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✅ This article has been checked by our resident pediatric specialist.

Aim

The aim of this article is to provide insight into the milestones to anticipate when your child is four years old – across all developmental domains (or informally put, types of abilities). In addition, it provides a list of signs to watch for if you suspect that your child may be struggling at this stage. In the future, this article will expand to include resources – like evidence-backed games and activities – that are designed to help you nurture your child’s growth.

Outline

Introduction
Motor skills
Cognition
Language
Social and emotional skills
What if I’m concerned about my child?

Introduction

On your child’s fourth birthday, you may be looking forward to the next slate of developmental milestones. As they grow, you’re certain that your child will in most cases become more independent – but what should you expect in terms of the other skills that they’re soon to acquire?

What are developmental milestones

Developmental milestones are skills and abilities that are usually attained by a certain age, as compared to other typically-developing children that are the same age. Don’t worry too much if your child hasn’t reached one of the milestones below – it’s important to recognize that children all learn, grow and develop at different paces. If your child seems to be struggling – or they’ve missed more than a few milestones – it might be time to speak to your pediatrician or family doctor.

Motor: how they’re planning and carrying out movement

Gross motor

Your child may be able to:

  • Stand on one foot for up to 2 seconds
  • Hop
  • Jump with two feet over objects
  • Catch a bounced ball most of the time
  • Demonstrate increased control over movement e.g. quickly change direction whilst running
  • Climb playground ladders

Fine motor

Your child may be able to:

  • Draw or copy a triangle and other shapes (e.g. a cross)
  • Write letters or marks that look like letters (i.e. in terms of appearance and spacing)
  • Draw wavy lines across a page that is meant to resemble text
  • Draw a person with 2 to 4 body parts
  • Stack 10 or more blocks
  • String beads make necklaces
  • Pinch or handle clay to make recognizable objects
  • Use safety scissors
  • Get dressed and undressed, wash their face, brush their teeth and attend to other personal needs without much help (but buttons, snaps and zippers may still be difficult)
  • Pour a drink, cut food with supervision and mash their own food
  • Use door handles

Cognition: how their brain is developing

Your child may be able to:

  • Understand the concept of counting
  • Correctly name some colors, numbers and shapes
  • Recognize shapes in the real world
  • Start sorting things by size, shape and color; and putting things in order from biggest to largest
  • Compare and contrast by height, size or gender: aware of their own gender and can identify the gender of others
  • Tell you what they think is going to happen next in a story
  • Participate in board games or card games for children
  • Understand the idea of “same” or “different”
  • Often are confused about what is make-believe and what is real
  • Start to copy capital letters
  • Understand that pictures and symbols represent real things
  • Understand abstract ideas like “bigger,” “less,” “later,” “ago” and “soon”
  • Explore relationships between ideas, using words like “if” and “when” to express them
  • Start thinking more logically, like how to do something or what outcomes might be
  • Begin to understand the concept of time and the order of daily activities e.g. breakfast in the morning, dinner in the evening
  • Demonstrate a greater attention span: stick with an activity for 10 to 15 minutes
  • Recognize familiar word signs, like “STOP.”
  • Know about everyday items in the home

Language: speaking, listening and writing

Your child may be able to:

  • Speak clearly using more complex sentences (five to six words)
  • Pronounce most words correctly, but have trouble with r, s and w sounds
  • Say their first and last name
  • Recognize some letters and potentially write their name
  • Know some basic rules of grammar, like using “he” or “she” correctly
  • Ask for the definition of unfamiliar words
  • Tell stories
  • Sing simple songs or poems from memory (e.g. the “Wheels on the Bus” or the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”)
  • Make up goofy words and starts rhyming
  • Follow simple, unrelated directions (e.g. “give me the book and put on your shoes”)
  • Change speech patterns depending on who they’re speaking to (e.g. speaking in shorter sentences to a younger child)
  • Argue, even if the argument is illogical

Social and emotional skills: relating to others and themselves

Your child may be able to:

  • Enjoy new experiences
  • Talk about likes and dislikes
  • Play “Mom” and “Dad”
  • Be increasingly creative with make-believe play
  • Prefer to play with other children than alone
  • Want to please and be like their friends
  • Share, take turns and cooperate; be more aware of others’ feelings
  • Understand the rules of a game and be more focused on winning when playing
  • Often be unable to distinguish between reality and what is make-believe
  • Become aware that they can be hurt physically
  • Express anger verbally, rather than physically
  • May have their own “best friend” or imaginary friend
  • Start tattling and acting bossy
  • Tell small lies to get out of trouble
  • Act defiant to see the reaction
  • Look to a trusted adult when help is needed
  • Express a broad range of emotions, including jealousy, excitement, anger and fear
  • Use the toilet independently

What if I’m concerned about my child?

Parental instinct can be a powerful ally in any caregivers’ toolkit. Still, it’s quite important to consider that children may miss a milestone – and that (may) be perfectly alright. Every child grows and develops at a different speed – so it’s impossible to say when a child will reach a given milestone with absolute certainty. If you do feel that your child is struggling, or if they’ve missed more than a few milestones, it might be time to speak to a professional.

You have reason to be concerned if your child:

  • Misses milestones
  • Loses the skills they once had

Motor

  • Cannot jump in place
  • Has trouble holding a crayon or scribbling

Cognitive

  • Cannot retell a favorite story
  • Cannot follow three-part commands

Language and communication

  • Does not speak clearly
  • Does not use “me” and “you” correctly
  • Does not understand “same” and “different”

Social and emotional

  • Is extremely afraid, shy or aggressive
  • Is extremely anxious when separated from you
  • Displays little or no interest in other children, or doesn’t respond to people outside the family
  • Does not engage in make-believe play or interactive games
  • Resists or has trouble eating, sleeping or using the toilet