When adults think of disciplining a child, punishment is often the first thing that comes to mind. While correction may play a part in discipline, it is only a small part of it. Discipline involves teaching children how to differentiate right from wrong, follow rules, respect others and control their own behavior.
Since kids change as they mature, discipline strategies used to teach them must also change with them. Just like parents wouldn’t discipline a teenager the same way they would a 2-year-old, methods used for an 8-year-old probably won’t work to discipline a 4- or 5-year-old. Here a few practical tips for disciplining 4- and 5-year-olds.
Give clear and exact directions to 4- and 5-year-olds. Establish what is expected and what the results will be if the rules are not followed. Children at the age of 4 and 5 are capable of following simple instructions. In fact, they prefer to have an exact routine and generally thrive in a structured environment. They do, however, need to have those directions explained clearly to them.
Give time limits to help kids work on self control. 4-and 5-year-olds need time to adjust to transitions in their schedules. Preschoolers can be set in their ways and get easily frustrated when things change. Giving them warnings and time limits will help avoid some of the frustration and the temper tantrums they might cause.
For instance, one method I use with my 5-year-old is to warn her when she has 10 more minutes to play before it’s time to pick up toys for the night. I also explain the consequences she’ll face if she does not stop when the time is up. Then I set a timer to count down the minutes. Parents or teachers that use this method for disciplining 4- and 5-year-olds must be prepared to follow through if the child doesn’t obey. Empty threats won’t accomplish anything except to teach the child that he or she is running the show, not the adult.
Remain calm when disciplining the child. If adults don’t control their emotions when administering discipline, the child won’t either. Kids at 4 and 5 years old mirror the words and actions of others around them, especially their parents and teachers.
Instead of speaking louder to make your point, speak softer. When kids are rowdy and noisy, trying to yell over them to get their attention is often pointless. Instead of gaining control of the situations, adults may simply add to the confusion. Instead, stand in the front of the child or group of kids and whisper. They will wonder what you’re saying and curiosity will prompt them to quiet down. They will have to listen closely to hear what you’re saying. I used to teach a class of about twenty 4-year-olds. This discipline strategy saved my voice and my sanity on several occasions.
Be consistent, consistent, consistent. The most important thing to remember when disciplining 4- and 5-year-olds is to be consistent. Establish early on what the rules are and what the consequences will be for not obeying them, and stick to them. If there is more than one parent or adult administering discipline, make sure both agree and the rules and maintain them. It is sometimes tempting to let occasional disobedience or inappropriate behavior slide because parents are too tired to deal with it, but it sets a precedent that will lead to future problems. Uphold the rules all the time. If parents and teachers don’t consistently enforce the rules, kids won’t be consistent in following them.
Make punishment match the age of the child. There are times when it may be helpful for the child to be removed from a situation for a brief time in order to calm down or be punished. The designated area should be free of televisions, toys and other activities that will distract the child. The time out period should be equal to or less than the child’s age, so the discipline for a 4-year-old should be no longer than 4 minutes and no longer than 5 minutes for a 5-year-old. Once the discipline period is over, talk briefly with the child about why the behavior was inappropriate and discuss other ways of dealing with similar situations in the future.
Also, catch them in the act of being good. Discipline is not merely pointing out wrong-doings and correcting them. It is teaching kids how they should behave and treat others, and helping to mold them into polite, well-mannered and compassionate young people. Be sure to also make a point to recognize when a 4- or 5-year-old acts appropriately, tells the truth or treats other kids with kindness. A little praise or pat on the back from a parent or teacher a child loves goes a long way.
“Disciplining Your Child,” KidsHealth.
“Smart Discipline for Every Age,” Parents.
“Preschoolers (3-5 years old),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Discipline: Teaching School Age,” University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.
Children Social Skills
Other articles by this author:
How to Handle Your Child’s Public Meltdowns
Kids and Respect
When Your Toddler Refuses to Go to Bed