Our preschooler just celebrated her fourth birthday. It’s hard for this mother to believe that she is already four. It seems like we were just dealing with being two. I wrote a post about creating positive communication patterns while children are beginning to express their independence (around two). These are effective tools to help lay the foundation for the coming developmental stages children experience. With my preschooler turning four, though, I thought I’d celebrate that mile stone and discuss four tips for having fantastic fours.
Four year olds are curious, creative, and imaginative little people. They are better able to express their feelings and thoughts. They can follow more complicated commands, have better fine motor skills, and are able to answer simple logical questions. They enjoy playing independently and with friends, and can create amazingly imaginative narratives.
Building on these developmental milestones helps make this time magical as this little person reveals more of her personality and self. The following four ideas will help four year olds and parents enjoy these developmental milestones.
- Join in the play
Joining in the game teaches the child that play is fantastic. It allows for stronger parent/child bonding. And it helps the child feel important. During imaginative play, it is best to let the child take the lead in the play and direct where the storyline is going. Often, my preschooler and I play a role reversal game. She is the mom and I am the kid. We do this while I’m completing my morning chores. It is fun to see what being a mom looks like to my preschooler and it makes the chores much more fun to do. Four year olds are also fantastic realistic players and playing with them in this mode helps solidify turn-taking and sharing skills. It is also a great time to teach social niceties like how to politely ask for a toy, how to wait patiently for another turn with a toy, and how to ask someone to step aside.
- Acknowledge the child’s preferences and start teaching the differences between needs and wants
During this stage in their lives, four year olds are learning how to express their likes/dislikes and their needs and wants better. As they do so, it can feel frustrating on the part of the parent. Even though they may express their opinions in negative or at inopportune times, taking a moment to acknowledge that their feelings were heard and understood will help lower everyone’s frustration level. My preschooler wanted to paint during the Christmas vacation. We were visiting grandma’s house with limited clothing supplies. We didn’t have what we needed to facilitate her request. This was a big disappointment to her. But, when I sat down and explained to her a simplified reason of why we couldn’t paint, and acknowledged that she was disappointed, she was able to move on from that desire to another activity that was just as fun – coloring.
Also, taking a moment to explain that painting was not something she needed to do, and talking to her about how much fun it is to paint, but that there are other fun things we can do, helped her to understand that while doing an activity is fun, it isn’t a need.
- Arrange for the four year old to spend time away from mom
Four year olds need to start spending some time away from their homes in order to make the transition into Kindergarten and school easier for them. Some ways to facilitate this include a preschool or neighborhood preschool experience, play dates with friends, and structured activities (such as a community center’s classes). We put together a neighborhood preschool for our four year olds. The moms get together and decide what topics we want to cover and divide out weeks. Each mom takes a week, and we rotate through the curriculum. The preschool only meets for 2 hours, twice a week, but it’s enough time to help the children learn how school works and learn to be away from mom for short time periods.
- Say yes as often as possible
This goes back to allowing the four year old to be able to express herself. It can be difficult to place a personal agenda on hold while attending an impromptu tea party, but it shows the child her importance in the family. It also creates the dynamic in the family that allows for restrictions to be more effective and impactful. If the parent says yes to as much as possible, when a no is said the child will more likely listen to it. The no stands out and has more impact, rather than being something the child is used to hearing.
The fours are a fantastic time, full of imagination, exploration, and new experiences. I’ve traveled through the fours with three other children and am excited to do so again with a fourth.