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2-5 year olds - Thriving under 5 - Plunket


2 - 5 Years

Food and Nutrition

A healthy diet includes a range of foods from different food groups: for example fruit, vegetables, cereals, bread, meat, and dairy products. Most children will eat when they are hungry, though they may seem to eat very little at times.

Here are some suggestions for your child’s diet.

• Offer your child a variety of healthy foods and let her choose what she wants to eat. Don’t worry if she refuses some foods.  She will make up by eating others. For example, if she refuses vegetables, she may enjoy fruits instead.

• Try not to battle over meal times. Making a fuss, threatening (e.g. telling her she cannot have dessert unless she has finished all her dinner), punishing, or forcing her to eat, can make your child even more determined not to eat.

•Ignore leftover food on her plate and tell her you are pleased with her for what she has eaten.

• Try to have meals when she is not tired. Many children are tired by their evening meal. Offering a variety of healthy foods during the day may help if she does not want to eat her dinner. You may like to offer her evening meal earlier.

• If she refuses a food she may eat it made in a different way, (e.g. she may like home made hamburgers or meatballs). She may like vegetables in a different form, (e.g. raw, cut into shapes).

• Keep offering the food she does not like, she may decide to try it at a later time.

• Give your child choices, ‘Would you like an apple or banana’? or ‘What would you like on your bread’? This often stops the automatic response of “no” and gives her a feeling of control.

• Potato chips or sweet foods (sweets, muesli bars, biscuits, ice creams) may be enjoyed as occasional treats. However, if she eats them often or too close to meals, they may reduce her appetite for healthier food. Sweet foods can also cause tooth decay.

• Avoid offering snacks before meals, as a gap without eating may make her hungry, so she eats her meal better.

• Your child may prefer three small meals a day with a snack between, rather than three bigger meals. Healthy snacks can be fruit, raw vegetables, crackers, small sandwiches or cheese.

• Some children who drink large amounts of milk (more than 600-mls a day) leave little room for food. If your child is drinking large amounts, offering less milk should increase her interest in food. Offer milk after meals and water with snacks.

• Keep flavoured milk, juice and fizzy drinks for occasional treats only.

• Encourage her to drink water. If using fruit juice, add plenty of water (one part juice to 10 parts water).

• Involve her in preparing meals and snacks. This may increase her interest in eating.

• Try to sit down with your child for at least one meal a day. Children like to copy their parents and may eat better and try different foods if you eat with them.

• To help prevent choking on food, avoid small hard foods, (e.g. nuts), and encourage her to sit down while eating

and drinking. If you are worried about your child’s appetite or diet talk to your Plunket staff or other Well Child Health provider.

Tips for Healthy Eating

Some ideas that may help build good eating habits for your child:

• making meal times fun

• offering him a range of foods and letting him choose what he wants to eat and how much he wants to eat.

• trying to avoid talking about good or bad foods or excessively restricting “treat” foods. Children need to learn to enjoy these as part of a healthy diet, rather than excluding them entirely

• children need fat in their diets for energy and growth, but it is important to avoid foods high in fat and high in sugar

• eating meals as a family, with you showing that a range of foods are good to eat

• offering a nutritious snack between meals

• encouraging him to drink water and drinking water yourself as a good example for him

• when your child asks for food - and isn’t hungry - thinking of activities to keep him busy other than eating

• avoiding small hard foods (eg popcorn and nuts) and encouraging him to sit down when eating to help avoid choking.



When your child stops having a daytime sleep, you may like to keep giving her a rest time during the day. She may enjoy a quiet time either in bed or sitting on the couch with books, toys or a tape to listen to.  Some children find it hard settling to sleep at night. If this is a problem for your child, you may like to try some of the following suggestions:

• Bedtime should be a happy time. It can help to have a regular routine before bedtime, for example, bath, a story or a quiet relaxing time talking in bed before sleep. Try not to let the bedtime routine become too long.

• Some children like to have a dim light on and a familiar toy or comforter to help them go to sleep.

• Some children normally settle to sleep late. Books and toys in bed may encourage her to settle in her own time. Some children might keep themselves awake playing. Do what works best for your child.

• If your child comes out of the room, go back and resettle her in a calm business- like manner, paying little attention to the crying or debating, then leave the room. You may need to repeat this. If your child continues to come out or want your attention, you might choose to shut the door (a night light may help if she is afraid of the dark). Explain to her if she stays in bed the door is open. When she is out of bed the door is closed.

• If your child has problems settling, you may like to tell her you will come back after doing a job (e.g. putting the washing on), then pop back in. Tell her she is being good for staying in bed and you will come back after doing another job. Gradually increase the time you are away until she is settled or asleep.

• Give your child lots of praise when she sleeps well. Older children can wake with nightmares or night terrors. Nightmares tend to be more common for children than adults. To help your child go back to sleep, she may like a cuddle and being talked to quietly and reassuringly. After a while she may relax and go back to sleep. Nightmares may be caused by scary TV programmes. Avoiding TV before bedtime may help. Talk to a Plunket staff member or other Well Child Health Provider if you have a concern about your child’s sleep.

Growing and Learning

Children often show interests and skills in different activities. The child who is always outside playing may have no interest in drawing. The child who loves to draw may show no interest in climbing or play equipment.

At around 3 years of age you can expect your child to:

• run and jump

• walk up and down stairs holding onto a hand or rail

• throw, kick and sometimes catch a ball

• like to help around the house

• know lots of words and join words together in short sentences.

At around 4 years of age you can expect your child to:

• climb

• have good balancing skills

• have skills in ball games

• put on and take off some clothes

• speak in sentences

• know her name and sometimes her address

• make up imaginative stories

• know some songs.

At 5 years of age you can expect your child to:

• skip, hop, climb and run easily

• play a variety of ball games

• use a knife and fork

• draw pictures, e.g. houses and people

• speak clearly enough for people who do not know her to understand what she is saying

• ask what different words mean. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, talk to your Plunket nurse, other Well Child Health Provider or doctor.



Play helps children learn about the world around them. Play is a child’s work and develops physical and social skills. At times children are happy playing on their own and at other times enjoy playing with adults or other children. You may need to help her learn how to get along with other children by talking about behaviour that is OK, sharing and taking turns. You may need to show them how to play together.

When your child plays with other children you may notice that:

• by three years she understands sharing, but is not always willing to do so. She may begin to play alongside other children, watching them and giving them toys.

• by four years she plays with other children and understands taking turns and sharing. Sometimes though, she will not be able to do this and the children will squabble.

• by five years she enjoys playing games with friends most of the time and understands the need for rules and fair play.

Your preschooler may enjoy:

• drawing, painting, and cutting with child safe scissors

• making pictures with glue and cut up pictures, cards, magazines, leaves or material

• talking about her pictures

• playing with playdough.

To make playdough – Mix in a bowl 21/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tablespoons cream of tartar, add 2 cups of boiling water, 2 tablespoons of oil and a couple of drops of food colouring. Mix quickly, then knead on a floured board

until firm, not sticky (you may need to add extra flour), keep in an airtight container.

• looking at books and having stories read to her. She will often have favourite stories she likes to read over and over again. Book and toy libraries lend a variety of books and toys. She may enjoy choosing her own books to read.

• singing and dancing to music

• make believe games and dressing up. They often dress up in the opposite sex’s clothes. This is normal behaviour.

• helping with simple household jobs like setting the table, putting away clothes

• playing with you, copying and helping you around the house


Hearing and Language

You can expect your child to:

• understand most simple words by 3 years

• speak clearly by 4 years (unless she has a known speech problem)

• tell a story about what she has done

• answer if you call from another room

• like naming things

• enjoy looking at books and being read to

• know a few songs or nursery rhymes

• ask lots of ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions

• understand most of what you say.

At about 3-4 years your child may be able to make up her own stories. You may notice she asks lots of questions. This is how she learns about things she is interested in.

Some ideas that may help develop your child’s language are:

• talking with her about her ideas, feelings and things that have happened to her. Talking builds confidence and helps her learn how to talk to other people.

• talking about new words and sounds

• talking to her about how things change, for example, day changing to night, how plants grow

• praising her when she is talking and using new words

• reading books with her. Books help her to develop new ideas.

Contact your Plunket nurse, other Well Child Health Provider, doctor or a speech language therapist if you are concerned about your child’s speech or hearing, especially if she does not appear to be responding to sounds, speaking clearly or joining 2-3 words by four years. Delayed language development or difficult behaviour may be caused by your child not being able to hear well.


Your child’s eyesight is now well developed. She can see very small items on the floor and sees objects clearly at a distance.  When your child is aged three, she can have a vision test by a Plunket staff member, or vision tester. Preschool checks are often done at preschool, or you can make an appointment with your local Plunket nurse or other Well Child Health Provider.  Discuss with your Plunket nurse, other Well Child Health Provider or doctor if your child:

• tilts her head in an unusual way

• has a lazy eye, cross-eye or squint

• shows any unusual eye movement, such as roving eyes or jerky movement

• often runs into things, high or low

• searches with her hands

• brings objects close to her eyes

• hates bright lights

• does not look at your face or turn to look at bright objects

• needs to sit very close to the TV.


Early Childhood Education

Preschool services offer opportunities for children to learn and play with other children. If you are interested in preschool activities, you can find out about different services available in your area. It may help to visit several and then select one that suits you and your child best.  Talk to Plunket staff, friends and neighbours to find out what is offered in your community. Choosing the right preschool services or childcare is important for your child’s happiness, development and social skills.

Positive Parenting

Parenting has many rewards and frustrations. Children can be tiring, especially when you are busy, stressed, or tired. Children are often aware of your moods. If you are in a bad mood, their behaviour is often worse or seems worse and is harder to handle. Children thrive when given love, understanding and time. Children are all different in their behaviour and personality. Because they grow and change rapidly it can take time to learn together and find the special ways that work for both you and your child. Children love attention. Any behaviour (good or bad) that is rewarded with attention may be repeated. Even if she is being told off, she may repeat her behaviour because she is getting your attention.

To encourage your child to be well behaved, some of the following may help:

Enjoying spending time together

• Take time to listen to her. Let your child know you are interested in what she is saying. Try not to be cross with your child when she is demanding, or seems to be asking lots of questions.

• Encourage her to make decisions and find solutions for problems.

• Do things together that you enjoy.

• Let her know you love her and enjoy her company. This helps her feel happy and special. Show your child that you believe in her, trust her, and that she is special, by spending time talking to her, listening to her, and giving her cuddles.

• Children develop at different rates. Try to avoid comparing your child with other children, especially brothers and sisters.

• Encourage her to be curious and learn about her world. Give her new experiences to learn from, and time with other children to learn about play and social contact.

Plan and make activities fun

• Try to plan to have enough time to do things. Often when you are in a hurry, children may seem to be less helpful and getting ready takes longer.

• Activities can be made fun and interesting by using games, songs and stories. For example, when tidying up, ask her to pick up all the red toys first, count or name food items as you put them in the shopping trolley.

• It can help if your child knows what is happening next, e.g. ‘you can finish the puzzle, then we will need to put the toys away before we go shopping’.

• Encourage her to help you with small jobs, e.g. folding washing, laying the table, putting things away. This can help her learn new skills and feel important.

Tell her when you are pleased with her

• Letting her know when she is being good will make her happy and want to please you by continuing the good behaviour. Talk to her about what you liked, e.g. “you are a kind girl, I like the way you found a toy for your brother”.

• Rewarding her good behaviour may encourage her to do it again. A reward can be a cuddle, story, going out, e.g. if you pick up the blocks we will read a story together.

Talk to her about how you would like her to behave and the family rules.

• Have clear limits and rules that you are happy with and will keep to (e.g. if you want your child to sit down when she has a drink rather than walk about with it, make sure she does sit down each time she has a drink).

• It can help to explain what you expect clearly so she can understand.

• Children often test the rules. This is normal, it may help to remind her what you want her to do and why. Be consistent, honest and fair.

Set realistic expectations

• Have realistic expectations for yourself and your child.

• Planning how you will deal with behaviour problems if they occur and being consistent is helpful.

• Talk with family and caregivers about how they can deal with behaviour problems. Reacting one way one time and another way the next time can make her confused.

Tell others about her good behaviour.

• Telling others about her good behaviour when she is listening may make her feel happy that she is pleasing you.

• Avoid talking about her difficult behaviour to others when she is listening as it may make her feel sad or she may continue the behaviour as she knows it has got your attention.

Give her comfort and support