3- to 4-Year-Olds: Developmental Milestones

Congratulations, you have survived the "terrible twos!" Hopefully, you have energy left to enjoy what lies ahead for you and your preschooler. They call the next few years the "magic years" -- partly because it seems like magic that your child is finally listening to you and partly because for your child, it is a time for their imagination to run wild.

Your 3- to 4-year-old child will continue to grow and develop in many ways in the coming year. Although children reach developmental milestones at different times, your child will likely achieve the following developmental milestones before they turn 5.

3- to 4-Year-Old Development: Language Milestones

If your child is not very talkative, that will likely change soon. Between or at ages 3 and 4, your child should be able to:

  • Say their name and age
  • Speak 250 to 500 words
  • Answer simple questions
  • Speak in sentences of five to six words, and speak in complete sentences by age 4
  • Speak clearly, although they may not be fully comprehensible until age 4 
  • Tell stories

 

3- to 4-Year-Old Development: Cognitive Milestones

Your child will start asking lots of questions. "Why is the sky blue? Why do birds have feathers?" Questions, questions, and more questions! While it may be annoying at times, asking questions is a normal developmental milestone. In addition to asking "why?" all the time, your 3- to 4-year-old should be able to:

  • Correctly name familiar colors
  • Understand the idea of same and different, start comparing sizes
  • Pretend and fantasize more creatively
  • Follow three-part commands
  • Remember parts of a story
  • Understand time better (for example, morning, afternoon, night)
  • Count, and understand the concept of counting
  • Sort objects by shape and color
  • Complete age-appropriate puzzles
  • Recognize and identify common objects and pictures

 

3- to 4-Year-Old Development: Movement Milestones

Your busy preschooler continues to be on the move. Between or at ages 3 and 4, your child should be able to:

  • Walk up and down stairs, alternating feet -- one foot per step
  • Kick, throw, and catch a ball
  • Climb well
  • Run more confidently and ride a tricycle
  • Hop and stand on one foot for up to five seconds
  • Walk forward and backward easily
  • Bend over without falling
  • Help put on and remove clothing

 

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3- to 4-Year-Old Development: Hand and Finger Skills

Your child is becoming much more nimble. At this point in their development, your child should be able to:

  • More easily handle small objects and turn a page in a book
  • Use age-appropriate scissors
  • Copy circles (3) and squares (4)
  • Draw a person with two to four body parts
  • Write some capital letters
  • Build a tower with four or more blocks
  • Dress and undress without your help
  • Screw and unscrew jar lids
  • Turn rotating handles

 

3- to 4-Year-Old Development: Emotional and Social Milestones

Your 3- to 4-year-old is not only becoming more independent physically, but also emotionally. You may start to notice fewer tantrums when you leave your child with a sitter or at preschool.

In addition, your 3- to 4-year-old is becoming more social. Your child may now be able to cooperate with their friends, take turns, and may begin to show some problem-solving skills.

At this point in development, your child should be able to:

  • Imitate parents and friends
  • Show affection for familiar family and friends
  • Understands the idea of "mine" and "his/hers"
  • Show a wide range of emotions, such as being sad, angry, happy, or bored

In addition, you may notice your child's imagination is in overdrive. This can be good and bad. Fantasy and pretend play becomes more interesting and involved, but your child may also start developing unrealistic fears, such as believing a monster is lurking in the closet.

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3- to 4-Year-Old Development: How to Help Your Child

There’s a ton you can do every day to help your child learn and grow, such as:

  • Allow your child to make simple choices, like what to wear or what to play.
  • Give plenty of time for your kid to be active, and play games together like tag.
  • Let your child do some self-care on their own, like getting dressed, using the bathroom, and brushing teeth.
  • Practice counting and singing simple songs, like the ABCs.
  • Read to your child every day.
  • Set time to play with other kids -- let them work out conflicts on their own, but step in when needed.
  • Suggest activities like drawing and making art with paper, scissors, and glue.
  • Talk to your child -- patiently answer questions and help them express their feelings.
  • Teach your child how to make up after hurting someone’s feelings.

And when it comes to TVs, smartphones, computers, and tablets, doctors suggest that you:

  • Keep technology out of bedrooms.
  • Limit screen time to 1 hour a day of high-quality programs.
  • Talk about what you watch together and how it applies to the world.

 

3- to 4-Year-Old Development: How to Keep Your Child Safe

All these new skills are exciting. You need to let your child explore, but you also need a watchful eye, especially when it comes to common dangers likes falls, burns, poisons, and strangers.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Always wear helmets on bikes, tricycles, and other riding toys.
  • Check the height and weight limits of your child’s car seat -- when your child outgrows it, use a booster seat.
  • Don’t keep guns in your home. If you have a gun, keep it unloaded, locked away, and separate from bullets. And make sure children can’t get the key.
  • Let your child explore, but guard against falls, especially around playgrounds, doors, windows, and stairs.
  • Keep an eye out when playing near streets and driveways.
  • Use caution in the kitchen -- spills, splatters, and hot surfaces can all cause serious burns.
  • Watch your child at all times when in or around water -- and think about signing your kid up for swimming lessons.
  • Discuss caution around strangers.

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You’ll also find that your child can reach drawers, cabinets, and countertops that used to be considered safe. Make sure medicines, cleaning products, and even small household objects that can be swallowed -- like magnets and batteries -- can’t be seen or reached.

This is also the age to make sure your child knows what to do around strangers. Teach your child their full name, address, and phone number. Also, let your child know to ask only certain adults for help, like people with uniforms or name badges. And tell your child:

  • No one can ask you to keep a secret from your parents.
  • No one can ask you to see or touch your private parts -- the parts that a bathing suit covers.
  • No one can ask you to look at, touch, or help with their private parts.

 

3- to 4-Year-Old Development: When to Be Concerned

All kids grow and develop at their own pace. Don't worry if your child has not reached all of these milestones at this time. But you should notice a gradual progression in growth and development as your child gets older. If you don't, or if your child has signs of possible developmental delay, as listed below, talk to your child's doctor.

Signs of developmental delay in 3- to 4-year-old children include:

  • Inability to throw a ball overhand, jump in place, or ride a tricycle
  • Frequent falling and difficulty walking stairs
  • Inability to hold a crayon between their thumb and fingers; has trouble scribbling and cannot copy a circle
  • Unable to use a sentence with more than three words and uses "me" and "you" inappropriately
  • Persistent drooling and trouble speaking
  • Cannot stack four blocks and has trouble handling small objects
  • Continues to experience extreme separation anxiety
  • Lacks interest in interactive games and doesn't engage in fantasy play
  • Does not play with other children and doesn't respond to non-family members
  • Self control isn't improving when angry or upset
  • Does not understand simple commands, or repeats the commands
  • Avoids making eye contact
  • Resists getting dressed, sleeping, and going to the bathroom

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Also, if you notice your child resisting or struggling with doing things that they were once able to do, tell your child's doctor. This can be a sign of a developmental disorder. If your child does have developmental delay, there are many treatments available to help your child.

 

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on December 19, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Developmental Milestones: 3 to 4 Year Olds," “Safety for Your Child: 2 to 4 Years.”

The Mayo Clinic: "Child Development Chart: Preschool Milestones," “Child Development: Know What’s Ahead.”

CDC: "Important Milestones: By the End of Three Years (36 Months)," “Important Milestones: Your Child by Four Years,” “Facts About Child Development.” 

Help Me Grow: “4 Years,” “Encouraging Healthy Development -- 4 Years.”

University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital: “Your 3- to 4-Year-Old.”

KidsHealth: “Medical Care and Your 4- to 5-Year-Old,” “Your Child’s Checkup: 4 Years.”

Bright Futures: “Bright Futures Parent Handout: 4 Year Visit.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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