4-Year-Old Child Development Milestones

Your child’s growth and development at age 4

As a parent of a 4-year-old, you may notice your child is all about living life to the fullest and making the most of every opportunity to learn, play and grow. Get ready—your 4-year-old’s skills and knowledge will continue to develop by leaps and bounds as they get ready to enter kindergarten.

Understanding the key developmental milestones of this age will help you ensure your child is on track. It can also help you see what skills your child may need to learn and identify any warning signs that you and their pediatrician should discuss.

4 year old development milestones
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell
1

Physical Development

As a 4-year old develops physically, they not only grow taller, but continue to get a better handle on their gross and fine motor skills. A 4-year-old is still learning how to control their body and is more likely to try new things as they succeed.

Key Milestones

  • Gross motor skills: Your 4-year-old will become aware of their own place in space and be less likely to bump into others while moving. Their running abilities will improve dramatically and they may even be able to dribble a soccer ball.
  • Fine motor skills: At age 4, your child should have improved hand-eye coordination which results in an ability to string beads, complete puzzles, and color inside the lines.
  • Major highlights: By this age, most kids can dress themselves, brush their teeth with supervision, and are usually potty-trained.

Parenting Tip

Remind your child of safety rules like holding hands in parking lots and staying away from the stove, and eventually, your child will respond to these verbal cues from you if you ask, “We’re in a parking lot so what do we need to do?”

2

Emotional Development

By age 4, kids show a big desire for independence and want to do as much as possible by themselves.

It’s normal for them to be cooperative one minute and overly demanding the next. But overall, they are gaining better control over their emotions.

Key Milestones

  • Becomes more aware of other people’s feelings.
  • Experiences a broad range of emotions, such as jealousy, excitement, anger, and fear.
  • May become more focused on winning when playing games.

Parenting Tip

Avoid threatening to leave your child behind if they doesn’t hurry up and avoid saying you’re going to spank them if they get out of line. Even if you’re joking, your child may not understand that you’re not serious.

3

Social Development

Temper tantrums are (hopefully) becoming less and less frequent as your child has learned coping mechanisms, but a major life event, such as a move, a divorce, or the birth of a sibling can definitely affect your child's moods and behaviors.  

While trusted adults, like parents and grandparents, are still the primary source of your child's interactions, the opinions of friends and peers are starting to become more important.

Key Milestones

  • Establishes real friendships, and may even have a "best friend."
  • More readily shares and takes turns with peers.
  • Still looks to a trusted adult for help when needed.

Parenting Tip

While you don’t want to let your child win every time you play a game, you can let your child bend the rules sometimes. Don't worry, they'll likely change the rules to favor themselves as they go, but allowing them to do so can be good for the imagination.

4

Cognitive Development

Your 4-year-old is likely getting better at problem-solving and has a good handle on how to incorporate a solution that will appease everyone (or at least tries to).

While most 4-year-olds can recite the alphabet and memorize shapes and colors, cognitive development isn’t just about learning facts and academic basics. Learning for children this age also envelops learning about learning—how to ask questions and how to process information into understanding.

Speech & Language

This age is definitely a chatty one, as more language skills develop (what they say and what they understand) at an astounding rate. Your 4-year-old should have about 2,500-3,000 words they understand by their fourth birthday. By the fifth birthday, however, it will balloon to over 5,000 words. 

Play

Most 4-year-olds love using their imaginations. They may even develop imaginary friends.

Your child may go between reality and pretend play constantly. They might enjoy playing house or dress up, and getting their friends involved, too.

Key Milestones

  • Shows an interest in goal setting for herself—like learning how to ride a two-wheeler, or learning how to pump a swing.
  • Wants to make decisions on their own, such as picking out their own clothing or choosing a snack.
  • Understands the concepts of numbers—that the number four represents four flowers or four balls.

Parenting Tip

To help your 4-year-old continue learning, just keep talking. Answer any questions (even if you don't know the answers), read, and get them thinking about words by asking questions about what you are seeing and doing. 

5

Other Milestones

By age 4, most kids start to recognize their sexuality. Your child may have questions about where babies come from or why boys and girls are different.

It’s important to provide basic, matter-of-fact information. Use correct terminology about your child’s body parts.

Avoid scolding or punishing your child for touching her genitals. You may want to begin talking about what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t. For example, explain that no other person, other than a doctor or a parent, can touch a child’s private parts.

6

When to Be Concerned

While all children develop at slightly different rates, it’s important to look out for red flags that your child isn’t meeting certain developmental milestones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends speaking with your pediatrician if you see any of these things in your 4-year-old:

  • Can’t jump in place
  • Has trouble scribbling
  • Doesn’t follow 3-part commands
  • Doesn’t use “me” and “you” correctly
  • Shows no interest in interactive games or make-believe
  • Ignores other children or doesn’t respond to people outside the family
  • Resists dressing, sleeping, and using the toilet
  • Can’t retell a favorite story
  • Doesn’t understand “same” and “different”
  • Speaks unclearly
  • Loses skills they once had

A Word From Verywell

You’re likely to see some big changes in your child between the fourth and fifth birthday. But don’t be surprised if you also see some regression at times.

Your 4-year-old may exhibit baby talk sometimes or may start waking you up in the night even though they've slept through the night for a long time. Temporary setbacks can be part of growing up and they usually fade away quickly.

Parenting Tips for Raising Happy, Healthy Preschoolers
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