3-year-old motor skills and red flags

Amy Graber PT, DPT

Let’s talk 3-year-old motor skills! One of our favorite patient populations at Fit Family Physical Therapy is our toddler group! We love bringing mobile pediatric physical therapy to the homes, schools, or playgrounds of these kiddos. In our physical therapy treatment, we spend time working (and playing!) with the toddler, but also empowering and educating our patients’ parents with the resources and understanding to continue to help their own child.

It’s important to remember that motor skills become much more variable between ages 2-4 years old. While milestone charts are a great way to check on skills, the charts should not be considered a firm endpoint all the time for judging gross motor development. Exposure to certain skills, variability in size or stature, and general motivation for play may vary among kids and this can impact developmental progression. Before jumping to any conclusions, it is important to discuss your specific 3-year-old’s motor skills with a trusted medical professional that understands your child’s background, medical history, home life, etc. Not all children are exposed to the same activities and a lack of skill may be due to a lack of time spent performing those activities.

Major red flags in 3-year-old motor skills would be loss or regression of any prior skills (unable to walk or jump as was previously able), frequent falls or injuries, any excessive delays (i.e. not running or jumping at all), and fatigue with activity that seems to limit participation in play or other social activities.

3-year-old motor skills and red flags

What are some motor skills to look for in your 3-year-old?

Some motor skills that would be recommended for a 3-year-old:

  • Can stand on one leg for a few seconds
  • Can run with a mature running pattern: arm swing, knee drive, runs on toes
  • Can pedal a tricycle
  • Can throw a ball with a single hand overhand pattern
  • Can jump up to 24″ apart
  • Can begin to hop on one leg
  • Can perform a single sit up from a lying down position with little to no assistance
  • Can climb up a playground ladder with 3 rungs

What are some motor skill red flags to look for in your 3-year-old?

It might be good to get a second opinion if your 3-year-old displays any of the following:

  • Excessive falling or tripping (>2 falls per day)
  • Walking on tip toes more than 20% of the time
  • Unable to jump or hop
  • Has difficulty keeping up with peers at playground due to fatigue
  • Not yet running
  • Any regression of motor skills

As mentioned above, regression of motor skills is one of the most important red flags to look for in 3-year-old motor skills. If your child was previously mastering a skill but can no longer perform the skill, make sure to discuss this with your child’s medical provider.

3-year-old motor skills
3-year-old motor skills

Have questions about 3-year-old motor skills or toddler motor development?

If you need a second opinion or discussion about your 3-year-old’s motor skills, try discussing with your child’s pediatrician or a pediatric physical therapist. Either medical professional will be able to assess your specific child’s development and skill set and provide you with recommendations on next steps, if necessary.

Need pediatric physical therapy in Scottsdale? Contact us at Fit Family Physical Therapy for a free physical therapy consultation phone call. We can address your concerns and help you determine appropriate developmental milestones for your toddler. Skip the line with physician and insurance wait times, talk to us, and start your path to pain- and symptom-free activity today!

About the Author
Amy Graber PT, DPT

Amy Graber PT, DPT has practiced physical therapy in a variety of settings. She has worked specifically with the pediatric population, assisting infants and young children reach developmental milestones, or rehabilitating young athletes. Amy has also worked extensively with adult patients and finds equal joy in helping adults reduce disability and reach their movement potential. She has specific experience with orthopedics, gait & balance training, and geriatrics.

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