The three year old becomes four nearly too soon and often becomes disappointing to adults because he’s suddenly not little any more. He’s big, he’s independent, he’s speaking with some respectability. The sorrows of little hurts become real trials that can’t be soothed with a lollipop and pat on the head.
For the old fashioned parent, it’s obviously time for another child. For the knowledgeable parent, the second child was already in the oven, for the modern parent, the task is not to make another one, but to suppress the first one so he remains three for another five years.
Age four is perhaps my favorite year because at four a child has shaken off most of his dependent gig and has taken on the cerebral, the intellectual, the spiritual faces he will wear the rest of his life. He does this quite naturally if he’s allowed to. He begins to use his senses and he is able to combine the senses with what he has learned about the material world. He begins to really think about it, and because of speech development; he can return his opinions, his thoughts, his world critique with some astonishing truth.
In other words – he’s not a baby anymore.
Spiritually, he’s learned what good is, what bad is. A good child has probably gotten all the corporal punishments he is likely to receive. Physically, he has learned what the routine is, and he’s ready to go over the top to what it all means. He listens differently, can imagine with continuity, can figure stuff out and can understand consequences before the fact rather than after them.
A smart four year old will laugh at a joke, love a magic trick without trying to undo it, will appreciate a gift as a gift, will love a friend’s company for it’s own sake, will enjoy time spent with someone special, will take pleasure in a reward for the achievement. A parent should be able to take a four year old anywhere.
You can teach a four year old first grade math with a little one on one and some effort. You can explain using a globe with some story telling attached. You can teach art as a discipline that’s understood from a fine arts perspective of look and understand. You can show a four year old how to read. You can show a child how to admire science as a discovery field.
A four year old will take some responsibility for chores if he’s allowed to and encouraged to participate in the life of the family, and he will then become increasingly devoted to his family.
He will feel guilt for the first time at four and in addition he will feel real sorrow, and real loss. He will wish harder at four than at any other time in his life. He will want what he can’t have and suffer over it more at four than at any other age as if there is a reality check about who he is and what his worldly options are.
It’s here that parents instill the idea that “You can do anything you put your mind to.” This is the age where dreams are made possible simply by encouraging a child’s desire to achieve and helping him achieve by understanding. Avoidance becomes a good and bad option. This is the year of the desire and avoidance passions. He won’t understand it all, but he will see that because of love, because of trust and energy, he can do most of what he sets out to do.
This is where parents make or break the achieving child. This is where a man tells his boy child that he is a man and will grow up to matter in the world. But it has to start someplace and it has to be carried through this fourth year and not suppressed.
Trying to return a four year old to infancy is reprehensible in the face of what a four year old can be because the four year old is emerging as a whole person. He has experienced the passions; he has begun to think in order to do. It’s a magnificent year and should be spent learning and discovering and achieving.