3–4 years old: Emotional development

3–4 years old: Emotional development

Your child’s emotional development at 3–4 years old. Follow your child’s milestones step-by-step.

Emotional development allows children to understand, express, and manage their emotions as they grow. Children also develop the ability to recognize and interpret the emotions of others, which helps them build relationships with those around them.

Emotional development: 3–4 years old

At this age:

  • Your child is increasingly able to tolerate unpleasant feelings and can use different coping strategies (e.g., seeking out a parent or trusted person).
  • They’re getting better at expressing their needs and emotions with words. For example, they might say, “I’m tired.”
  • They communicate their anger through words, facial expressions, and gestures (e.g., stomping their feet, crossing their arms) rather than through aggressive behaviours like throwing objects, hitting, or punching.
  • They are less bothered by rules and discipline because they’re gradually starting to understand the reasons for these limits.
Remember that not all children develop the same skills at the same speed. The material on this website is for general information purposes only. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, speak with a doctor.
  • Your child can anticipate events. They may try to avoid an unpleasant situation or get animated, excited, or impatient before a fun activity.
  • They seek out the company of other children, and your reassuring presence encourages them to play with others—for instance, at the park.
  • They may start to recognize their good behaviour with pride. If they climb to the top of a jungle gym, for example, they might say, “I did it!” and seek your approval.
  • They’re becoming aware of other people’s expectations of them and may feel ashamed when they fail. For example, if your child can’t complete a difficult puzzle, they may express their disappointment through sadness or anger.
  • They have an active imagination and may develop certain fears (e.g., ghosts, wolves, storms).
  • They’re helpful and generous with other children. For example, they might help a friend or share with them.

Over the next few months, your child will begin to do the following:

  • Gain more autonomy and confidence in their abilities.
  • Take initiative.
  • Develop more stable friendships with children their own age. For example, they may show attachment to a playmate.
Find out how to support your child’s emotional development through books.

How can you help your child progress?

Every child is different and develops at their own pace. That said, you can help foster your child’s development by adopting the Comfort, Play, and Teach parenting approach, which can easily be integrated into your daily routine. The table below outlines small, age-specific actions you can take that will benefit your child’s emotional development.

When you set an example by expressing your emotions appropriately,
your child learns acceptable ways of expressing how they feel.
When your child is having a tantrum and you ask them what would make them feel better,
they learn that you’ll support and care for them even when they’re overwhelmed.
When you show that you care about and accept your child in difficult moments, without minimizing or rejecting their experiences,
they understand that they’re loved and that their emotions are recognized.
When you play, laugh, dance, and have fun with your child,
you develop a special parent-child bond that will allow them to grow and thrive.
When you give your child the opportunity to choose their own activities or games,
they feel respected and able to express their likes and dislikes.
When you help your child set goals during a game or activity,
they get better at completing tasks and learn to appreciate small wins.
When you give your child small tasks that require concentration,
they learn to persevere.
When your child is upset and you suggest calming strategies, such as taking deep breaths,
they learn that they can soothe themselves.
When you give your child daily responsibilities, such as choosing an outfit and getting dressed,
they develop self-confidence and learn to be responsible.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Chloé Gaumont, M.Sc., psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: December 2020


Photo: GettyImages/AleksandarNakic



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  • Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. “Emotional Development in Childhood.” September 2011. www.child-encyclopedia.com
  • Ferland, Francine. Le développement de l’enfant au quotidien : de 0 à 6 ans. 2nd ed., Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 264 pp.
  • Shaffer, David, et al. Developmental Psychology: Infancy and Childhood. 5th ed., Quebec, 2019, 613 pp.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Your child’s development: What to expect.” www.caringforkids.cps.ca
  • Sunderland, Margot. The Science of Parenting: How Today’s Brain Research Can Help You Raise Happy, Emotionally Balanced Children. DK, 2008, 288 pp.
  • Université de Montréal. “Portail enfance et familles : Les étapes de développement de l’enfant de la naissance à l’adolescence.” www.portailenfance.ca
  • Zeanah, Charles H. Jr., editor. Handbook of Infant Mental Health. 4th ed., Guilford Press, 2018, 678 pp.