4 year olds are interesting little characters. Although they can be at many different developmental levels, many are showing an improved ability to follow the rules. They should have a better understanding of negative consequences.
Disciplining 4 year olds can be a little tricky. They want you to know that they aren’t babies anymore but they certainly aren’t in the same league as the big kids. Focus on helping them increase their autonomy while also showing them how to sharpen the skills they’re learning.
Create Household Rules
4 year olds need the same 5 types of rules that all children need, however, their rules should stay simple. Create house rules that address on the most important issues. Focus on safety issues, such as “Hold an adult’s hand in a parking lot.” It’s also a good idea to address personal safety such as, “Keep your hands to yourself unless it is a gentle touch.”
Also, use rules that reinforce respectful behavior such as “Wait your turn before talking.” Often, by this age, they begin taking a lot of pride in their ability to dress themselves independently and brush their teeth. Set limits about the types of things they can and cannot do on their own. For example, tell your child, “You can turn on the water to brush your teeth,” and “Ask for help if you want more milk.”
Tell them your expectations before you enter into new situations and remind them often. A 4-year-old needs to know that what is socially acceptable in each environment. For example, tell him he can speak in a whisper in the library, should remain silent during church and can yell at a baseball game.
Of course the best way to deal with misbehavior is to prevent it. Stay a step ahead of your child and be mindful of situations that are likely to be difficult. Establish a daily routine so your child knows what is expected of him throughout the day. No matter which of the 5 types of discipline you prefer to use with your child, there are some specific discipline techniques that tend to work with 4-year-old kids.
Praise-Since 4 year olds take pride in their work, praise can offer a lot of motivation to encourage more good behavior.
Ignoring- Ignoring mild misbehavior can be effective as children can often by very silly at this age and they usually enjoy any attention they receive, even if it is negative.
Reward Systems- While some kids still respond well to sticker charts, others have graduated to more formal reward systems. Simple reward systems with simple rewards can often be very effective. For example, allowing a child to stay up an extra 15 minutes because he behaved well can motivate him to have another good day tomorrow. Surprise rewards can also be quite rewarding.
Time Out- Time out can be a great way to help kids calm down when they are frustrated. Just be sure to use it as discipline and not punishment. Use a four minute time out. Most of kids can handle staying in time out at this age.
Redirection- Use a 4 year old’s short attention span to your advantage. Use redirection to direct your child’s attention away from something that you don’t want him to do. If your child’s really interested in trying to bang on your computer keys, give him something else (that you don’t mind him banging on) to play with.
Remove Privileges- Taking away privileges can be effective if a child refuses to go to time out or when a big offense is committed. Just make sure to only take away a privilege for a very short duration of time. Sometimes 30 minutes is plenty while other times it makes sense to take something away for the rest of the day. But don’t take anything away for days or weeks at a time as your child won’t remember why it got taken away.
Logical Consequences- Consequences need to make sense to kids in order for them to be effective. Use logical consequences that clearly link the misbehavior to the consequence. This will help prevent your child from repeating the behavior again.