“Mommy, I want it NOW!” As parents of preschoolers, we have all lived through that moment in which we could write our child’s actions off as being “naughty”. Labeling your child is not the answer. Here are a few parenting strategies that will help your preschooler make better choices.

  1. Give choices. In giving a degree of power over to your child, you will enable her to feel powerful (making her own decision) instead of powerless (being told what to do).  If your child is refusing to brush her teeth, it’s time to offer her a choice.  For example, she can choose to brush her teeth and get two books read to her at bedtime, or she can choose to not brush her teeth and miss out on storytime.  After she makes her choice you must follow through with the consequence of her decision, but always give her another chance to make the "right" choice.  Once in bed she will most likely want that story, so give her another chance by asking, "Would you like to change your mind and brush your teeth so we can read together?"
  2. Take a timeout.  Your child will inevitably do something that demands disciplinary action, but reserve timeouts only for behavior that you consider to be intolerable. You might include behaviors such as hitting, not sharing, or dangerous actions (such as running into the street). To decide how long to put your child in a timeout, use her age as a guide. If your child is two years old, then she may get a 2-minute timeout. While in timeout, do not speak to your child or allow her to play with any toys, and if she gets up, sit her back down without emotion.  After the timeout is over, lower yourself to sit with her face to face. Remind her of what she did to cause the timeout. Explain gently that she made a bad choice and, although it's okay to sometimes make mistakes, this action will always result in a timeout. Have her say sorry to whoever needs it and give hugs. End the timeout with a cheer for the good choice she will make in the future: it's important that she feels she’s starting fresh and doesn't have the poor choice hanging over her head.
  3. Be consistent.  The key to any parenting strategy is consistency.  Only give choices that are obtainable to your child and never threaten something without being ready or able to follow through with it.  Use timeouts no matter where you are. If your child hits her sister in the store, she must sit in a timeout in the aisle.  It’s difficult but if you are consistent the behaviors will decrease.
  4. Offer reinforcement! When your child makes a good choice the best thing you can do is to show her that you are pleased with her behavior. Your preschooler loves to make you happy and will try to repeat behaviors that she sees get a positive response from you.
  • Verbal Reinforcement.  Give her compliments and hugs.  Verbal reinforcement is the easiest and most immediate reinforcer that you can offer your child and should always be combined with any of the subsequent reinforcement techniques mentioned.  
  • Treats.  You can give your child a treat for good behavior.  Take her to get ice cream for doing something exceptional or give her a cookie when you catch her doing something nice. Treats are a great reinforcer but cannot be used excessively.
  • Sticker Chart. Make a chart of desired behaviors (sharing, using manners, following directions). Give a sticker for good behaviors and have your child place it on the chart. When she gets a desired amount of stickers in a row, she gets a small prize. 
  • Prize Box. Create a prize box with small toys and treats inside.  Be certain that the prizes in the box are something your child wants. Allow her to choose a prize when she completes a desired behavior (going to bed on the first request). You can also use the prize box in connection with the sticker chart. Once she receives 5 stickers on her chart, she can choose 1 prize from the box.

Teaching your child how to behave can be a daunting task. Remember that your preschooler doesn’t have the innate ability to act appropriately. Using these techniques will help teach her strategies that she can use throughout her life.