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What is Normal Behavior for a 4-Year-Old?

by: Guest Writer
Comparison forms a big part of understanding how your child is developing. Maybe you have friends who have children of a similar age to yours, so you can directly see how they are. Perhaps they go to a playgroup with peers and those of various ages, which allows you to chart their progression. It’s that immediate recognition that this is this and that is that which helps a parent determine, in specific contexts, how their child is.
4-year-olds are at a moment of change in their lives. They are growing out of their toddler habits and expectations towards kindergarten age when independence becomes a necessity and a priority. Therefore, previous boundaries are being tested or are no longer helpful. Before they are 4, there are screenings available to test for neuro-divergent, educational, or physical differences, but, at 4-years-old, the signs may become more visible as it is a time in their lives where development stages are prevalent. Parents both need to be more robustly involved in recognizing the 4-year-old as who they are and relinquishing the control over that too, as the child becomes themselves.
There are helpful milestones and standards which will help give you some context for your 4-year-old’s behavior. The key topics we’ll focus on in this article are socializing, ‘academic’ development, and emotional signs.
How Should My 4-Year-Old Be Socially?
One of the critical transitions for 4-year-olds is both that they begin to assert their independence from you, as a parent, as someone likely to be the lawmaker, and, potentially, other authority figures or leaders, and begin to cooperate and share with others, become part of a group.
Sharing is one skill that can take a little bit of time to develop. 4-year-olds are more aware of people’s feelings and thoughts – true of peers, those younger, and those older – and their ability to negotiate and resolve issues will improve, but it is still early to expect complete compromise. Parents and teachers can help model such behaviors, of course. However, if your child struggles with sharing, waiting their turn, or interrupting conversations – existing within a ‘functional’ group – this may signal an underlying issue which could require them to see a child behavior therapist
After all, what can appear like mere restlessness or Excitement in a young child, could indicate something more significant like attention deficit disorder (ADHD). And children as young as 4 years old can be diagnosed with ADHD by an appropriate specialist.
Sympathy is an extension of sharing too. At this age, 4-year-olds are, as mentioned, aware of other people on a new-to-them emotional level. You may watch them console those who are sad or hurt. You may watch them hug those they’ve missed. You may watch them high- five those who have made them happy. Physical affection is a common social development at this age.
Sexual behaviors in children can often be a cause for concern, and any act referring to or involving genitals or sex in any way can be deemed a red flag. Certain actions shouldn’t be worrying and will be quite a common and natural part of being this age. However, a high frequency of touching or requesting to see genitals, as well as displaying knowledge of sexual acts, should be addressed, though, as this may not benormal sexual behaviour for younger children.
What Developmental Milestones Should They be Meeting?
Communication, at this age, should be noticeably developed and is a crucial barometer for assessing how your child is on their journey. Different children will have different capabilities. It is possible that you may have noticed difficulty hearing, producing, and repeating sounds before they turn 4-years-old. However, at this age, should they be capable, their ability to engage in conversations and produce sounds will be beginning to become more ‘mature’. As such, the development in this area will be more noticeably different. Missing words out in sentences, stutters, limited vocabulary, little volume control, raspy voice, lisps, is frustrated while trying to talk, actively avoids talking – all these are signs that there may be a speech or language impairment.
Common language, speech, and cognitive milestones for your 4-year-old to be assessed against are:
- Employing more complex sentence structures and vocabulary while speaking clearly.
- Using correct tenses, particularly the future, and this links to understanding the order of time and activities.
- Comprehending and acting on several-step commands.
- Knowing a few colors, shapes, letters, and numbers.
- Be able to concentrate for longer.
What Emotional Signs Should I be Worried About?
Your 4-year-old will be put into new circumstances and will be emotionally tested. You know your child. You’ll recognize tantrum patterns, what makes them happy, what gets them to sit down and eat. Emotionally, school, new friends, and new habits will no doubt disrupt them a little bit. Frustration and stress will be common, but nothing that should unduly worry. Extreme emotional reactions becoming routine is one thing you should watch out for, notably anger being expressed physically. However, what’s important is that they learn to cope with their emotions, as long as the triggers aren’t traumatizing and unnecessary. Putting how they feel into words, controlling and understanding what they are experiencing is an ongoing thing for people of any age, but, for a 4-year-old, it’s the next step.