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5-Year-Old Development Moments to Watch For

SheKnows logo SheKnows 15/5/2018 Tiernan McKay
5-Year-Old Development Moments to Watch For: Is your 5-year-old doing this? © SLD/Getty Images Is your 5-year-old doing this?

Five-year-olds are so much fun — and going through so many changes. And those changes make for some unique challenges for parents.

When you realize your 5-year-old has grown from a toddler into a little person, it can feel like it's all happened way too fast. At this age, kids show us a glimpse of the adult they will one day become. There are a number of factors that contribute to that development, including some universal milestones that usually show up in a child's fifth year.

Below, you'll find development, behavior and parenting tips specifically for 5-year-olds.

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5-year-old developmental milestones

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and PBS, kids should reach the following milestones by the time they turn 5.

Social skills

This year, a typical 5-year-old:

  • Can tell what’s real and what’s make-believe
  • Shows more independence
  • Shows empathy
  • Likes to entertain (sing, dance and act)
  • Is more likely to agree with rules
  • Wants to please and be like their friends
  • Displays social problem-solving
  • Is sometimes demanding, sometimes very cooperative
  • Shows less aggressive behavior

Motor skills

This year, a typical 5-year-old:

  • Has better coordination
  • Stands on one foot for 10 seconds or longer
  • Skips, jumps and hops with good balance
  • Can do a somersault
  • Uses a fork and spoon, sometimes a table knife
  • Can use the toilet on his or her own
  • Swings and climbs
  • Gains about 4 to 5 pounds
  • Grows about 2 to 3 inches
  • Vision reaches twenty-twenty
  • Can copy a triangle
  • Can draw a person with at least six body parts

Language & cognitive skills

This year, a typical 5-year-old: 

  • Can count to 10
  • Has improved math skills
  • Speaks very clearly
  • Tells a simple story using full sentences
  • Uses future tense
  • Has a vocabulary of more than 2,000 words
  • Speaks in sentences of five or more words
  • Can identify different coins
  • Can answer "why" questions
  • Knows his or her telephone number
  • Knows about things used every day, like money and food
  • Can properly name the primary colors, possibly more colors
  • Asks deeper questions that address meaning, purpose
  • Accepts other points of view (but may not understand them)
  • Questions others, including parents

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Parenting survival tips

Every parent can use some tips when it comes to raising a 5-year-old. Dr. Robyn McKay, formerly a psychologist at Arizona State University and more currently the founder of She{ology}, offers the following nuggets of wisdom:

  • Encourage your child's curiosity (which, yes, can be tiresome and frustrating sometimes). Ask them, "What do you think?" You'll be amazed at their creative responses.
  • Keep challenging your own mind. One of the best predictors of a child's future success is their parents' own education level. When you keep learning, you grow, and your child most certainly benefits. So why not take a creative writing class or finish your master's degree? Or you could even learn a second language and involve your child too.
  • Focus on what your child does well. Do they belt out songs from the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack? Are they already a math whiz? Celebrate your child's strengths and encourage them to continue focusing on what's right. The world is full of critics; be your child's biggest fan.

Next: More about your 5-year-old's development

What's happening physically?

Your child continues to grow, and this is a crucial time for gross and fine motor skill development. McKay says, "If you have not done so already, this is a great time to start training in dance, gymnastics, swimming and soccer — activities that encourage a child's awareness of her body, help improve focus and concentration and engage her in collaborative relationships with other children."

What's happening neurologically?

A 5-year-old's brain is almost the size of an adult's, but will continue to develop for the next 20 years, according to Dr. Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist and coauthor of the book Welcome to Your Child's Brain.

"The language centers of the brain are maturing, and a child's speech is becoming increasingly like that of the adults around her," adds McKay. This is also a perfect time to start teaching your child a new language or instrument.

"The brain is incredibly plastic, which means that children at this age love to memorize facts, song lyrics and can readily learn new languages," says McKay. "Learning a second (or even third) language during early childhood improves processing speed and cognitive flexibility — two key aspects of intelligence and creativity."

What's happening socially & emotionally?

At 5, many kids are becoming aware of their individuality and learn the concept of self-confidence. While some are beginning to understand other people's moods and feelings, most are not too interested in relationships as we understand them. "For those children who are sensitive and intuitive, this can be a difficult time," says McKay. "Hurt feelings, misunderstandings and even bullying and victimization can begin to shape social relationships. The good news is that many 5-year-olds are more interested in learning about dinosaurs, insects and human anatomy than they are about navigating social relationships."

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And the extra-good news is that, with a little patience and learning, your child's fifth year can be a fun adventure — for both of you.

A version of this article was originally published in August 2010.

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