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Child Development Guide: 3-4 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 bullying peers; inhibited play; ritualistic behaviors, especially around food; persistent speech problems; toileting problems; excessive fear of strangers; lack of interest in others.

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

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: Three to Four Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Runs, jumps, begins to climb ladders; can start to ride tricycles; tries anything; is very active; tends to wander away. Carefully supervise physical activities. Set necessary limits.
Scribbles in circles; likes to play with mud, sand, finger paints, etc.; can begin to put together simple puzzles and construction toys. Provide materials and activities to develop coordination, e.g., sand, crayons, paint, puzzles.
Dresses self fairly well; cannot tie shoes. Provide opportunities for child to dress self. Let him or her pick clothes.
Can feed self with a spoon or fork. Let child feed self.
Takes care of toilet needs more independently; can stay dry all day but perhaps not all night; becomes very interested in own body and how it works. Label all body parts without judgment, and answer questions about body functions simply and honestly.
Physical Development for Two to Three Years Physical Development for Four to Five Years
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INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT: Three to Four Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Continues to learn through senses. Provide many sensory experiences, e.g., sand, water, pictures.
Uses imagination a lot; starts dramatic play and role playing; likes to play grown-up roles, e.g., Mommy, Daddy, firefighter, spaceman, Wonder Woman. Provide props for dramatic play, e.g., old clothes, shoes, make-up.
Begins to see cause-and-effect relationships. Point out and explain common cause-and-effect relationships -- how rain helps flowers grow, how dropping makes glass break, how hitting hurts a person.
Is curious and inquisitive. Explain things to the child, answer questions honestly, and help child put feelings and ideas into words.
Intellectual Development for Two to Three Years Intellectual Development for Four to Five Years
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EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Three to Four Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Is sensitive about the feelings of other people toward self. Develop a warm relationship with child. Express and show love for and confidence in the child.
Is developing some independence and self-reliance. Encourage independent activity.
May have fear of strangers, animals, the dark. Never force the child to participate in frightening activities. Don't ridicule. Provide a night light.
Is anxious to please adults and is dependent on their approval, love, and praise. Give approval through facial expressions, gestures, and verbal responses. Avoid negative remarks about the child. Emphasize the family's love for the child.
May strike out emotionally at situations or persons when having troublesome feelings. Offer love, understanding, and patience. Help child work with and understand own emotions.
(Note: Some temporary regression and jealousy are common if a new baby arrives.)
Emotional Development for Two to Three Years Emotional Development for Four to Five Years
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SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: Three to Four Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Can leave mother for short periods but mother is still very important. Express interest in what the child has been doing while away from parent(s).
Begins to notice differences in the way men and women act. Imitates adults. Model the things you want the child to do, since at the start of gender role development the child will imitate adults.
Starts to be more interested in others; begins group play; likes company. Is not ready for games or competition; groups are not well formed. Provide enough materials so that several children can use them together. Help the child find socially acceptable ways of dealing with others.
Social Development for Two to Three Years Social Development for Four to Five Years
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MORAL DEVELOPMENT: Three to Four Years
Normal Characteristics Suggested Behaviors for Effective Parenting
Begins to know right from wrong. Provide clear limits; enforce them consistently, but not harshly.
Finds other's opinions of self to be important. Praise the child whenever you honestly can. Focus on behavior; be explicit, e.g., "You ate all the peas, and peas are good for you," or "That drawing has such beautiful colors," instead of "I like that drawing."
Is more self-controlled and less aggressive. Notice and reinforce child's self-control, e.g., the ability to wait, to share belongings.
Uses extreme verbal threats such as, "I'll kill you," without understanding full implications. Don't take threats personally or too seriously.
Moral Development for Two to Three Years Moral Development for Four to Five Years
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