The Fantastic Four-Year-Old (page 2)

By — University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Nov 12, 2009

Emotional Development

The four-year-old is temperamental. She has extreme mood changes. She can be happy one minute and sad the next. Remember, be as comforting as possible during periods of sadness, but don't fret too much about it. It will usually end as quickly as it began!
As time passes, your child will become more and more emotionally stable. Though at times it may seem as if you are riding an emotional roller coaster, be patient, your child will soon move toward emotional maturity.
Your child is developing an awareness of feelings. She is able to understand and appreciate the feelings of others, as well as express her own. She will often try to provide comfort. She is beginning to be able to judge the reasons for many basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, and anger. Statements such as, "He is sad because he lost his toy," would be an example.

Intellectual Development

A four-year-old is also making great strides intellectually. She has a clearer understanding of words and can correctly use such words as "under," "on," "above," and "below." Her speech is well-formed for the most part; now people outside the family can understand her. She may be starting to show an interest in reading. It is important that you encourage her intellectual development without being demanding. Don't require that she learn how to read or complete other advanced tasks that require her to stay seated and attentive for extended periods of time. This will only cause frustration for both you and her. Your child will learn to read when the time is right for her. During this phase of development encourage a love of books by reading to her every night. Reading helps her language development, and provides her new material to think about.


What is the most effective way to rear children? Research shows that parents who are loving, firm, and consistent are more likely to see positive results. It is important that you try not to use forms of discipline that are too harsh. Parents must work to avoid being unkind when disciplining children. Severe discipline provides children with a model of aggression. Harsh, aggressive discipline can cause a child to fear her parent and this, in turn, inhibits positive interactions the parent can have with her child. Avoid hitting, yelling, and using cruel words as a way of discipline. If you feel yourself about to lose control, put your child in her bedroom and take five minutes to calm down before handling the situation. Taking this five minutes may save you and your child a lot of heartache in the future. Keep in mind the following positive guidance techniques that can be helpful as you try to shape your child's behavior:

  • Reinforce and praise appropriate behavior, ignore inappropriate behavior whenever possible.
  • Redirect your child to more acceptable behavior. Stay calm.
  • Set clear limits and rules. Follow through with appropriate consequences.
  • Be consistent.
  • Don't use unkind words.

Reference List

Ames, Louise and Frances Ilg. 1976. Your Four Year Old, Wild and Wonderful. Dell Publishing, NY, NY. 150pp. Costa, Shu Shu.1999. "What makes kids behave?" American Baby, May, p.54. Ferrer, Millie. 1997. "Guiding Children's Behavior." National Network for Child Care, Child Care Center Connections, Vol.7, Issue 2:2-3. Nelsen, Jane. 1987. Positive Discipline. Ballantine Books, NY, NY. 258pp.

This document is FCS2150, one of a series of the Family, Youth, and Community Sciences department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. First publication: January 2000. With appreciation to Anne Fugate, project coordinator, University of Florida, for Floridai's CYFAR State Strengthening Grant. Please visit the EDIS Web site at

Millie Ferrer, Ph.D., associate professor, Human Development, and Sara McCrea, graduate assistant, Department of Family, Youth & Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. For information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences / University of Florida / Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean

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