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Your 4-year-old: Development, behavior and parenting tips

Beth Stewart is a married Canadian freelance writer with three grown children and a granddaughter Isabelle whom she adores. She lives on a river, watches soaps, goes camping, loves to dance, collects Mickey Sorcerers' and is in the proce...

Curious and fun 4-year-olds

Your 4-year-old is full of energy, talkative and curious. He’s eager to show you what he can do. You and he will both be excited by his accomplishments. He constantly tests his environment and will waffle between feelings of security and insecurity. He may also be a bossy little tyke who makes up stories. You will experience emotional highs and lows with this age and each day will be a new challenge for both of you.

Funny four year old boy

Each child is different and what one child does at 4 might be quite different from another. However there are some benchmarks that you will find your 4-year-old reaching this year.

4-year-old developmental milestones

Social skills for 4-year-olds

  • shows more independence — able to brush his teeth and get dressed by himself
  • demanding but also eagerly cooperative
  • may be rude, or even tell you to shut up — the more you emotionally react, the more he will misbehave
  • wants to be liked and to please his friends and perhaps has a best friend which could be of either sex
  • knows about everyday things like food, money and appliances and the concept of time
  • has little sense of ownership — possession means he views all things as his
  • has learned sympathy and sadness when someone or something is in pain — that is what he wants when he is in the same situation
  • has become aware of sexuality and has a natural curiosity about it
  • shows a high degree of interest in singing, dancing and acting
  • brims over with imaginative ideas
  • tries to distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality
  • may like telling "tall tales"

Motor skills for 4-year-olds

  • jumps up and touches line 3 inches above standing reach
  • hops forward on one foot
  • uses an overhand toss to hit a target from 5 feet
  • throws small ball underhand 10 feet
  • loves movement — climbing, swinging, somersaulting and skipping
  • enjoys writing, painting, modeling, cutting, pasting and building structures
  • draws a circle, square and sometimes triangle
  • hand-drawn pictures will contain all of the essential elements like eyes, nose and mouth — although they won't look like people to you

Language skills for 4-year-olds

  • can count to 10 or more
  • can name at least four colors
  • has a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words
  • puts together sentences of four or five words
  • asks the most questions of any age
  • enjoys using the four letter words he has heard and particularly enjoys the look on your face when he says them — don't overreact!

What is the best way to discipline your preschooler? Get tips here! >>

Parenting survival tips

Your 4-year-old is at an important learning stage. Let him set his own pace as you provide opportunities to encourage his enthusiasm and creativity. Take him to the zoo, museums, and don't forget the art gallery. There are many good books which illustrate the spatial concepts he needs to learn like over and under, and opposites like big and small. You can reinforce these concepts with everyday objects, like balls and cups.

Encourage your child's relationships with his friends. However, you will find that with this exposure, he will realize there are other values and opinions besides yours.

Physical safety is still a big issue as motor skills have increased substantially but judgment is lacking. He will need to be reminded to wait and hold hands before crossing the street and although he probably loves water and wants to swim, never leave him unattended.

As he expresses his normal curiosity about sexuality, don't scold or punish. Answer his questions with short age-appropriate answers.

Get tips here on how to answer your preschooler's questions about sex. >>

Don't overreact to unpleasant behaviors. 'Time outs' are an effective form of punishment for this age. Usually it's recommended one minute per year, so try a four-minute time out.

Next page: Brain-boosting activities for 4-year-olds >>

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