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Advice on Dealing with Strong Personality 4 Yr Old Boy

I am looking for some advice on disciplining my 4 year old son. He has what I consider a very strong personality. We have tried time-outs and he laughs at them. We have tried earning and losing marbles based on behavior and then redeeming them for computer time, tv time, a special treat, etc. that works a bit. But he throws terrible fits, screams no at me and is just defiant and sometimes mean. He is a sweet boy too and can be a good listener but only when he wants to. Has anyone dealt with a very strong personality in a child? Does anyone know any books that might help me? I don't have these problems with his older brother. Please share. Thanks!

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James Dobson has a book called "The New Strong Willed Child" and it has been so helpful!! My now 5.5 year old has MUCH better days because of the way this book has changed me :o)

2 moms found this helpful

Have you ever read The Explosive Child? My middle son was like that. It could be that he is dealing a little bit with the jealousy of having a new sister, but In my experience, even if he is having a hard time with a new sister, the intensity of the behavior is something to look at. With my son, I later realized that he was anxious and would get obsessed with something, and could not work his way out of it. Once he's in the anger, it's hard for them to come out of it. There's also a book called the CPS (Collaborative Problem Solving) method, by Ross Greene. Don't get nervous, it is geared toward kids with more severe problems, but it's a behavioral modification program that is good for every kid. It's aimed at intervening before the situation has gone too far, before he's lost in the anger. I wish I had it when my kids were younger.
Hope that helps,
L. Gross
Education Advocate/Consultant

1 mom found this helpful

If I am right I think there is a book that is called How to have a better child by Friday it was really good for this type of head strong boy.

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I've soooo been there! I really liked the book, "10 Days To A Less Defiant Child". You can get it at Amazon or any bookstore. It gave me a whole new insight to my child, as well as some great techniques to improve his behavior and our relationship. I hope you check it out. Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful

There is a website called www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com that i think has some good tips.

Since your older boy isn't like this I wonder if your 4 year old has a bit of the "middle child" syndrome.

Are you really consistent with him? Or do you let him get away with stuff sometimes, and then try to discipline at others?

I think with strong-personality kids they need a lot of consistency and firm boundaries otherwise they are like wild horses and will take whatever reign you give them and wreck havoc.

2 moms found this helpful

I have an almost 4 year old like this! The 2 books that I use are The New Strong-Willed Child by James Dobson and Recipes of Parenting by Sandy Spurgeon McDaniels. The second is a great one. She also has a webpage: parentingsos.com. Her minute drill has worked for me with my son when nothing else did and it keeps me from getting angry and frustrated.
Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful

James Dobson has a book called "The New Strong Willed Child" and it has been so helpful!! My now 5.5 year old has MUCH better days because of the way this book has changed me :o)

2 moms found this helpful

You sound just like my friend Courtney. Oddly enough she ended up trying an ayurvedic nutritionist after nothing else worked and her son is like a new person. He is happy and no more tantrums. Jack was having all kinds of problems acting out in preschool and they have also resolved themselves. It was all food allergies.

2 moms found this helpful

Sounds like you have a little leader on your hands! Some kids are just wired to be leaders and have a more difficult time when they have to obey or conform.

I HIGHLY recommend the book, "You Can't Make Me (but I can be persuaded)" by Cynthia Tobias. She is a genius when it comes to dealing with strong willed kids. This book completely changed my relationship with my then 2 1/2 year old. Now instead of battling constantly, we agree, we work together and she is a delight to be with. She is now 4.

What I like about this book is that it gives concrete ways to positively interact with your child so that you both get what you want. No yelling, certainly no physical aggression of any kind is necessary and no nagging.

I noticed that several people suggested James Dobson's book "The Strong Willed Child." I read his book, too, and found that Tobias' book was WAY more helpful. Dobson's book was too heavily religiously slanted for my tastes, with not many concrete suggestions, just a lot of religious anecdotes. Not terribly helpful.

Best of luck to you and your precious son!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi S.,

I am a mother of five children from college to a 4 and a half year old VERY strong willed and exuberant little girl.
When you described how your son laughs at time outs and throws terrible fits you could have been describing my little one.
With this one it is very different than the other 4 I have raised. She is definitely with out a doubt my challenge.
She is extremely creative and can be sweeter than all of the others combined, but I really don't think strong willed is a strong enough word to describe her.
I have found that spending one on one time with her is helpful, healthy food with little to no sugar, but most importantly follow through. I know that when you are tired and emotionally at the end after a long day it is much easier said than done. However it has been my best tool.
I would highly recommend the book "back in control" written by Gregory Bodenhamer. It really isn't a very good name and gives the wrong impression, but I have found it to be extremely helpful in giving me tools to disciplining with love and effective wording that works. It is short, simple and it truly changed my life as a mother. I only wish I would have known about this years ago.
I hope this is helpful to you.


1 mom found this helpful

My 11 year old son was very strong willed and stubborn at 4. Time outs did not work with him. A few things did work. When he became out of control and in a rage, I would send him to his room for a "cool down". He needed to stay there until he calmed down on his own. It could last 5 minutes or 45 minutes. Another thing my son needed was alone time with me. This is hard when you have 3 kids and are working full time, but it really helped us. See if you can find 1-2 times a week that you can go somewhere with just him. You can go for a walk, to the library, park. It doesn't have to be long, even for just 30-60 minutes where he gets all of your attention. It might be nice to do this with your 6 year old too. Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi S.!

I have two recommendations for your. The first is a book, "Parenting wtih Love and Logic." I don't know the authors, but I read their "Teaching with Love and Logic" and it worked brilliantly, both at home and at school.

The second recommendation is to research the website and books by child psychologist, John Rosemond. He has a very no-nonesense, 1950s approach to parenting that my husband and I have come to value. We've tried many of his techniques and, in general, have adopted his philosophy. A a result our youngest is a reformed, happier, more successful child.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

I'm surprized that you haven't encountered children like your son in kindergarten. But then again he is 4 yrs old and not 5 or 6. Also, there is a new baby to deal with and maybe there is not as much time as there was before for him. Kids are sensitive to that change.
His personality will serve him well as an adult, but I'm sure with lots of love and some techniques like the Nanny
uses will help, she seems to get good results with consistent behaviors on the part of the adults.
Good luck, Deb

1 mom found this helpful

With three children, one a new baby and teaching full time especially kindergarten, you must be exhausted. You seem to have too much on your plate. Take it from a mom who's been there, Is there any way you can share a contract? I'm telling you it's worth it even if it means beans and rice for dinner. There are so many ways to cut corners and your children need you right now. Your son is just letting you know. And if you think four is hard. Wait until 14. All hell will break loose.

1 mom found this helpful

I would suggest "Raising a Spirited Child"

1 mom found this helpful

Have you ever read The Explosive Child? My middle son was like that. It could be that he is dealing a little bit with the jealousy of having a new sister, but In my experience, even if he is having a hard time with a new sister, the intensity of the behavior is something to look at. With my son, I later realized that he was anxious and would get obsessed with something, and could not work his way out of it. Once he's in the anger, it's hard for them to come out of it. There's also a book called the CPS (Collaborative Problem Solving) method, by Ross Greene. Don't get nervous, it is geared toward kids with more severe problems, but it's a behavioral modification program that is good for every kid. It's aimed at intervening before the situation has gone too far, before he's lost in the anger. I wish I had it when my kids were younger.
Hope that helps,
L. Gross
Education Advocate/Consultant

1 mom found this helpful

I have found that too much reasoning leads to this type of behavior and eventually a picky personality. Also, giving him too many choices leads to him believing that he's equal to you/grown. There is no way he should be telling you no. At such a young age directions should be short and to the point without so much reasoning.Do you question your boss when he asks you to do something at work? If you work outside of the home I'm sure your boss doesn't try to reason with you because he knows that you already understand what you need to do and why, you either do it, or there is consequences. He laughs at timeouts because there is more conversation than consequences. My 4 year old absolutely does not like timeouts and will immediately straighten up if he's headed for one because he can't do his favorite things afterwards.
It's not about timeouts,that's just a time to reflect, it's what you do afterwards. We have what's called a behavioral waiting period. He has to do something constructive during this time. Than the fun free play is resumed once behavior improves and was talked about and a deal was made. The consequences by all means have to match the level of misbehavior. If too light, he won't take it seriously. If too harsh, he will emotionally or physically retaliate by being mean/like he thinks you may have been towards him. Children often mirror the parents. The magic age is 9 for a child's personality to chrystalize, you've got some time with this one.

1 mom found this helpful

My oldest boy was very challenging to parent and I was helped by the book "Tranforming the Difficult Child' I can't remember the author, but I do remember that even though not all the little tricks and tips were effective with him, the overall perspective that the book gave me was very helpful. It shows the parents the child's perspective, how getting in trouble often makes them feel they can never get anything positive from their parents because they can't be "good" long enough. It gave some ways to make sure that child got the positive love an attention he needed, then went into consequences for misbehavior, etc. He is 19 now and a Cadet at West Point, so I must have done something right. I remember feeling at times that the book was my lifeline. All the best to you, hope you got some good answers.

1 mom found this helpful

Try toy time-outs. Or just take them away, period.
Even if there is nothing left in his room.

OR, instead of asking him a question (what do you want to eat?) just give him a CHOICE of only 2 things. ie: "do you want chicken or a sandwich?" Sometimes kids are just given too many choices and they are over-stimulated. This is enough to tweak their moods and patience, and make them cranky and spin out of control. They simply are not mature enough yet to handle all the decision making or choices...so sometimes these kids need more structure.

OR, sometimes, there is simply too much expected of a child... and in turn, a child will act this way. At such a young age, they simply do not have any "coping skills" and so what appears as a "tantrum" could also be just a child spinning out of control because they can't handle whatever stress or pressures they are having.

OR, some kids act this way simply because they want more attention. Or they feel that no one is 'hearing' them and really listening to them. They feel left out.

Next, try getting a book on "spirited children"
Also, the book "Your 4 Year Old" is good... you can get it from www.amazon.com

Kids need direction and boundaries. But it has to be consistent. Sometimes, "reward" systems and time-outs do not work with some children, because it can be manipulated and they know that after a couple minutes, it goes back to square one. Thus, it is pointless.

For my daughter, who can be spirited and is very intelligent...she can dodge and debate anything like as though she were an attorney. But she is ALSO very caring and sensitive & empathietic..and has much awareness. So, this is the part of her that I focus on with her. With her, the incentive charts and reward things do not work. It's a joke to her. So, what I do is give her other incentives...ie: "CHOOSE the voice you use... if you stop screaming and choose another voice, Mommy will play a game with you...." or, "You can yell... or you can calm down. Which is it?" (of course the yelling is chosen), so then I say "Okay... " And then I leave the room and ignore her, while keeping an eye on her out of the corner of my eye. THEN I tell her: "when you feel better... Mommy is right here." Then I just read a magazine or something and try not to seem irked about it. THEN...if you leave a child be and per their maturity... they WILL DEFLATE ON THEIR OWN. Then when my girl does deflate....we talk about it... and she sits on my lap and she apologizes and we hug etc. But I then don't "nag" her about it again. EACH ti me she does this yucky mood thing... I react the same way. OR, I make a sign and stick it up on the wall... it says "quiet time." Or, I tell her if she wants to yell/scream its fine... but do it in her room. Her room is the 'safe zone" and she can yell all she wants in there....BUT WE ARE A FAMILY AND WE DO NOT TAKE IT OUT ON OTHERS. Period. That ALL people get grumpy, even adults... but we do NOT take it out on others. And we always encourage her to "TRY YOUR BEST...." It does not have to be perfect...but just try your best.

Next, my daughter usually gets this way when she is either tired or hungry. If both of those biological needs have been filled...then she is just feeling cantankerous. So amongst TEACHING her about emotions/feelings and about being a family... we also realize that EVERY human being has bad moments and grumpy moments... but some things are just not acceptable. IF my daughter is this way because she is not feeling well, something happened, she is sad etc., then we talk about it. We ALWAYS make sure... to emphasize communication and ALLOW HER to tell us how she feels....without judging her. *As parents, sometimes we have to be aware that sometimes WE are the "problem" and our kids can be frustrated at us too. Not just a one way street. So we have to facilitate that and problem solve it. For example: my daughter does not do well when I "rush" her for anything... and then she can become real fussy! So I learned that about her.

What you want to also do, is teach him "empathy" and responsibility for his feelings.

The thing is, with any boundaries a child receives, they WILL at first rebel and yell more. So be it. You have to ride it out...then as they learn that there is a DEFINITE consequence to their behavior, then they will deflate. OR, if they learn that their yelling/screaming gets them NO reaction or "attention", then they will learn that too. And for some kids, this is enough for them to stop their outbursts.

Instead of giving attention to his 'bad' behavior, give attention to his "positive" behaviors. Sometimes, you just have to flat out ignore them in the midst of a tantrum and then let them flail/yell/scream, and they will deflate on their own... AND realize that Mommy or Daddy will not come running. Sometimes I just tell my girl "go in your room and you can scream there. When you are done you can tell me how you feel." In this way, she becomes "responsible" for her feelings... and why she feels that way, why she was screaming and how to then deflate herself and then that Mommy will be there for her, afterward.

By this age, they can be taught to manage and understand their emotions. So, they must learn that. BUT, I highly feel that Parents need to learn what they are doing that "triggers" their child's tantrums/yelling as well. It's usually always about what kids are doing that "we" don't like... but sometimes, the kids are just reacting to "US" and what they don't like about us, either.

Each child is unique. Find out what makes your child really tic. Cue into him. Perhaps he is not fulfilled somehow. Not all methods will work for all kids. See what will make your son 'respond' in an acceptable way.

All the best,

1 mom found this helpful

I had a hard time dealing with my son when he was between 3 and 4. He had a very strong personality and did laugh at certain threats. He did not laugh, however, when the threats were not empty threats, but actualized. Time out, no TV (which he didn't get during the week anyway, as I wanted him to use his imagination), a certain favorite toy taken away, or the ultimate, no desert... Always has an effect when the parents are consistent.
I also found that for that to happen, my husband and I had to be completely in sync, and always agree, at least in front of him. Getting angry or upset at the child doesn't work, it only hurts everyone and shows the parent's helplessness. But keeping calm, stating the time out or whatever else and go through with it... does work. I used to do a time out several times a day. Remember when they're one or two and you have to say "don't touch this", "don't do that", "don't climb there", like, every 5 seconds? It's not pleasant, it's hard work... So it's the same now, because it's hard and exhausting doesn't mean you don't have to do it, or you're doing it wrong... It just means it's hard work, and now's the time to do it in a consistent way, that shows everyone YOU're in charge, not your beloved boy. May I also add that, as some of the other (great) replies suggest, while it's important to be consistent and make sure discipline is enforced, it's also important to give the child special time just for him... I did notice that if our son did not get this at certain hours, he would throw fits later on in the day, and that was his way of showing his frustration. That does not mean bad behaviour should be accepted (it should never be), but that it can also help to research what can be done different in terms of quality time. At the end of the day, all our hard work pays, when "strong personality" evoles into a boy who knows what he wants, but also knows boundaries, you'll have done more for his lifelong hapiness than anything else.
(PS: For very specific tips, I suggest watching Super Nanny...)

1 mom found this helpful

If I am right I think there is a book that is called How to have a better child by Friday it was really good for this type of head strong boy.

We liked "Setting Limits with your strong willed Child". It was an easy fast read. I thought I would never have time to read, but got through it fast as I was excited to put it to work.


Good luck, these are trying times.

Absolutely check into Susie Waltons Redirecting Childrens Behavior class. There is also a workbook. You could also call her for a personal session. She is located at Indigo Village in Encinitas. Awesome, awesome class. She also as one for teenage behavior. Start now and you will have fewer problems later.

Hi S.,

I have a very challenging child who is 6 yrs old. We adopted her from CHina as a baby. She has been diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) We went to counseling for therapy for the RAD but we are still dealing with the ODD.

There is a book called, The Strong Willed Child" that was helpful. I am a teacher too and sometimes it is so frustrating to be able to control a classroom full of kids but not your own. My daughter also has a sweet and loving side but when she wants to be bad, she can really be bad. Especially in public.

My advice is get as much help as you can before he starts school. We are going thru some problems with her classmates so you will want to nip it in the bud asap.
Good luck!

I have a very strong willed daughter who was the same way at 4. So were a couple of her friends. So it is not unusual. She also could be very mean. So my husband and I just stood firm with her. If she was mean, she got time out and when she scream and through a fit during it she usually got sent to bed until she calmed down and could apologize. What really worked for my daughter was taking away the things she liked for a period of time. She lost her my little ponies for over a week one time. That got her attention faster than earning points. Once she did lose a priviledge/toy she could earn it back a day or two early if she had good behavior. Once we took away horseback riding lessons, she lost dance class once and she missed going to a book fair because of her behavior. The good news is that it has calmed down some since she turned 5. She is more reasonable and not quite as mean. One of my friends told me 4 was the worst age and when her daughter turned 5 it was like someone flipped a switch.

Hang Strong with him. If you give in, it only gets worse.

Hi S.,
I can recommend a few great books for you. First, "The Strong Willed Child" by Doctor James Dobson, as well as "Creative Discipline" by Lisa Whelchel. Also, although I don't agree with the book entirely "Parenting Using Love and Logic" has some good ideas.

There is a very old book called "God, the Rod, and your Child's Bod". You don't have to agree with all that is in there, but the clear, concise reasoning is very good. No debates, just clear actions = consequences in a calm manner. My oldest (now 22) was very strong willed, so I know how tough this can be.

Recognize his good behavior and praise him. Try to get him to help you around the house with tasks such as sweeping, measuring for cooking, folding clothes, etc. Also the Magic 1-2-3 system seems to work for us. Spend 1:1 time with him doing things he enjoys. Maybe his strong personality is just an attention seeking behavior.

Best of luck,

I had to reply...my son is now 5, and let me tell you, the terrible 2's had nothing on the friggin' 4's. I have 3 kids, of course my "strong willed" child is the middle child ( I now truly believe birth order says something). For me, nothing really works, but there are some things that help.

food. healthy, and lots of it. I always have tons of fresh fruit. Keeping hunger at bay helps.

personal attention. him and me 1 on 1. another mom posted about her son and individualized attention and physical contact. she hit the nail on the head. we don't hit. I have, and it didn't help. And, since i am trying to stop the physical aggresion, I figure I shouldn't do it either.

stringent on rules. What I say GOES! So, if i have told him that he needs to get in the car, now, or we will not go to the park. he doesn't listen, no park. but, it goes the other way too. If he can behave while I am grocery shopping we will go to the park after. This can back fire, so don't threaten anything to drastic, or something you want to do.

okay, this can help. but, truly solving the problem...i haven't found a solution. Good luck.

S., please, parent your child not discipline him. He needs a teacher and a guide, be that for him.

Before I begin, I will tell you that I am a retired Special Needs School teacher. I have worked with an studied children and family dynamics for over 20 years.

You can hear what I say or not, you are the parent and you get to choose.

So what causes the "terrible fits" or when he "is mean"? (I will tell you honestly that it breaks my heart for you to say your 4 year old is mean)

Is he tired? Are you? As an educator you know that his environment (including the people he is associating with) is just as much of a trigger to behavior as anything else.

What does he eat? Is he getting the proper nutrients first thing in the morning? If you are feeding him anything other than protein, carbs and fats in the AM he really can't be expected to behave well throughout the day.

What triggers the "fits"? Being 4 he can not yet truly regulate himself, but you can. Watch what is going on for him. Be the guide that he needs to control behaviour.

Time-outs....I never really understood what the purpose was, imagine if you were having a bad day and your boss said "ok S., go sit over there an think about what you have just done". Two things usually happen, you get the needed rest and come out fresh (and sometimes fighting) OR you sit there and think about what you have done and think of a better way to to it next time so you don't get caught.

The marbles works because he understands the basic principles of have and have nots. Have you tried JUST GIVING marbles. Allowing him to only EARN based on the behaviour you want to see. When you take the marbles away, you are still rewarding him (you may think it is a negative reward but really think about it) he still gets mommy's attention, time and one on one experience. A reward is a reward.

Wow, sorry I don't like giving long replies... if you want to chat more, feel free to email me.

B., B.A,:B.Ed
Family Nutrition Coach

i have a strong personality yonger son as well. considering how i prided myself on being a good parent with my first one, having a challenge with my second was not easy. fortunatly, it all ended when we went for eczema treatment. his homeopath prescribed "whole body" remedy that not only took care of eczema, but also made him better child. here is her email: ____@____.com
Mary Grace at the office ###-###-####
Good Luck

Get rid of the TV, and keep computer away- feed him only nutritious food, and read to him.

"All misbehavior is due to unmet needs."
That's what my preschool director told me when my 4.5 yr old son was acting hellish.


That article should help. Spend time with him.

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