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Development milestones - your child at 4 years

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Development milestones are social and physical skills that children are able to do as they develop.
  • Different skills, emotions and activities are reached at different ages.
  • But remember that every child is different — your child will develop at their own pace.
  • If you are worried that your child is not reaching their milestones, talk to your doctor or child health nurse.

What are development milestones?

Development milestones are social and physical skills that children can do as they develop. Different skills, emotions and activities are reached at different ages.

All over the world and across cultures, children meet development milestones in generally the same order. But remember that every child is different. Your child will develop at their own pace.

If you are worried about whether your child is reaching their milestones within an expected period, talk to your doctor or a child health nurse.

How can I help my child to develop?

Your pre-schooler still needs plenty of sleep. By their fourth birthday, children need 10 to 13 hours of sleep a day. They might have a nap during the day, but often 4-year-olds don't need a nap.

If you have to wake your child most mornings, they probably need more sleep. If your child is cranky or overtired during the day, they probably need more sleep.

A healthy diet will also help your pre-schooler grow and develop. It's normal for some pre-schoolers to be fussy eaters or go through a fussy stage.

Keeping mealtime fun is important. Continue to offer your child a variety of options. This will encourage them to learn to try and enjoy new flavours and textures.

What physical skills should my child have at 4 years?

By the age of 4 years, you child will probably be toilet trained. They will be able to wash their hands and face, and with some help from you, clean their teeth.

They'll be able to dress themself. Although, shoelaces and buttons may still be too hard for them.

By now they will be improving their ball skills. They will be learning to balance on one foot and hop. They can climb.

They are starting to use pencils and scissors. They can make a drawing.

What social and emotional milestones should I expect by 4 years?

Between the ages of 3 and 4 years, your child starts to have a better understanding that their bodies and feelings are their own. They will also have a better grasp of how emotions such as joy or sorrow feel. They start to know how to describe those feelings.

At this age, children get better at handling their emotions. Their communication skills are better. They can now talk about their needs and wants. You will probably notice they do not have as many temper tantrums as before.

Self-esteem helps children have the confidence and courage to try new things. It helps them to feel liked and accepted. They feel proud of themself. It also helps them cope with feelings of sadness or worry.

You can help your child build self-esteem by encouraging them to try new things. It is important to praise their efforts more than their results. Do not criticise them. Give them lots of encouragement.

Along with developing self-esteem, your child will be forming friendships. They may enjoy playing in small groups. These groups give your child a chance to practice playing with other children. They learn what is acceptable when playing with their friends.

Pre-schoolers are curious about their bodies and other people. This interest may lead to games like playing 'mums and dads' or 'doctors'.

It's very common for children to develop imaginary friends. This shows that your child has a healthy imagination. The name or description of an imaginary friend might be from a book, television show or toy. Sometimes the friend may be completely imagined. Your child will stop playing with their imaginary friend when they are ready.

What should my child be able to understand and communicate at 4 years?

By the time your child is 4 years, you can expect to have conversations with them. These conversations use several hundred new words. The sentences your child says can have 6 or more words.

By their fourth birthday, pre-schoolers usually:

  • Understand most of the instructions you give about familiar things and places, for example, 'please put your cup on the table'.
  • Can be understood by other people.
  • Recognise and name objects and parts of objects in books and in real life.
  • Understand concepts such as comparing things ('big' or 'small', 'thin' or 'thick'), and locations ('in' and 'under').
  • Recite familiar rhymes and sing familiar songs.
  • Ask a lot of questions about the world and how it works — 'why', 'where' and 'when'.
  • Begin identifying and copying letters, numbers and colours.
  • Start to understand time.
  • Know and tell others their name and age.

Your child's language is developing very quickly at this time. Find out more about speech development in children.

How can I help my child to learn and develop through play?

Your pre-schooler will enjoy running, tumbling and rolling. These actions use up energy and help children to deal with their emotions. They also help to develop their growing bodies.

Try to give your child lots of time and places to be physically active. Let them climb and explore nature. Take them to places where they can build skills using playground equipment.

Encourage your child to play in sand or mud and get 'messy'. Give them time and chances to dance to music.

Your pre-schooler may also enjoy:

  • Drawing and painting with pencils, crayons, paints and paper.
  • Dress-up and pretend games.
  • Reading books with you, singing, reciting rhymes and dancing.
  • Cooking with you. This gives you the chance to introduce numbers and concepts such as weight and size.
  • Building things with blocks.

What if I am worried about my child?

Children learn things and do things at different ages. You may want to talk to your doctor or child health nurse if your 4-year-old child:

  • isn't using sentences of more than 3 words
  • doesn't seem to understand 2-part commands, such as 'sit on your chair and pick up your book'
  • doesn't pretend during play
  • seems to overreact with explosive tantrums over small things or when you leave them
  • often trips when walking or running
  • isn't able to draw simple shapes when using pencils or crayons
  • has difficulty dressing or using the toilet
  • doesn't seem to see things or hear you
  • has lost skills they once had

What vaccines does my child need?

Routine childhood vaccinations are an important part of keeping your child healthy.

At age 4 years, your child should be given the following vaccinations:

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children in some states may also need pneumococcal vaccine and hepatitis A vaccine.

Some children with medical conditions may also need a pneumococcal vaccine.

Check with your doctor or community nurse about your child's vaccinations.

Resources and support

There are parenting support services available, including parenting support lines in your state or territory.

Pregnancy, Birth and Baby has information on preschool and starting school.

StartingBlocks has information about the transition to school.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

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Need more information?

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Preschool or kindergarten helps kids aged 3 to 5 learn at their own speed, often through play. Read about how to choose a quality preschool.

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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