Support your child's development from 2 to 5 years

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

When children get better at moving and using language they experience many new things every day. It's normal for children this age to test their 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 making sure they follow the rules.

Tantrums

Your toddler is still developing and does not have self control. They are not yet aware of having to wait their turn, for example, at the playground. They expect you to meet their immediate requests and may have a tantrum if they are not met.

Helping to manage tantrums

Give your toddler support when they are playing in a group.

Show them how to:

  • share with others
  • wait for their turn
  • be kind to others
  • take turns

Your toddler is not able to resolve conflicts through discussion. You'll need to tell them what is allowed and what is not allowed.

Support your child's development from 3 to 5 years

Between 3 and 5 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.

Support your child's ability to manage feelings

A positive and supportive relationship with your child gives them the confidence they need to develop emotionally and socially. They'll feel secure knowing that they can return to you for support.

You can support your child’s development by helping them to manage their feelings. Your child should understand and be allowed to experience negative emotions, like anger, worry and frustration. They may feel intense fear at times.

You can teach your child to manage their feelings by:

  • responding to their feelings in a positive way - for example, by naming their feeling and not getting angry
  • showing them the correct way to manage their feelings - for example, staying calm when you are in frustrating situations
  • encouraging them to talk about their feelings - how they feel and why they feel the way they do

Other ways of supporting your child’s social, emotional and behavioural development include:

  • giving them affection - using cuddles and kind words
  • playing with them - this will encourage learning through play
  • not saying negative things about your child - for example, instead of “you’re always so loud” you could say “I like when you use your quiet voice”
  • saying nice things about them - the way you talk about your child will affect their self-confidence, and ability to deal with future social and emotional challenges
  • allowing them to make some decisions - for example, “do you want to wear your blue shirt or your yellow shirt?”
  • encouraging independence - for example, encourage them to feed and dress themselves
  • exposing them to new situations and experiences
  • not pushing them to achieve things before they are ready
  • accepting when they fail, without judgement
  • treating them with respect - for example, apologising to them if you make a mistake or wrongfully punish them

Your child will learn by copying you. You should show them the social, emotional and behavioural skills you want them to develop.

Try not to compare your child to other children. Focus on your child and how they have grown and developed over the past few years.

Setbacks

Your child will develop new emotional and social skills in stages. How fast your child develops will depend on their development in other areas, for example, their movement or language skills.

Sometimes before a child develops a new skill they might experience a “setback”. For example, a child who has slept well for a few months might start to wake often during the night before they start to walk.

Setbacks can be worrying for parents, but they are normal and should be expected.

Encouraging good behaviour in your child

It's important for your child’s development that you encourage good behaviour from a young age.

You can encourage good behaviour by doing the following:

  • praising good behaviour - children repeat behaviours that gets them attention
  • avoiding frequent punishment - this can damage your relationship with your child
  • being calm and respectful - children copy their parents
  • keeping them busy - for example, if you know you have to wait somewhere
  • preparing activities for them
  • having a routine - this will help them feel secure - let them know in advance if you need to change the routine
  • having clear rules - rules should be short, easy to understand, fair and apply to everyone
  • using positive language – for example, say “Do speak quietly” instead of “don’t be shouting”

Be consistent

The most important thing is to be consistent, so that your child can learn correct behaviour and how to follow rules.

If your child's other parent is not living with you it can be difficult to be consistent when disciplining your child. Try to reach an agreement on the best way to encourage good behaviour, while being respectful of each other’s parenting styles.

Encouraging your child to share

Encourage your child to share by:

  • playing games with them where they must wait to take their turn, such as playing on a swing
  • explaining the main aim and rules of a game before you start any game
  • colouring pictures with your child - explain that they have to wait to use a colour if you are already using it
  • reminding your child to say "please" and "thank you" if they want something
  • praising your child for asking nicely and waiting their turn
  • playing board games - your child learns that they may not always win but they can still enjoy taking part

You can support your child in trying to solve a problem themselves. For example, if they are about to take something from another child:

  1. Ask them what the problem is.
  2. Repeat the information so you can understand it from their point of view.
  3. Choose a practical solution together.

Concerns about your child's development

There are many factors that influence how quickly children develop. When thinking about your child’s development try not to compare them to other children. A helpful way to think about your child’s development is to compare them to themselves a year ago.

Talk to your public health nurse (PHN) or GP if you have any concerns about your child’s development.

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.

Page last reviewed: 1 December 2021
Next review due: 1 December 2024