Ways to Correct a 4-Year-Old's Behavior

By Natalie Smith
A time-out is often effective for curbing a 4-year-old's undesirable behaviors.
A time-out is often effective for curbing a 4-year-old's undesirable behaviors.

Four-year-olds have gained more independence, and verbal and cognitive skills since they were infants. Along with those skills come more challenges and often new undesirable behaviors. Correcting your 4-year-old's behavioral problems with age-appropriate discipline techniques can help to reduce those behaviors and encourage more positive behaviors.


Time-outs are a form of mild punishment that are highly effective for toddlers and young children, including 4-year-olds. During a time-out, the child sits in a chair or stands isolated from all of the things they enjoy, such as their parent's attention, toys and TV. They are also separated from whatever caused the bad behavior, such as a sibling or pet. The goal of the time-out is to stop the behavior immediately and help the 4-year-old learn self-discipline. The length of the time-out should be the same amount of minutes as the child's age.

Selective Ignoring

Some 4-year-olds act out to get attention. If this is the case, and if the behavior is not causing harm to the child or to anyone else, the best strategy might be to ignore the behavior. Ignoring the child removes the reward for the behavior, which is the parent's negative attention. It might be difficult not to scold your 4-year-old for the behavior at first, but ignoring her will quickly teach her that her behavior will not earn her the attention or other reward she is seeking.

Logical Consequences

When your 4-year-old misbehaves, match the punishment with the behavior. For example, if your 4-year-old throws his toy across the room, take the toy away. If he slams his door repeatedly, take the door off the hinges. In this way, your child will learn that tangible consequences will follow his actions. These logical consequences also have the advantage of being easy for a 4-year-old to understand.

Praise and Rewards

Although mild punishments are an effective way to get your 4-year-old to cease her bad behavior, you also want to reinforce her good behavior. Praise is a powerful way to encourage desirable behaviors. Even a simple hug or compliment is often enough to validate her good behaviors. Rewards, such as reading a book with her or taking her to the park, are effective ways to reinforce positive actions. However, use rewards sparingly to prevent her from expecting one each time she exhibits a positive behavior.

About the Author

Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.