Home > Kids > Behavior and Discipline > Discipline Strategies > Setting Limits > House Rules and Your Four-Year-Old

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.

More on: Preschool


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks

get ready for school!

We’ve got your
shopping list,
lunch menu,
and more.



Join BIC on our mission to save handwriting and Fight For Your Write! Writing helps kids become better readers, boosts their confidence and sparks their creativity. Visit BICFightForYourWrite.com to sign our petition to save handwriting!

7 Tips for Reading Aloud to Babies & Toddlers
The AAP advises reading aloud to babies and toddlers because it boosts brain power and has many other benefits. Get some tips for making the most of story time with your tot!

Kindergarten Readiness App Wins Gold
Our Kindergarten Readiness app won the Gold Award of Excellence in the educational category at the 2014 Communicator Awards. This valuable checklist comes with games and activities to help your child practice the essential skills she needs for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

How to Survive Summer Boredom
When the kids are home all day, every day, summer boredom strikes hard and fast. Learn the best summer boredom busters and tips for surviving until September.

12 Birthday Party Favors that Won't Get Thrown Away
The next time you're planning a birthday, forgo the penny candy and cheap toys. Send your guests home with one of these fun and creative party favor ideas!