4-year-old Developmental Milestones – What to Expect
If you are the parent of a 4-year-old child, you probably have your hands full with your child’s imaginative, energetic, and inquisitive nature. You can track the progress of your child’s growth if you understand the important developmental milestones for 4-year-olds. This will help you ensure that your child’s development is on track. It will also help you identify red flags that may be a cause for concern.
Physical or Motor Development
The physical development of a 4-year-old typically centres in on the child’s desire to assert her newfound sense of independence. She may want to zip or button-up her own jacket or get herself a cup of water. Here are the key indicators of healthy physical development of a 4-year old:
- Is able to catch a bounced ball at least 50% of the time.
- Can run with ease, jump in one place, hop, and stand on one foot for several seconds.
- Is able to climb up and down stairs without help.
- Can eat and drink without help. Can also use a spoon or fork and pour a beverage into a cup.
- Can kick a ball forward and throw a ball overhead.
- Is able to move backwards and forward with ease.
- Is able to stay inside the lines while colouring pictures and can string beads.
The following are the developmental milestones of behavioural characteristics in 4-year-olds:
- Will test their limits and break the rules in order to assert their independence.
- Can understand that breaking the rules will have negative consequences.
- Unable to manage their behaviour when they are very tired or hungry.
- Will communicate powerful emotions through actions like screaming and crying.
- Ask a lot of questions, including ones on embarrassing or difficult topics.
- May not always be able to separate reality from their imagination.
- Likes to please parents and teachers. Feels happy when good behaviour is praised or rewarded.
Cognitive development refers to the intellectual development of a 4-year-old along with the ability to construct a thought process, remember things, solve problems, and make decisions. Here are the cognitive developmental milestones of 4-year-olds:
- They understand things in the house, like appliances or food. They also comprehend the routine of daily life, such as brushing teeth after waking, having food at specific mealtimes, and going to bed at a particular hour.
- Like to make decisions independently, like what dress to wear or what food to eat.
- They like to engage in pretend play.
- They have a better understanding of time.
- Understand numbers and have started counting.
- Can name several colours and shapes correctly.
- Can follow 3-part instructions. For example: Go to the kitchen, fill a cup of water and bring it back here.
Communication and Language Development
Typical language development for a 4-year-old improves at a remarkable rate. 4-year-olds may continually ask questions and indulge in non-stop chatter. Here are the language development milestones for a 4-year-old:
- Is able to understand more than 1000 words at this age.
- Tells imaginative stories.
- Asks a lot of ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions.
- Is able to speak in longer sentences of 4-5 words.
- Is able to speak clearly enough that most people understand a majority of what the child is saying.
- Understands some basic grammar.
Social and Emotional Development
In a 4-year-old, emotional development is advanced enough for the child to understand the feelings of other people. Social development is also enhanced such that the child is able to interact and play well with other children. Here are the social and emotional milestones for a 4-year-old:
- Plays well with other children
- Expresses very clearly what she dislikes or likes.
- Tries to resolve conflicts.
- Prefers the company of other children rather than playing alone.
- Learns to share and waits her turn most of the time.
- Understands rules, but may not always obey them.
Learning and Educational Development
Here are the learning and educational developmental milestones of a 4-year-old:
- Can draw human stick figures.
- Can copy simple shapes like squares, triangles, and circles.
- Can use scissors and can play simple board games.
- Can understand numbers and count up to 10 or more.
- Can recognise capital letters and can copy them.
- Can guess what might happen next in a story.
Tips for Parents to Help Development in a 4-year-old Child
Here are some tips that parents can follow to encourage healthy development in their 4-year-olds:
- Set rules and limits without being too harsh or making the child feel ashamed. Use time-outs or revoke privileges to make them understand that bad behaviour has negative consequences.
- Praise and reward good behaviour.
- Talk to your child about her day and listen attentively.
- Answer her questions patiently.
- Give her opportunities for playing outdoors with other children, riding bikes, and playing ball.
- Bring out her creativity by providing her with art and craft material.
When to Worry?
If your 4-year-old is not meeting typical developmental milestones, it may be a cause for concern. Observe your child and talk to your paediatrician if you notice the following:
- Loses skills she already had.
- Does not show interest in pretend-play or games requiring interaction with other people.
- Is not able to climb stairs, run, jump in place or hop.
- Is unable to throw a ball overhead.
- Is unable to colour mostly inside the lines or grasp a pencil to scribble.
- Is not able to stack a few blocks.
- Is distressed and cries when she has to leave her parents.
- Does not try to dress herself, use the toilet independently or sleep on her own.
- Cannot copy simple shapes like squares and circles.
- Ignores other similar-aged children.
- Does not understand ‘same’ and ‘different’ and is unable to use ‘me’ and ‘you’ correctly.
Each child develops at her own pace. So, keep a close watch on your 4-year-old, but avoid comparing her milestones with other children and pressuring her to do something that she is not yet ready to try. These developmental milestones for 4-year-olds are guidelines and not absolute standards. If you have serious concerns about your 4-year-old being unable to meet specific developmental milestones, talk to a paediatrician right away.