Child Development: Milestones for 4 Years

Child Development: Milestones for 4 years

While every child is unique and special, most children demonstrate specific skills or tasks by a certain age. These “developmental milestones” cover everything from physical growth, cognitive and language development, to social and motor development. Smiling for the first time, looking at your face, waving “bye-bye,” crawling, and taking the first step are all considered developmental milestones.

Why are developmental milestones important?

Developmental milestones are important markers to help you track your child’s developmental health. These milestones are used by parents, pediatricians, and many other care providers to ensure that your child is developing as expected, and can help identify and address delayed development to facilitate early interventions.

"Milestones are categorized around five major areas: physical growth, cognitive development, emotional and social development, language development, and sensory and motor development," explains Cari Whitlock, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Neuropsychologist at Healthy Young Minds. "Milestones help you understand how your child learns and grows, and delays in any of these areas can result in mild to severe struggles at home and school. Proper assessment can lead to services that help your child reach their full potential."

How to track a 4 year old’s developmental milestones

Many pediatricians work from standardized forms to assess and track your child’s developmental milestones. As a parent, it’s important to keep track of the skills your child exhibits as they grow, since you are most familiar and involved in their day-to-day care. There are multiple tracking apps out there, including the Milestone Tracker App from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Child Development Milestones: 4 Years

Cognitive milestones

  • Names a few colors of items

  • Tells what comes next in a well-known story

  • Draws a person with three or more body parts

Physical milestones

  • Catches a large ball most of the time

  • Serves themself food or pours water with your support

  • Unbuttons some buttons

  • Holds crayon or pencil between fingers and thumb (instead of a fist)

Language milestones

  • Says sentences with four or more words

  • Says some words from a song, story, or nursery rhyme

  • Talks about at least one thing that happened during their day

  • Answers who, what, where, when, why, and how questions (“why do we need a coat?”)

Social emotional milestones

  • Pretends to be something else during play (superhero, cat, astronaut)

  • Asks to go play with children when none are around (“can I go play with Sam?”)

  • Comforts other who are hurt or sad

  • Avoids danger

  • Likes to be a “helper”

  • Changes behavior based on where they are (library, playground, grocery store)

What are the cognitive milestones for a 4 year old?

At this age, your child is playing to explore their feelings and learn new things. Children at this age understand more concepts, liking naming colors and more complex opposites, like left and right. You may notice your child memorizing their favorite stories by telling what comes next. Your child will start to make more detailed drawings of people, with body parts and clothes. During this time, give your child lots of opportunities for imaginative and creative play, like playing dress-up or making their own instruments.

What are the physical milestones for a 4 year old?

Your child loves moving and being active. Your child is getting better at catching a large ball, skipping, walking down steps with alternating feet, and balancing on one foot. Your preschooler’s fine motor skills continue to improve. You may see your child unbutton some buttons, hold a crayon or pencil between fingers and thumb, and cut with safe scissors.

What are the speech and language milestones for a 4 year old?

At four years, preschoolers can use sentences with 4 or more words and you can understand what your child is saying all the time. Children at this age will talk about something that happened during their day and answer ‘who’ ‘what’ ‘where’ ‘when’ ‘why’ and ‘how many’ questions. At this age, spend time reading with your child as well as telling stories, singing songs, and reciting nursery rhymes; you may notice your child singing along and remembering rhymes.

What are the social and emotional milestones for a 4 year old?

Your preschooler is using their imagination and leaning into pretend play. You may notice your child pretending to be something else during play (superhero, cat, astronaut). At four years old, they love playing with other children and will ask to go play with children when none are around (“Can I go play with Sam?”). They also may enjoy being a helper and want to please others. Your child is more self-aware and will change their behavior based on where they are (library, playground, grocery store). During this time, do some cooking with your child and give them simple tasks, like tossing a salad or spreading peanut butter on bread. Play games with your child and practice taking turns; sharing is hard at this age, so giving your child verbal praise when they do share is encouraging.

What if my child is not meeting milestones?

No one knows your child better than you. Always trust your gut. If your child is not meeting age-appropriate milestones, talk to your pediatrician.

Learn more about when you should worry about missing developmental milestones.

If you or someone you know are currently involved in a serious crisis, please call 911 to connect with local emergency services that can help to resolve the situation. For other situations refer to our Mental Health Crisis Resources.

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