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Your Four-Year-Old

— Gesell Institute of Human Development
Updated on Apr 18, 2011

Typical Behaviors of Four-Year-Olds

Four-year-olds are often at once wonderful and wild. This is an expansive stage where emotional exuberance abounds. The typical four-year-old loves adventure, excursions, and excitement. He or she loves anything new—new people, new places, new games, playthings, activities, and books. Four is highly versatile, with extreme emotions, great drive, and fluid imagination.

Motor Behaviors
  • Is constantly in motion; hopping, jumping, running, trying out new stunts
  • Draws, colors, paints with more detail; uses whole arm movements
  • May hit, kick, or spit when angry
  • Moves quickly with very little wasted motion
  • Requires strong limits to be protected from outof- bounds tendencies
  • Has a good sense of balance; enjoys playing games that require complex motor skills
  • Enjoys games that involve many little pieces to manipulate
Language Behaviors
  • Loves to talk, whisper, rhyme; and does so constantly
  • Asks many questions but is not interested in long answers
  • Is better at talking than listening
  • Tells tall tales; has trouble distinguishing fact from fantasy
  • Tattles; calls names, swears, boasts, and defies
  • Loves big words, silly sounds, and nonsense rhymes
Personal-Social Behaviors
  • Is active, enthusiastic, unpredictable
  • Has an expansive nature, always ready for something new
  • Enjoys playtime; cooperates with other children but changes rules often
  • Enjoys laughing and laughter in others; cries loudly when things go wrong
Learning Behaviors
  • Has a vivid imagination that leads to dramatic play
  • Loves books and especially appreciates humorous stories and complex illustrations
  • Loves physical activity and outdoor play, needs room to move
  • Is interested in simple games, especially circle games that combine singing and movement
  • Behaves in a brashly confident way
  • Begins to grasp a sense of time and space

Typical Behaviors of Four-and-a-Half-Year-Olds

Four-and-a-half year-olds may seem a bit confused and highly unpredictable as they move into a stage of fitting things together. There is a strong interest now in whether or not things are real. Self-motivation is more evident. Children this age are very interested in gathering new information and in perfecting old skills, and tend to stay on task better than before.

Motor Behaviors
  • Can now catch successfully, hands to chest
  • Uses the whole forearm when drawing
  • Has a firm but wobbly pencil stroke
  • Is physically active but has calm periods
Language Behaviors
  • May begin to differentiate fantasy from reality
  • Loves new information
  • Is scared by wild stories they loved at four
  • Is showing interest in letters and numbers
Personal-Social Behaviors
  • Considers friends very important
  • Cooperates more with family members when not feeling overly challenged or rushed; is less likely to push limits
  • Likes to call attention to own performance
  • Has unpredictable temperament; laughter and tears can follow in quick succession
  • Can be persistently demanding
Learning Behaviors
  • Shows more competency with many skills, but interest in expanding these skills is often short lived
  • Builds more complicated block structures
  • Is more self motivated and focused
  • Prefers reality in play activities; continues with imaginative play
  • Likes to show off dramatically
  • Needs less adult supervision
  • Stays on task longer with activities of interest
  • Begins to play collaboratively
  • Dresses and undresses with very little help

Parenting Strategies

Since four-year-olds enjoy new adventures, points of interest in their own neighborhood take on new luster through their enthusiastic eyes. Share these simple adventures with your child, and enjoy his or her exaggerated stories or silly rhymes by countering with your own.

Four-year-olds respond well to simple rules and clear boundaries. If you anticipate the probability of unacceptable behavior in your four-year-old, you are less likely to be disturbed by it. Try not to react emotionally to attention-getting behavior. Whispering to your child may be more effective than shouting, as it calms the child and catches his or her attention. Don’t forget to praise and compliment appropriate behavior.

If your four-year-old will attend preschool, care should be taken in selecting one with an environment that best suits his or her unique temperament and developmental needs. Rich, age-appropriate experiences and versatile materials should safely satisfy the four-year-old’s curious and exuberant nature, as well as support his or her future developmental growth. Visit www.naeyc.org for more information about developmentally appropriate practice and indicators of quality preschool programs.

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