young child smiling at parent while asking questions about sexual health

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 picks 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 kids and adults—is common. (e.g., playing doctor with other kids 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 them 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.
  • 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.
  • Is developing an understanding of their gender identity.
  • 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. In some homes, people show each other love and affection through behaviours like hugging and kissing, while in other homes, they don’t. Later, children’s 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.
Your interactions with your child are still the main source of their self-esteem and sense of security. These interactions can include games asking them to name their body parts (including genitals). This is a great way for them to learn about the parts of the body and how they work.


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 what they’ve been told. Be ready to answer 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. To help you give them the facts about their body parts, what they’re used for and how babies are made, see Reproduction and Pregnancy


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 helps to protect your child as you can be specific and clear when you talk to them about when and what touch is inappropriate. They will also have the words to tell you or a trusted adult if they feel something happened.
  • Their body is their own and no one can touch it or look at it without their permission. Teach them that it’s also not okay if someone asks them to look at or touch another person’s private parts.
  • There are no secrets around touch and that 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 touch 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.


Helpful Tools


Parent Guide (birth - 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

Explore the dimensions of human sexuality.


Parents' FAQs

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


The "Every Body"

Learn about the differences between 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.

Parent Guide birth to 12

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