You've graduated from toddler tantrums...now you're dealing with a naughty preschooler! To help you handle this new stage of defiance, we've rounded up our members' top advice for responding to negative behavior and encouraging positive behavior.
1. Offer Choices and Alternatives
When a preschooler engages in a negative behavior, many Circle of Moms members encourage offering alternatives and choices instead of direct orders, because this encourages the child's emerging decision-making skills. Preschoolers are all about power and independence, so having options provides them with a sense of control. As Brandy S. shares: “Give her choices…she will feel completely grown up and she will have some control over something in her little world.”
2. Take Away Favorite Items
Many Circle of Moms members recommend disciplining preschoolers by taking away a favorite toy or special privilege. Tawna K. shares: “I told her she wouldn't get to play with a game she liked (which she had just gotten out, but not opened) if she didn't do what I was telling her…that worked really well, and seems to continue to be the best bet for her really stubborn streaks. She will usually even cooperate happily.” Esther M. concurs: “She usually calms down when I tell her she will not be doing something she likes. Example: Dora is coming to town and the moment she starts to misbehave I tell her she not going to see Dora, that seems to cool her off and she starts to listen.”
3. Behavior Chart
Several moms shared that a sticker-based behavior chart worked effectively as a discipline tool for their preschoolers. Clare H., mother to a 4-year-old boy, explains: “I have introduced a behavior chart. I only have to say, ‘Do you want a naughty sticker on your chart?’ and he tows the line now. I told him naughty stickers mean no TV that day and if he gets more good stickers than bad he could have a small chocolate treat at the end of the week.”
Many moms, including Emma F., use the traditional timeout to discipline preschoolers: “I found timeouts were the only solution to my four year old (now nearly 6) acting out. First time he was on the stairs and then any other misbehaving meant going to his room with the door shut. It was a slow process but it did work, just stick to it and she will soon learn that her behavior is unacceptable and there are consequences.” Common timeout tips include using a timer so the child knows how much time is left, using short periods (5 minutes or less), and resetting the timeout if the child misbehaves during it.
5. Indicate Your Confidence
As Nikki S. advises, it’s important that your preschooler knows you believe she can be good: “Often, it’s helpful to say something indicating your confidence in the child’s ability and willingness to learn: ‘When you get older I know you will (whatever it is you expect).’ ‘Next time you can (restate what is expected in a positive manner).’ This affirms your faith in the child, lets her know that you assume she has the capacity to grow and mature, and transmits your belief in her good intentions.”
6. Model and Praise Good Behavior
In addition to pointing out negative behavior, Circle of Moms members emphasize the importance of reinforcing good behavior. Katherine C. shared some of her favorite advice from Code Name Mama: “Instead of demanding the behavior from your child, do it yourself. Model it. Children learn more from seeing a behavior modeled than they do by hearing someone tell them to do it.”
In addition, many Circle of Moms advise that praising positive behavior is one of the best strategies for promoting and reinforcing good behavior in preschoolers. Sarah H. explains: “If your child is being quiet....praise them...they will get a buzz and be eager to please you more often. Same with other behavior…If they are waiting...say ‘wow, I notice how very patient you are being...thank you,’ with a smile....that reinforces good behavior and works wonders!!!”
Looking for more discipline strategies?
From A Cure for the Common Bad Attitude to Taming Toddler Tantrums to Why Yelling Doesn't Work, The RoundUp offers tips on discipling in diverse situations. You'll also find lots of discussion on discipline in Circle of Moms communities, including Positive Behavior Strategies-Solutions Without Smacking.