Child development: Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Preschoolers undergo significant growth and development with 90% of their brain developed by age five. Supporting and nurturing their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical health is important for their overall growth and development.

Developmental milestones

Developmental milestones are a guide, and every child is different in their development. These milestones check how your child is growing and help find potential issues early.

If you think your child is not meeting a milestone for their age, share your concerns with your family doctor or health nurse. They will provide opportunities for early assessment and support if there is an area your preschooler might need.

Early intervention

Children have sensitive periods for development. Early assessment and intervention is essential to ensure the best outcomes for your child. 

The milestones below are generalised and do not consider how disability or impairment can affect the way a preschooler learns, moves, speaks, or interacts with others. 


Gross motor skills use larger muscles in the body to help children perform basic movements such as walking, running, and jumping.

Fine motor skills involve the coordination of small muscles in the wrist, hand, fingers, and even toes. They help your preschooler interact with the world in more detail.

At three years old, your preschooler will learn to:

  • put on some clothes by themself, like loose pants or a jacket
  • draw shapes on paper after some instruction
  • use a fork
  • string artwork items together, like large beads or dried macaroni.

At four years old, your preschooler will learn to:

  • hold a crayon or pencil between fingers and thumb (not a fist)
  • pour items such as cereal or water, with adult supervision
  • unbutton their own clothing
  • catch a large ball more consistently.

Language and communication

Language skills involve the ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, and needs through spoken words. 

At three years old, your preschooler will learn to:

  • asks “who,” “what,” “where,” or “why” questions, like “where is mummy or daddy?”
  • say their first name when asked
  • say what action is happening in a picture or book when asked, like “running,” “eating”, or “playing”
  • talk well enough for others to understand them the majority of the time. 

At four years old, your preschooler will learn to:

  • speak in sentences with four or more words
  • talk about at least one thing that happened during their day, for example, “I played soccer”
  • answer simple questions like “What is a crayon for?”
  • say words from a familiar song, story, or rhyme.

Social and emotional

Social and emotional skills refer to your child’s ability to positively interact with others as well as understand and manage emotions appropriately.

At three years old, your preschooler will learn to:

  • calm their emotions within 10 minutes after you leave them, for example, at childcare drop-off
  • notice other children and join them to play.

At four years old, your preschooler will learn to:

  • change behaviour based on where they are, for example, at the playground or a place of worship
  • want to be a “helper”
  • play cooperatively with other children
  • engage in imaginative play and pretend to be someone else, for example, a teacher, dog or superhero
  • comfort children who are upset, injured, or sad
  • ask to play with other children if they aren’t around.

Developmental delay

The term developmental delay is when a child is developing skills more slowly than other children in the same age group. Developmental milestones are a general guide, and some children may reach milestones earlier or later.

Developmental delay can be a concern for parents, but it's important to remember that a delay in reaching certain milestones doesn’t always mean there is a long-term issue. In many cases, it simply means your child needs some extra time or support in some areas. There are services that can assess and support children with developmental delays to help them reach their full potential.

Early identification

The earlier your child’s developmental delay is identified and support is put in place, the better the outcome for your child and family.

Speak to your family doctor or paediatrician if your child isn’t developing at the same rate as other children the same age or as outlined in their blue book. The blue book is a free personal health record of your child that provides valuable information about their health and development.

See the Developmental delay factsheet for more information.

Skill regression

Regression is when your child goes backwards in their development and may behave in a younger or needier way. 

Skill regression can occur at any age and may happen because children are in a new situation, such as attending preschool, or they may be preparing themselves to develop further. Some skill regression is common; however, if you have concerns, speak to your family doctor or paediatrician.

Screening for developmental delay

Developmental delays are likely to be identified at regular health check-ups with your family doctor. However, some services offer support in the year before primary school to give children the best chance to learn, grow and reach their full potential at school.

4-year developmental checks

A lot of children aren’t getting their routine four-year developmental checks to track how they are growing. Free four-year developmental checks are being offered to early childhood and care services to ensure your child is on the right track before they start school. The checks involve health professionals assessing your child’s language, social, cognitive, and movement skills, as well as how their physical bodies are growing. 

Vaccinations aren’t given at these checks. These checks won’t happen without your knowledge, as you need to consent to them. Ask your child’s preschool or long day care service to find out when the development checks are coming to your child's service.

If your child has already had their four-year checks through your family doctor, they do not need to have these checks done again at preschool.

Approximately 2 in 5 children are starting primary school with developmental difficulties.

Statewide Eyesight Preschooler Screening (StEPS) program

The StEPS program offers a free eye test for four-year-olds before they start school. Your child is unlikely to tell you they can’t see properly; therefore, a test is the best way to know how healthy their eyes are. Vision is essential to learning at school, therefore, it is crucial to understand your child’s eyesight to give them the best chance to thrive.
Most preschools or childcare centres will organise StEPS to attend their service. However, if your child isn’t enrolled in care or misses the screening, you can find your local clinic on the StEPS website.

The earlier vision problems are identified and treated, the better the outcome for your child.

Early Intervention Services

Developmental delay is treated with early intervention. Early intervention means providing support early to help children "catch up". This includes therapy, support, education, and monitoring from professionals such as:

  • occupational therapists 
  • audiologists 
  • physiotherapists 
  • psychologists 
  • speech pathologists 
  • social workers. 

These professionals will help your child to develop the skills they need to thrive. Some children require less or no support as they get older due to early intervention. 

If you are concerned about the support for your child, talk to your doctor about the possibility of accessing support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS provides funding to assist children under six years old with developmental delays in accessing therapy and support for early intervention. 


Neurodivergence is when a child’s brain functions differently from the majority of people who are at a similar age and stage. People who are neurodivergent may see the world differently from others. This includes diagnoses such as Autism and ADHD.

If your child is neurodivergent and you haven't already, talk to your doctor about accessing support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS provides funding to assist children with neurodivergence to access therapy and support for early intervention as well as ongoing services. 

Social and emotional development

Social and emotional development during the preschool years can be a rollercoaster of challenging and amazing milestones. Social and emotional development can be influenced by your preschooler’s environment, genetics and even your own experiences as parents.

Being responsive and engaged in your parenting and seeking support when needed is the best way to help your child build these skills. You can also link in with a local playgroup, parent group or preschooler classes to provide opportunities to socialise.

Emotional Regulation

At this age, your child is still learning how to socialise, so they need support in learning how to identify and manage their emotions. Their ability to self-regulate their emotions can be impacted by their environment, their health, or any changes to their routine. 

See below some ideas to help your preschooler regulate their emotions.

Identify emotions

Being able to recognise and name emotions helps children understand how they are feeling. You can use an emotion scale to help children visualise and name emotions. This will also show children that emotions can, to some extent, be organised and controlled.

Talk about emotions

When reading a book or watching a movie with your child, ask them questions about how characters in different situations may feel. Telling and showing children how they have made you feel, within reason, will help them understand that their behaviours impact how others are feeling.

Practice taking turns with your child

Learning to share and take turns helps your child play cooperatively with others. Often, children feel connected to or possessive of items, people, or spaces they have identified with. Practising taking turns in the home will help your child build patience, understand the benefits of sharing and learn to negotiate.

Reinforce positive behaviour

Make sure to identify when children positively regulate their emotions. Reminders and praise for positive behaviour will make your child more likely to replicate that behaviour and not act on their impulses in a future situation. You can say something like “You did a great job sharing your toy with your friend”.

Role model

Children develop self-regulation by watching those around them. Be intentional with your actions, body language, and tone of voice to ensure children learn ideal behaviours.

Teach calming strategies

Encouraging your child to relax will give them the skills to have more appropriate reaction to a situation. These may include:

  • taking three deep breaths
  • counting numbers as high as they can 
  • having a drink of water.

If you are concerned about your child’s ability to self-regulate or aren’t noticing improvements in self-regulation as your child gets older, discuss your concerns with your doctor.


In the preschool years, children start to explore and develop friendships through play. Some preschoolers may feel more comfortable being social, while others may take more time to warm up to new people. 

Making friends

Your preschooler may understand that a friend is someone who is fun, enjoys similar activities, likes the same toys, or perhaps helps them. What children expect from a friend usually increases with age; therefore, your preschooler may call someone a friend more easily than an adult would. 

Friendships are important as they provide children with opportunities to: 

  • communicate and relate to others 
  • practice strategies to manage their feelings and emotions 
  • learn how to win and lose appropriately
  • practice overcoming disagreements or arguments with others 
  • develop social skills such as empathy, patience and sharing 
  • gain a sense of belonging
  • grow their self-esteem.

By the age of three, children are interested in making friends and may be able to tell you who they consider to be their friend. Your child may know their friend’s name and look to see if they are at childcare or social events when they arrive. At this age, children may struggle to see other people's point of view.

By the age of four, your preschooler will likely be able to tell you who their friend are and who other peers or acquaintances are. A friend may be near them participating in the same activity or someone they regularly see at childcare. Your four-year-old may start to ask for playdates with a friend outside of seeing them at daycare settings.  

Supervising and managing friendships

When supervising children, make sure you stay close by to ensure your child and their friends are safe and they can easily find you. As your preschooler doesn’t have well-developed social and communication skills, disagreements may arise. If they do, be patient and calm. As a parent or carer, you can:

  • give children turns to share their side of the story so they can see the other child’s point of view
  • help children identify their emotions 
  • use opportunities to teach children what is fair in different situations
  • teach children when and how to apologise and forgive if mistakes are made by others
  • demonstrate good sportsmanship if games are competitive by shaking hands, saying “good game” or “well played” no matter the outcome.

Imaginary friends

Preschoolers have active imaginations, and therefore, it's common for them to have imaginary friends. For many children, pretending and imagining are a normal and healthy part of a child’s development. Imaginary friends can teach your child social skills such as empathy and allow them to express their creativity.

Imaginary friends may come in the form of another being who may or may not be visible, such as a pet, a superhero, or a stuffed toy. Children may have imaginary friends to: 

  • solve a problem 
  • explore different roles and relationships 
  • provide them with support and comfort 
  • have a sense of control 
  • express how they are feeling, for example, if the imaginary friend is scared, your child may also be scared
  • test how others, including parents, may react to new behaviours or situations.

If your child presents challenging behaviours because of their imaginary friend, such as withdrawing from social situations or blaming their new friend, you can set boundaries as a family. However, if the friend is causing troubling behaviours, is significantly upsetting your child, or you think it may be linked to a distressing event, discuss your concerns with the family doctor.

Meeting new people

To assist your preschooler in meeting new people, you can:

  • teach your child how to introduce themselves, including saying their name and asking for the other person’s name
  • organise play dates with new people, such as a work colleague or an old friend who has children of a similar age
  • build your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem by pointing out their good qualities to allow them to better appreciate themselves
  • replace activities that exclude friends, such as watching TV or playing apps on a mobile phone, with activities that involve other children
  • select toys for your child that are interactive and require others to participate to increase their desire to play with others
  • teach your child how to be a good friend
  • talk to your child’s preschool teacher to see if they can create opportunities for your child to play with someone who has similar interests
  • place your child in organised activities that involve other children, such as dancing, to allow them to meet new people whilst also getting active.


The preschool years are a time of growing independence where your child tries new things and learns how to do things themselves. However, they still need the security of attachment with their parents and caregivers.

Giving children opportunities to develop their independence is important. This can help build children’s coordination, self-esteem, fine and gross motor skills, and problem-solving abilities through trial and error. Opportunities for independence can be provided in various ways.


You can support your child’s independence by giving them opportunities to make choices. Ask them questions about what they want to wear, where they want to sit, and what they want to play with. Try to stick to two or three options to reduce confusion. This helps children have a sense of power, builds their confidence, helps them learn to problem solve and teaches them cause and effect.


Rather than solving a problem for your child, give them time to figure out how to solve it. Children learn through trial and error and, therefore, may sometimes need reassurance from parents and carers to overcome challenges. Focus on your child’s effort rather than the outcome.


Giving your child more responsibility for self-care activities such as dressing themselves and some personal hygiene activities are great steps to teach your child how to look after their body and promote independence.

Self-help skills

You can get children involved in routine tasks such as packing their lunchboxes, setting the dinner table, and mixing ingredients when preparing a meal. Stepping back at times and giving children opportunities to take on more responsibility in an age-appropriate way will help them learn how to do things for themselves. This can help improve multiple aspects of life, including getting organised and ready for school and social situations.


Encourage your child to explore through unstructured play and taking age-appropriate risks. Unstructured play is unplanned activities that result from removing rules or expectations from play. This gives children choices and allows them to get creative, solve problems, and explore new interests and skills.

Unstructured play can also be included in conventional sports practice to help modify games. 

See the CHANGE IT Principle for more information.


Consent shows that your child agrees to something and it is an important concept, no matter how old they are. Giving children age-appropriate opportunities to consent from a young age allows confidence in their decision-making ability.

For your preschooler, you can introduce basic concepts of consent, such as, “Is it OK if I take a photo of you?” or, “Can I give you a hug?”. They may nod, smile, or say “yes”, or they may shake their head, say no, or turn away. Depending on their response, make sure you respect their answer. This helps:

  • reinforce they have the right to say no
  • show them that you respect their boundaries
  • teach them about respectful relationships. 

See Consent for more information.

Starting preschool

Attending quality education and care programs helps develop your child's social, emotional and cognitive skills which are needed to engage with learning when they start Kindergarten. 

Starting preschool can be an exciting and nerve-wracking time for you and your child. In the preschool years, children learn through play. This can involve participating in games, movement, arts, crafts, music, experiments and more. 

Preparing for preschool

In the lead-up to starting preschool, you can:

  • talk positively about preschool with your child
  • read books with your child about starting preschool
  • visit your child’s preschool to familiarise them with the environment
  • practice mealtime breaks by stopping activities and opening their lunchbox
  • ensure your child can carry and open their bag easily
  • ask your child’s preschool what they need to bring each day
  • ensure your child’s immunisation schedule is up to date
  • label your child’s items so they don’t get lost
  • inform the service if your child has or is currently undergoing tests for any allergies, health conditions, developmental delays or disabilities.

Starting preschool

When your child starts preschool, you can help make the transition as smooth as possible by:

  • dressing your child appropriately for the weather and active play
  • packing a spare change of clothes in case of accidents
  • always including a hat and water bottle
  • if your child’s service doesn’t provide food, packing a healthy and nutritious lunchbox with food and containers that your child can open themselves
  • when arriving, showing your child where the toilet is in case they need to go urgently throughout the day
  • let the educators at your child’s service know more about your child, such as their interests and family dynamics
  • introducing your child to the educators when they arrive
  • telling your child what you’ll be doing while they are at preschool so they do not worry about you or think they are missing out.

The benefits of early learning

Evidence shows that at least 15 hours per week or 600 hours per year of quality early childhood education in the two years before Kindergarten leads to improved outcomes for children.


Children are unique, and their individuality helps define their identity. During the preschool years, your child is learning more about their interests, abilities, emotions, behaviours, their place in the world, relationships with others, and so much more. Your child may understand more about their identity by answering questions like “Who am I?” or “What makes me special or different?”. 

Relationships with family and communities play an important role in forming their identity, so providing children with warm, positive, and nurturing relationships can contribute to a positive self-identity. 


Sibling rivalry is a term used to describe fighting or competition between siblings. In the preschool years, children are still learning to manage their emotions and see other people’s points of view. There may be some jealousy if more attention is given to another child or if they are sharing a certain toy. As a result, disagreements and fights are likely to result at times, especially if siblings are closer in age. 

While common, it can be quite distressing for parents, carers and children and can sometimes escalate if not managed well. However, if effectively managed, it can help children develop resilience, a sense of fairness and conflict-resolution skills. To manage sibling rivalry and jealousy, you can:

  • talk with your preschooler about feelings and how to express them safely
  • set clear family rules and boundaries that are consistent and age-appropriate
  • talk with your children about equality and fairness
  • praise good behaviour rather than focusing on the negatives
  • spend one-on-one time with each child doing activities they like so they feel valued and are reminded of their special relationship with you
  • discuss the good things that can come from a loving relationship with their sibling, for example, playing games together.

Physical violence between children should always be intercepted by parents and carers, with children being immediately separated. If this is recurring, speak to your family doctor or child and family health centre about resources and support services to help manage sibling fighting and physical violence. 

All behaviour is communication

Remember, all behaviour is communication. If your preschooler is acting out, they are probably trying to tell you something. 

Toilet training

Toilet training varies from child to child and can take days, weeks or months for your child to learn. Most children start toilet training at about two or three years old. Often, girls tend to be ready before boys. It is common for children to learn to wee in the toilet first before they learn to poo in the toilet. 


Indicators your child is ready for toilet training

It is important to start toilet training when your child is ready. Your child may express their readiness to start toilet training in a variety of ways, including:

  • starting to hold their private areas
  • saying, “I am doing a wee”, or, “I am doing a poo”
  • having regular times of the day when they poo
  • having a dry nappy for two hours or more
  • crossing their legs
  • expressing that they don’t want to wear their nappy anymore
  • showing interest in the toilet
  • gaining more independence
  • being able to follow one-part instructions
  • being able to pull their pants up 
  • being able to sit in one position for up to five minutes.

Encouraging your child to toilet train

If your child is three years old and hasn’t shown any of the signs they are ready for toilet training, you can prepare them by:

  • teaching your child words like wee, poo, wet, dry, and toilet to communicate their needs better when the time comes
  • explaining and showing them what “needing to go the toilet” may look like
  • familiarising them with sitting on a potty or toilet for two to three minutes at a time, even if they don’t necessarily go
  • going to the toilet in front of your child and explaining what you are doing if you feel comfortable to do so
  • ensuring your child has access to an age-appropriate place to go to the toilet. 

You may choose to get a potty that you can move around and make it easy to find for your child. You may also choose to get a special, smaller toilet seat that can be placed on top of the regular toilet seat. If getting a seat for the regular toilet, ensure your child can get up to sit on it safely. 

Toilet training guide

If your child is ready for toilet training, click through these tips to give your child the best success.

Select an appropriate time to begin

If possible, begin toilet training at a time when you will be home often with your child and there aren’t any big changes coming up. Your child will benefit from consistency. 

Make the potty or toilet easily accessible.

Boys can sit or stand when learning to wee. If standing, they will not have developed their aim yet or may not be tall enough to wee into the toilet yet. Be patient and guide them. To simplify toilet training, you can get them to sit down until they are comfortable and then progress to standing when ready. 


Get your child to wear easy-to-remove clothes. This will help you and your child quickly go to the toilet when they need to go and minimise accidents. Summer may be a useful time when clothes may be lighter and looser.

Look for signals and respond

Learn and look out for your child’s toilet signals or cues, such as holding their pants, crossing their legs or being quiet. If your child says they need to go to the toilet, try to take them straight away. Young children are still developing their ability to “hold it” meaning there is not much time between when they tell you and when they will need to wee or poo.

Ask and remind your child

When toilet training, check if your child needs to use the toilet often. Remind them before and during activities. Your child is often busy or excited by an activity, so may avoid going to the bathroom for fear of missing out. Try asking your child every two hours and before bed.

Comfort your child when accidents occur

Accidents will happen. If your child doesn’t get to the toilet in time or creates a mess, reassure and comfort them as they are still learning to control their bowels and bladders. Not making a fuss about it will help your child be less anxious.

Praise attempts and efforts

Praise your child for the positive steps they take and celebrate small wins along the way. This includes efforts and attempts for trying to go to the toilet. You may like to reward their success by letting them flush the toilet. Give your child no more than five minutes to “try” to go to the toilet. Any more, and they may think they are being punished.

Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water

Encourage your child to eat a healthy diet with fibre and drink lots of water to avoid getting constipated. Constipation can be upsetting or painful for your child, which could make toilet training more difficult.

Toilet training takes time, and accidents happen.

Be patient and positive. If there are setbacks - comfort your child instead of punishing them. If accidents happen, try gently saying: “Oops, you've had an accident. Let’s change your pyjamas and get back to bed”, or “It’s OK, it happens, it’ll happen less over time”. 

Additionally, stressful events such as a new sibling or moving house can bring on bedwetting or daytime accidents, even after a child has been fully toilet trained.

Day wetting

Daytime wetting is likely to occur in the preschool years. Daytime wetting is when a child cannot control their bladder and leaks urine while they are awake. Regular daytime wetting is not seen as a problem until children are over five years old.

A positive and calm approach from parents and carers can help your child build confidence, reduce emotional stress, and get dry faster. 

See the Daytime wetting factsheet for more information.


Even if your child is toilet trained, it can take a lot longer for children to stay dry overnight. It’s not uncommon for children in this age group to still rely on nappies at night. Children tend to start to be dry overnight between three and five years, however, bedwetting can continue into the younger years of primary school. If your child is waking up regularly with a dry nappy, this may indicate that they are ready to remove night nappies. 

See the Bedwetting factsheet for more information.


Constipation is when poo becomes too hard and difficult to pass through the rectum when a child goes to the toilet. It is a common problem in children and can be treated with a healthy diet and good toilet habits. Some children can poo three or four times a day, and others may go twice a week without any problems. Pay attention to what is normal for your child. 

See the Constipation factsheet for more information. 

Encopresis (Soiling)

Encopresis is also called soiling. It is a condition where children have runny poo that they can’t control due to unknown severe constipation. This happens when there is a build-up of loose, liquid poo that leaks around the hard, older poo that is stuck in the bowel. Speak to your doctor if your child shows signs of encopresis or soiling. 

See the Soiling and encopresis - Constipation factsheet for more information.

Toilet hygiene

In the preschool years, your child will start to become more independent. With your help, you can start to teach them good toilet hygiene by:

  • teaching girls to wipe front to back to ensure that bacteria from their poo does not cause infections such as Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
  • teaching boys to shake after weeing so that additional drops of urine remain in the toilet
  • demonstrating how much toilet paper they need
  • teaching your child how to flush the toilet so that their wees and poos aren’t sitting in the toilet causing an odour
  • showing your child how to wash their hands after using the toilet
  • encouraging boys to aim by placing a floating target in the toilet to reduce wee on and around the toilet bowl or seat. 

Physical activity

Physical activity is essential for your child’s physical development, emotional resilience, and cognitive and social development. In preschool, physical activity is often achieved through play, incidental movement, active travel with parents, or organised sports. 

Physical activity all adds up to create happy, active kids with habits that will benefit them well into their older adulthood.


Preschoolers aged 3 to 5 years need at least 3 hours spent in a variety of physical activities, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play, spread throughout the day.

This can be added up across the day and doesn't have to all be done at one time.

Fundamental movement skills (FMS)

The fundamental movement skills are basic movement patterns that assist your child in competently participating in more complex physical and recreational activities. The more confident your child is in the fundamental movement skills, the more likely they are to be active and participate in sport and physical activity throughout their life. 

In the preschool years, fundamental movement skills should be introduced and intentionally taught as children do not naturally master fundamental movement skills by themselves. Mastery is not expected in the early years – it is all about fun and familiarity with skills and their components. 

See Physical activity for more information.


Your preschooler needs good quality sleep for their growth, development, and learning. While your child sleeps, their brain and body are working hard to recover, restore and prepare for the next day. If your child has enough sleep, they are likely to be happier, have more energy, and be more active.

Sleep recommendations

Children aged 3 to 5 years need 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep every 24 hours, with consistent sleep and wake-up times. Some preschoolers will still need naps at this age. 

Every child is different, and your child may need more or less sleep than the guide. If you are struggling with your preschooler’s sleep and any impacts it may be having on the family, reach out to your doctor for support.  A regular and consistent bedtime routine can help your child prepare for sleep. If your child doesn't get enough sleep, it can impact their physical, emotional and cognitive health. 

See Sleep hygiene - Improving your child's sleep patterns for tips and advice.

"There is a huge reduction in negative mental health outcomes during adulthood if children sleep well during these important development stages. Think of it as an investment" - Dr Chris Seton (Paediatric & Adolescent Sleep Physician).

See Sleep for more information.

Sleep concerns for preschoolers

Sometimes, preschoolers will fight bedtime, so try to make going to bed an enjoyable experience and offer your child some choices in the process. For example, “Do you want to walk or tiptoe to bed?”. 

Remember to praise your child when they go to bed on time too.

Many young children will wake up in their sleep and wander to their parent's bedrooms. Children should not be punished for this, as they may not be fully awake at the time. The best remedy is to carry or walk them back to their bed and settle them back to sleep with minimum fuss and attention. 

See Sleep concerns for information or chat with your family doctor. 

Screen time

Screens have become increasingly a part of children’s lives and can be useful and enjoyable for families. They can offer time for children to connect with family, be creative, and learn.

Screen time recommendations

For children 2 to 5 years, no more than 1 hour of sedentary screen time is recommended; less is better.

In the preschool years, it is important to consider the purpose of screens and whether they are replacing a learning experience, social interaction or a physical object or resource that could help your child develop.

While screen time has many benefits, excessive time spent in front of a screen can impact many aspects of a child’s growth and development, including their physical health, mental wellbeing, ability to form social connections, and disrupted sleep patterns. 

See Screen time for more information, including tips to help reduce your child’s screen time.

Nutrition and eating habits

Providing your preschooler with a well-balanced and nutritious diet is crucial to support their physical growth, immune system, cognition, and bone health. Establishing healthy habits early on is important because these health behaviours often carry over into adulthood.

See Healthy eating habits for kids for more information on encouraging healthy habits.

Being a good role model

Children watch others, and learn from people around them, so remember that parents and other family members are important role models.

Eating habits

Parents of preschoolers often worry about how much their child is eating or think that it isn’t enough. Preschoolers may refuse food or label it as “yuck”.  Do not force your child to eat, as this can reduce their natural ability to understand appetite, knowing when they are hungry and when they are full.

As a parent, you play a key role in offering your child the right food. Preschoolers will naturally self-regulate the amount of food they eat based on their needs. 

See Fussy eating for more information.

It can take up to 15 exposures for your child to accept a new food. Provide your child with daily exposure to the new food for up to two weeks to allow them time to become familiar with it.

Healthy eating learning experiences

You can teach your child about healthy eating by engaging in activities such as:

  • growing, watering and harvesting produce from fruit and vegetable gardens
  • reading books about healthy eating, such as The Hungry Caterpillar
  • playing games about healthy eating, such as doing a blind taste test of fruit and vegetables
  • cooking activities such as opening, mixing, pouring and cutting food.

These experiences allow children to explore and experiment with new and different foods. It can also enhance children’s literacy, familiarity and relationship with healthy food.


Tap water is recommended as the drink of choice and is essential for hydration. At this age, children may need to be reminded to drink water as they can be distracted, easily forget and not feel thirsty. 

Reduced-fat milk, not skim milk, can be given to children over two years old who have a good appetite and are growing within the normal development ranges. 

Whole fruit is always the best option for fruit consumption but if your child would like fruit juice, the recommendations are to limit it to one small glass (125mL) of 99% fruit juice per day.

See the Dehydration factsheet for more information.


Hand hygiene

Preschoolers have immature immune systems, which makes them vulnerable to getting sick more often. Your child is frequently interacting with new environments and different people such as childcare, public playgrounds, and libraries. As a result, your preschooler comes into contact with new germs and bacteria that can easily spread and make them sick. Good hand hygiene and handwashing can prevent many infections. 

See the Hand hygiene factsheet for more information.

Bathing your preschooler

Bathing your preschooler helps keep them clean and hygienic with two to three times per week being a sufficient amount. However, you and your child may like to have baths more often as part of a bedtime routine, water play, or bonding experience. It is important to ensure that you clean your preschooler's face and genitals daily. Here are some tips on bathing your preschooler:

  • use a gentle cleanser instead of harsh soaps to avoid drying out or irritating your child’s skin
  • wash your child’s hair about once or twice a week or when it is visibly dirty, oily, or they are more active than usual
  • try to avoid products like bubble baths for as long as possible, as these can increase the risk of Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in some children
  • for girls, wipe your child’s vulva from front to back with water to reduce the risk of infections - it isn’t necessary to use any soap or cleanser as the vagina cleans itself
  • for boys, wash the penis and scrotum as normal; including under the foreskin. Don’t try to forcibly retract the foreskin, as it may cause pain, scarring, bleeding or infection
  • as your child gets older, you can give them more independence with cleaning and self-care activities
  • if you have difficulty getting your child in and then out of the bath, try giving them time cues or warnings and making bath time fun
  • gently dry your child completely before getting dressed to avoid rashes.

It is important that you always stay within arms’ reach of your child in the bath and encourage your child to sit in the bath to avoid slips and falls. Primary carers need to understand the major risks when your child is near a bath, including drowning and hot scalds. 

All babies and children under the age of 8 years old must be supervised in even the smallest amount of water. Children can drown quickly, quietly and in just a few centimetres of water.

See Water safety – Bath time for more safety tips.

Learning about private body parts

At this age, your preschooler is likely to know the names of many body parts, like their eyes, nose, arms, and legs. Being curious about private parts and asking questions is a normal part of a child’s development. It’s also normal for children to touch their private parts as a self-soothing strategy when they are anxious or because it feels good. 

You can help your preschooler learn more about their private parts by teaching your child:

  • the correct names of their body parts, including all private parts
  • the differences between male and female bodies
  • the difference between private and public body part
  • how different body parts function.

You can also teach preschoolers the difference between a secret and a surprise and help them understand their private body parts. 

Baby teeth and dental hygiene

By three years of age, children usually have all 20 baby teeth. 

Teaching your preschooler to brush their teeth can help support their independence by giving them more responsibility. However, your child will need help and supervision brushing their teeth until they turn eight years old. 

Developing good dental hygiene habits

Often, children enjoy brushing because they are learning a new skill and copying adults. Introducing healthy dental habits from a young age teaches your child how to care for their teeth throughout their life. It is important to make it fun so they can develop a positive relationship with good dental hygiene. You can try the following when your child is brushing their teeth:

  • playing a song
  • brushing as a family
  • singing a song
  • using a timer
  • involving your child’s toys.

Looking after your preschooler's teeth

Your child’s baby teeth are important, and they need your help to look after them to keep them healthy. Below are some tips on how to look after your child's teeth:

  • brush your child’s teeth:
    • with a small, pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste
    • with a small toothbrush that has soft bristles 
    • twice a day, such as morning and night to help set a good routine
  • book regular dental check-ups every 6-12 months
  • teach your child to spit out toothpaste instead of swallowing
  • don’t rinse with water after brushing, as the fluoride from the toothpaste is working to protect your child’s teeth
  • don’t forget to brush your child’s tongue too
  • when your child has two teeth next to each other, around two years of age, flossing daily is recommended 
  • help your child brush and floss until they are around eight years of age
  • lift their lip to check for signs of tooth decay once a month 
  • offer your preschooler healthy snacks such as fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, and plain yoghurt
  • don’t share cutlery or utensils. Cleaning items they put in their mouth with your saliva is also not advised, as these actions can pass bacteria and germs leading to tooth decay in your child’s mouth.

See the Teeth and gum care factsheet for more information.

Immunisations and health checks

Every preschooler in NSW is given a personal health record. This is your child’s “blue book”, the essential guide to tracking their growth, development, immunisations, and health checks from birth to age five.


The best way to protect your child from serious, preventable diseases is to give immunisations on time and in line with the recommended NSW Immunisation Schedule. This schedule ensures that your child is provided with the earliest protection. 

All immunisations on this schedule are free if your child is eligible for Medicare benefits. Evidence of your child’s immunisation status must be provided for enrolment at childcare, preschool, and school. 

4-year-old immunisations

Protection for the above four diseases is generally provided in a combined DTPa/IPV vaccination.


In addition to the above 4-year-old vaccinations, it is also recommended that your child is vaccinated against influenza, more commonly known as the flu, every year. Getting the flu vaccine each year protects your child from the types of flu expected to be the most common that season. 

See the Influenza factsheet for more information.

Children aged 6 months to <5 years are eligible for a free influenza (flu) vaccination every year*.

*Some providers may charge an administration or consultation fee.

Health Checks

Your child will have their last two blue book health checks at three and four years old. However, you can still check in with the child and family health service until they reach age five. These checks are a great opportunity to check in on your child’s health and development and discuss any concerns you might have. Bring your preschooler’s blue book along to all appointments. 

Some topics you may like to discuss are listed below.

Health and safety

  • healthy eating for families
  • immunisations
  • dental hygiene
  • sun safety
  • growth
  • sleep
  • for boys: a testes check.


  • supporting and managing your child’s developing independence
  • toilet training
  • regular reading to build literacy skills
  • encouraging active play
  • your child’s feelings and behaviours.


  • sibling relationships
  • parenting practices 
  • going to childcare or preschool
  • smoking or vaping in the household.
Last updated Monday 6th May 2024