4- to 5-Year-Olds: Developmental Milestones

Your child is growing up. Have you noticed that your 4- to 5-year-old is becoming more independent and self-confident? If not, you will in the coming year.

Most children this age begin to develop greater independence, self-control, and creativity. They are content to play with their toys for longer periods of time, are eager to try new things, and when they get frustrated, are better able to express their emotions.

Although children grow and develop at their own pace, your child will likely achieve most of the following developmental milestones before they turn 6 years old.

4- to 5-Year-Old Development: Language and Cognitive Milestones

Your curious and inquisitive child is better able to carry on a conversation. In addition, your child's vocabulary is growing -- as is their thought process. Not only is your child able to answer simple questions easily and logically, but they should be able to express feelings better.

Most children at this age enjoy singing, rhyming, and making up words. They are energetic, silly, and, at times, rowdy and obnoxious.

Other language and cognitive milestones your child may achieve in the coming year include being able to:

  • Speak clearly using more complex sentences
  • Count 10 or more objects
  • Correctly name at least four colors and three shapes
  • Recognize some letters and possibly write their name
  • Better understand the concept of time and the order of daily activities, like breakfast in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, and dinner at night
  • Use future tense, such as, “We will go to the park soon.”
  • Have a greater attention span
  • Follow two- to three-part commands. For example, "Put your book away, brush your teeth, and then get in bed."
  • Recognize familiar word signs, such as "STOP"
  • Know their address and phone number, if taught
  • Understand everyday things like food and money

 

4- to 5-Year-Old Development: Movement Milestones and Hand and Finger Skills

Children learn through play, and that is what your 4- to 5-year-old should be doing. At this age, your child should be running, hopping, throwing and kicking balls, climbing, and swinging with ease.

Other movement milestones and hand and finger skills your child may achieve in the coming year include being able to:

  • Stand on one foot for more than 9 seconds
  • Do a somersault and hop
  • Walk up and down stairs without help
  • Walk forward and backwards easily
  • Pedal a tricycle
  • Copy a triangle, circle, square, and other shapes
  • Draw a person with a body
  • Stack 10 or more blocks
  • Use a fork and spoon
  • Dress and undress, brush teeth, and use the toilet without much help

 

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4- to 5-Year-Old Development: Emotional and Social Development

Your self-centered child is now figuring out that it is not always about them. At this age, children are starting to understand about other people's feelings. Your 4- to 5-year-old should be better able to work through conflicts and control their emotions.

Emotional and social development milestones your child may achieve at this age include:

  • Enjoys playing with other children and pleasing their friends
  • Shares and takes turns, at least most of the time, and understands rules of games
  • Understands and obeys rules; however, your 4- to 5-year-old will still be demanding and uncooperative at times.
  • Is becoming more independent
  • Expresses anger verbally, rather than physically (most of the time)
  • Gets the difference between make-believe and reality

 

4- to 5-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 plenty of time for running around and playing, and help with activities like using monkey bars and learning to swing.
  • Give your child chores to do around the house.
  • Let your child choose activities with friends, and let them work out issues that come up between them.
  • Point out common words and symbols in books or when you’re out and about.
  • Read to your child every day -- ask questions about the stories, like “What do you think happens next?”
  • Suggest activities like drawing, writing letters, and doing projects with glue, scissors, and other art supplies.
  • Talk to your child and listen closely -- ask about likes and dislikes, worries, and what they did with friends today.
  • Work with your child on how to manage strong feelings, like anger.

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.

 

4- to 5-Year-Old Development: How to Keep Your Child Safe

As children gain new abilities, they can do more and more on their own. That’s just what you want, but it means a shift in how you keep them safe.

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Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Always have your child ride in the backseat of a car in either a car seat or booster seat.
  • Ask about guns and gun safety in homes where your child goes to play.
  • Don’t keep guns in your home. If you have one, keep it unloaded, locked away, and separate from bullets. And make sure children can’t get the key.
  • Don’t let your child play in the street, including riding bikes -- teach that the curb is the limit.
  • Show your child how to cross the street -- look both ways and listen for traffic -- but help your child cross until around age 10.
  • Sign your child up for swimming lessons, but don’t let your child swim alone and always keep a watchful eye in and around water.
  • Teach your child not to play with lighters and matches -- and check your smoke detectors regularly.
  • Wear helmets when biking, skating, skiing, and doing other activities where falls can lead to head injuries.

You can also start to teach your child basic safety ideas like:

  • Ask only certain adults for help, like those with uniforms or name badges.
  • Don’t open the door to your house or apartment unless you’re with an adult.
  • Make sure your child knows their full name, address, and phone number.
  • Talk about what to do in an emergency, like dialing 911.

And teach your child that certain body parts are off-limits. Tell your child that:

  • 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.

 

4- to 5-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.

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Possible signs of developmental delay in 4- to 5-year-old children include:

  • Being extremely afraid, shy, or aggressive
  • Being extremely anxious when separated from a parent
  • Being easily distracted and unable to focus on one task for more than five minutes
  • Not wanting to play with other children
  • Having a limited amount of interests
  • Not making eye contact or responding to other people
  • Being unable to say their full name
  • Rarely pretending or fantasizing
  • Often seeming sad and unhappy and not expressing a wide range of emotions
  • Being unable to build a tower using more than eight blocks
  • Having trouble holding a crayon
  • Having problems eating, sleeping, or using the bathroom
  • Having trouble undressing, cannot brush their teeth, or wash and dry hands, without help

Also, if your child resists or struggles 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 overcome it.

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

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Developmental Milestones: 4 to 5 years old," “Safety for Your Child: 5 Years.”

National Network of Childcare: "Ages & Stages, Four-Year-Olds."

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

CDC: "Important Milestones: By the End of Four Years (48 Months)," “Important Milestones: Your Child by Five Years,” “Facts About Child Development.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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