpful, such as putting toys away
  • play games using lots of imagination and join in with other children’s play.

Talk to a community nurse or your doctor if your toddler:

  • is not playing imaginative games
  • becomes obsessed with certain objects
  • does not use toys as they are ‘meant’ to be used - eg: only plays with the wheels of a car, rather than pushing it along a ‘road’
  • is mostly ‘in their own world’ rather than interacting with others.


By two-and-a-half years children can usually:

  • climb on and off furniture
  • run smoothly and climb on play equipment
  • throw a ball more or less where they want it to go
  • kick a large ball gently but not always where they want it to go
  • stack five to six blocks
  • climb up stairs
  • feed themselves with a spoon and drink from an open cup
  • help to dress and undress themselves
  • be very active and resist attempts to stop them doing things. They don’t understand about danger.

Talk to a community nurse or your doctor if your toddler:

  • is not running smoothly, or has a limp
  • is far more active or less active than other children
  • cannot feed themselves most of the time.

By three years children can usually:

  • push or pull large wheeled toys around to where they want them
  • walk alone up and down stairs
  • push the pedals on a toy such as a tricycle
  • stand and walk on tiptoe
  • jump with both feet
  • kick a ball
  • throw and catch a ball with outstretched arms
  • undress and put on some simple clothes
  • copy a straight line when shown
  • eat with spoon and fork
  • begin to manage toileting. Some children will not manage this until they are nearly four years old
  • know that they are a girl or a boy.

Talk to a community nurse or your doctor if your toddler is not:

  • running as smoothly as other children
  • climbing skilfully.

Learning to talk

By two-and-a-half years children can usually:

  • understand a lot more than they can say
  • use well over 100 recognisable words. Many of the words will be unclear as they cannot say all of the sounds
  • put words into short sentences such as ‘look Mummy dog’
  • talk while playing
  • let people know what they want using words rather than gestures
  • realise that language can get others to respond.

By three years they usually:

  • talk clearly enough for strangers to understand some of what they say
  • use words such as ‘me’ and ‘you’ correctly
  • ask many questions starting with ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’
  • listen to stories, and often ask for favourite stories
  • make up long stories while playing.

Talk to a community nurse or your doctor if your toddler is:

  • not using words to let others know what they want
  • not talking clearly enough for parents to know what they want
  • in a ‘world of their own’ and does not respond when others speak to them.

Print all pages in this section

Last updated: 11 March 2016

Give feedback about this page.

Share this page:

URL copied!