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Your child at five years old

It's independence day. Your capable five-year-old will want to do it all by herself – apart from the occasions when only Mummy will do. Make the most of those moments now because they're fast becoming a rarer occurrence

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jun 7, 2021

Girl in hat and coat

She'll enjoy doing proper grown-up things like handing over the money for shopping and choosing her own clothes – but she'll have an unerring knack for picking the most overpriced item in any shop and eschewing the sale racks. She takes pride in what she wears though (even when it's dreadful) and is starting to develop her own distinctive tastes. Some are more distinctive than others.

She's becoming lots more fun, laughing at slapstick humour she sees on television and 'getting' jokes you tell her. You might have to explain the joke in mind-numbing detail first before she tells you repeatedly that she gets it and explains back to you why it's funny, by which time all humour is lost. But that in itself is quite funny, too!

The desire for responsibility looms large, with 'I can do it' a constant refrain. 'It' could be helping cook supper or doing the ironing, however, so keep an eye on what she's doing and make sure your house is still safe for her as she grows. This is the age at which they do completely mad things like put a stool up to the front door handle and leave the house of their own accord or climb up to the work surface and boil the kettle.

Her desires are way beyond what she's capable of and her sense of self-preservation still needs a lot of honing, so never assume she wouldn't be so silly as to do x, y or z. She would be that silly. Now's the time to brush up on child safety around the home and also make sure your child knows the basics of road safety, too.

On the other hand, she will often surprise you by how grown-up she is. She'll come out with something that sounds years beyond her, or you'll catch sight of her just sitting looking at her books quietly, no longer needing you to entertain her quite so much. Every now and then, you'll realise she is happily entertained and you have a spare 20 minutes to yourself for the first time in… oooh, five years!

In general, you'll find she's becoming more her own person than an 'offshoot' of you. She's more happy to go into school and parties on her own. And you might even be happy to leave her for playdates with families you know well, and get a few hours to yourself. Suddenly you realise why other parents are so keen on playdates!

She's able to help around the house, taking on small amounts of responsibility. Let her push herself a little with tasks that are 'just' out of her reach and try not to leap up to help her but let her keep trying and expand her skills a bit at a time.

Physical development at five years old

There's much more diversity in physical ability by the age of five so it's harder to know exactly what to expect; some children are more physically able than others. However, she's likely to run around a lot and play games in which you'll see her ability to swing, dodge, stop, twirl and change direction suddenly all improve.

She may learn to ride a bike this year (though some children will already be able to do so and some take a bit longer to get the hang of it) and will probably enjoy using a skipping rope and carrying out feats of gymnastics in the playground. You won't be the first parent to look away in horror the first time you see her precariously swinging upside down from the bars of a climbing frame, her precious head missing the concrete by centimetres.

She can catch a large ball when it's thrown or bounced to her and might want to take part in a team sport like football, where she's coordinating her movements with others.

Fine motor skills are much more controlled and deliberate now. She'll often proudly announce beforehand what she's going to draw and it may even be recognisable. Previously she will often have drawn something and then decided what it looked like afterwards. When she draws people now they will have at least six body parts and may have details like buttons and hair. She can also draw a good triangle, which is harder to do than a circle or square, and can use a knife properly when she's eating. Getting ready for school suddenly becomes a lot less painful now she can do up zips and buttons and brush her own hair.

She's completely shaking off any final traces of 'babyness' physically now. She's much leaner and more muscular and will gain on average 2 kilos and 2 inches in height this year. Her vision also becomes 20:20 (assuming she has no sight problems of course) and adult teeth may start to appear this year.

How can I encourage my child's physical development at five?

This is a great time for her to take up a team sport, like football or cricket. Playing as part of a team will encourage her to try out things she might not have thought she was capable of. As well as being good exercise, team sports require you to coordinate your movements with others, and will give her a sense of community and belonging.

Cognitive development at five years old

This is where things start to get more complex. She's thinking more deeply and relating to those around her more. Sometimes that's lovely and sometimes it's hard to watch, but it's always fascinating.

By five she understands the concept of opposites, and can tell you what the opposite of things like hot, small or loud are. She also understands the difference between something that is real and something that's make-believe, which means she finds it easier to tell the truth. Up until now she sometimes found the lines blurry.

Five-year-olds are able to put themselves in your shoes and so she may show sympathy or even try to help you if, say, you're openly sobbing or being violently sick. Anything more subtle may not be picked up on, however.

She's feeling much more independent, fuelled largely by starting primary school and doing much more without you by her side. She also has a wider range of emotions, which she's working through. Some are harder for her to understand than others. Jealousy, for example, is something easy to feel but tricky for her to put into words. She will talk about her emotions though, and tell you how things make her feel. Relentlessly, sometimes.

Heartbreakingly, she becomes more aware of other children and what they are good at that she isn't, have that she doesn't, are allowed to do that she isn't. You may hear her compare herself unfavourably to other children at school who she feels are 'better' than herself somehow, which is hard to hear. Just listen and reassure her that she has her own special talents.

Harder even than that to hear will be the lists of children who have better lunchboxes than her, go to Disneyland with greater regularity and are allowed to stay up later at night. You can just ignore all this.

She has more control over her emotions and the tantrums should begin to diminish now. Don't get excited though. There's not much of a break between the toddler tantrums stopping and the teenage rant arriving. However, while she's stopped arguing with everything you say, she will find other sparring partners – namely other children. You might find you're dealing with more sibling rivalry or breaking up 'disagreements' at soft play more regularly.

Memory has expanded and she can now recall events that happened a year ago, particularly milestones such as birthdays and Christmases (and that time once when you said you would let her have 10 friends for a sleepover because you weren't really listening to the question). She also has a stronger grasp on the concept of time, understanding today, tomorrow and yesterday as well as the seasons and which order they come in.

One of the most interesting cognitive developments of this year is that five-year-olds start to understand gender differences. They work out that if they’re a girl they're going to grow up to be a woman not a man, and vice versa. Noticing gender difference often manifests itself in a rather irritating passion or hatred of pink, declarations that certain toys are 'just for boys' or 'just for girls' and that sort of thing.

How you deal with this depends on how strongly you feel about it personally perhaps. It's probably an idea to point out that all toys are 'for' all children and no one gender is superior to the other. But whether you ban 'gendered' toys altogether or choose to go with the flow and hope they pass through the phase quickly is a personal choice.

Speech at five years old

By five, she knows around 2,000 words – 500 of which appear to refer to either poo or bottoms (eye roll) and she can repeat sentences of up to 10 syllables. She's learning up to 10 new words each day, too and is suddenly incredibly chatty. She may still be shy around grown-ups but you'll hear her chatting to herself and her toys as she plays and she might be happy to take part in Show And Tell at school. Show And Tell seems to consist mainly of taking in toys other children will covet jealously – reception parents will know it fondly as 'Show Off And Tell'.

She can also make up a story and tell it – though it may not resemble a story as you know it and plots can be a bit holey. Think of these stories as 'postmodern'. She's starting to understand and tell jokes and thankfully, they start to actually be funny at this age! Yep, you can finally wave a relieved goodbye to having to slap your thigh and laugh uproariously at: 'Knock knock. Who's there? A fish. A fish who? AN ELEPHANT!'

Reading, writing and counting at five years old

She can read her own name and will point to words she doesn't know and ask what they say – always an education when you're standing in a bus shelter. 'But WHAT does Dan do to donkeys, Mummy?' She'll probably know her alphabet and will be learning phonic sounds at school, enabling her to sound out new words and work out what they mean. Some children of five will be reading pretty fluently now.

By five she will likely be writing her own name and will probably have a preferred hand to use for writing, though some children of this age are still ambidextrous. She'll be able to keep counting from 10 up to 15 and maybe 20 at the start of the year and by the time she turns six will be happily counting to 100. At school she'll be starting to get to grips with some very basic maths, working out 'one more than' and 'one less than' and other early mathematical concepts.

How can I encourage my child's cognitive development at five?

Play 'with' her whenever you can. This age goes by in a flash and it's when you play with her that you'll hear snippets of fascinating information about what she likes and doesn't, what's bothering her and what's important in her world.

Share lots of books with her, both stories you read to her, easy books she can read to you and books she can enjoy by herself, like pop-up and lift-the-flap books.

Try to get her to do activities that will be useful in a classroom setting, such as waiting a turn for something, sitting quietly when you read her a story, or being set a task and then having a go at it herself.

Having responsibility for some simple household chores like laying the table or putting her own socks away is also good for fostering a sense of independence. There's also lots you can do in terms of learning at home to support what she's doing in the classrooms.

Play and activities at five years old

Play, particularly role play, becomes more complex, with moments of high drama and more fantasy. But she's also keen on real-life games like 'mummies and daddies'. As she starts to understand gender she may play along gender lines, so she'll choose to be mummy and a little boy will be daddy.

She'll enjoy playing with sand, digging and making tunnels and, indoors, Play Doh will continue to be popular, too. Five-year-olds are becoming more adept at board games, but also more adept at cheating, so losing at games still hits her hard. You might catch her out trying to change the rules to suit herself, but that's something many adults still struggle to avoid so it seems fair enough.

Friendships develop this year. She's likely to have around five close friends, and maybe one 'bestie' but it's a good idea to encourage her to have 'several' friends to avoid total devastation when her BFF shifts her affections to someone else.

What toys are good at five years old?

Slightly more complex board games come to the fore now – things like Connect Four and Guess Who, as well as 'race around the board' games.

Role play toys will still be popular as she enjoys real-life games, particularly anything classroom-themed so she can play at being her teacher and making her teddies sit on the story rug and move their happy pegs for good behaviour.

Books and audiobooks are a great present for this age group, too.

Developmental milestones at five years old

At this age, your child will probably be able to do some of the following:

  • Stand on one leg for more than 10 seconds
  • Skip
  • Hop
  • Ride a bike
  • Write her name
  • Know the alphabet
  • Count to 20 and later to 100

What else happens when my child is five years old?

Visits from the tooth fairy

Five is the age when baby teeth tend to start falling out, which is a bit of a milestone for you and the Most Important Life Event So Far for your child.

It's a good time to make a dentist's appointment and ensure your child has regular check ups. Those new pearly whites are going to have to last her the rest of her life so tooth-brushing is more important than ever and the Tooth Fairy has high standards.

Ask other parents at school what the going rate is for your local tooth fairy so you know what to expect.

Unwanted lodgers

They bring such lovely things home from school – beautiful colouring, imaginative junk modelling lump-in-throat inducing Mother's Day cards… and a lot of parasites, too.

Now is the time to stock up your medicine cabinet with nit lotion, worming medicine and more. Because when they arrive (and arrive they inevitably will) it will always be a Friday night after the shops have shut. Get prepared with a copy of Mumsnet’s How To Blitz Nits And Other Nasties.

Mumsnetters say…

I don't tolerate rudeness, nastiness or violence, but she is allowed to be cross and a bit stroppy. They’re only little, after all.

If your five-year-old is being difficult, running around outside or going to the playground might help. That, or going for a walk or a cycle or to soft play – essentially anything to burn off excess energy.

Concentrate on your child: who is she? Your ideas of how a child should be aren’t always relevant, and often they're not as interesting as the emerging person you love. Listen hard, watch hard and just appreciate what you see.