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Child Development Guide: 4-5 Years

— Washington State Department of Social and Health Services
Updated on Nov 12, 2009

Developmental Tasks

  • To learn to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
  • To become comfortable with own sexual identity.
  • To make connections and distinctions between feelings, thoughts, and actions.
  • To solve problems by initiating and creating.

Indicators Related to Developmental Lag

  • Excessive fears; extreme separation anxiety; bedwetting; shyness; threatening or bully peers; inhibited play and talk; ritualistic behaviors, especially around food; persistent speech problems; toileting problems; excessive fear of strangers; lack of interest in others or in a child's normal activities.

Note: Although these tasks and indicators may be present during ages 3 to 7, each may be more observable at specific times.

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: Four to Five Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Is very active and consistently on the go. Is sometimes physically aggressive. Provide plenty of play space both indoor and out. Provide for rest, as child tires easily.
Has rapid muscle growth. Provide ample protein in diet since nutrition is important.
Physical Development for Three to Four Years Physical Development for Five to Six Years
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INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT: Four to Five Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Has large vocabulary, 1500 to 2000 words; has strong interest in language; is fascinated by words and silly sounds. Provide interesting words, stories. Play word games.
Likes to shock adults with bathroom language. Ignore bad language, since paying attention to it only reinforces it.
Has insatiable curiosity; talks incessantly; asks innumerable questions. Answer questions patiently.
Nightmares are common. Accept the fright as real. Help the child gain power over the experience (e.g., a "magic" light to freeze the monster).
Has imaginary friends and active fantasy life. Don't ridicule or underestimate the importance of fantasy in the child's life.
Intellectual Development for Three to Four Years Intellectual Development for Five to Six Years
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SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: Four to Five Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Really needs to play with others; has relationships that are often stormy; when playing in groups, will be selective about playmates. Send child to a good preschool or play group. If not possible, encourage group play, but don't be surprised by disagreements or child's behavior toward different playmates.
Likes to imitate adult activities; has good imagination. Allow child to participate in adult activities which he/she can manage, e.g., dusting, setting the table, filling pets' water dish.
Relies less on physical aggression; is learning to share, accept rules, take turns. Expect child to take simple responsibilities and follow simple rules, such as taking turns.
Social Development for Three to Four Years Social Development for Five to Six Years
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EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Four to Five Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Exhibits a great deal of name calling; can be demanding and/or threatening. Keep a sense of humor.
Often is bossy, belligerent; goes to extremes, bossy then shy; frequently whines, cries, and complains. Provide outlets for emotional expression through talking, physical activity, and creative media.
Often tests people to see who can be controlled. Establish limits and adhere to them.
Is boastful, especially about self and family. Provide opportunities for talking about self and family.
Has growing confidence in self and world. Strengthen positive self-esteem by pointing out the things child can do for self.
Is beginning to develop some feeling of insecurity. Assure the child that she/he is loved.
Emotional Development for Three to Four Years Emotional Development for Five to Six Years
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MORAL DEVELOPMENT: Four to Five Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Is becoming aware of right and wrong; usually has desire to do right; may blame others for own wrongdoing. Help the child be responsible and discover the consequences of his/her behavior. Be aware of your feelings and try to understand his/her perspective.
Moral Development for Three to Four Years Moral Development for Five to Six Years
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