2 to 5 years: your child's communication development

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The stage between 2 to 5 years is a time of great change for your child's social, emotional and behavioural development. You will need to adapt your parenting skills to match your child’s stage of development.

During this time children will play by themselves more often and may use their imagination more during play.

The time you spend with your child helps them feel safe and secure as they grow. Try to talk positively to and about your child.

You can encourage your child’s unique development by spending time with them, talking to them about everyday events and letting them help you with safe activities around the home.

2 to 3 years

You may notice your child:

  • asking lots of questions
  • being interested in different parts of their body - including their genitals
  • saying “no” often - this shows they are gaining confidence
  • enjoying sharing their achievements with you and getting your praise and encouragement
  • being unable to take the feelings of others into account - they think the world revolves around them
  • becoming interested in children of the same age and other adults and talking to them
  • becoming more confident so they are able to be apart from you for short periods of time - for example going to pre-school

3 to 4 years

When your child is between 3 and 4 years old, you will continue to develop your understanding of their personality and temperament.

The more time you spend with your child, the more you will understand their personality. This will help you identify their strengths as well as areas where support may be needed.

Getting to know and understand your child can help you when dealing with behavioural problems.

Between 3 and 4 years you may notice your child:

  • playing for longer amounts of time - both by themselves and with other children
  • having fewer temper tantrums
  • being more able to follow instructions and accept the rules that you set
  • becoming more aware of their feelings
  • continuing to want to share their achievements with you
  • participating in group activities

Despite this progress, your child still needs your support and reminders from you on how to behave. They will often enjoy it when their good behaviour is rewarded.

4 and 5 years

Between 4 and 5 years your child’s social and emotional skills develop rapidly.

You may notice your child:

  • still needs your support when trying to talk to adults
  • understands what you’re saying
  • repeats things they hear
  • not be aware that things they say can be hurtful to other people
  • is interested in time
  • is interested in learning more complicated games
  • becomes more competitive when playing games
  • gets better at taking turns and sharing but still needs encouragement from time to time
  • becomes more confident but still relies on your support
  • becomes more aware of danger - for example, staying safe on busy roads
  • still seems to think that the world revolves around them
  • enjoys showing off their achievements

Behavioural development

Between the ages of 2 and 5 your child develops many new skills, which help them to become more independent.

As children get better at moving and using language they experience a variety of new things every day. It is normal for children of this age to test boundaries.

Your child will want to try new things, even if they are unsafe or inappropriate. When children are told they can’t do what they want they can get very frustrated.

This frustration often causes children between 2 and 5 to use certain behaviours, such as:

  • temper tantrums
  • stubbornness
  • anxiousness
  • being negative
  • refusing to follow instructions
  • saying “no” a lot

These behaviours are normal and show that your child is learning to become more independent.

It's important that you understand your child’s feelings, while still making sure they follow the rules.

Read our guide to pregnancy, baby and toddler health

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Page last reviewed: 20 November 2018
Next review due: 20 November 2021