What do you do with a 4-year-old that feeds the dog dangerous items (beads, pieces of diaper, etc.) when no one is looking?

Although this particular problem is fairly specific, these types of behavior are actually pretty common among preschool-aged kids. When dealing with behavioral challenges like this, we think a good approach is to try to reframe the issue so that we are not focusing on the problematic behavior but instead focusing on more appropriate, prosocial behaviors. By doing this, we make sure not to draw your 4-year-old’s attention the behavior itself — once young children know what types of behaviors are likely to make upset their parents, they might start doing those behaviors as a means to test limits or act out.

Instead of talking about what we cannot do with the dog (or what we cannot feed the dog), we focus on the appropriate behaviors. You can talk about what types of food your child can feed the dog, such as dog food and treats, as well as other behaviors that ensure that the dog is safe and healthy.

To get your child more interested, you can even name your child as your household’s “Captain of Dog Safety” (which comes with its own badge, if you’re feeling crafty), empowering your child to feel responsible for the dog’s safety and health. If your child (and you) really gets into it, your child can be in charge of meals, bestowing treats and even tracking walks, providing a report to the rest of the family each evening. As you can already sense, the more your child gets into the appropriate, prosocial dog-related activities, the further their mind gets from the beads and diaper pieces.


Britlan Malek Britlan Malek, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist at Children’s National. She specializes in developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder in young children.
Michael Mintz Michael Mintz, PsyD, is a bilingual, attending clinical psychologist at the Child Development Clinic of Children's National with an expertise in autism-spectrum disorders.

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