Cover image for Your four-year-old : wild and wonderful
Your four-year-old : wild and wonderful
Ames, Louise Bates.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Dell, 1980.

Physical Description:
v, 150 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
General Note:
Early Childhood Education Center.
Format :


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Item Holds
HQ774 .A644 1976 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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What is it about four-year-olds that makes them so lovable? What problems do four-year-olds have? What can they do now that they couldn't do at three? Drs. Ames and Ilg, recognized authorities on child behavior and development, discuss these and scores of other questions unique to four-year-old girls and boys, and they offer parents practical advice and enlightening psychological insights.

Can Your Four-Year-Old make you a happier, less stressed, and more efficient parent? You bet! Find out about:

* Embarrassing moments . . . how to deal with a four-year-old's fascination with bowel movements, belly buttons, body parts, and forbidden words--without turning red.
* Words that will work a miracle . . . what to say to give your child and instant smile, raise self-esteem, and change behavior quicker than criticism.
* Hyperactivity . . . how to determine if your "always on the go" four-year-old is truly hyperactive.
* Kindergarten readiness . . . school too soon can cause lifelong problems, so note this warning for parents of "fall babies."
* Encouraging creativity . . . fifteen activities you can initiate to stimulate your child's natural talents and have a great time too!
* Your child's body type: round and plump or bony and angular . . . does it predict behavior, temperament, and social success?

. . . and more!

Author Notes

Louise Bates Ames (1908-1996) was a lecturer at the Yale Child Study Center and assistant professor emeritus at Yale University. She was co-founder of the Gesell Institute of Child Development and collaborator or co-author of three dozen books, including The First Five Years of Life, Infant and Child in the Culture of Today, Child Rorschach Responses, and Your One-Year-Old through Your Ten- to Fourteen-Year-Old series.



chapter one   CHARACTERISTICS OF THE AGE   The Four-year-old is a funny little fellow, and if you can accept him as such, you will appreciate and enjoy him for what he is. If, on the other hand, you take a sterner stance and feel that his boasting, his swearing, his general expansiveness, and his often out-of-bounds behavior is wrong, both you and he may have an unnecessarily hard time of it.   For the most part, we have found the boy or girl of this age to be joyous, exuberant, energetic, ridiculous, untrammeled--ready for anything. What a change he offers as compared to his more difficult, demanding, Three-and-a-half-year-old, just-earlier self! If at times he seems somewhat voluble, boastful, and bossy, it is because it is so exciting for him to enter the fresh fields of self-expression that open up at this wonderful age.   The child at Three-and-a-half characteristically expressed a strong resistance to many things the adult required, possibly because in his own mind the adult was still all-powerful. Four has taken a giant step forward. All of a sudden he discovers that the adult, though still quite powerful, is not all-powerful. He now finds much power in himself. He finds that he can do bad things, from his point of view, and the roof does not fall in.   More than this, following its seemingly built-in plan of interweaving, nature sees to it that whereas the Three-and-a-half-year-old was rather withdrawn and insecure much of the time, Four operates on the expansive and highly sure-of-himself side of life. Four, as Figure 1 shows, is an age when the child is characteristically in a nice state of equilibrium.   Emotional exuberance has its positive as well as its negative side. The typical Four-year-old loves adventure, loves excursions, loves excitement, loves anything new.   He adores new people, new places, new games, new playthings, new books, new activities. No one is more responsive to the adult effort to entertain. He will accept what you have to offer with delightfully uncritical enthusiasm. So, it is a pleasure to provide the child of this age with new toys, books, clothes, experiences, information--because any of these things make his eyes sparkle so, because he is so wholeheartedly appreciative.   In fact, Four loves many things, but his emotions tend to be definitely extreme. He loves a lot and he hates a lot. In fact, his hates may be equally as strong as his loves. One can never be quite certain what it will be that will stimulate his hate, but whatever it is, his feeling should be fully respected, at least within reason.   With those children who have a tremendously strong attachment for their mothers (and that is most) there may be especially strong hatred expressed for anything that changes her in the child's eyes. He may hate certain jewelry she wears; he may hate it if she changes her way of wearing her hair. Or, he may especially hate a special look on her face that tells him that she is displeased with him.   He may hate squash, or any other food to which he takes a dislike. Or, he may (alas) hate certain people. He especially hates things that he considers ugly, and may at times express a quite remarkable aesthetic sensitivity.   Four loves things that are new. The Three-year-old has a conforming mind. Four has a lively mind, and new thoughts and ideas or bits of information may please him as much as do new toys. That is why it is so much fun to talk with him. His incessant "whys" may sometimes pall, but often they lead the way to enthusiastic information-giving on the part of the adult. It is fun to inform somebody who so enthusiastically wishes to be informed.   The key to the Four-year-old's psychology is his high drive combined with his fluid imagination. Four is, indeed, highly versatile. What can he not do? He can be quiet or noisy, calm or assertive, cozy or imperious, suggestible or independent, social, athletic, artistic, literal, fanciful, cooperative, indifferent, inquisitive, forthright, humorous, dogmatic. He is many people in one.   The typical Four-year-old is also speedy. Each thing he does, he does quickly, and he is also speedy as he moves from one interest to the next. For the most part, he does a thing once, and that's enough. He isn't interested in perfection; he is interested in getting on to the next activity. Behavior is fluid, and if he does stay with a single activity, that single activity may change so rapidly as to make your head spin.   A good example of the often quite remarkable fluidity of Four's imagination can be seen in his drawing. A Four-year-old in spontaneous drawing may quite typically start with a tree, which turns into a house, which turns into a battleship. Or, even more fluidly, his "person's foot" can grow so large that it develops large toes that turn out to be the back of a bird. And that turns out to be a roller coaster. And that turns out to be the back of the roller coaster. (At that point, your Four-year-old may very likely run out of paper.)   Fluidity can be expressed in media other than pencil and paper. For instance, two boys, playing in a sand-pile, decide that they are making volcanoes. However, when it is suggested to them that the volcano's erupting, as they had planned, might be too messy, they themselves spout a little and then give up the volcano plan and decide they are digging for dinosaur bones. No bones being forthcoming, they talk awhile about how old dinosaurs get to be (nine thousand years, they think) and then turn their sand into imaginary snow and make snowballs (which do not stick together very well even with the addition of water). So, they turn their snowballs into rotten eggs and say that the last one to talk is a rotten egg. (All this within five minutes of play.)   It is no wonder that adults have to keep on their toes to keep up with speedy, fluid, fanciful Fours. But, fluid as they are, there still remains some of Three's "me-too" quality. If you ask one child in a group what street he lives on, each child in the group then wants to tell where he or she lives, and all may be surprisingly patient and polite until everyone has had a turn at giving this interesting information.   It may be that Four's expansiveness is sometimes a little too much even for him. At any rate, he likes and respects boundaries and limits, which he does not always have within himself, and which, therefore, often have to be supplied. In fact, we find that many Fours like very much the verbal restraint of "as far as the tree," "as far as the gate." Others can be reasonably well contained if told, "It's the rule that you do (or do not do) so-and-so."   In fact, many seem to seek for regularity and rules in the happenings around them. Thus, a Four-year-old may come up with the spontaneous conclusion, "It's always so-and-so." This "always" seems to give him security. He may sometimes break the rules, but he likes at least to know what they are.   Also, he sometimes spontaneously restabilizes himself, even in his wilder play. Thus, two boys may pretend they are in a cave (a large pasteboard box) with monsters, but then they protect themselves by pretending that the monsters have disappeared and that they (the boys) are "all safe and sound."   And, for all his expansive and often out-of-bounds tendencies, Four can, when he puts his mind to it, sometimes be very reliable. Many can go on small errands outside the home if these do not involve crossing the street. And many, by Four-and-a-half, have reached the point where they can be trusted to play outdoors without much supervision or checking.   However, when his customary expansiveness combines with his exciting need to see just how far he can go before the grown-ups call a halt, the Four-year-old generously and characteristically very often expresses what we consider the outstanding trait of his age--his love for going out-of-bounds.   A normally vigorous and well-endowed child of this age may seem out-of-bounds in almost every area of living. Motorwise he not only hits and kicks and spits (if aroused) but may even go so far as to run away from home if things don't please him. Whether he is happy or not, his motor drive is very high. He races up and down stairs, dashes here and there on his trusty tricycle.   Emotionally, too, he tends to be extremely out-of-bounds. He laughs almost too hilariously when things please him; howls and cries more than too loudly when things go wrong. (But he laughs more than he cries, and he loves laughter in others. In fact, he may tell you of his parents, or of other adults, "When they're happy they always laugh." He can, on frequent occasion, be extremely silly.)   But it is his verbally out-of-bounds expressions that are most conspicuous. He exaggerates: "as high as the sky," "ten million bugs," "as big as a house." He boasts: "I have bigger ones at home," "I can do better than that," "My father is stronger than your father." Along with his boasting, he swaggers. Boys like to emphasize their own masculinity by calling each other what they consider to be very masculine names, not their own: "Bill," "Mike," "Joe."   There is much interest in both the products and the process of elimination. Children are especially fascinated by bowel movements. Out for a walk, they may spot every deposit of a dog's bowel movements. Their own buttocks are especially important to them, and when asked what they think with, they may even point to their behinds.   Elimination swearing has its beginning at Four. When angry with a friend, the child may call him an "old poo-poo." In fact, in general, nouns and adjectives tend to be on the unacceptable side, and there is considerable talk about "wee-wee" and "doo-doo." (Even though right in the midst of such a conversation by one child, another may criticize and say, "That's not nice.") There is also much reference to garbage.   This concern about elimination is also seen in the child's great interest in bathrooms, especially in other people's houses. The minute he enters a house, Four may want to see the bathroom. But, though he is much interested in bathrooms and other people's toilet functioning, he tends to be extremely private about his own. He may even go so far as to lock the bathroom door, and many a Four-year-old has locked himself into the bathroom.   And (alas), all too often Four lapses into outright profanity. "Jesus Christ!" is a not-uncommon expletive, even though Four may not fully appreciate what he is saying. When one Four-year-old was heard to repeat the phrase "Goddamn it to Hell!" for each step as he climbed the stairs, his father got the message and became more careful about his own language.   And we have the (supposedly true) story of a little Boston girl whose mother, discouraged by her profanity, told her that if she swore once more, she (the mother) would pack the girl's suitcase and ask her to leave home. The little girl did swear once more. The mother did pack the suitcase and put her and it outside the door. After a few minutes, feeling guilty, the mother went to look for her daughter. The child was still sitting on the steps.   "I thought I told you to leave home," said the mother.   "I would have if I could have thought where the Hell to go," was her daughter's reply.   True or not, this story is all too typical. Or, if not with actual profanity, the child may criticize the adult with epithets and threats: "You're a rat," "I'll sock you." And, not content with unacceptable language, all too often a Four-year-old departs from truth to an extent that any literal-minded adult can label only as outright prevarication. If you meet this, as any other exuberance, with a calm "Is that so?" or with a knowing wink rather than with anger and admonition, he tends to come rather quickly back to reality.   Excerpted from Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful by Louise Bates Ames, Frances L. Ilg, Carol C. Haber All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.