If you've made it through the baby years, the terrible twos and that dreaded threenager stage, and you're still standing, you deserve a glass of wine and a big pat on the back. According to other parents who have been in the trenches and have lived to tell the tale, the best may be yet to come. Rumor has it that 4-year-olds leaving toddlerhood and entering the preschool age are kind of awesome. They live right there in that sweet spot where they can talk and interact and love on you — and they might also listen to reason.
Of course, there are still ups and downs in that fourth year. Your 4-year-old is full of energy, talkative and curious. They're eager to show you what they can do, and you will both be excited by their accomplishments. They constantly test their environment and will veer between feelings of security and insecurity. Your 4-year-old may also be a bossy little tyke who feels the need to be in charge. You will experience emotional highs and lows with this age, and each day will be a new challenge — for both of you.
We know 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.
Social skills for 4-year-olds
Motor skills for 4-year-olds
Language skills for 4-year-olds
Learning about the world. 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 that 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.
Friends are important. 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. Use these friendships as a way to start conversations about different rules for different families and teach your 4-year-old to follow the rules when he is visiting a friend's home.
Safety first. 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. If you haven't already tried swimming lessons, this is a good age to introduce them so your child can learn water safety.
Relax about sexual questions. As he expresses his normal curiosity about sexuality, don't scold or punish. Answer his questions with short age-appropriate answers. These questions and observations come at the oddest times, so be ready and armed with answers.
Make the punishment fit the crime. Don't overreact to unpleasant behaviors. Timeouts are an effective form of punishment for this age. Usually it's recommended one minute per year, so try a four-minute timeout. Be patient and remember that they are still learning their place in the world — and looking to you to help them learn.
Originally published March 2010. Updated August 2017.
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