4-Year-Old Child Development Milestones

Your child’s growth and development at age 4

Parenting a 4-year-old can be a wonderful, exciting experience. Yes, your child may still be a handful at times (this is normal!), but they are growing in leaps and bounds. Four-year-olds are creative, thoughtful little people. Get ready for the stage when imaginative play is all the rage, and you can begin to have fuller, fascinating conversations with your kiddo. Your 4-year-old’s fine motor skills are becoming more refined by the day and they’ll soon be expert climbers, jumpers, and runners.

Learn more about what to expect when it comes to 4-year-old growth and development, and what warning signs might warrant a call to your pediatrician.

4 year old development milestones
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

4-Year-Old Language and Cognitive Milestones

Your soon-to-be kindergartener is turning into quite the chatterbox at this age. By 4 years old, your child should be able to speak in complete sentences and have back-and-forth conversations, explains Eric Ball, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California. “Almost all of what they say should be intelligible to a stranger,” Dr. Ball advises.

Additionally, your child should be able to follow multi-step commands with three or more steps, Dr. Ball describes. For example, after given instructions, your 4-year-old should be able to pick up a toy from the floor, put it away in a toy basket, and then come back to sit on your lap to read a book.

Your child’s cognitive skills are developing quickly at this age too, says Brittany Ferri, PhD, OTR/L, CPRP, an occupational therapist. “Kids at this age should be able to count, identify colors/shapes/numbers/letters, as well as use pronouns appropriately,” she says.

At 4 years old, children are inquisitive and love to digest new information. You’ll be amazed at how much your child can comprehend. If you tell or read them a story, they should be able to recall large parts of it. Not only that, but 4-year-olds are great at making up their own stories. Their imaginations are really taking off at this age.

"Four-year-olds can understand most of what is going on in the world,” says Dr. Ball. “They are learning the difference between 'real' and 'pretend' and they often are developing vivid imaginations (think fairy tales and monsters).”

Language and Cognitive Checklist

  • Your child is starting to be able to grasp how time works
  • They should know how to say their first and last name
  • Most 4-year-olds can memorize and recite short children’s songs and poems
  • Children this age can make predictions about what will happen next in a story or book
  • Your child should speak in simple sentences of about five words and knows about 1000-2000 words

4-Year-Old Movement, Hand, and Finger Milestones

Your 4-year-old isn’t just getting taller, but their fine and gross motor skills are getting more mature as well. By now, you should be able to play basic outside games with your child, like catch and kickball. Art projects and board games will be all the rage.

In terms of physical growth, 4-year-olds weigh an average of 40 pounds and are about 40 inches tall. They are twice as tall as they were when they were born! Your child is gaining weight at the rate of about a quarter of an ounce per day. All this growth requires healthy eating habits and good sleep: you can expect your child to still need about 11 to 13 hours of sleep each night.

Your child is becoming stronger and more agile each day. “Children at this age can run and jump well, can often balance on one foot, and walk backward,” says Dr. Ball. Many kids this age are starting to ride bikes or scooters, Dr. Ball says. If you take your child out to play ball, they should be able to throw the ball overhead and kick a ball around with you, he adds.

You’ll be wowed by your child’s emerging fine motor skills as well. “Kids at this age can use scissors, manage a writing utensil mostly independently, and use eating utensils,” Ferri describes.

Your child will also be able to play cards, child-friendly board games, and may start to be able to put together a puzzle. Your 4-year-old may become a budding artist as well: they might be able to draw simple pictures of people and start to be able to form alphabet letters.

Physical Milestone Checklist

  • Your child should be able to skip, climb, and jump
  • They may be able to do a somersault and to stand on one foot for ten or more seconds
  • Most 4-year-olds are able to get dressed without help and are learning how to brush their teeth
  • Your child is learning how to pour without too much spilling and can mash food
  • They are likely potty trained, but may still wet the bed

4-Year-Old Emotional and Social Milestones

Four-year-olds are starting to have more opinions and beliefs, and they are starting to be more in touch with the world around them. Although 4-year-olds may seem much more mature than they were just a few months ago, 4-year-olds may still be moody and prone to meltdowns.

“It is still normal at this age for children to have some difficulty regulating their emotions and temper tantrums are still relatively common,” says Dr. Ball. He says kids this age thrive on routine, and that setting a predictable daily structure can help them stay grounded.

Socially, 4-year-olds are learning a lot about making friends. They will start to be able to form real bonds with their peers, and are getting better at cooperating and being mindful of the emotions of others. These are skills that will carry over well as they begin school.

Kids this age will likely have a few imaginary friends, too. Their imaginations are growing exponentially at this age, and the much of their play is extremely creative. “They should be doing a lot of pretend play at this age, working off their imaginations,” says Dr. Ball.

Other Milestones for Your 4-Year-Old

At this age, your child will become more aware of their sexuality. This can catch parents off-guard, but it’s completely normal.

Keep in mind that you will be more uncomfortable talking about sex than your 4-year-old is. Try to use matter-of-fact language. Use the correct terms for genitals ("penis" and "vagina") rather than euphemisms. You may notice your child exploring their body at this age. It’s important not to shame them, although you can teach them not to touch themselves in public.

How to Help 4-Year-Old Learn and Grow

As the parent of a 4-year-old, you may have questions about what your role is in terms of helping your child develop properly, providing age-appropriate discipline and boundaries, and ensuring that your child stays safe.

There are many things you can do to help your child blossom and grow. Engaging in conversation with them whenever possible, reading to them, and supporting their interests are simple steps you can take. This is the age when your child will have a million questions. Answering their questions, and supplementing their queries with educational materials (books, appropriate media, activities) is a great idea, too.

You will want to create a structure for your child at this age and enforce positive discipline techniques. Four-year-olds are able to understand rules and social customs, but remember that they are still learning, so it’s normal if they need guidance along the way.

You can start teaching your child to do basic chores, such as setting and clearing the table. It can be helpful to have routines around your day-to-day life so that your child knows what to expect. This helps your child regulate their emotions as well. At this age, you will want to enforce screen time rules and ensure that your child gets plenty of physical activity.

How to Keep Your 4-Year-Old Safe

Your 4-year-old will seem much more independent and able than they used to, but they are still just a little kid and will need adult supervision and guidance for most of their activities. You can give your child guidance about things like the safe use of scissors, and how to perform activities like catch or kickball without hurting themselves or others.

Soon after your child turns 4, they will have a well visit at the doctor. Kids between the ages of 4 and 6 will get several immunizations, which may include the DTaP vaccine, the MMR vaccine, the IPV vaccine (polio), and the varicella vaccine. Your child may also be offered a flu shot.

Your pediatrician will discuss your child’s growth and development, and go over important safety tips such as wearing a helmet while riding a bike, using a harnessed car seat, using sunscreen, and the importance of supervising your child diligently near water and streets.

When to Be Concerned About Your 4-Year-Old

All children grow at their own pace and in their own way, but there are certain signs that your child may be experiencing a developmental delay.

“I worry at this age if children are not playing cooperatively or have a hard time interacting with their peers or other children,” says Dr. Ball. “I am concerned when children's speech at this age is unintelligible or if they have a hard time following directions or understanding commands.”

The CDC lists some “red flags” when it comes to growth and development to be aware of. In terms of motor skills, if your child can’t jump or has trouble writing or scribbling, you should bring this up with your pediatrician. Other concerns include children who can’t dress themselves at all, aren’t able to use a potty, or are still waking multiple times a night.

Social skills that may prompt a call to your pediatrician include not being interested in “make-believe” or playing with others, and not socializing with people outside of the immediate family. If you or others can’t understand your child when they speak, if they aren’t using pronouns correctly, or if they don’t seem able to recall stories that were told to them, consider reaching out to your pediatrician.

Finally, if your child’s skills have regressed in some way, the CDC advises that this is a warning sign that something may be wrong.

A Word From Verywell

Some will tell you that after you leave the toddler years, you will have a much more easygoing and cooperative child. While it’s true that 4-year-olds are usually more reasonable than 2- or 3-year-olds, they are still young children, and can be difficult to parent at times. In certain ways, they are even more willful than when they were younger, and their verbal skills make them more able to argue about even the littlest thing.

So if you are finding parenting your 4-year-old challenging, you are far from alone. Thankfully, there is usually enough joy and wonder at this age to outweigh the hard stuff. But you should know that you’ve done nothing wrong as a parent if you still have tough days with your 4-year-old every now and then.

Originally written by
Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Learn about our editorial process
Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Developmental Milestones: 4 to 5 Year Olds.

  2. Nemours Children’s Health. Communication and Your 4- to 5-Year-Old.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important Milestones: Your Child By Four Years.

  4. National Library of Medicine. Developmental milestones record - 4 years.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Promoting Healthy Sexual Development and Sexuality.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines at 4 to 6 Years.

  7. Nemours Children’s Health. Your Child's Checkup: 4 Years.

Additional Reading