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4-Year-Old Development Moments to Watch For



You’ve made it through the baby years, the terrible twos and the threenager stage, and you’re still standing. You deserve a pat on the back. But parenting is the exhausting gift that keeps on giving, so before you breathe too big a sigh of relief, welcome to the frustrating fours.

But don’t just slump on the floor and wail (although if you do, know that we’ve been there), because there is good news. And that’s the fact that most of the time 4-year-olds are pretty awesome. They’re leaving toddlerhood behind; getting ready for school; and are full of energy, curiosity and hilarious chatter. Expect a whole lot of love — along with 64,386 “Why?” questions every day.

Like every age, being 4 years old comes with its ups and downs — and that’s just for the kid. Parenting a 4-year-old can be a challenge at the best of times. Every child is different, of course, but here are some of the things you can expect from your 4-year-old along with some expert tips on how to help them.

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What should my kid be able to do at 4 years old?

At the age of 4, most children are able to exhibit certain developmental milestones, says Kandace Herring, educational director at Varsity Tutors who has a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on early childhood education.

Social skills

  • Taking turns in line on the playground or in a board game
  • Sharing toys
  • Introducing themselves
  • Asking questions
  • Following basic directions
  • Exhibiting self-control

Fine motor skills

  • Grasping a pencil/scissors
  • Zipping a coat
  • Writing their own name

Gross motor skills

  • Pedaling a bike
  • Hopping
  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Skipping
  • Kicking a ball

Language skills

  • Expressing their feelings with their own words
  • Using four- to five-word sentences
  • Responding to questions
  • Understanding responses to questions

How can I encourage my 4-year-old to love learning?

Every day with your 4-year-old brings so many opportunities to help them learn, says kindergarten teacher Taylor Doyle. “Ask your kid questions that make them think, and encourage them to ask questions as well,” she suggests. “For example, when on a walk, ask questions that increase thought — like, ‘Why do you think trees are tall?’ and ‘Where do you think clouds come from?’ These types of questions push children to start thinking a little bit deeper, and this encourages wonder, which is huge for learning down the road. Skills like this create a ‘thinker’ rather than just a ‘learner.'”

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Reading books and playing board games together are other ways to encourage a love of learning, says Herring. She also recommends involving your child in everyday activities like grocery store planning and cooking. “Simple cooking activities are a fun and important way to help children learn about measurements, mixing, temperatures and discussions about solids vs. liquids,” she says.

Should my 4-year-old get screen time?

Ah, the trusty iPad — every parent’s savior when multitasking is impossible or patience is thin. But does technology help or harm your 4-year-old? With the right apps, it can be useful for short amounts of time, says Doyle. “Playing learning games on electronics can be beneficial to 4-year-olds and can help with their fine motor skills as they are touching specific points on the screen,” she says. “But know what they are doing, limit the time they are doing it, and ask them questions about what they are learning; if they are getting nothing from it, they need a different activity.”

How can I help build my 4-year-old’s self-esteem?

According to therapist Lakiesha Russell, you can boost your 4-year-old’s self-esteem in three different ways.

Encourage autonomy

“Parents are quick to jump to the rescue of our children, especially when they are young,” says Russell. Instead of sweeping in to assist with getting dressed or putting on shoes, stop and wait for your child to ask for help. This helps them learn how to problem-solve and want to do things on their own first, which helps them grow up feeling confident in their own abilities to navigate the world. “When we hover over our children and don’t allow them to assert their independence, they feel inadequate in their abilities,” she adds.

Increase your own self-esteem

Your child will imitate how you react to things and what you value, so a positive self-image is crucial, says Russell. Part of this is acknowledging when you have done something well and celebrating your own small victories, which can motivate your child to do their best as well.

Encourage positive release of emotions

Encourage your child to use words to share how they feel. This shows them their emotions are important. You can also show them constructive ways to release those emotions, such as expressively coloring when they are angry, using breathing techniques when they are anxious and building things (with Legos or blocks) when they are sad. These techniques can help them express and validate feelings they may not be able to articulate.

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Don’t beat yourself up if you feel as if you spend your days completely baffled by your 4-year-old (What do they want? What do they mean? Why are they having another tantrum?). Kids at this age are challenging — some more so than others. “A 4-year old may have a limited vocabulary or even be nonverbal,” says educator Lemi-Ola Erinkitola, founder of The Children’s Reading Foundation of Greater Chicago and The Critical Thinking Child. “It’s important to remember that children have different learning styles — and what works for one child may not work for another,” she adds. “The more patient and flexible you are, the more effective a teacher you’ll be for your kid.”

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