Your Simple List of 4-year-old Milestones

May 19, 2021

by Camille Everett

Creator of Be That Place

Handwritten notes and lunchtime chats from students kickstarted Camille's mission to help families teach sex ed at home. She is a graduate of Utah State University with a bachelor’s in Secondary Health & English Education. She loves having real conversations while devouring bowls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

Dad drinking coffee while small son plays dress-up

Four-year-olds are adventurers and extremely enthusiastic about every new discovery. They are imaginative and creative in their pretend play. Their energy and exhilaration in life are contagious, and they come equipped with a delightful humor.

Exaggeration is a big part of their story-telling. Four-year-olds will tell wonderful stories that puzzle parents but delight themselves to no end.

Four-year-olds are developing at a quick pace. They love trying on new personalities and roles, whether human, animal or imaginary. They really want to be independent. They also are quick to demand adult help and expect that help immediately.

4-year-old milestones


  • May act bossy in real life and with imaginary friends.
  • Love outside play that uses all the large muscle movements they are mastering: running, jumping, skipping, climbing, pulling, riding.
  • Appreciate simple tasks like setting the table or putting away books. 
  • Are good at mimicking parents and other adults’ words, tone of voice, actions, and facial expressions.
  • Often do not have very good fine-motor skills for things like writing, drawing, and cutting.
  • Are talkative, lively, and friendly.
  • Tend to be easily directed away from inappropriate behavior to more acceptable activities. 
  • Are generally unaware of the impact of their behavior on others.
  • Are capable of making their own choices based on their own interests although they also will happily follow adult suggestions.
  • Are impulsive; they have no thought of long-term consequences.

Social & emotional milestones


  • Often need reminders to “use your words” when trying to express themselves.
  • Need good adult role-modeling in how to use words, not physical means, to communicate.
  • Really enjoy reading with adults. 
  • Love playing with friends although this play is sometimes individual play near a friend, not with friends.
  • Are learning how to take turns and understand who is in charge, which is a pretty big milestone.
  • Engage in a lot of imaginary play, including dress-up and playing house.

Cognitive milestones


  • Are rapidly expanding their vocabulary, which includes made-up words, grown-up words, potty words, and even copying swear words — this is a great time for parents to model the type of language they want their child to use.
  • Have short attention spans which means they’ll want to jump from activity to activity pretty quickly.
  • Learn well when doing activities that involve large muscle groups. 
  • Can accomplish responsibilities, like picking up toys or picking up their bedroom, when it is first modeled by an adult.
  • Like to label things in their environment as they develop observation skills.
  • Are gaining an understanding of time, place and location and will often ask questions related to these concepts.

Sexual development


  • Start to recognize and form opinions about how boys and girls are different.
  • Will take on the role of either gender during imaginary play and have no problem dressing up as the opposite gender.
  • Start to ask questions such as “Where do babies come from?”
  • Like using potty words, even during play.
  • Are unconcerned about nudity and feel no embarrassment when touching other people’s bodies.
  • Will ask simple, direct questions about bodies.
  • Should know the correct names of anatomy.

This age is a great time to consider creating a foundation of positive beliefs and attitudes about gender, bodies, privacy, consent and respectful words. As a parent, it’s important to understand the sexual development of your four-year-old so that you can see what behavior is typical to this age group.


It’s worth noting that child development experts generally agree on the following 4 principles:

  1. The stages of growth and development follow a predictable pattern.
  2. Different children do not progress through stages at the same pace.
  3. A child progresses through the various parts of a stage at different rates.
  4. Each stage is uneven. For example, one stage may experience a lot of physical growth while another stage may experience a lot of cognitive development. 
  1. Yardsticks: Child and Adolescent Development Ages 4-14 by Chip Wood
  2. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “What is Normal Childhood Sexual Development?” Families are Talking, vol. 3, no. 4, 2015,
  3. National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth (NCSBY). Accessed 20 May 2021.
  4. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). “Sexual Development and Behavior in Children.”