Is a 4-Year-Old a Toddler? | Normal Behavior, Issues & Tips

As your child approaches the age of four, they are getting ready to start school and learn new things every day. This leads to a common question among parents – what is this stage known as? 4-year-olds are no longer classified as babies, but they are not quite at the school age either.  

Is a 4-year-old a toddler? By most definitions, a 4-year-old is not a toddler. Though some people consider toddlers to be kids between the ages of 1 and 4, most consider 4-year-olds preschoolers. You will likely notice that your 4-year-old is ready to learn and experience things that toddlers aren’t quite ready for yet.

A 4-year-old will start showing signs of emotional and academic development while still struggling to manage big feelings. It’s important to know what is going on in your child’s mind during this time.

Understanding Your 4-Year-Old

As your children age, you are faced with new challenges and behaviors. A 4-year-old is going through major changes, and this will show up in how they act.

What Is a 4-Year-Old Called?

A 4-year-old is usually called a preschooler. This definition acknowledges that your child is about to enter elementary school and may already be attending preschool.

Your child is out of the toddler phase and ready to take on other challenges that will prepare them for school.

Normal 4-Year-Old Behavior

Though your 4-year-old is maturing, you will still notice behavior that reminds you of their toddler days. 

4-Year-Old Developmental Checklist

Your 4-year-old should be able to do the following:

  • Count objects
  • Recognize letters
  • Recognize at least three colors
  • Recognize basic shapes
  • Understand rules and obey them some of the time

4-Year-Old Academic Milestones

Every child develops at their own pace. Whether or not your child attends preschool may affect how much they know academically at this age.

  • Tells what comes next in a story
  • Can tell the difference between reality and make-believe
  • Uses more complex sentences to communicate

4-Year-Old Emotional Development

Having a 4-year-old is an adventure when it comes to emotions. Though they can communicate more at this age, that doesn’t mean you won’t still see emotional breakdowns.

  • Moves from parallel play to engaging with peers
  • Can talk through anger instead of hitting most of the time
  • Acts independently more often
  • Knows how to follow rules, though won’t always choose to do so

Common 4-Year-Old Behavior Problems

Though your 4-year-old may be more social and want to please others, that doesn’t mean you won’t still see some tantrums.

Your 4-year-old may refuse to follow directions or complete work they are being asked to do. They may still have issues sharing, and they may not cooperate even if doing so would benefit them. These are all normal behaviors for this age.

A cute 4-year-old girl standing outside in a purple shirt and corduroy jacket.

What To Teach a Preschooler

Preschoolers are ready to learn and have more skills to use. Practice these skills with them to set them up for success.

  1. Teach your child how to use scissors. Safety scissors are a great way to start.
  2. Teach your child how to use glue to paste the pictures they cut on another sheet of paper.
  3. Play memory and matching games with your child.
  4. Get in the kitchen, and cook or bake with your child. This helps them understand how ingredients work together to create meals. It’s also a great way to start learning about measurements.
  5. Sing songs. Songs that deal with counting, colors, or days of the week are wonderful because they teach your child while allowing them to have fun.
  6. Read to your child. Reading to your child is one of the best ways to teach them how to read. It also helps them develop a love for books.
  7. Role play with your child, and teach them how to share, say “please” and “thank you,” and express big feelings in safe ways.
  8. Take your child outside, and let them explore. Give them a magnifying glass, and let them take their time and see what they can find.
  9. Encourage your child to draw. Whether or not your child is the next Picasso is beside the point. Drawing helps kids develop skills they will need to write, and it’s a great form of expression.

How To Discipline a 4-Year-Old

Discipline can be challenging at any age, but there are techniques with preschoolers that work better than others.

One of the main goals is to stay calm when disciplining your 4-year-old so you are modeling the behavior you hope to eventually see.

Set limits, and express them clearly. As much as possible, let natural consequences be your guide. When a child sees that there was a logical consequence to their behavior instead of just an arbitrary punishment, they are likely to remember it. 

One of the best ways to deal with discipline is to try to stop problems before they occur.

Sincerely praise your child when you catch them doing something good, and make sure to listen for the unmet need leading to the behavior problems. 

Activities To Do With 4-Year-Old

Spending quality time with your 4-year-old will go a long way to helping them feel secure, connected, and happy.

Play games together that include make-believe and add board or card games that are age appropriate as well.

Get outside with your kids whenever you can, and make reading an activity you do together regularly. Read to your 4-year-old, and let him pick out books at the library.

Related Questions:

Is a 3-Year-Old a Toddler?

A 3-year-old is balancing between a toddler and a preschooler. Some definitions place 3-year-olds in the preschooler category while others keep them as toddlers until they are 4. 

Why Is My 4-Year-Old So Angry?

A 4-year-old is still a young child, and it’s normal for young children to get angry and have tantrums.

Even though your child will be able to communicate better as they age, anger and frustration are still normal responses to things they can’t control.

If you feel like your 4-year-old’s anger is excessive, talk to your pediatrician to make sure there isn’t an underlying issue.

Closing Thoughts

A 4-year-old is not a toddler but not yet a school-aged child. They are in the preschool phase, a period of time that brings new joys and challenges.