6 Skills Your Discipline Should be Teaching Your 4-Year-Old

Prepare Your Child for School with These Social, Emotional and Behavioral Skills

While it's important to make sure your 4-year-old knows some academic skills, like his ABCs, it's even more important to make sure he has other skills he'll need to succeed in school.

After all, knowing how to read won't help your child excel if he hits people every time he's angry. And understanding addition won't give him a competitive advantage if he cries every time he's not first in line. 

The way you respond to your child's misbehavior is instrumental in helping him gain the social, emotional, and behavioral skills that really matter. Here are six skills you should be teaching your 4-year-old:


Discipline should be about teaching your 4-year-old new skills.
Uwe Krejci / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Four-year-olds can begin learning how to label their feelings and express them socially appropriate ways. Talk about simple feeling words, like mad, sad, and happy. 

Pause TV shows or take a break when reading a book to talk about how a character might be feeling. As his knowledge of emotions increases, teach him more complex feeling words such as embarrassed, disappointed, frustrated and worried.

Once your child can verbalize his feelings, show him how to deal with those feelings. Role model appropriate coping skills and help him identify how to cheer himself up when he's sad or how to calm himself down when he's angry. 



Preschool is a great time to start teaching problem-solving skills. When your child makes a mistake, help him recognize what he could have done instead. Make sure to do so in a non-shaming way, however.

When your child breaks the rules, use it is a teachable moment. Ask questions such as, “If your brother grabs your toy, what could you do instead of pushing him?”

Talk it through with your child to help him recognize there are many different ways to solve problems. Praise him when he makes good choices and give him negative consequences that focus on discipline, not punishment



Although 4-year-olds want to be independent, they often lack the skills to complete tough projects on their own. As a result, they can become frustrated often. 

Establish house rules about aggressive behavior. Teach your child that it is okay to feel angry but not okay to hurt anyone or destroy property.

Teach him specific strategies that will help him manage his angry feelings in a safe way. For example, blow bubbles with your child as a way to teach him to take deep, calming breaths and teach him to use “bubble breaths” when he’s mad.

Also, show him he can take a time-out on his own before he misbehaves and encourage him to ask for help when he needs it.



It's important to start giving your child opportunities to make some choices on his own. Just make sure you're proactively teaching him how to make healthy decisions.

So rather than tell him he can't run in a parking lot, explain the reason behind your rule. Or instead of telling him to chew with his mouth closed, explain that other people aren't going to want to sit near him if he isn't using good manners. 

Assign simple chores to begin teaching self-discipline. A 4-year-old can clean his room or put his dishes in the sink. Provide a small, simple allowance to begin teaching him self-discipline with money.



Four-year-olds are impulsive by nature. However, impulse control is very important and can have a big impact on the rest of a child’s life.

Start teaching delayed gratification by creating a reward system. Allow him to earn a small reward now, like a sticker or token but save the bigger rewards for the end of the week to teach patience.

Play games that require impulse control. “Red Light Green Light”, “Simon Says,” and “Mother May I?” are great ways to help kids practice managing their impulses. You can also turn other games into an impulse control activity. For example, play “I Spy” but make your child think of two possible answers before blurting anything out.



Focus on teaching your child pro-social skills every day. Show him how to greet someone, how to respond when asked a question and how to make eye contract.

Most 4-year-olds need practice sharing and playing nicely with others. Around this age is when many kids start developing competitive attitudes. Teach your child to be a good sport and help him learn to empathy.