Fun, Frantic and Fantastic: Going through the Motions with Your Four Year Old

Have you noticed that your four year old has an exuberant amount of energy? Has she started using words and telling stories you have never heard before? Welcome to the world of a four year old!

During this year, your child will be improving old skills while developing new ones. Your four year old is going through many changes, trying to sort out her world and becoming more independent. It is important to know what behaviors to expect from your child, how to best cope with challenging moments, and to know if your child is on the right track of development.

  • Fours are uncertain and unpredictable
    Desires and behaviors can change in a matter of seconds. One minute he wants to play with a truck and the next minute he wants to build a tower. It is common for a four to go from loud silly laughter to raging fits in a matter of minutes.
  • Turbo speed racers! Fours love to run, jump, throw, kick and hit. 
    Fours are all over the place and they love to be wild. Their motor drives are high. They are big on new adventures, new people, and new things. Four is also a noisy age. They are loud and active in most things they do.
  • Spotlight on ME!
    Fours love to boast and brag about themselves: “I can write,” I can count,” “Watch me jump! I can jump really high!” They also like to compare themselves and their possessions to others: “I am bigger than you,” “I have better toys at home,” “I have more toys than you!” And don’t be alarmed if your four starts swearing.
  • Loves to test the limits
    Fours refuse to do things that are of no interest to them or that look too difficult. They will often try to step out of their boundaries. Fours are also known to react violently when things go wrong or don’t go their way.

Verbally out of bounds
Fours love to talk, to rhyme, and to sing. They also love to whisper and tell secrets. Most adore silly language and they like exaggerated stories. Fours also love to engage in conversations with other children.

*** REMEMBER: The above characteristics are a few typically expected behaviors of a four year old. It does not mean all four year olds will exhibit all of these behaviors. It is important to remember that each child is an individual and different from every other child.

Tips for helping your 4 year old develop to the fullest:

  • Provide plenty of opportunities for active play . While indoors allow her to set up secret hiding places using chairs and blankets or any private place. Use finger paints , do crafts, build with blocks, and crawl through big boxes. Go for a walk and talk to your four about what she sees. Have her find shapes in the clouds. Make a simple treasure map and her follow the map to find the treasure. Play hunting games with “hot” and “cold” for clues as to whether she is getting closer to or farther from the object.
  • READ, READ, READ! Read aloud regularly to your child. Reading not only teaches the sounds of the words, but also about cause and effect, about problem solving and consequences and about personality types. Stop and ask questions periodically throughout the story and engage in conversation about characters thoughts, emotions and feelings. Fours also enjoy silly rhymes. While reading, exaggerate your voice and have fun with it!
  • Play simple word games and make up your own rhymes. Have your child name all the things that can fly, all the things that are red or green or blue, and things that rhyme with certain words. Start a two-line poem and ask the child to think of the final word to rhyme with the last word. (see below for specific rhymes).
  • Before bedtime , allow your child to engage in a question/answer period for 5-10 minutes. Fours are trying to sort out their world and it is important for them to feel validated.
  • When the going gets tough, be silly but firm. Give clear boundaries and be consistent. Get down to your child’s level and maintain eye contact when speaking to him. When your four is testing the limits, try using silly language. It is an excellent technique for getting cooperation. Most importantly, be patient with your child and yourself.

Here are some silly songs that your four year old will love:
“Down by the Bay”

Down by the Bay
Where the watermelons grow,
Back to my home
I dare not go.
For if I do
My mother will say,
“Did you ever see a bear combing his hair?
Down by the bay.

*Sing the song again using a bee with a sunburned knee, a moose kissing a goose, a whale with a polka dot tail, and so on. Let your child make up some verses too!!

“This Old Man”

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb,
With a knick-knack paddy whack, give your dog a bone.
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played two,
He played knick-knack on my shoe,

Three-on my knee
Four-on my door
Five-on my hive
Six-on my sticks
Seven-up in heaven
Eight-on my gate
Nine-on my spine
Ten-once again

10 great books for your four year old:

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff

Mother, Mother, I Want Another by Maria Pulushkin

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola

Corduroy by Don Freeman

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin Jr.

Wacky Wednesday by Theo LeSieg

I Can Hear the Sun by Patricia Polacco

Silly Sally by Audrey Wood

Is my four year old on the right path developmentally?

It is normal for parents to observe one of the following signs from time to time. But if your child consistently exhibits several of these signs, it is important for you to take action to get the help your child needs. Have you noticed that your child has:

  • poor balance and coordination?
  • pronunciation problems?
  • difficulty finding the right word?
  • difficulty making rhymes?
  • trouble interacting with peers?
  • difficulty following directions or learning routines?
  • difficulty controlling a pencil, crayons, scissors?
  • difficulty with buttoning or zipping

Ames, L. B. & Ilg, F. (1980) Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful , The Gesell Institute of Human Development

Schiller, P. (1999) Start Smart! Building Brain Power in the Early Years, Gryphon House, Inc.

Schaefer, C. E. & DiGeronimo, T.F (2000) Ages and Stages: A Parent’s Guide to Normal Childhood Development, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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