3 and 4 Year Olds
Understanding Your Child’s Development
This is the thinking stage. As children enter their preschool years, they know what they like and dislike. Their emotions tend to be more stable and predictable. Your child is picking up on what you say and do. Read more about what your child is experiencing in this stage of development.
- Slow and steady period of growth.
- Begins to develop a foundation for their gender identity.
- Explores their own body parts and has a growing awareness of body functions.
- Body exploration with others- both children and adults- is common. (e.g. playing doctor with peers).
- They may touch their own genitals for pleasure.
- Is better able to identify and name their feelings through words.
- Fears real things (e.g., the dark, animals and thunderstorms) and imaginary things (e.g., monsters and ghosts).
- Exaggerates the truth.
- Likes to talk about body functions.
- Develops a sense of humour.
Cognitive (Learning & Thinking)
- May wish for a special relationship with a parent (e.g., “I’m going to marry you”) and compete with the other parent.
- Becomes more independent and sees themselves as a separate person.
- Is amused by bodily functions and will use language that parents and siblings use.
- Some curiosity about babies, pregnancy and the birth process.
- Uses and repeats curse words.
- Focus of pleasurable sensations shifts from the oral area (e.g., putting toys into their mouth) to the anal area (e.g., being curious about bodily functions) – toilet training becomes a major event.
- Likes playing with other children.
- Begins to share and take turns.
- Hits less, name-calls more.
- Uses imagination and themes in pretend play, may have an imaginary friend.
- Likes to talk.
- Enjoys group activities and games.
For more information on healthy growth and development, visit Healthy Parents, Healthy Children.
For information on children with Differing Abilities, click here.
What They Need to Know
Children at this age are the easiest to teach, as they have an abundance of natural curiosity and take in everything they see and hear. Your child will use their imagination to make up their own story if they have not received an explanation they are able to understand. Be prepared to provide answers to their questions again and again, as preschoolers don’t always understand the first time.
At this stage of development there are some great ways to encourage healthy sexuality and development. At this stage, children should know the following:
- The correct names for private body parts and that their body is private. This may help children stay safe in that they can accurately tell a trusted adult if someone tries to touch them sexually.
- The proper names for genitals: penis, testicles, scrotum, anus, vulva, labia, vagina, clitoris, uterus, and ovaries
- How reproduction happens. For example, you could say “when a man’s sperm joins a woman’s egg during sexual intercourse, a baby grows in the uterus and is born through the vagina”.
- Not to pick up things like used condoms. Children this age love to pick things up off the ground. Now is a good time to teach them.
For more information, visit our Resources page.
Click here to learn tips for discussing sexual health.