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 don’t like. Their emotions tend to be more stable and predictable. Your child’s picking up on what you say and do. Read more about what your child is going through in this stage.
- Slow and steady growth.
- Begin to develop a base or foundation for their gender identity.
- Explores their own body parts and becomes more aware of how their body works.
- They may touch their own genitals because it feels good.
- Body exploration with others—both children and adults—is common. (e.g., playing doctor with other children their age).
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 aren’t suitable. 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’.
- Know better what they’re feeling and can name their feelings through words.
- Is afraid of 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.
Learning and Thinking (Cognitive)
- 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.
- Finds bodily functions funny. Uses language that parents and siblings use.
- Is somewhat curious about babies, pregnancy and the birth process.
- Uses and repeats curse (swear) words.
- Shifts the focus of pleasurable sensations 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. Some 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.
- Likes to play with other children.
- Begins to share and take turns.
- Hits less, but name-calls more.
- Uses imagination and themes in pretend play, and may have an imaginary friend.
- Likes to talk.
- Enjoys group activities and games.
To learn more about healthy growth and development, visit Healthy Parents, Healthy Children.
Click the link to learn more about children with Differing Abilities.
What Your Child Needs Your Help to Learn
Children at this age are the easiest to teach, as they are very curious and take in everything they see and hear. Your child will use their imagination to make up their own story if they don’t understand the explanation they may have been given. Be ready to answer to their questions again and again, as preschoolers don’t always understand the first time.
There are some great ways to support healthy sexuality and development. At this stage, children should know:
- The correct names for body parts including genitals and reproductive organs: penis, testicles, scrotum, anus, vulva, labia, vagina, clitoris, uterus and ovaries. Knowing the correct names for body parts promotes positive body image, self-confidence, and parent-child communication. It also gives children the language they need to tell a trusted adult if sexual abuse has happened.
- That their body is their own and no one can touch it or look at it without their permission. Teach them that it is not ok if someone asks them to look at or touch another person’s private parts either.
- That there are no secrets around touch and all touch can be talked about. This will help them understand the difference between ’okay’ and ‘not okay’ touch and may encourage them to tell a trusted adult if something like this has happened.
- How reproduction happens. For example, you could say, “When a sperm joins an egg, a baby grows in the uterus, and is born through the vagina.”
- Not to pick up things such as used condoms or syringes. Now is a good time to teach them not to pick up anything if they don’t know what it is or if they think it’s dangerous.
To learn more, visit Resources.
Click to learn Tips for Talking About Sexual Health.