How do I discipline my child for poor behavior done at school. My daughter, 4 years old, is telling other children she won't play with them. This is competly unacceptable and when she does it with her siblings she is reprimanded. We have yet to 'punish' her for this behavior as we hadn't seen it that much. However, now that it is happening at school we must do something.

The school is doing what it can, but what can we do at home in terms of discipline if the action is at school. A well, what is the appropriate punishment for this action. We usually use logical consequences or time out, but in this instance I am stumped.

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    "This is completely unacceptable". Uh...she's 4. This is rather typical.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 5:32
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    @DA01 Age appropriate or typical means understandable NOT acceptable. Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 13:02
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    Whether or not you feel this particular instance of behavior is acceptable, the general question of "how do I deal with behavior I don't want my child engaging in when it occurs at school, and I am not there to immediately respond?" is perfectly valid.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 13:18
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    @morah I agree with Beofett that there is a valid way to word this question, but asking us how to change typical age-appropriate behavior seems rather peculiar.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 15:06
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    I'm stumped too. You want to punish your child because they don't want to play with another kid when you want them to? I don't really get that. Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 6:16

5 Answers 5


Often this is just a phase - 2 of ours went through it, the other didn't. Many of our friends had their children do this for a bit.

We encouraged them to play, but there isn't really a whole lot that needs doing.

Worth asking your child what the reasons are - because it may be they are being excluded - but it may be nothing.


Refusing to play with someone is a very common behavior. Most of the time there is nothing alarming to worry about. A four years old child is a complete human being with mind and heart. Children always have reasons for their actions.

The first step is to examine the child’s relationships with others, children and adults. Find out if anyone has denied the child anything. Did she try to play with or talk to someone and was rejected? An incident at home can be reflected on someone at school and vice versa. Does the teacher discriminate, intentionally or unintentionally, between her and the other child? There are too many possibilities to list here. Also understanding the personality of the child may solve the puzzle. Children are sometimes extra sensitive to the way adults treat them. This is because they know they are weak and very dependent on us.

If you have time, watch your daughter’s class for about 30 minutes to understand the dynamics. This will help you connect between home and school events. You don’t need to make these visits every day, only whenever you can. Also discuss with other parents their concerns and observations.

There is no need for discipline or punishment in this case. Children have the same right to choose who to play with as adults do.

  • Although children this young can not be considered bullies, this behavior is bullying behavior and must be curbed before it comes a habit and my child ends up being a bully. Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 19:25
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    @morah "i won't play with you because you're insert insult here" could be construed as bullying. Calling "I don't want to play with you" bullying, though, is a bit... extreme. There is no rule that children are obligated to play with every other child, on demand. If there are aspects of bullying in your child's behavior, please edit your question with more details.
    – user420
    Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 20:57
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    "Children always have reasons for their actions." Indeed, however it is worth noting that children of this age aren't necessarily (or usually) capable of even realizing said reasons themselves, much less explaining them in clear terms to us... so we often need to spend considerable effort and time to discover these reasons. Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 14:22
  • Actually, a four year old can often be quite clear about why he or she doesn't want to play with someone when asked in a calm, non-judgemental and non-threatening manner. Not all of them and even the ones that can not always, but often. Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 2:22
  • agreed, mama, but Peter's point is still worth considering. I don't understand why the OP is so quickly assuming this is 'bullying' behavior. I've met 10 year olds that are useless on the playground so I just play on the monkey bars with them and role model how to invite other kids to play etc. Works wonders. But I'd never make them play with someone. Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 2:42

There's not much that you can do at home for a particular incident in school. The consequences may be too far removed from the action to be useful to the child.

Of course, keep on her when you catch her doing it while you're around, and if the teacher is also reprimanding her then that helps too.

The first thing to do is find out why she's acting like this towards the other kids. Is it all children, random ones, or particular kids? Is she doing this all the time or over particular toys or activities? Are other children doing something that's triggering this as a defense mechanism?

One thing that may be helpful is if you can bring home a behavior report of some kind every day. Say a simple green/yellow/red for good/received warning/received consequence. Either get the report from the teacher when you pick your daughter up or fill it out while you're there. This gives you something you can both point at as a reminder of her day, and can be used for helping plan the rest of the day or in conjunction with a behavior chart.

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    Behavior charts don't actually teach her what to do instead. Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 1:58

I understand the concern and it is important to teach the values of inclusion and politeness. At the same time, perhaps the kids she doesn't want to play with aren't that nice or are doing something that makes her not want to play with them. As an adult, you may have to get along politely with co-workers you don't like, you may even have to work with them occasionally, but you certainly never have to engage in play with them. Is just wishing to play on her own or is it that she has a couple of friends she likes to play with and a few she doesn't?

Has anyone asked her why she doesn't want to play with the other kids?

Has anyone role-played with her ways she can be inclusive keeping her concerns in mind?

Has anyone spoken with her about the concept of inclusion and why it is so mean to just flat out say, "I don't want to play with you?"

Is she allowed some space to have independent and individual play? She may be part of the 25% of the population for whom "alone time" is how batteries are recharged and too much stimulous is sorted through and brought back down to a calmer level. She may be wishing to just play calmly and alone because she needs a break. School can be pretty exhausting.

Outside of these things, if she is refusing to play just because she can and it hurts the feelings of the others, then working on figuring out why she would want to be mean would be a good way to go. This type of emotional bullying is often indicative of self esteem issues, control issues, and a host of other possible problems. Most of the time though, 4 year olds simply aren't that snobby.

I don't think this is likely, because you say she does this to her sisters too, but She may need a little guidance it is around 4 or 5 they start noticing differences like skin color. She may simply not understand something about something she has noticed that you or I wouldn't ever even consider. If she doesn't want to play with some one because of soemthing physical, she may need some lessons in differences and how action is more important than looks.

If she has a legitimate reason for not wanting to play with these other kids (which is possible), she should be repsected and given some options and ploys she can use to help herself politely out of tough situations. Perhaps she feels the others are really bossy (older sisters are known for being bossy). Maybe they say mean things or make her feel bad in some way. . . Instead of assuming it is unacceptable behavior and she needs to be taught to get along, perhaps being taught how to get along requires a subtler lesson than you realize. Please ask her for her reasons when you are not upset and you are ready to listen, paraphrase and summarize - if you haven't done so already.


I would play with her with other kids during playdates, playgrounds etc. Relying on other people's assumptions, even teachers, about what is going on isn't always helpful. I've worked in schools and teachers can often be quick to label and categorize kids (the bad kid, the smart kid, the social butterfly, etc).

If you actually play with her you can get possibly get a better sense of what is going on.

And, I still don't see what's wrong with not wanting to play with someone (everyone) but you could teach her more appropriate means of communicating her disinterest (ie "no thank you"). I think teaching little girls they can't say no is a problem in our mainstream culture, personally.

edited because i shouldn't imply that all teachers label kids


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