Your child at four years

We all know toddlers come in two flavours, but for the sake of clarity we'll refer to your four-year-old as a 'he'. 

There a few things in life more gripping than your child's development. From their earliest moments, we obsess about what our children are learning and how they are changing. Do remember, though, that milestones of development are not carved in granite but widely variable (see our behaviour/development Talk forum).

Your child at four

At four, he is a real little boy, waving goodbye (no longer bye bye) to infant life. His body is losing some of that baby fat and his face is slimming out to that of a schoolboy's. While he needs and will demand respect, he still wants your protection, especially where his emotions are concerned.

How he thinks

He may be quite easily frightened. It is best to monitor closely what your child sees on television - it would be embarrassing to hear him tell someone's mother his favourite film is Terminator Two. Fears of the dark and bogeymen, witches and ghosts under the bed are rampant. It may be best to offer to keep his 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 wicked stepmothers in Disney films, not compassionate parents. Nightmares are not uncommon and you may have to comfort him in the middle of the night - a tricky time to be compassionate.

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

He may sometimes be defiant, and at least one in 10 children this age will have one or more tantrums a day. But he will also discover an emotion that will stand him in good stead for parenting - guilt. After a hefty screaming fit in the middle of the supermarket you may be pleased to know he'll feel guilty for upsetting you and ashamed. He will also feel proud of his achievements, if he makes it to the top of a climbing frame or swings high on his own - his face will light up. He will be a great self-publicist but is still keen for you to acknowledge how talented he is.

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

His physical achievements

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

He is more self-sufficient now, washing and drying his face, going to the toilet and dressing himself without putting his head through the armholes. His colour co-ordination may be hard to live with, as will be his insistence that his slippers are suitable for a muddy walk in the woods.

He 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. He may be able to print some letters if you show him how to do it. His judgement of what is longer and bigger also gets better. He will know which is higher out of a tower with three blocks and one with five. He will also be able to judge which is the heavier out of two bricks. He will not, however, realise that bigger and heavier isn't always better and that desirable things can come in small packages. Now is the time to take him to Tiffany's.

What he likes to play

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 he will like ballet lessons.

He will play with several children at a time; at what psychologists call co-operative play, but he might call tag. He is likely to be sociable, to enjoy children coming round to your house and smearing chocolate fingers on your sofa. He 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 he likes doing, and not just because you're his mother.

How he speaks

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

His vocabulary is wide (experts reckon about 1,500 words) and he questions everything "Why can you only get money out of certain walls?". His sentences are quite complicated and he will astound you by saying grown up things like , "I think it would be better for Auntie Agnes to go out with someone who doesn't drink as much as Arnold does." His grammar is surprisingly good (where do they lose it at school?). He will be able to count at least four coins and maybe up to 10.

He can also learn to generalise, as in all lions roar and all mothers need a lie-in on Sundays.  

Last updated: almost 2 years ago