17 answers

Defiant 4 Year Old

My usually adorable son, Conner, has become a bit of a monster lately. I know that it is only a phase, but I need some help getting through it. He attends a home day care while my husband and I are at work. He has gone to "Grandma" since he was five months old and now he is the oldest. Both at Grandma's and at our home, if Conner doesn't listen to a direction (put away your cars, come to dinner, etc) and chooses to continue doing whatever it is that he wants, we give him to the count of three and then he goes to time out. Usually, by the time that he is done, he will immediately comply. The monster part is that he has begun to look smug about doing exactly the opposite of what he should be doing, and will laugh in our face or say, "No". There is NO saying "No" to Mommy or Daddy or to Grandma! That means he goes straight to time out! His defiant attitude has carried over to being agressive at Grandma's. He has begun to spit on the grass, and today he spit at a child. He pulled the shirt of that same child so hard that one of his buttons popped off. This makes me mad at Conner, and embarrassed as the parent of this child! Grandma uses the same time out method that we do, and she is frustrated by Conner's attitude. Whenever we hear about these incidents, we follow through at home with removing some of his favorite toys from the play area and he has to earn them back with good behavior. He cries, and complains, but it still happens with a stern talking about the incident. I am afraid that we may be giving him too much negative attention since we discuss the incident and explain how the consequence is a result of his actions. Whenever he has a good behavior day, I ask him to talk about it, and I pay close attention to him. He gets high fives and big hugs. I don't know what else to do. How do I mold my son back into the sweet boy that he was just a few weeks ago?

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you all for your suggestions. This is a difficult topic, and I received many different types of advice. I am going to sort through all of your insights and mesh together the ones that feel appropriate to me. I am going to start with the sticker chart idea. I am a teacher who works long hours preparing lessons, so, with only two weeks of school left, I'll be able to get home sooner and that should help with the time factor. My homebased business work doesn't start until after Conner is in bed, so that is not the issue. Anyway, I feel comforted by all of you! Thank you very much! :-)

Featured Answers

they call it a phase.. growth...I read somewhere .. 6 months balanced and 6 unbalanced, or something like that.. so just know that it will pass .. and it will

1 mom found this helpful

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Well, this is the way I feel about the whole counting to 3 thing....you've taught him NOT to listen the first time, wait until mommy(or whoever is counting) is at 3 or otherwise angry. Now obviously you can't expect a 4 year old to switch gears when you tell him all the time when you tell him so give him warnings...."Connor, in 5 minutes you have to clean up..."...at the playground or outside I like to give 5,3, and 1 minute warnings followed by a "one more time down the slide" move, and remember he has no concept of time so it could really take you longer but until he can tell time it doesn't matter. This brings me to my next suggestion at around 3 I teach my kids to "tell" time...they don't understand it fully but it's a great tool in parenting...just like at school all your kids know when lunch time is Connor is capable of looking at the clock and reconizing #'s or watching the big hand...so when the clock says 7:00 you can get out of bed(that's a rule in my house) or at 3:30(and I say at three, three, zero...not three thirty...you'll get there after the whole recognition thing catchs on) we have snack...and so on and so forth. My next piece of advice is start talking to him about feelings...would you like it if mommy hit you? no? why not? it would hurt and make you angry? how do you think the little boy at Grandma's felt today when you pushed him? Oh, should you do that, what should you say to him?...and also ask him how you should decipline him if he does it again...odds are he'll tell you he should go to time out, My 4yr old son tells me in tears I hit Wyatt(his younger brother) I don't want to go to time out...but he understands the consequences and follows through. My last thought is 4 is a tough age to big to be little and to little to be big....he's fighting for independance...give him more responsiblities...small chores...make your bed, pick up toys, put clothes away(I fold all my kids clothes and put them on their beds in piles according to what drawer they go in but they all put them away...even my 21month old opens his drawers I hand him his clothes and they go in...not the neatest but in)set and clear his place at the table, clothes in the hamper, sort socks, dust with a swiffer....all things a 4 year old can do. They love to help, they want to help...why not give him what he needs, praise him for it and then it will be automatic as he gets older....4 is tough, I'm on my 4th 4year old with one more to go...they just want so badly to be big...if you treat him older, he will act older... (and have Grandma let him pass out snack and get the outside toys out for the other kids too...) Best of luck!

3 moms found this helpful

I agree with what some of the other responses stated about checking in to see if you can figure out if there was a trigger for this behavior and then address that. If not, if it is just a power struggle what you can try is to give him two choices, both of which you win of course. For example, if you need him to get ready to leave say "Do you want to brush your teeth or get dressed?" If there are no alternatives you can always then ask him "Do you want to clean up or do you want to sit in time out?" Then HE is choosing to sit in time out. I have used this in pre school and it worked. Some were really stubborn and if he doesn't choose, tell him you are going to choose for him if he doesn't choose. It was still sometimes a struggle but it worked most of the time. Good Luck.

2 moms found this helpful

Maybe use some of your teacher tricks and use a rewards system~ positive behavior charts, good notes from Grandma, special treats (whatever that may be~ extra tv time, candy, game w/ dad, etc). I think having a visual/charts may be good for him so it's a concrete thing for him to work towards. He's 4, so he's not a very abstract thinker and may rely on the chart to see how close he is to a reward. Good luck!!!

1 mom found this helpful

I feel for you as a mom of 2 wonderful boys(age14yrs., 13 mths.) I think that Conner is seeking attention. When did you start your home based business? Did Conner's actions start with the start of the business? He might feel like he is not getting enough time with you and children will look for negative attention as much as positive attention. Most children want to see how much they can get away with so they will test you on this. It may just be a stage he is going thru. Have you tried asking Conner why his actions are so naughty? He is the only one who really knows.Good luck with everything and just know you are not alone.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi S.,

I was just reading about this type of issue. I am trying to prepare as my son turns two and my daughter is just four months old. It sounds as though things are getting busier around the house and because of the need for order to get things done he may be feeling a bit left out. A book I was reading was saying to try to hug and show more affection. I am really type A and we have a busy household as well. Sometimes I find myself so focused on getting everything done, I forget to sit down with my kids to read or just play or sing etc. Just try for two or three days, start on a Friday after work, and give five extra minutes here and there throughout the weekend to show him really good one on one time.

If punitive punishment is used too often it will eventually have zero effect. Sometimes I have to really show restraint to not put my son in timeout etc. It can be easier to punish than to figure out the reason, but in the end it is more work!! I am reading Parenting with Grace. It is Catholic based, but honestly there are enough pearls to help you as a mom have a better working relationship with your four year old. I have tried this method with my son and it has helped his negative behavior because I changed my negative response to his behavior.

I hope it helps!

1 mom found this helpful

You have my sympathy. I would suggest less talking, and doing the rest of what you are doing. When you feel embarrased about your son, just remember: We have all been there. Experienced moms are NOT judging you for your child`s behaviour. Anyone who does is not worth worrying about. But we can`t help judging you at least a little for your response. So remain calm, which it sounds like you are doing, and make short declaritive statements:

I do not want you to spit.
Do not pull John`s shirt. It hurts him.

That is all a four-year-old can understand. And perhaps praise for good behaviour hours and minutes in addition to days will help, also in short statements.

Conner, putting on your shoes was helpful. Thank you.
I really like to hear your nice voice.
I liked that you listened to me.

And most importantly: breathe, then speak. This too shall pass and your loving little boy will return. You will simply have to love him through this, which is what it sounds like you are doing.

Don`t take away toys for something he did at daycare. Time out there should be punishment enough. Discipline needs to be pretty immediate for a four-year-old.

When Grandma tells you of his misdeeds, give her some support too by saying: I am so glad we are working together on this. I know how hard it is to stay patient, and am really grateful to you for your help in this difficult stage.

There is a bright side to all this misbehaviour: Your son feels free to test the boundaries because of your good parenting. He is so secure in your love, that he can truly explore who he is and the consequences of his actions. That is rather wonderful, don`t you think?

1 mom found this helpful

My first thought is wondering if he is looking for attention. You say he is the oldest at his daycare, and that you work full time and have started a business that takes time out of the evenings and weekends. Could he be acting out to get more attention? Something to think about.

At 4 he understands rewards and consequences. You could try a calendar with stickers--a sticker before bedtime for every day he goes without a single time out, and "x" number of stickers gets a pre-dtermined desirable reward. We have used this system toward successful: night time toilet training, staying in own bed all night, keeping room tidy, etc.

For nigt toilet training our son went 50 nights dry in a row to earn a $40 Star Wars lego toy. He was really excited about working towards it and told everyone about his goal and his accomplishment. But this only works if the reward is something out of the ordinary and special.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

they call it a phase.. growth...I read somewhere .. 6 months balanced and 6 unbalanced, or something like that.. so just know that it will pass .. and it will

1 mom found this helpful

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