Emotions & Self-Awareness Self-Control: How to Help Four-Year-Olds Make Good Choices

Emotions influence behavior. Part of growing up is learning how to manage our emotions and exercise self-control so that we can treat ourselves and others with respect. Four-year-olds can view situations from another’s perspective ― a useful tool in helping them make choices that are respectful to others, like taking turns or resisting their impulse to grab, hit or yell if they become frustrated. They also have a better sense of time and sequencing and can learn to use strategies to wait patiently (e.g., "I can play on the slide while I wait my turn for the swing"). 

Encourage your child to practice self-control:

Acknowledge When They Exercise Self-Control

When your child is tempted to respond one way but resists, acknowledge their self-control. This might sound like: "You were mad and wanted to hit, but you stopped yourself! Good work!"

"Get Out the Mad" Cookies

Baking cookies can be a great activity to do with your child, both to build measurement skills and to give your child an outlet to knead cookie dough.

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Teach Them Simple Strategies

Kids of every age feel overwhelmed by emotions or impulses, and they need simple tools that they can use to regain their equilibrium and make good choices. For example, "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" provides memorable musical prompts about how kids can respond to emotional stress, such as:

  • "When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four."
  • "When you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything!" 
  • "You can take a turn, and then I'll get it back." 

You can help children develop with similar simple, memorable strategies. Help them verbalize both what they can't do and what they can, such as, "When I'm mad, I can't hit my brother, but I can stomp my feet or squeeze my ball." You can also model the connection between moods and healthy eating, exercise and sleeping: "Sometimes when I'm frustrated, I eat a healthy snack or take a nap to help me feel better."

Story Book Builder

Your child can design his own storybook featuring favorite Sesame characters in this pick-your-own-adventure game.

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Redirect and Change the Situation

For young children, redirection can help them calm down and regain their focus. For example, if it feels hard to wait patiently, encourage your child to play with something else, sing a song or count objects in the room. Teach them simple ways to change a situation, such as sitting at the opposite end of the couch so they won't be tempted to poke a sibling or having fewer toys out so clean-up feels more manageable.

Calm Your Engines

You can help your child settle for nap or calm down after an exciting or anxious time by using breathing techniques and these printable posters from Thomas and Friends.

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Help Your Child Manage Emotions with Daniel Tiger

Through imagination, creativity and music, Daniel and his friends learn how to manage big and overwhelming feelings using strategies grounded in the teachings of Mister Rogers.

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Activity Finder: Learn With Your Four-Year-Old

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