All children vary in their rate of development in each area - movement, communication and getting along with others - so this information is meant only as a general guide. It's important, too, not to expect more of your child than he is yet capable of, or it's just frustrating for both of you.
Three-and-a-half to four years
By the time your child is approaching four, he'll be feeling pretty capable. He is also beginning to know how to solve problems when he's faced with a difficulty. More and more, your child is becoming his own person, and will stand up for what he wants. This indicates your child's progress, not a stubborn streak. He is also learning that a negative act brings a negative reaction. He'll learn to be nice more easily if you're nice.
It's important to respect your child's feelings. Don't make fun of his fears or worries. You'll find, too, that your child will have more understanding of how other people think and feel. And because he can think about others more, he can cooperate better, and play simple games in small groups. When he plays, he can set goals, such as "I'm going to build a castle", and he is beginning to plan ahead a bit. For instance, he'll understand when you say, "Grandma will be here after three more sleeps".
By about age four, your child can hop and skip with alternating feet. He likes climbing and sliding and has pretty good control over his movements. He likes building, can use scissors, copy some letters, print his name and colour within the lines. He can keep time to music. He's probably showing preferences for different types of play, and may stay with those preferences for months. Around now you'll be able to see if your child is right- or left-handed. He can feed himself and pretty much dress himself, though some fasteners may be beyond him.
A four-year-old can speak in complete sentences and describe what he recently did. As you'll have noticed, he asks lots of questions, especially "why?" He's more interested in stories, for longer periods of time, and can now anticipate - that is, he can tell you what he thinks will happen next. He is also realizing what past, present and future mean. He knows a song or two, and can name most basic colours.
By age five, your child really seems to be enjoying life, and is fun to be around. She can tolerate more frustration, and doesn't blame you for everything. In fact, she thinks you're pretty terrific and wants to be like you (or your partner), following you around and copying you. So setting a good example is even more important. Your child is starting to develop a conscience, too, and is adopting rules as her own to a certain extent - she may even seem quite rigid about them. However, understanding rules more means she isn't as dependent on a caregiver being present in order to behave properly.
She likes games with rules now, too, and, unlike a four-year-old, won't want to keep changing them. She understands turn-taking and plays cooperatively with several children, but can be quite competitive. She is now more interested in having a special friend, and shows social skills of giving, sharing and receiving. She is concerned if another child is upset.
Physically, your child can now skip with a rope, hop for a distance, climb, slide, swing, keep time when dancing, draw a person, and do a seven- or eight-piece puzzle. She can dress and feed herself better, wash her face, put on boots and climb into the car. She understands colours, shapes, sizes and what "left" and "right" mean, as well as "nearest" and "longest".
Your child's speech sounds almost like an adult's by now, and what she says should be about 90 per cent grammatically correct. She's able to say most speech sounds correctly, and can use sentences to describe objects and events. She can also explain how to solve a simple problem. Even though your child is rapidly growing up, it's still very important to have that special time together each day, whether it's around bath time, a story, pretend play or a walk. Make it an activity you both enjoy and be warm, sympathetic and a good listener. This will really pay off as your child gets older.
Things to remember about the preschool years:
- At about this age, children start to think more about the feelings of others. Talk with your child about how he would feel if people started talking and interrupting while he was talking. You and your child might create a signal, like the child touching your arm, when she wants a turn to talk.
- During the preschool years, your child will learn to share you with other people. Give your child the opportunity to be involved with you or other children for brief periods of time. Praise her for the times when she is playing and not pestering you.
- Encourage your child to try new things. But don't push a child beyond his limits. An activity may seem very ordinary and easy to you, but your child may not be ready for it. Listen to your child, especially when he's scared. Don't force him into an activity because you want to do it, or because you see other children doing it.
- Resist the impulse to take over your child's play and make it better. Doing this undermines your child's confidence in himself and makes him feel as if his work isn't worthy of your appreciation.
- The most important way to build your child's self-esteem is to make sure he knows he's loved. Then he begins to see himself as a good, lovable person. Each time he learns a new skill, right from the earliest days, let him know how well he has done. You should also encourage him to cope with new or frustrating situations, but expect what's appropriate for his age, not perfection.
- Give your child lots of opportunity to play - alone, with brothers and sisters, other children and with you. When your child plays, she is practicing skills in every area of her development. She thinks, solves problems, talks, moves, cooperates and makes moral judgments. Play is helping to get her ready for the real world.
- Praise and encourage attempts to try new things and to deal with frustrating situations. The development of self-esteem is prevented or damaged when parents ridicule their children, make them feel ashamed, punish them for unsuccessful attempts, or expect perfection or constant success. You shouldn't expect more of your child than he is capable of for his age and development.
- Setting and explaining clear expectations and limits is a big part of preventing problems. These limits should be enforced consistently and with respect for the child. Try not to yell at or humiliate her, and never use physical punishment.
- When you spend time with your child, let him take the lead sometimes. Talk over possible choices and exchange points of view in choosing what you do together.
- Children need to be given some choices as they struggle to gain confidence and independence (however much they still need you). As a parent, offer some limited choices that suit the weather and, hopefully, the occasion. But even if the choices aren't your preference, be happy if your child is happy.