Development milestones -- 3 to 4 years

Children are creative, spontaneous and relatively independent when they reach the age of four.

Age group of 3 to 4 is the time when children try to fit in their own progressing need for self-actualisation with those of expectations from parents and society. Children are creative, spontaneous and relatively independent. They aim to achieve their full potential. Preschool during this stage helps them get used to the idea of a classroom in a casual manner.


1. As children gain more control and balance while walking, climbing and running, they will go on to master them. They will gain expertise in walking or running in a straight line at an even pace, maneuvering around obstacles.

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2. They will learn to acrobat. Children can hop and stand on one foot for short periods and can jump off the stairs from low heights or climb up skipping a step or two.

3. Improved hand-eye coordination will allow 4-year olds to catch a small or medium ball thrown at them from a short distance. They can now throw, bounce or kick a ball too.

4. By the age of 4, most children are able to get food for themselves when hungry. This is the time when you can teach them table manners. They are able to hold utensils, pour liquid into glass, mash food and spread butter on bread.

5. As children reach the age of 4, they can hold urine and stay dry for three hours or more. While children can be toilet trained by the time they are 3 if they exhibit physical and mental readiness, a good number of kids aren't ready to start until they are 4 years old.

6. Children learn to hold pencil with quadripod grip (4 finger grip). A circle is formed by the thumb and index finger (web space) while holding the pencil with 4 fingers. They are able to write zigzag and crossed lines, join simple dot-to-dots, trace dotted lines and draw simple diagrams.

Warning signs: When should you worry

  • Inability to jump, throw a ball overhead, ride a tricycle
  • Inability to grasp pencil
  • Trouble handling small objects
  • Babies walk on tiptoes when they learn to take their first steps and continue to do so for 6 to 12 months till they achieve the heel-to-toe gait. Consult a paediatrician if your child continues to do so even after the age of 3.


1. You can look forward to some longer, more complex conversations with your child. Children add more words to their vocabulary between the ages of 3 and 4 by listening to people around them. They can understand more words than what they are able to say. They can use more complex sentences, rhyming words, plurals, etc. and are able to talk about new experiences and activities of the day.

2. Now is the best time to read out stories to your little one. Children at this age love to be read to. But beware -- you may have to read the same book over and over again.

3. Children can speak fluent enough for people to understand them. Though, children at the age of 4 may still have trouble pronouncing words that require the tongue to touch the palate like ra, tha, la, etc.

4. Children can surprise you with their understanding of basic rules of grammar. They can memorise and sing rhymes and poems. They can tell or make up entertaining stories with prompting.

Warning signs: When should you worry

  • Trouble in speaking
  • Inability to use a sentence with more than three to four words
  • Incorrect usage of me and you
  • Persistent drooling


The intellectual development and thinking skills of your child continues to increase from the age of 3 to 4. Imagination runs wild in a four-year old. Children can be creative and have their own inner fantasy world. But they may not be able to differentiate the imaginary from the real.

1. Children can count numbers, identify and name few colours and shapes by the age of 4. They can understand the idea of opposites.

2. They may understand the simple concepts of time like daytime and night time.

3. Children may be able to use scissors and knives, understand and play a few easy board games.

4. They can memorise and sing rhymes and poems. While it is fun to listen to the nursery rhymes children recite, they also serve other purposes. They not only help in language development but also have a powerful effect on a child s cognition. They acquaint the child to patterns and sequence and help increase math skills. The visual images and sound rhythms help in practicing easy recall and memorisation.

Warning signs: When should you worry

  • Avoids making eye contact
  • Inability to stack blocks
  • Lack of interest in interactive games
  • Unable to understand simple commands


A four year old kid is assertive and independent, but looks out for guidance. Playing with others is important at this stage of a child s growth for social development. It helps a child to learn and explore feelings.

1. Children s interaction with others is increased. They understand close relationships and can have imaginary friends too. They can appreciate special events like birthdays, etc.

2. They enjoy trivial games. Dispute with playmates is common but they still care for them. Children with siblings and in joint families and those who go to play school may easily be able to empathise and play interactively

3. Time to share some jokes and look who s laughing! Children at this age develop a sense of humour. They appreciate and respond to simple jokes.

4. Children are inquisitive to learn or do new things. They can be showy and pretentious about their little achievements. They could be stubborn and aggressive too.

5. They can be very talkative. They can talk about their likes and interests.

6. Just when you were done dealing with the tantrums, you may have to deal with your child s naughtiness. Your four year old kid might enjoy tricking others, and yes it includes you! And not surprisingly, your little troublemaker may even frame others for his/her naughtiness.

Warning signs: When should you worry

Consult your child s paediatrician if he/she does not respond to members outside the family and is disinterested in playing with other children.


The age between 3 and 4 is an important period in emotional development of children. They are better able to recognise and understand their own feelings.

1. They are affectionate towards familiar family and friends, and look out for comfort and reassurance from caretaker. Separation anxiety is short-lived.

2. Pre-schoolers display wide range of emotions - happy, sad, bored, angry, fear, empathy, etc. But they have not achieved impulse control on emotions yet and hence may have emotional outbursts.

3. This is the time when a child s self-esteem develops. Children understand the idea of 'self' and other .

4. They can differentiate past and future to some extent. They understand the limits and rules but do not yet understand the right and wrong ways.

Warning sign:When should you worry

It is advisable to consult your child s paediatrician if he/she continues to experience extreme separation anxiety and has trouble with self-control when angry or upset.

This article has been verified by Dr Mona P Gajre, Professor of Paediatrics & Head Learning Disability Clinic, Lokmanya Tilak General Hospital, Mumbai.

You may also like to read:

Developmental milestones 0 to 1 year

Development milestones 1 to 2 years

Developmental milestone: Has your baby started walking?

Developmental milestones: Should you worry about your child s delayed speech?

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