Four-Year-Olds - Expectations and Needs

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Characteristics of 4 year old children

If three is the age of doing, four is the age of finding out. The two words most frequently used by a four-year-old are Why and how. He is also a doer who lives in the here and now. So when you say, "Let's hurry and clean the house and we can go to the circus tomorrow," you are really pushing his buttons. Yesterday means nothing. Tomorrow is a vague promise. However, he can get very excited about coming events, but, because he cannot grasp the meaning of time, he may ask, "Is it tomorrow yet?"

A typical four-year-old offers more enthusiastic help than children of most other ages. He wants to please you so much.

Keep reading to learn about physical, emotional, social and mental development as well as realistic expectations for assuming personal responsibility.

Task Expectations:

  • Dress and undress himself
  • Comb his hair
  • Wash his hands and face
  • Brush his teeth
  • Tidy up the bedroom or playroom
  • Put away silverware from a dishwasher
  • Empty the hamper and put dirty clothes in the washroom
  • Fold washcloths and towels
  • Set and clear the table (use a felt tip pen to mark old placemats with the correct location of dishes and silverware)
  • Service projects like sorting outgrown clothing and toys for others

Physical Development

  • May suddenly only like a certain food, prepared a certain way
  • Love to dance and swing their arms wide
  • Starting to learn where their bodies end and others begin-Personal space
  • May still need extra sleep at night and are learning to do without the nap

Mental Development

  • Girls, especially, have developed good language skills and have a wide vocabulary
  • They make up words and practice riddles and nursery rhymes
  • Ask millions of questions and take the answers to exaggerated extremes
  • They are learning to think about illness and death, especially if they have a pet who has died

Emotional Development

  • They are more self absorbed than they used to be.
  • They are beginning to understand right, wrong, acceptable and unacceptable behavior
  • Love their home, have favorite chairs, toys and hiding places
  • Tend to idolize the father

Social Development

  • Love to talk "potty talk"
  • Tattling and quarreling is common
  • Learning to get along with others and take turns
  • Like to dress up and role play different occupations

Louise Bates Ames of the Gesell Institute of Human Development call the 4 year old "Wild and Wonderful." This is the age that loves a party, mainly because they know they will get gifts and be the center of attention.

It is fun to learn about the stages and ages of development, but remember, these are only generalities. If your child is ahead or behind a bit, that is fine and no reason to be unduly concerned.

Enjoy your children and encourage them with words and actions that reinforce your acceptance of them as individuals.

Judy H. Wright is a parent educator, family coach, and personal historian who has written more than 20 books, hundreds of articles and speaks internationally on family issues, including end of life. You are invited to visit our blog at for answers and suggestions which will enhance your relationships. You will also find a full listing of free tele-classes and radio shows held each Thursday just for you at

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