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Child Development Characteristics of 2- and 3-Year-Olds

author image Matthew Giobbi, Ph.D.
Matthew Giobbi describes himself as an interdisciplinary scholar. His interest in neuroscience, psychoanalysis, critical theory, semiology, and media has taken him off the well-trodden paths of psychology, media studies, and continental philosophy, and into the thicket and brush that typically separates these paths. An avid reader of Heidegger, Fromm, Freud, Lacan, and Arnhiem, Matthew enjoys the swirling waters of convergence, finding unique analogical discourse between fields that can be, at times, hostile towards one another. Matthew's graduate education is in media studies, psychology, and music. He earned his doctorate in media studies from the EGS in Switzerland, his masters in psychology at The New School for Social Research, in New York City, and professional studies in music at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Belgium. He also held undergraduate studies in music and psychology at The New School and East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. Matthew is an award winning educator in college and university departments of psychology and media studies. His teaching ranges from mass media, social science literature, psychopathology, media psychology, personality and social psychology, and critical theory/critical media theory . He has also served on two doctoral dissertation committees since 2009.
Child Development Characteristics of 2- and 3-Year-Olds
Developmental characteristics contribute to a child's overall growth. Photo Credit: Fuse/Fuse/Getty Images

The second and third years of life are marked by rapid changes in physical, cognitive, personality and social characteristics. Developmental psychologists do not view these changes as separate and discrete but as interdependent influences on the child's development as a whole. Most models of child development understand the cognitive, personality and social changes as emerging from, and later influencing, the physical changes of maturation. For example, a child's newly found mobility might result in increased curiosity, which motivates further strength and dexterity in her physical development.

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Growing in Leaps and Bounds

Little boy with crayon
Little boy with crayon Photo Credit: Olga Ryabtsova/iStock/Getty Images

A child's physical maturation in the second year results in the ability to run, kick a ball, walk on tip-toes and jump. Fine motor skills, such as turning book pages, holding a crayon and drawing circles, are also present. By the end of the third year, most children can ride a tricycle, push and pull toys, balance on one foot and throw a ball. Fine motor skill milestones include placing pegs into holes, making clay figures and drawing various shapes with a crayon.

Cognitive Development

Child psychologist Jean Piaget described toddlers in the second and third year of life as having preoperational cognitive abilities. In this stage of development, a child begins to use linguistic representation for abstract images, such as the words "Mommy" and "Daddy" for the primary caregivers. Symbolic representation is also seen in pretend play, as when the child's dolls represent certain family members. Children of this age are unable to see the world from another's point of view, a phenomenon that Piaget called "egocentrism".

Personality Comes Through

Young boy running and happy
Young boy running and happy Photo Credit: rickt99/iStock/Getty Images

During the second and third year of childhood, a toddler manifests a sense of individual self, purpose and volition. Child psychologist Erik Erikson described the personality changes accompanying the physical and cognitive transitions that the child is experiencing. As her legs become strong enough to support and mobilize the child, she develops a new sense of independence and initiative. With the cognitive development of representational language, the child begins to develop a sense of self and other, represented in words such as "me," "mine" and "no".

Early Social Exploration

Mother playing with daughter
Mother playing with daughter Photo Credit: EduardSV/iStock/Getty Images

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton described the social life of the toddler as one of exploration and social manipulation. In this period, a child largely interacts with adults, whom he depends on to fulfill certain needs. As the child's autonomy increases, his dependency on adults decreases. However, the caregiver remains the authority who governs the child's developing independence. At this time, the child masters behavioral and emotional techniques that successfully fulfill his desires, while learning to deal with the frustration of unfulfilled desire.

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