Fantastic Four Year Old!

Those fantastic four-year-olds!  Many mothers report four was a great year for them; other mothers have reported that their child did not seem to go through the upheaval of three-and-a-half and instead hit a turbulent phase at four!

Let’s take a quick look at the traditional view of the four-year-old, as discussed by our friends at the Gesell Institute in the book “Your Four-Year-Old”:

Four Years of Age – Traditional Development

  • Swearing, boasting, out of bounds behavior
  • Joyous, exuberant, energetic, ready for anything!
  • Like increased privacy regarding going to the bathroom
  • May see sex play, exhibitionism   (may also come up again at age six)
  • Boastful, bossy
  • Expansive, sure of himself
  • Adores new people, places, things
  • Extreme emotions – love and hate
  • Very speedy, does things once and moves on to the next thing
  • Out of bounds speech (“I will cut you up”  “I will put you in the garbage”)
  • Four’s may need loving limits even if they have not needed a lot of limits before
  • Can be very aggressive with siblings and get along better with almost anyone than a younger sibling; should not be trusted alone with a baby

SUGGESTION : Avoid moral judgments as to your child’s behavior at this age – lying, swearing, exaggerating is a hallmark of age 4

Another generality:  Gesell Institute suggests NOT trying to teach a 4 year old to read –(to which all the Waldorf folks out there are nodding their heads!)

Try to enjoy the good things about this age!

Four and A Half Years of Age – Traditional Development

  • Usually a bit more self-motivated,
  • Better able to stand frustration
  • Emotions still uncertain
  • May be less easily shifted with distraction
  • Starting to be aware of “good and bad”
  • Some four and a half year olds can be very demanding, persistent
  • May be less easy to distract with humor than in earlier ages
  • Unpredictable
  • Typically a gradual transition into the self-contained age that is five

Other Areas in the Four-Year-Old Year

  • Friendship-  is typically strong at this age per the Gesell Institute book
  • Eating – can feed themselves completely except for cutting
  • May talk incessantly during meals, may become restless during meals, may have to use the bathroom during meals
  • Most sleep well; may need to use the bathroom
  • May still nap, but majority of four-year-olds are done napping
  • Most children are dry during the day and can manage going to the bathroom alone; not unusual for them to be wet at night
  • Usually bowel movement are also in a routine pattern; boys may possibly not want to have their bowel movement in the toilet
  • Transitions may be easier than before

     Common Tensional Outlets (From Gesell Institute book “Child Behavior”)

  • Thumb-sucking to go to sleep
  • Running away, kicking, spitting, biting fingernails, picking nose, facial grimacing
  • Calls people names, boasts, brags, uses silly language
  • Nightmare and fears
  • Needs to use the bathroom when excited
  • May complain of pain in stomach and actually vomit during times of stress


  • May knock out front teeth if falls
  • May have many colds during the winter
  • May have “accidents” during times of emotional stress


  • Sirens, fire engines, other auditory fears
  • The dark
  • Wild animals
  • Mother leaving, going out at night is a common fear


  • Asks where babies come from
  • May believe that a baby grows inside Mommy, but may also believe a baby comes from a store and is bought
  • Asks how baby gets out;  may think baby comes out through the mother’s umbilicus


Per Gesell Institute:

  • Unless it is a well-loved pet or a parent, the child may have a very limited reaction
  • Notion of death is extremely limited
  • By 5 may understand more the concept that “death is the end”
  • “With some exceptions, most preschoolers are not ready for anything but the most simple explanations of death.  Unless it is someone very close to him and someone much loved who dies, concern about the event may be mild.”
  • In the book “Child Behavior” there is a good section regarding talking to children about death.  They recommend the book “Talking About Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child” by Rabbi Earl A. Grollman.  If anyone has experience with this book, please do leave it in the comment section to share with our community.

There are also sections in this book regarding the young child and adoption, discussing the idea of a deity if that is pertinent to your family, divorce.  Very helpful.

Regarding Discipline:

  • Try to let some of the out-of-bounds behavior go
  • Utilize a four’s sense of adventure and love of movement  as you re-direct (Hhmm, this sounds like a Waldorf technique!)
  • Try fantasy to help direct things along (hhmm, this also sounds like a Waldorf technique)


Let’s look at an anthroposophical view of the four-year-old in our next post, and some Waldorf ways of dealing with the small child to guide behavior.

7 thoughts on “Fantastic Four Year Old!

  1. Pingback: Help! My Child Doesn’t Seem to Know Right From Wrong! « The Parenting Passageway

  2. Pingback: Peaceful Life With A Four-Year-Old « The Parenting Passageway

  3. Pingback: Discipline for the Four-Year-Old « The Parenting Passageway

  4. Pingback: This Will Keep You Busy: Links By Age « The Parenting Passageway

  5. Oh my goodness this post is a huge life saver!! I just printed it to show my husband. It totally describes my 4 year old and I am so relieved to know he is normal. He has always been a bit more intense than most children but this post really helps me to not worry so much about his recent behaviour. What a relief. I’ve been struggling even to like him recently (he is just so mean at times), but I’m going to see past it all and enjoy my boys while he is young.

  6. Pingback: Joyful July! | The Parenting Passageway

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