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.

Development

Physical

  • Slow and steady period of growth.

Sexual

  • 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.
Children can learn at an early age that there are private times to self-explore such as the bathroom or bedroom. You can distract your child at other times and places that are inappropriate. This teaches children early on about the concepts of ‘private’ and ‘public’. Use terms they will easily understand such as ’being alone‘ and ’being with others’.

Emotional

  • 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.
Young children learn how people interact with each other by watching the people closest to them. People show each other love and affection through behaviours like hugging and kissing, while in other homes, they don’t. Later on, their behaviour may reflect what they’ve seen.

 

Social

  • 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.
Your attitude remains the primary source of your child’s self-esteem and sense of security. This is a great time for them to learn about the parts of the body and their functions.

 

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.

If you don’t talk about sexuality, it teaches your child that sexuality is something they shouldn’t talk to you about. They will be more likely to talk and believe any story they hear from others. Give them the facts about their body parts, what they are used for and how babies are made.

 

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.

Helpful Tools

 

Parent Guide (0-12 year olds)

This resource will help you prepare for the ongoing conversations you’ll have with your child about sexual health. Whether you’ve had conversations in the past or not, it’s never too late to start!

 

Sexuality Wheel

The Sexuality Wheel depicts just how broad the concept of sexuality really is.

 

FAQ Topic Flash Cards

See sample questions and answers to help you start the conversation about sexual health with your child.

 

The "Every Body" Gender Identity Learning Tool

Understand the difference and correlation between biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

 

Tips for Discussing Sexual Health

Here are some tips for starting or having conversations about sexual health, at any age.

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