By Raising Children Network
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Your child is getting a handle on those tricky things called emotions. This is great news for you, because it means less frustration and impatience, and fewer tantrums.

Young girl smiling

What to expect

Your preschooler will probably:

  • be less competitive and more cooperative with friends after the age of four
  • use words to describe feelings after the age of four
  • apologise when she has done something wrong
  • be fascinated with fantasy play between ages three and four
  • understand the concept of sharing and cooperating with other children – although you can still expect plenty of lapses
  • begin to identify as male or female, and play games featuring grown-up men or women, from age four
  • know the difference between real and pretend, between four and five
  • hide the truth about something, or even start telling lies, by birthday number five (for example, your child might say ‘I didn't do it’ even when he did)
  • be more in control of behaviour and have fewer tantrums by age five
  • be very attached to you – for example, your child might feel anxious about starting school.

By birthday number six, most children show signs of losing gracefully in games and are becoming more responsible. They also have a complete sense of right and wrong.

Most five-year-olds are eager to please and fit in with friends. Your child will try hard to follow the rules to avoid getting in trouble. At this age, your child might even say goodbye to tantrums altogether and will be better at waiting for things.

Play ideas to encourage the exploration of feelings

  • Give your child opportunities for messy play, such as playing with sand, mud or paints. This is a great way for kids to express feelings, particularly if they’re upset or angry.
  • Encourage your child to act out feelings with puppets or toys. This can help your child make sense of emotions.
  • Take your child to a park or open area with lots of space for running, tumbling and rolling. This can help your child release emotions.
  • Encourage your child to paint and draw. These activities are great for expressing feelings.
  • Music also provides a great opportunity to express emotions. Your child might like to jump around and ‘act out’ the music or to make music with simple instruments.
All children develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, it’s a good idea to visit your health professional.
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  • Last Updated 17-03-2010
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
  • Child and Youth Health South Australia (1996). Practical parenting 1-5 years. Melbourne: ACER.

    Manning-Morton, J., & Thorp, M. (2003). Key times for play: The first three years. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

    Rubin, K.H., Bukowski, W., & Parker, J.G. (1998). Peer interactions, relationships and groups. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional and personality development (5th ed., pp. 619-700). New York: Wiley.