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House Rules and Your Four-Year-Old

Read tips on setting house rules and staying consistent with them.

House Rules and Your Four-Year-Old

Just because your four-year-old has begun moving toward self-discipline doesn't mean she's there yet. She still needs you to set certain limits, remind her of rules, and correct misbehavior. Again, your child will be much more likely to honor house rules and limits if they are both fair and well-reasoned. So let your child in on the logic behind your rules.

In reminding your preschooler of the rules (or introducing new ones), try not to overuse the words "don't" and "no." Try to put a more positive spin on rules whenever possible. For example, instead of yelling, "No yelling!", you might want to try, "Would you please play quietly while the baby's sleeping?" Save "no" and "don't" only for behavior that you ban permanently:

  • "No hitting (ever)!"
  • "Don't (ever) cross the street without a grown-up."
  • "No jumping in the bathtub (ever)!"
  • "Don't (ever) stick anything into an electric outlet."

Try to anticipate things that might tempt your child to break the rules. Just before your child will face one of these temptations, ask her to repeat your rule about this situation. This encourages your preschooler, by putting it into her own words, to make it her rule and to discipline herself.

When you do establish rules with these words, it's important that you be consistent. Wavering from "Don't" or "No" rules for any reason will confuse your child and indirectly give her permission to bend the rules when it suits her.

In enforcing house rules, remember to reward good behavior rather than bad behavior. For instance, do you succumb to your child's whining requests just to shut her up? Do you ever reward her for not whining? Or is this the only way she ever gets a treat? If so, you are nurturing whining behavior. When your child hits a playmate or younger sibling, do you merely try to distract her with a new game or activity? If so, you're teaching her to hit to gain positive attention.

In general, you can probably trust in your child's good intentions. So as she grows older, give your preschooler more responsibility to regulate her own behavior. Let her know that you trust her to do the right thing. And remember to notice and praise her whenever she does behave well.

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