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It is natural for your preschooler to test your limits. That is how he learns your rules and values. But it is now easier for him to understand and do what you ask. Set a good example by showing that you can disagree without getting angry or impatient.


Help Your Children Get Along

  • It is natural for children to argue or fight. Give them a chance to work things out. Make sure no one gets hurt.
  • Teach your children to share and take turns.
  • Children often compete for a parent’s love and attention. Try not to compare your children or favor one child over another.
  • Try to spend some time alone with each child, so that each one feels loved and special.

Set Reasonable Limits

Make sure that your child is able to do what you expect. For example, most 4 year olds can wait quietly, but not for very long. Be consistent in what you expect. Give brief reasons for saying “No.”

Tell your child clearly what you want her to do. “Remember to say please when you ask for a snack” is better than “Don’t be rude.” Also, criticize the behavior, not the child. “Do not throw the ball in the house. You could break something” is better than “You are always bad!”

When your child is old enough, make the rules and decide together what will happen if she breaks them. Make sure the consequences are reasonable.


Preschoolers playingEncourage Good Behavior

  • Praise and hug your child for good behavior.
  • Set a good example. Make sure you are doing what you want your child to do.
  • Help your child express his feelings with words, rather than hitting.
  • Teach responsibility in small steps. Start with simple things, like picking up toys.

When You Discipline Your Child

  • Talk to your child in a serious but loving voice.
  • Explain what behavior is OK and what is not in simple, brief terms. Tell her the reasons why. Say what you will do if she keeps doing it.
  • Avoid spanking, hitting and yelling. These things can hurt her physically and emotionally. And they set a bad example.
  • If your child keeps repeating a behavior that you have asked her not to do, it may help to talk with her teacher or a counselor.
  • If you feel you are losing your temper and may hit your child, you can get help. You can talk to someone who can help you calm down. You do not have to give your name. Contact Childhelp at or 1-800-422-4453.
  • For more information, contact the Birth to Five Helpline.

Know What Your Child Is Watching

  • Many TV programs, music videos and video games contain violence and sexual behavior.
  • Programs that show violent or angry actions and words can scare a young child and cause nightmares and aggressive behavior.
  • Limit TV and computer time to just 1 to 2 hours a day. Children who spend more than 2 hours in front of a TV or computer are more likely to be obese and have behavior problems.
  • For more on guiding your child’s use of TV, videos, games and other media, see the Children and Technology page in this guide.

The First Things First Parent Kit was developed in partnership with Health Research for Action/UC Berkeley. © 2018 The Regents of the University of California. Additional video, graphic and other content © 2018 First Things First. All rights reserved.

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