What you need to know

  • Children develop at different rates and there's a wide range of normal.
  • Comparing your child to other tamariki can be stressful and may cause you to worry unnecessarily.  
  • If your child isn’t developing social, communication, or physical skills at the same rate as most other children their age, talk to your Plunket nurse, other Well Child health provider or doctor about your concerns.
  • It's important to detect any developmental issues early, because it helps ensure your child gets the support they need.

Development three to four years

By three to four years old most kids: 

  • are moreimaginative during play  
  • ask lots of ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions 
  • can remember nursery rhymes  
  • use three to five word sentences or more 
  • most people understand what your child says 
  • are toilet trained and can pull their pants up and down 
  • can feed themselves 
  • can put on shoes without laces and undo buttons 
  • can ride a tricycle using pedals 
  • can build a tower of out cubes.

Development four to five years

By four to five years most kids: 

  • can understand most of what you say  
  • can follow simple two to three step instructions like “can you find your shoes and put them on please?” 
  • are more independent 
  • can unscrew a lid from a jar 
  • know their own gender and age 
  • walk up and down stairs 
  • know the names of some shapes and colours 
  • can hold a pencil and copy some letters (by four years) 
  • dress and undress on their own 
  • use five to six word sentences or more 
  • most people understand what your child says 
  • enjoys listening to and telling stories.

Helping your child develop

There are some simple things you can do to help your toddler develop:  

  • let them play with other kids so they can learn how to make friends and socialise with other children
  • encourage everyday skillslike using a spoon and putting on their shoes 
  • talk to your child and name and talk about everyday things (kitchen items, food, toys) to develop their language skills 
  • give meaning to your child’s talking by listening and talking back to them 
  • read together, tell stories, sing songs and recite nursery rhymes to encourage their imagination and speech 
  • cook with your child to encourage their interest in healthy food.

Things to watch for in your child

Talk to a health care professional if you notice your child has any of the following issues. 

If your child at three years old

  • doesn’t look you in the eye 
  • has issues seeing or hearing (there are some helpful hearing and vision developmental screening questions in your Well Child Book) 
  • doesn’t use three-word sentences 
  • doesn’t understand simple instructions – for example, ‘Please give me the ball’ 
  • is hard to separate from you, or their primary caregiver 
  • isn’t interested in other children
  • doesn’t play pretend   
  • is clumsy (e.g. trips a lot when walking or running) 
  • can’t handle small objects like a pencil or crayon 
  • can’t draw simple shapes like a circle or a square. 

If your child at four years old: 

  • has trouble seeing or hearing 
  • can’t understand simple two-part instructions like ‘Put the spoon down, and pick your cup” 
  • has challenging behaviour (e.g. often has large tantrums over very small things) 
  • doesn’t play pretend   
  • is clumsy  
  • has trouble holding small objects like a pencil or crayon 
  • can’t draw shapes like a circle or square 
  • has a hard time dressing on their own or using the toilet.

If your child at five years old: 

  • is hard to understand or doesn’t speak in full sentences 
  • can’t follow simple directions  
  • has inappropriate or challenging behaviour  
  • has no interest in letters or trying to write their own name 
  • is withdrawn, worried or depressed 
  • gets very upset when they are separated from you or their primary caregiver 
  • doesn’t interact well with other people (e.g. is aggressive or shows no interest) 
  • wets or soils their pants during the day (know night-time wetting can be normal up until six to seven years, especially for boys) 
  • has issues falling asleep at night or staying asleep.