21 answers

4 Year Old Son Gets into EVERYTHING

My four year old son gets into everything, I mean EVERYTHING!! And it makes a huge mess. He gets into the lotions, toothpaste, baby powder, soaps, diaper rash creams, shampoos, you name it he gets into it! I have used every lock I can find and he figures out how to break in, I have tried keeping things high up and he just climbs to get to them. I have put him in time outs, I have sent him to his room, I have taken toys away, we have talked and talked and talked some more about what belongs to him and what belongs to other people, and if it is NOT his then he needs to leave it alone unless he asks. This is not new behavior, he has been doing this for over two years, most of everything I have is some how stained or destroyed by his actions. I try to NEVER leave him out of sight, but as a single parent sometimes I must fold laundry, cook meals, clean up something he most likey has done; so there are minutes where I am not paying close attention to him and then you hear the sounds....the sounds that make you RUN and there it is....the mess and the maker =]
I have one daughter who is 9 (she is helpful but she is bipolar and ADD so there are some things that are just a bit beyond her attention span) and I also have one younger son who is 3 (boys are 14 months apart). I am looking for some advice as to others ways to deal with my darling little mess makes, please help me!

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So What Happened?™

Thanks for all the advice! i think over the weekend I am going to try making him clean up whatever he might get into. I had not thought of that one! ANd to let you know that the reason I work part time is so I am home with the kids. We do not watch TV during the week, we walk all over different neighborhoods everynight, I get two of the children involved in an acctivity so I can spend some time with each of them one on one. I MAKE a point to let them know that are each special with different talents, and they all have chores at the house. So having the 4 year old learn to clean up should not be too hard technically LOL but will help him understand that if "you spill it you clean it" a rule we already use, not sure why I had not thought of that one before. And for those of you who were wondering who had the boys during the day, they are in a family owned/runned daycare and both boys are in a preschool program, the four year old goes 3 days an week and the 3 year old goes twice a week. My oldest and only girl is in 4th grade and I drop her off and pick her up everyday. I will let you know how the cleaning up after himself works. And thanks again for all the wonderful ideas, I am looking forward to putting them to the test this weekend. =}

Okay so this weekend, his first mess, he HAD to clean it up =] Well the good news is that it was the ONLY mess he made. But I have recieved some more advice and will be going out to purchase some play dough and some other squeeze type toys. I had not thought that this might just me something he likes the feel of, so Thank you to all of those moms that gave me that suggestion too. And I am looking into those locks - I had never heard of them before. Thank you all again, it has been greatly appreciated!!

Featured Answers

I know you already responded but I wanted to let you know also about locks called "tot locks" they are magnetic and they are the only locks I found to keep my daughter out of the chemicals and other poisonous stuff!!! You can find them at just about any hardware store!

What a busy mom and what a positive attitude! Have you wondered if he might have ADHD? I also wonder if he might have some sensory processing issues, since a lot of the stuff you listed is shampoo, lotion, etc. Maybe he's a "sensory seeker" with a need for tactile (touch) experiences? You can get more info online re this issue. Good luck and hang in - they're lucky to have you! J.

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You already got some great advice! I just wanted to say that I agree with keeping him busy, get him to help you in whatever you are doing! My son is 5 and yesterday I was doing a project for his teacher and he wanted to help so bad. She wanted it a certain way and since he couldn't help me I made up a project he could do for me on his own. It was nonsense but it made him so proud to be doing something just for mom.

Also a cabinet of his own is a great idea! Fill it with all sorts of things he can play with and praise him highly when he does. Act like you just won the lotto because honey you did! The more you catch him being good the less you will catch him being bad. I promise!

Another thing to try is to set aside time just you and him, even 15 min before bed. No other kids, no phones, no tv, just you and him to cuddle, read, play a game whatever. Just give him one on one attention and I bet his behavior will improve as well.

There are tot locks that work really well. They are magnetic and keep the doors locked. I had to use them because my daughter figured out how to open the other locks just after we put them in. Good luck.

Dear N.,
I don't know if this is possible in your house, but I would try to put up some sort of gate keeping your son in the one room that he is allowed to play in that you can see him on a regular basis. Essentially, I would give him NO access to the rest of the house. I know this sounds cruel, but I think he has to earn going in other spaces of the house. I don't know if you would be able to do this in your house, or even if you can find a gate high enough that he can't climb over. The other choice would be to put him on a child's leash attached to your belt. Again, this is to let him know that his space is restricted and he has to earn access. After doing the gate and/or leash for awhile, you can try letting him go into another room to play with specific toys. If he gets into everything again, the gates and leash come back out.

I am sorry you are having to deal with this as I can tell from your note how difficult it is.

Does he do this sort of thing when you are at work and someone else is watching him? If not, it could be that he is trying to tell you something by only doing these things when you are around and not the other caregiver.

I liked some of the other mom's ideas. I had 7 kids, so I truly understand that sometimes the way kids teach you about what's
really important in life is by BREAKING everything that ISN'T! The only way I got around it was by being pro active, and always one step ahead of the kids. Never have nothing for them to do. Follow them around and get them busy. When they are that age always endeavor to get them occupied HELPING mama, if possible. If you are folding clothes, get them to pick the things out of the pile you tell them to. Make a game of seeing who can find the most matching socks. Show them how to fold. Each moment can be a teaching moment. THe will NEVER do it as good as you can, but then, when the kids move out you can be perfect again, so don't worry! If you NEVER let them help, or get frustrated by their results they will become discouraged. And eventually they WILL get better at it, so DOn't give up. PRaise each little effort they make: to sprinkle cheese on the pizza (and floor, accidently), to crack the eggs, to feed the dog, etc, etc, etc. Let them get proud of themselves, or the only thing they will feel inside is a knowing they are no good. And you don't want that, I know, or you wouldn't have asked. I found such a great help in making charts of things they could DO, then reminding them it was time to do them throughout the day so they wouldn't forget. I put them on my website to help other moms here:
Check it out and see if any of the ideas are a match for you!
Best, R.

Hi N.:
I agree with SH,and With an older sister,and a younger brother,your son probably is seeking ways to be his own person. He most likely has to share everything,and maybe his getting into personal items,is his little way,of having his own personal smorgesborg of items.I'd go to target,in their lotion section,where they have $1dollar deordorants,lotions,shampoo,shaving cream..baby powder..I'd put them in a small container,with his name on it,and tell him that "I think you needed some of your own personal items, just for you to use. These are just for your use,and you need to keep them in your case,and clean any messes you make with them, Now, you have your very own,and mommy has her own. Give it a try. I think you'll be pleasantly suprised. The best to you and your darlin son.

Hi N.,

This won't be a total fix but it may help to contain some of the things he's commonly getting into. I don't know if they've been mentioned already but "Tot Locks" are wonderful things. They're not like ordinary child proof locks because they attach to the inside of your cabinet and require a magnetic "key" to unlatch them. The doors won't open for anyone without the key (which is universal by the way so you don't have to worry if you loose one). I've got a busy 4 year-old and we've been using these since he was a baby and he's still not figured them out and lost interest a long time ago because they've been there for so long. They're available at Lowes and Home Depot in the baby proofing section. They run a bit more than regular child locks but they're well worth it!

Hello N.,
Looks like your son loves to feel different textures of things, I would suggest on getting him a small texture table with a plastic mat for spills you can purchase these at any teacher store; then you can put some flour,soap shavings,cotton balls,tear some toilet paper and water with soap shavings together,little shampoo soap with water for bubbles,if he doesn't eat it you can also use beans,ect... use your imagination,some play dough.
You can make playdough with flour,salt,oil,koolaid,and warm water. Have fun and go see him every once in a while.
This way the little 3 year old boy can also enjoy it.
Hope this helps you out.
Doris y

Two of my daughters are mess makers. It turns out that they REALLY, REALLY just enjoy the sensation of squishing things in their hands. Get him some Play Doh, Silly Putty, those stress balls and water tubes, the balls encased in mesh that you squeeze - ANYTHING that he can safely squish or smear. When you can supervise, let him finger paint.

When they got older, my daughters loved squishy cooking tasks, like kneading bread dough or rollong cookie dough. In a few years, try some of those activities.

Good luck, Mom! :)

Hi N.,

First of all, wow!! good job handling everything as a single mom....I am also a single mom of two.

One thing I did is post our family rules on the refrigerator and we went over them. I really focus on giving lots & lots of praise for good behavior. Then, if someone breaks a rule, they know it and they know the consequences. In your sons case, I would do some "overcorrection" with real life consequences.

For example: real life: you spill something, You clean it up. Since he is 4, you will need to help him, but, since it is going to take away from your time doing other things to help him with HIS mess, he has to help you with another chore. Just explain to him that this is how the world works. YOU CHOOSE THE BEHAVIOR, YOU CHOOSE THE CONSEQUENCES. Just make the consequences not worth the behavior. And, remember lots of attention and praise for good behavior.

Good luck

What a busy mom and what a positive attitude! Have you wondered if he might have ADHD? I also wonder if he might have some sensory processing issues, since a lot of the stuff you listed is shampoo, lotion, etc. Maybe he's a "sensory seeker" with a need for tactile (touch) experiences? You can get more info online re this issue. Good luck and hang in - they're lucky to have you! J.

My house is a maze of locks. Magnetic locks on all the cupboards, and locks on every door. Every lock requires a key, and the keys live in my pocket or in a hiding place out of sight and reach.

Hi, N.. Good advice - love the cabinet idea and getting him to help. I agree that he should at least help clean up the messes he makes. A good walk or run around the park after work might help reduce some energy or a couple good dance/active DVDs to put in so he can exercise and jump around (Veggie Tales, maybe?) while you are taking care of things? I also bought bath tub body paints and my boys will play in the tub for an hour while I clean the bathrooms or whatever. Finger painting with pudding (you can food-color vanilla) on wax paper is fun and safe too (and they can eat the mess!). We even decorate ours with sprinkles... Maybe he could help you do chores too. You can also give him a spray bottle with water in it and rag and let him help clean walls, the bathroom, etc. My boys LOVE to spray and use the toilet brush. :-) Also, having him help with his little brother might make him feel "big" and responsible. Best of luck!

I know you already responded but I wanted to let you know also about locks called "tot locks" they are magnetic and they are the only locks I found to keep my daughter out of the chemicals and other poisonous stuff!!! You can find them at just about any hardware store!

If he is cappable of making the messes then he is cappable of helping clean them up. And when I say help clean them up I mean you standing over him while he cleans it up, then if you feel that you need to finalize the clean up you do it later when he has gone to bed. The harder you make him clean the more he will hate making the mess in the first place.

The problem is: he don't care how big or hard or long it takes you to clean it up, this simply gets you out of the way for him to do other things. Timeouts don't work for all kids. So if you make let him clean up after himself then he is learning that this sucks, and how to clean in the process. That can't possible be a bad thing. Sometimes kids don't take the time to notice that we clean at all, so making them clean something yuky and the time it takes them to clean it makes them realize how hard or gross it is. When I realized timeouts didn't work I started giving them punishments like cleaning the bathroom, or the grill racks, or the oven, even the fridge, or a messy closet or the cubbards under the sink. These jobs take time to do, so they not only learned how to clean but it toke a chunck of their personal time. Also timeouts at this age should be nose and toes on the wall for their 10 to 15 min. This way they have to stand for their timeouts and your legs get tired. Sitting on a stupid little chair and goofing off does nothing for anyone. But standing their facing a wall not able to move far because your toes and nose are not allowed to come off the wall or your time starts again. After doing this twice, your threat is: would you like to stand toes and nose on the wall? They suddenly behave better. I have thretened mine at the store, at the doctors, and even church. Never once have I had to inforce it at those places the threat is enough, can you imagine how humiliating that would be to stand with your nose and toes on the wall in any of these places. Even if he has to most likely he won't do it again because he found it humiliating. Good Luck! Be tough, or he will always walk all over you. J.

Hi N.,

I feel your pain. My daughter, who will be 4 in November, LOVES getting into everything that isn't hers. What I have resorted to is keeping all of the lotions, soaps, body washes, shampoos, literally EVERYTHING in my room. I keep a baby gate on the door to my bedroom and make sure that it is very secure so she can't shake it loose and get hurt. Although, I am lucky that she doesn't try to climb over it, she's never really been the type. I also have nothing in the cabinets or under the sink in the bathroom and nothing low enough for her to reach in the linen closet. In fact, she now uses that space as a play area, and regularly find her toys on the shelves.

I know it is hard to be a single parent. Kids will do anything that they think that they can get away with. I have found that a lot of times when my daughter decides to go through things it's because she is either bored or ready for a nap.

Good luck, and keep up the good work!!


WOW, You have your hands full! I wish I had a better sugggestion but you might try a little one on one time if you have any family members or friends who could help with the other kids. I've found that when kids are into things they are ultimately looking for attention and the more positive you can give him the less negative he will need. May God bless you in your very difficult situation!

I really feel for you, you have your hands full. Hugs to you!

Well, maybe, try having a cabinet JUST for him. Put things in it that are safe and fun... and even perhaps empty bottles/containers etc. from "real" products (but empty it and clean it out first) and then put colored water in it or something. I don't know if this well help... but maybe worth a try??? Or, maybe have a room just for him.... to mess up and play in??? If you have an extra space/room that is. And perhaps put in just hard flooring... versus a carpet... so it's easier clean up??? I know, but that costs money too...

Have you tried reward charts? Or any kind of "incentive" motivational tools? Maybe that will work with him.

He's 4 years old already.... and usually by then, they do have some sort of impulse control. Is he attending any kind of school???? How is his behavior there? Perhaps ask the teachers for any kind of tips???

I agree, it is very dangerous... and no one has eyes in the back of their head to watch his every move. What if he ingests something and ends up in the ER. Does he even understand "cause and effect?" Usually, kids this age understand "danger."

Who watches him during the day when you work? How is his behavior with that person or at that place???

Can he listen to directions?

Perhaps, get a book on "spirited" children... or "how to discipline your spirited child" etc. There are lots on Amazon.com

Sorry I don't have any magic answers, you've probably tried everything already. I really give you credit for managing your children/household being a single parent... you really seem to be doing your best.

MAYBE, send him to counseling? He seems to have trouble listening and then doing and is "destructive."

All the best and take care,

I feel for you as I too had a very active son (he's now 9) and much calmer but still a challenge in other ways. I used to use this kind of locking latch that if my son figured out how to get high enough to reach it, couldn't figure out how to unlock it. I don't know what it's called but it's the typical hook in loop that screws into the door but the hook part has an extra piece that you have to pull back and then hook it into the hoop. It's rather difficult for little fingers and you can attach it to the door way up high. I'm sorry my description isn't all that great.

Another suggestion, door/window alarms http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Da...

You can install these on most doors and set them to either "chime or alarm" and then you'll know for sure when he's into something. Be sure to install them really high also. Good luck!

i am having the same problem with my 28 month od daughter. Tell me i don't have 2 more years of this! I'm pulling my hair out. If you get any good advice please email me at ____@____.com.

Hi Niki, at this point I am not really sure how to deal with this problem, not touching things is somthing you start teaching them as soon as they can crawl, At 4 you are going to have to lay down some firm discipline, Not touching things that are not yours is one of the first things I taught my babies/kids. I'm sure your daughter does try and help, but they have no power or control over the will of another child. J. L.

I don't have any magic answers, because thankfully at that age, both of my boys weren't doing that. My first thought is wondering whether he's bored? Does he need more structure to his life? Some planned activities....is he in preschool? If not, get him in right away! Also, plan some fun stuff---crafts, nature walks, bike rides, etc., and see if that helps. My next thought is wondering if he's trying to get your attention in any way he can. Children often misbehaive to get attention, as silly as that sounds. Any attn. is better than none or too little, apparently. Try giving him some one-on-one time as often as you can---20-30 min. every day if you can possibly swing that. Sit with him and read him a book, lay down on the floor and play cars with him, build lego's with him. (It's a good idea to try this with all your kids.) Also engage all your kids together in board games (they have good ones even for 4 year olds), lego's, puzzles, crafts. Sitting with them and playing with them does wonders for children's behavior---it gives them warm fuzzies and they love it. If this doesn't help, truthfully, I'd get some professional counselling from a children's therapist. You just may need some parenting help from a professional, but they can also rule out whether something is wrong with your son. (Probably not, but you need to rule it out.) Also, search REALLY HARD to find times when he's playing well and not trashing stuff and sing his praises when you do!!! Good luck!

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