2012 Reading books parenting reading

Reading 2012: Your Four-Year-Old

April 11, 2012

While parts of Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful are dated, I’ve found the Gesell Institute books to be helpful in explaining normal child development for each year.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Characteristics of the Age
  • 2. The Child with Other Children
  • 3. Techniques
  • 4. Accomplishments and Abilities
  • 5. The Four-Year-Old Birthday Party
  • 6. Help with Routines
  • 7. Your Child’s Mind, or Don’t Push Your Preschooler
  • 8. Individuality
  • 9. Stories from Real Life


  • Good Toys for Four-Year-Olds
  • Books for Four-Year-Olds
  • Books for the Parents of Four-Year-Olds

In my own observation, many mothers (and fathers) have a tendency to wonder if their child (especially a first child) is normal. While every child, family, and parent is certainly different, these books provide a relative idea as to what the physical, emotional, and social norms of each age may be.

Yet the authors further clarify their hopes:

“Here, as at any age, we give you an important warning: Do not take too seriously what anybody (we included) tells you about how your child will or may behave.”

“Child behavior, for all reasonably normal children, does develop in a highly patterned way. Stages of more mature behavior follow those of less mature behavior…”

“Every child has his own timetable. Do not expect that your own child will always perform right on our schedule.

“And then, of course, there are individual differences. Not all Three-year olds are gentle; not all Four-year-olds are wild.”

“We tell you about behaviors that are characteristic of the different ages not so you will check and worry. We tell you what behavior is usually like so that you can, within reason, know what to expect and then not worry when your own child’s behavior sometimes departs from your ideal.”

“”Now I know he’s normal” is what many parents say when they read our often seemingly lurid descriptions of what behavior can be like at different ages. This is why we write for you–hopefully to prepare you for, and to make you feel comfortable with, the many sometimes rather remarkable ways in which even completely normal children behave as they grow older.””

“With knowledge, you can appreciate what laws of growth are expressing through your child, can smile within yourself at his forms of expression, and can act with confident and loving authority, knowing that this, too, will pass.”

I read most of this book while my current four-year-old was still a three-year-old. Clearly, it’s not as if the behaviors and patterns portrayed in the book immediately begin to express themselves on the fourth birthday. Some were present previously; some are just now appearing; others will appear in the future; and in other areas she’ll have her own unique timing, or not even exhibit some characteristics of a typical four-year-old at all.

I definitely had to laugh when I read this description of age four, not because it sounds so crazy (it probably would have if I didn’t have a 3yo or 4yo), but I was surprised at how well it depicted our present reality:

“There is much interest in both the products and process of elimination. Children are especially fascinated by bowel movements.”

“This concern about elimination is also seen in the child’s great interest in bathrooms, especially in other people’s houses.”

Not only was my three-year-old reaching this milestone in advance, but my two-year-old is also well-advanced in this area. 🙂 But this reminded me of just one area where it could be easy to think one’s child just has some weird fascination, but it is often a normal reality for the age. And it makes sense — that’s a big part of life at this age. And of course, some four-year-olds may never express special interest in elimination.

Another helpful aspect of the book (and all the books in these series) is the explanation of periods of disequilibrium and equilibrium. (In general, these phases tend to cycle through each child about every 6 months, every child differs and some may not have a noticeable difference at all.)

At the same time, the book is quite dated, and some of the advice given is more of the trend and thinking of a general era, rather than timeless insight. I do like these books and find much in them helpful; at the same time, there is a lot I dislike and see as potentially confusing advice. Overall, they are most valuable for their depiction of the norms of childhood development, rather than parenting and practical advice. I have four of these books (up through age four), and this is the first that I’ve read in it’s entirety. However, I’ve found what I have read in the others to be helpful, as well. They are likely best read while reading multiple sources on childhood development.

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  • Johanna Hanson April 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Too funny! Stefan is also very interested in his brother and sister’s BM’s. Every time I change a diaper he comes running “to see.” SO weird! I’m glad to know it is “normal!” I haven’t seen any of these books before. Very interesting.

    • Keren April 11, 2012 at 9:35 pm

      😉 Yes, my girls like to talk about, reenact, and make up songs about such events. Thankfully, when Hana Kate was little she unintentionally started calling it by our own family word that no one else would recognize if they sing in public.

      Most of the books have at least one offer (on Amazon) to buy used for 1 cent (plus shipping), but I did see that my smaller local library has them, as well. So I’m thinking they would definitely be available in larger libraries.