Developmental Resources

4 to 5 years

Developmentally appropriate behaviour for 4 – 5 year olds

Young boy measuring his growth in height

Every parent wants their child to be successful. We want our children to grow up to be happy, to achieve, to make our world a better place. While these are good and worthy intentions, parents need more than good intentions to achieve the goal of raising a successful child. Parents need a plan to transform the intentions into reality. Part of the plan is to understand that while children are genetically programmed to grow, development requires the right nurturing environment. Parents optimise their child’s potential when they understand and provide for the needs of their child.

It is becoming more difficult to meet children’s needs today, because our society is losing a sense of community; we’re becoming more fragmented. Fifty years ago people were surrounded by families with babies, so they basically understood how children develop. But for many parents today the first baby they hold is their own. Not knowing what to expect can cause parents anxiety. The purpose of this brochure is to provide parents with basic information about how their child develops and what they really need to be their very best. It’s easier to parent when you know what to expect.

Life Cycle Stages

Like the seasons in nature, families pass through certain predictable events, called the life cycle. The life cycle begins at birth and ends at death. Between these two events are different periods, or stages of development. Childhood is the beginning of the human life cycle. It is a time of profound and wonderful changes. For all children, these changes occur in a specific sequence called developmental stages. Although each child is unique and has their own growth timetable, all children follow a similar pattern of development.

By understanding these stages parents become more effective at meeting their child’s needs. Your child is genetically programmed to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and in language. Your role as parent is to understand how your child develops so you can provide them with the right nurturing environment.

This article describes the average child and is only intended as a guide, not an absolute timetable. Your child may develop quicker or later.

Physical Development

Physical development describes the structure of the body, how each aspect of the body relates to each other, and how the body grows and develops.

  • Walks down stairs with alternating feet; has a good sense of balance
  • Runs more smoothly
  • Skipping appears
  • Throws and catches ball easily; kicks a ball
  • Can thread beads onto a string
  • Holds a pencil in an adult way
  • Ties shoes, draws more elaborate pictures, writes names

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development describes solving problems, memory, concentration, imagination and working things out.

  • Memory improves
  • Learns by watching other children and adults
  • Enjoys solving problems
  • Can begin to control their attention span. They can stop what they are doing and go back to the task without help from an adult
  • Has difficulty understanding concepts of time and space
  • Uses pretending as a form of play
  • Realises he is growing and will not always be little
  • Understands that letters and sounds are linked in systematic ways
  • Understands cardinality – the last number in a counting sequence indicates the quantity of items in a set

Language Development

Language development describes reading, writing, listening, and talking.

  • Vocabulary has increased to about 10,000 words
  • Has now mastered many complex grammatical forms
  • Tells long stories and enjoys jokes
  • Knows nursery rhymes and poems by heart
  • Joins sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’
  • Asks more questions

Social-Emotional Development

Emotional-Social development describes feelings, developing feelings towards other people, self identity, getting on with other people, making friends and developing social skills.
Develops a sense of initiative, exploring, examining and trying new things on their own

  • Improved ability to interpret, predict and influence other people’s emotional reactions
  • Now relies more on words to express empathy
  • Identifies with the values of important people in their life. Develops a conscience
  • Gender stereotyped beliefs and behaviour continue to increase
  • Wants to help in real ways
  • Understand the standards of behaviour expected of them
  • Becoming more independent: able to bath themselves, dress and undress without help
  • Enjoys being with other children
  • Enjoys planning play projects and playing with other children (associated play)
  • Tends to see things as all good, or all bad; all safe or all dangerous
  • Beginning of understanding of sex differences

Helping Your Child Flourish

Within a few months of her fourth birthday, your child will enter a new stage of development. With a new sense of self (gained from the identity stage; 3 to 4 years), your child wants to now discover how things work. This is the age when real learning begins. It begins with learning how to play the piano, cook a cake, perform a scientific experiment, use tools, snap fingers and continues to formalised learning at preschool. This is also the stage when your child develops a sense of possessiveness. Mum becomes “My Mummy”; the cat becomes “My cat.” Everything is mine!

Encourage your child as she struggles to find answers. It can be a frustrating time discovering how things work! Affirm her new competence; “What a wonderful job you have done baking that cake.” If she gets discouraged offer your help and encouragement Realise your child becomes quite competitive during this stage. They want to be right – be the tallest; sing the loudest, etc. Your child begins a love affair with the opposite parent. Their goal is the exclusive possession of the opposite sex parent’s attention. Dad or Mum becomes ‘mine’, and belongs to no one else. This is all part of sexual development. It is simply your child progressing from an egocentric view of their world to one that now becomes focused on another – the opposite sex parent. But having sole possession of the opposite parent is one quest your child must lose. The losing must be handled with gentleness and care so your child isn’t wounded: “Mummy is your mother and Daddy is her husband. She will always be your Mummy, Son, but she’ll always be my wife too.”

Children are afraid of disapproval for failing so offer consistent reassurances when things don’t go according to plan. Use a gentle, caring tone of voice when things go wrong Provide clear, concrete instructions when teaching your child something new Teach your child values Don’t become too under-involved in your child’s life because of over-commitment in other areas of your life. Over-commitment leads to parental deprivation. Your child needs your attention and nurturing love to feel competent.

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffled, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. It will never be the same.” – Brian G. Dyson, COO of Coca Cola

Further Reading
. Berk, L.E. (2003). Development Through The Lifespan. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
. Brazelton, T.B. (2002). Touchpoints: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
. Brazelton, T.B. & Greenspan, S.I. (2001). The Irreducible Needs of Children. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
. Eisenberg,A., Murkoff, H & Hathaway, S. (1989). What to Expect the First Year. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
. Green,C. (1995). Toddler Taming: The guide to your child from one to four. Sydney: Doubleday.
. Sanders, M.R. (1992). Every Parent: A positive approach to children’s behaviour. Sydney: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.


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