Four Years to Six Years
In no time at all, it might seem, your dependent tiny baby progressed into a wobbly toddler and now here they are developing into a proper little person. Up until this point, their physical development is most noticeable as they learn to sit, crawl, walk, talk, sleep properly, feed, dress, wash and go to the loo themselves. But now the focus shifts more towards their mental, social and emotional developments as they form their own distinctive characters, speak more fluently, understand more, make judgements, and develop behaviours and friendships
From settling into pre-school or playgroup, they’ll be moving on to full-time school and getting to grips with reading and writing. Like little sponges, this age group soak up words and information – entailing constant questions – and they’ll be starting to evaluate what they see and hear, form their own opinions and think for themselves. Scary? You bet. But it’s a really exciting time – for you and them.
Now your child is physically able, they’ll be looking to further the things they can do, which opens up all sorts of potential safety issues. Unfortunately, their understanding of possible pitfalls and consequences is still limited, so they need to learn from your teaching – and their mistakes. It’s all about stretching the parameters of their learning, without harming themselves.
- If they want to help with cooking or DIY, make sure they’re aware of the dangers of hot ovens, sharp knives or heavy hammers before they get involved.
- To reach something high up, show they how they must use a sturdy step, position it correctly and put it back when they’ve finished.
- Continue to teach them about road safety and stranger danger issues.
- Make sure they know their full name, age, address and phone number, and remind them what to do if they are lost or feel in danger.
- As they and their peers develop physically, emotionally and socially, they will start to learn that rough and tumble games – and unkind words – can hurt. Encourage them to talk to buddies, teachers or you or Mum if anyone hurts them at school.
- Most behaviours are learnt from home, so if you don’t want your child to behave aggressively or rudely, to shout, swear or break things in temper – don’t set a bad example.
- Especially towards the upper end of the age bracket, your child may start to use the internet, which opens up a minefield of safety issues. Childnet International has lots of advice on setting up parental controls so they don’t inadvertently see stuff they shouldn’t at www.child-net.org
After all those years of trying to teach your child to talk, this is pay-back time and you may start to wonder if they’ll ever shut up. They’ll share every intricate detail of a film they’ve seen, game of football they’ve played or story they’ve heard in class. Talking about things is an important way for them to understand how the world works and you may see them nattering non-stop with their friends at playtime or while playing with their toys.
Hard as it might be, try to be patient as they tell you everything they want to, in all its gory detail; answer their questions where you can; and really listen when they’re talking to you so you can ask them questions – about what they’ve done, where they’ve been and what they saw. This will help you learn more about how they think and feel. If they become frustrated when they’re trying to explain something that you don’t understand or can’t recall, encourage them to try a different approach.
At 18 months they had a 50-word vocab and were making two-word phrases – this now leaps to around 1,500 words and 9-word sentences by age 4-5. Understanding is also vastly improved and they are getting to grips with concepts of time (e.g: yesterday, next week) and using more interesting words to describe their feelings, other people and events. They may start to argue, to offer their own ideas and opinions and say what they would like to happen.
They’re sense of humour is developing and they love jokes and nonsense words. It’s important to laugh along with them – but not at them – although you may need to gently play down over the top nonsense talk or toilet humour. For example, if everyone’s a “poo head”, suggest they could be a “banana head” or a “squashed tomato head” or a “wibbly wobbly jelly head” instead.
Keep talking to your kids, as that helps them develop their speech further, and share your feelings and opinions with them – talking and listening are building blocks of a strong parent/child relationship throughout their life. As most young children have more contact with female adults, boys in particular need special help from their Dad to help them understand what it’s like to be man. By spending time with them and sharing your feelings and information on your life outside the home, they will be more confident about socialising with other boys and growing up into a man.
And read to them or tell them stories as often as possible – with over the top expression and silly voices. Use pictures and storylines to stimulate discussion – “Do you think that’s a good thing?” “Would you have done that?” “What do you think might have happened next?” Then, later, during this formative time, you’ll enjoy the privilege of hearing them starting to read to you.
Four to six year olds are happy to engage in long periods of creative and physical play. At this age, imaginative role play comes to the fore and you may frequently be required to take on the role of Ninja warrior, hairdresser’s model or supermarket shopper to join in with their games. They often enjoy the role reversal of being the adult or the one in charge of their game. They may also enjoy performing to you – a song, dance, jokes or magic tricks. Watching and listening to them playing games with their toys or undertaking adventures with their friends in the playground, at home or out in the countryside gives a great insight into their characters.
This age group is starting to become more confident about playing with other children, making new friends, developing friendships and choosing who (or who not) to play with. They really enjoy playing with others of the same age who want and like the same things. Through play, you’ll notice some of their character traits developing like bossiness, kindness, shyness, creativity. Observe them playing with their friends, and remind them about sharing, taking turns, trying other people’s ideas and being gentle. Try not to make them feel bad when their behaviour is over the top, and praise them when they consider other children and play well.
They might start experimenting with more intricate games like setting up a doll’s house, building more complicated lego and meccano models, dressing toys, cutting with scissors, completing puzzles unassisted and taking an interest in computerised games such as Nintendo Wii or DS. It’s a good time to start teaching them simple card games and family board games such as Frustration or Sorry, which they can play with older siblings and adults.
Their drawing skills will be progressing significantly – by 5 they should be able to draw a person with a head (complete with eyes, nose, mouth and hair), body, arms and legs and a house with windows, doors and a roof. They can hold a pencil well and may enjoy copying and writing letters and numbers, and recognising colours.
At this age they need about 30-60 minutes of daily physical activity such as bike riding, swimming, ball games – throwing, catching, kicking and hitting with a bat; climbing – trees and frames, trampolining, dancing, running, jumping or walking.
The main thing children want – and need – from their parents is to have fun with them. Give your child time, take their lead and have a range of activities available that offer creative role play, drawing and colouring, counting and sorting, basic crafts and construction kits, physical activities, books with interesting stories or rhymes and board and computer games.
The key milestone during these years will be starting school. For five year olds, their family life is still the centre of their world and they are still attached to their parents, so this will be a very big step for them. Different children will respond in different ways – some will be excited and confident, others may be clingy and frightened – but all will be dependent on your encouragement and support.
Remember that they will have to fit in with new rules at school and will come into contact with different ideas and personalities, which can be confusing and tiring for your child. So don’t be surprised if your son or daughter is tearful, disruptive or abnormally quiet when they arrive home at the end of the school day.
Your child will start to notice what he or she can or can’t do in relation to others in their class, so help them out where you can if they mention that they can’t catch a ball/ride a bike/cut with scissors as well as their friends. But equally remind them of what they are good at, and explain that we all have our own special skills.
Make sure you ask them lots of questions about their day and give them some one-to-one time with you to compensate for their increasing time apart from you and Mum.
This is the age where children are really starting to connect with the bigger world. They’re developing an awareness of their own feelings and needs, and the outcomes of certain behaviours – and starting to make judgements and hold opinions of their own. It’s quite a mind-blowing time for them and Dads have a key role to play to help them build a strong foundation for later emotional development.
- Encourage them to share and express their feelings with you and others.
- Help them manage intense emotions by talking about it, kicking a football or drawing a picture rather than indulging in aggressive behaviour.
- Teach them to involve and play fairly with others, not to take over or be unkind, to be more confident or less rough.
- Allow them to play on their own and encourage them to develop their own ideas.
- With so many new things going on, this age group are very reliant on routines and boundaries to make them feel safe and secure, especially at home. Try to follow a similar pattern getting ready for school in the mornings and going to bed at night. They actually prefer consistent rules as so many new and different things are opening up to them, that they like to have certain things on which they know they can depend.
- As they are striding forward in their understanding, they’ll ask lots of questions about the world and why things happen. Try to deal simply and honestly with difficult questions about death or sex. Explain that these are the beliefs that your family holds, but other people may think differently. And don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer to a question. You can always search the internet together to find out.
- They are now old enough to be given responsibilities round the house, which will give them a feeling of achievement, such as making their bed, tidying up toys, laying and clearing the table and packing their school bag.
- At this age, kids still don’t understand the concepts of time constraints or the need to hurry, but what they do quickly learn is that dawdling gets a reaction. Now that they’ve mastered the art of putting on their coat or shoes, routinely doing that task becomes boring and it can be more exciting to see Dad’s reaction when they’re hiding behind the curtains or playing with their toys rather than obeying instructions to get ready for school. Remember to continually praise and encourage when they do things well, and withhold TV or playtime until they have finished washing, dressing, eating breakfast and cleaning teeth. Try not to start doing things for them that they should be doing themselves – like putting on their shoes, clearing away their breakfast bowl or picking up their packed lunch just because you’re running late.
During this key stage in your child’s mental and social development, they may struggle with all sorts of different, confusing emotions. Angry and difficult behaviour could simply be an outlet for their insecurity and frustrations but you need to deal with problem traits now before they get out of control.
It’s been said before, but we can all do with a reminder:
- Set the boundaries and keep to them – let your child know what’s acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Give one warning, and if your child doesn’t stop or start doing what you ask, issue the punishment.
- Explain clearly why the behaviour is wrong but always remind your child that they are loved and it is their behaviour that you are punishing.
- Ensure they get enough sleep, physical exercise and healthy food – tiredness, boredom and poor diet can all contribute to ratty behaviour.
- Look for advice from other Dads who’ve been there (or share advice with those who are going through it) on our forum.
This age is a lovely time in your child’s life, and I hope this gives you some ideas to make it even more special and fun. Next stop: 6-8 years!
Learn more about your baby by watching for developmental milestones here.