Motivating a 4-year-old involves teaching her what you expect.

How to Motivate a 4-Year-Old

by Kathryn Hatter

Your 4-year-old is rambunctious and energetic, full of fanciful ideas and interesting stories. As she begins learning more about the world around her, she'll find many things more fascinating than whatever it is you want her to do. Motivate your 4-year-old to cooperate by using consistent limits, creative strategies and a firm insistence on compliance, gently teaching her that she really does need to follow your rules and expectations. Effective motivation has a positive foundation, so keep the process pleasant for best results.

Set concise expectations so your child knows the ground rules. Children have a strong desire to please their parents. With clear guidelines, you give your child the information necessary to meet your expectations and make you happy. It's not necessary to set up an elaborate system of rules for a 4-year-old, but you should create some basic expectations. For example, you might require your child to make her bed every morning, feed the dog, share with her brother and follow safety rules, such as holding hands to cross the street and not climbing on the furniture.

Catch your child following the rules and deliver swift and genuine praise. By finding opportunities to applaud your child often, you reinforce positive behavior and encourage him to continue these desired actions. Don’t go overboard with the admiration, but do be sure to notice when your child makes good choices. He has to be aware of his successes to repeat them.

Ignore harmless misbehavior to help it disappear. According to Dr. William Sears, as long as the behavior isn't dangerous or won't grow into something significant, you can help shape your child's behaviors by ignoring some actions that you don't like while giving lots of attention to the ones you do. For example, if your 4-year-old sometimes acts bossy with neighborhood friends, it's probably best to let the children work it out themselves as long as they're not fighting in a hurtful way.

Allow natural consequences to play out if your child doesn't follow rules or expectations. When your 4-year-old slacks off on his job to feed the dog and another child fills the bowl instead, the dog will likely show a preference for the other child. Explain to your 4-year-old that if he performs his task reliably, the dog will develop more of an attachment to him. You can also suspend activities or take away items in response to your child's lack of performance. For example, if your child doesn't pick up his toys, clean them up yourself and put them in plaything time-out for a little while. Your 4-year-old is old enough to understand this direct cause-and-effect.

Use rewards carefully and creatively to motivate your 4-year-old. Remember that your goal is to help her develop the self-discipline to do what you expect. Overuse of rewards may counteract this goal and teach your child not to perform without a prize. Use activities or items that your child values as rewards, and design the system so that the reward seems like a natural consequence of making the right decision. For example, if your child has a pet fish to take care of every day and she performs her tasks regularly without complaining and without you nagging, tell her that because she's taking such good care of one fish, you're going to take her to the pet store to pick out another one.

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.

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