Your child at four years

four, girl. child, development,At four she is a real little girl, waving goodbye (no longer bye bye) to infant life. Her face is slimming out to that of a schoolgirl's. While she needs and will demand respect, she still wants your protection, especially where her emotions are concerned.

Cognitive development

  • Fears and nightmares

She may be quite easily frightened. It is best to monitor closely what she sees on television - not least because it would be embarrassing to hear her tell someone's mother her favourite film is The Others. Fears of the dark and bogeymen, witches and ghosts under the bed are rampant.

It may be best to offer to keep her door open and put in a night-light, because when you are scared at four you are very scared. "Toughen up" and "Don't be such a baby" are the stuff of the wicked stepmother in Disney films, not compassionate parents, so don't be hard on her.

Nightmares are not uncommon and you may have to comfort her in the middle of the night - a tricky time to be compassionate.

  • Time and dates

She can now understand the time in terms of there being a future. First she gets the hang of times of the day, then days and then weeks. She still isn't sure how long each one is, as witnessed by car journeys and "Are we nearly there yet?"

  • Tantrums

She may sometimes be defiant and at least one in 10 children this age will have one or more tantrums a day. But she will also discover an emotion that will stand her in good stead for parenting - guilt. After a hefty screaming fit in the middle of the supermarket you may be pleased to know she'll feel guilty for upsetting you and ashamed.

She will also feel proud of her achievements, if she makes it to the top of a climbing frame or swings high on her own - her face will light up. She will be a great self-publicist but is still keen for you to acknowledge how talented she is.

  • Competitiveness

On the one hand she is very sure of herself, on the other, she may be devastated when things go wrong and she falls over or breaks a toy. She also starts to be competitive, so is bound to experience disappointment because not everyone is like you and lets her win everything.

Physical development

She can add skipping and hopping to her jumping. She can throw a ball overarm and can climb well, showing less fear than you have in watching her. She can do somersaults, each of which you will be asked to applaud.

  • Going to the toilet and getting dressed

She is more self-sufficient now, washing and drying her face, going to the toilet and dressing herself without putting her head through the armholes. Her colour coordination may be hard to live with, as will be her insistence that her slippers are suitable for a muddy walk in the woods.

  • Drawing and writing

She can hold a pencil well, can copy a cross and square, and can draw a man with two to four parts rather than just a big head. She may be able to print some letters if you show her how to do it. Her judgement of what is longer and bigger also gets better.

She will know which is higher out of a tower with three blocks and one with five. She will also be able to judge which is the heavier out of two bricks. She will not, however, realise that bigger and heavier isn't always better and that desirable things can come in small packages. 


This is the age of chatting, singing and dancing, with no self-consciousness. This age will not come again without mind-altering substances. Your budding thespian will love to sing and dance but this does not automatically mean she will like ballet lessons.

  • Playing with other children and sharing

She will play with several children at a time, at what psychologists call cooperative play, but she might call tag. She is likely to be sociable, to enjoy children coming round to your house and smearing chocolate fingers on your sofa. She will love to visit the park and zoo and see what's going down.

You may start to find you enjoy some of the things she likes doing, and not just because you're her mother.


She will understand adult conversation unless it is conducted in French or is about the rise in interest rates. She will know the names of the animals she is visiting in the zoo and one or two colours. She can repeat words of four syllables, if you know any to say to her.

  • Vocabulary

Her vocabulary is wide (experts reckon about 1,540 words) and she questions everything: "Why can you only get money out of certain walls?"

Her sentences are quite complicated and she will astound you by saying grown up things: "I think it would be better for Auntie Agnes to go out with someone who doesn't drink as much as Arnold does." Her grammar is surprisingly good (where do they lose it at school?).

  • Numbers and counting

She will be able to count at least four coins and maybe up to ten. She can also learn to generalise, as in all lions roar and all mothers need a lie-in on Sundays.

A word about our development calendar

Please remember, not all babies and children develop at the same time and in the same way, so our development calendar may not always match your child. Development milestones vary widely. It's not uncommon to have isolated pockets of late development, such as late walkers and talkers, and some babies are slower to develop because they were born prematurely or because they're twins (or triplets). But a minority of babies and children do have delays in development that may need specialist help. If you are at all concerned, go and see your GP. No health professional should ever trivialise a worry you have about your child. If your child has special needs, you can get advice from other parents in our special needs Talk forum. We've also got pages with advice about diagnosis, support and benefits, plus our Special needs webguide.

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Last updated: almost 2 years ago