From toddler to preschooler: a developmental roadmap

Understanding what’s coming up for your toddler will help make the transition smoother for everyone.
Understanding what’s coming up for your toddler will help make the transition smoother for everyone. Photo: Getty Images

Your toddler is growing up and will soon be entering the preschooler years. So what lies ahead? Who knows - the toddler years are dynamic, high-energy and sometimes challenging, and the time from three to five years is a distinct time of growth and development. The end of the toddler years is a time of transition, and they will soon be hitting the preschooler stage. 

Preschoolers are growing in skills and confidence. Their physical skills, social skills and language development are all improving, but they still haven’t mastered everything, and they still need the guidance and support of their loving parents. 

Understanding what’s coming up for your toddler will help make the transition smoother for your child, yourself, and the rest of the family. Here are a few ways to frame their development that will help you understand what’s going in those beautiful, funny, clever little heads of theirs.  

I’m no longer a toddler ... but that doesn’t mean tantrums are over

Did you think tantrums were only the domain of the toddler? I have some bad news, as some parents say that the three-year-old tantrums are much worse! No, that isn’t meant to scare you; instead, it’s about understanding that three-year-olds are still learning how to manage their emotions and communicate their needs. They won’t always get it right, and tantrums might be the result. Fortunately, most preschoolers are over the tantrum stage by around four years. 

I want to do more ... but I still need boundaries 

Even as our kids get older, they still need boundaries. Boundaries continue to offer our kids safety and security. You can make a big and confronting world simpler for your preschooler by being clear about what’s expected of him, and letting him know what isn’t appropriate. 

Rituals also help our toddlers and preschoolers feel safe and secure. Continuing rituals around bedtime, meal times and chores helps create certainty for children. 

I’m getting better at talking ... back at you 


Preschoolers are the kings and queens of pester power: as they develop their language skills, they also become better at whinging, whining and generally pushing to get their own way. They also have the stamina to niggle away at you until you give in. But the more you give in, they more they’ll whinge and whine. To stop the pester power cycle, you can ensure that ‘no’ does really mean ‘no’. 

I love to learn ... but sometimes I need to learn the hard way 

As our toddlers transition into the preschooler years, they have the capacity and maturity to take on more responsibilities, and it’s our job to allow them to do so. It can be easy to keep doing everything we’ve done for them since birth, but this deprives our kids of the opportunity to learn. We need to let them take on their own responsibilities and to experience the consequences: if they put away their toys, the toys will be easy to find when they want to play with them next. If you make a healthy meal and they choose not to eat it, they’ll go hungry. These are natural consequences and will lead to clearer understandings of the world around them. 

My personality is getting bigger

As toddlers turn into preschoolers, their personalities emerge more strongly. As our children are exposed to more experiences, they have the opportunity to show who they really are; you may find that your child’s sense of humour or perseverance or attention to detail reveals itself more deeply and in more situations. If you have a more anxious or sensitive child, you can continue to support them so their confidence and sense of agency grows. 

There is a lot to look forward to as your toddler grows into a preschooler: more growth and development, more aptitude to take on responsibilities, and more opportunities for their full personalities to shine. Just be sure not to wish the toddler years away just yet. 

Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author and the founder of Parent Wellbeing. You can find more parenting inspiration at

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