Your preschooler's attention span depends on his interests and energy level.

How to Deal With a 4-Year-Old and Impulsive Behavior

by Stephanie Dube Dwilson

Teenagers are undoubtedly the champs at impulsive behavior, but preschoolers can be plenty challenging. As 4-year-olds grow in their ability and desire to explore the world around them, caution gets thrown to the wind. Help your child reign in those impulses with communication, understanding and discipline, and be glad she's too young to demand the car keys.

Consult with your pediatrician. An office visit to make sure there is no physical reason for your child's impulsive behavior will reassure you that change is within your control.

Respond to your child's needs. Impulsive behavior sometimes develops because the child feels he isn't getting the attention he's looking for. You don't have to drop everything and give in to your 4-year-old's every whim, but do respond promptly to signs of hunger, fatigue or fear. Often, a simple "Yes, I know you're hungry, I'm hungry too, we will be home soon" is enough to mollify him and keep him on track.

Establish a daily routine, and stick to it as closely as possible. Knowing what to expect can help your 4-year-old manage the overwhelming urge she has to hit, run or scream.

Reward good behavior, and establish consistent consequences for misbehavior. Again, when your child knows what to expect, he will find it much easier to control his troublesome impulses.

Divide large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Whether you're asking your 4-year-old to clean her room or get ready for bed, breaking the job up and rewarding her for completing each step will help her stay on task.

Encourage active interests. Minimize time spend in front of the television; instead, send your child outside to collect leaves, look at bugs and explore. Consider martial arts, swimming or gymnastics lessons. Activities that occupy a 4-year-old's mind and body help develop impulse control.


  • Aside from the common signs of impulsiveness, which include hurrying through activities and acting without thinking of the consequences, watch for a lack of perseverance or the desire to quit activities quickly.

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