A field guide to your five-year-old

Every child is unique. But every child also passes through a series of developmental stages that are reassuringly predictable. Knowing what to expect can make your parenting journey less fraught - and more fun!

This first in a series of Family Zone “field guides to family life”  takes a look the critical features of five-year-olds - the wonders and the challenges - with child development specialist and Family Zone cyber expert Dr. Kristy Goodwin.

Here’s what to expect this year

Genius problem-solving

Need an imaginative idea to get a task done? Just ask a five-year-old.

Five-year-olds are incredible problem-solvers. At this age, they will begin to ask more and more analytical questions - how? why? - and are starting to develop the skill of weighing their options. Collaboration is another developing skill, as kids become more social and start to prefer interacting with peers.


Little Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his first piece of published music at age 5 #nopressure

Advanced chatter

The verbal skills of most fives are well developed. Most are now able to speak in complex sentences, have large and ever-expanding vocabularies and are even starting to figure out how to wait their turn to speak.

Readiness for reading

Oral skills are starting to translate to literacy skills. Most fives will end the year by recognising their letters - upper- and lower-case - and grasping the fundamentals of phonetics (that letters represent speech sounds) and will start to sound out words in print and writing.

Spatial events

Mathematical thinking is developing - and that includes a firmer understanding of shapes and numbers. Fives are typically able to count to 20, and to do basic adding and subtracting. They also now understand position words like “under” and “behind” and are able to to put events in chronological sequence. They may also be learning to tell time.

Energy to burn

Kids of this age are little energy balls who thrive on active games and interactive environments. Physical coordination is now good enough to ride a bike (with training wheels, generally), swim, jump rope and play ball.

energizer bunny

Fine motor skills are now developed enough to control writing and painting tools, to dress dolls and of course to type on keyboards. Remember, movement is not only critical for their physical health, but also for their learning and cognitive development.

So many feelings!

Fives experience a great range of feelings - and a better ability to manage them, including negotiation and compromise. Social skills are galloping ahead, and being accepted by “the group” my become an urgent priority. That said, bear in mind that your five is still developing his self-regulation skills. That’s why techno-tantrums and and even googling inappropriate content are so common at this age.

Creativity plus

Five-year-old children are positively brimming with creative potential - musical, artistic, dramatic, you name it. The narrative “make-believe” play of fives can be quite complex and sustained, and involve elaborate role-play.


At age five, Australian child art sensation Aelita Andre was being hailed as “the next Pollack” and her paintings were exhibited at a major New York gallery.

And the downside?

With some help from journalist and mum Lindsay Parkinson of ScaryMommy we’ve outlined a few of the more … um, challenging habits of fives.


A child of this age will take everything you say literally. Literally! So watch expressions like “I would have killed for that opportunity” - sure to elicit a pious rejoinder like, “But Mummy! Killing is wrong!”


Yep, we all know we should be encouraging their curiosity but … “How do our eyeballs grow? Where do they put dogs when they die? Do fish get pregnant? What happens to goats during a tornado?” can be a bit much to take before your first coffee of the morning.


Get over it. With a five-year-old in the house, you won’t have any. In the bathroom or anywhere else.

Brutal honesty

Brace yourself for questions like “Mummy, do you have another baby in your tummy?” - when you DO NOT.

If after five years of parenthood you have any ego left, you can count on your five-year-old to destroy it!

Keeping five-year-olds safe online

  • Always sit with a child at this age when they’re online.

  • Remember that fives are unable to distinguish fiction from reality. That makes them vulnerable to scary content, even in cartoon form.

  • Limit internet activity to a list of favourite or bookmarked sites.

  • Don’t assume an app labelled “educational” actually is. Do your homework and seek out reliable reviews online - and don’t forget to consider ads and in-app purchases.

  • Be sure older siblings are not inadvertently exposing fives to age-inappropriate content.

  • Start conversations about protecting and respect privacy online.

  • Talk to your child about the importance of kindness and respect online, especially if they’re playing games with a social component.

  • Encourage them to come to you if they see material that makes them uncomfortable or frightened.

  • Avoid using screen-time as a punishment tool, as kids won't report inappropriate content if they feel threatened.

  • Use strong parental controls to manage screen-time and block inappropriate content


Managing screen-time for your five-year-old can be hard.

Family Zone's parental controls make it easy-peasy.

Find out how!

Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, child development

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