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

I have a 5yo boy and a 4 yo girl. I have implemented a "Good Behavior" chart. I will give them a sticker on the chart for all their good listening and behavior. When the chart is full they get pick a treat out of the candy jar....you have to find what works for you as far as the reward. I don't give them candy so this is a great rewar for them. What I like about this method is that I am giving them attention for the good things they do and not just the negative attention when they are bad.
I used to hate whenever we would leave playdates or say it is time for bed and the whining would begin....now I will say who would like to earn a sticker and then tell them their tasks whether it be put on your shoes it is time to go or let's get your pj's on. It really works well. LIke anything else it isn't perfect all the time but I have seen great improvements with it. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

It sounds like something may have happened in these last few weeks, he learned these behaviors from a friend at school maybe?? I know my son (who is 4 1/2) will "try" out defiant behaviors on us from time to time and we try to nip them in the bud ASAP with the same time-out technique you are using. I guess I don't have a good fix for you guys, my son is also showing disrespect to adults etc and we try to see where the behavior is coming from and talk about it with our son. That helps, along with time-outs, and clear expectations about what behavior is ok etc. Good luck, and you're right - it is a phase that will pass....
: ) J.

1 mom found this helpful

I have 3 kids, my youngest is now 4, so this is my 3rd time in the 4's. I find it harder that 2 or 3. It is a normal developmental phase to test boundaries, just like it is at 2, except they are a little more mature. Kids are trying to figure out who they are, and assert their independence, this is part of it. I have found with all 3 of them, that a reward chart works the best. I pick one behavior I want to eliminate and put a sticker on a chart for everyday they do not do it. At the beginning they get a reward for 2 stickers, then it increases to 3 then 4 stickers and so on. The rewards I use are small at the beginning and larger at the end. So maybe a balloon or a new matchbox truck, building up to a new book and at the end it's usually some kind of outing they enjoy. It has worked with all 3 of my kids, but it takes patience. With your loving structure, he will get through this and still be a good kid. Before you know it he'll be off to school and I'm sure he'll get good reports from teachers. Mine always behave well at school, even if they don't at home I know they are learning something from us at home! Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

i feel your pain! my 4 yr old daughter is doing the same thing. she laughs at me sometimes when i discipline her. it's so frustrating. i use the 1,2,3 method also. it takes these little guys a few more seconds for it to register what they are supposed to be doing. and yes, alot of times they just ignore us. one of the tools i use is a kitchen timer. if i say we are eating dinner in ten minutes, i set the time for about 6 minutes and when it goes off it's time to sit down. give a little extra time to actually sit down. the time outs in this house are not working anymore so i've up the ante and she was not allowed to go to soccer yesterday because of misbehaving. i had been threatening for about a week that if she didn't behave she wouldn't be able to do fun things so i had to follow through. and, yes, it's just a stage and we will have to do our best to get through it. they are not so happy going through it, either. hang in there and remember you are not the only one going thruogh this.

1 mom found this helpful

I think that the "About Me" section sums up the root of your problem. How do you find time to work full time and at home evenings and weekends and still fit in the full time job of parenting? Your son's behavioral issues sound like a cry for attention. Children will get attention in whatever way they can, be it positive or negative. Is there any way that you can cut back on the hours you are working in order to have more time available for the most important job of all? I don't say this to criticize- I ended up quitting my full time job to be at home for my three children. We have had to cut a lot of corners, and it hasn't been easy financially, but the benefits to the children are priceless.

Hi S., Sounds like Connor is going through something akin to the terrible 2's, where they try to show their independence. I have raised 5 and seen it a few times. I could happen again at 7. It sounds to me that you and your family are doing all the right things. Kids can really wear us down but with your persistance I'm sure you will get your good little boy back. I have just one other thought, you said you started a home business, is there anything else going on that he could be reacting to? It sounds like he wants attention and just like a puppy will pee on your curtains they will accept in any way. Something is up and you need to find out what it is. I will say a prayer for you. My best wishes, Grandma Mary

We have the same rule in our house--no saying "no" to Mom or Dad. If my daughters do it, they get a time out. But I've found it's very helpful at the end of the time out to discuss what happened and what they were feeling. I think they're so young that they don't really know how to deal with big emotions. I want my kids to be able to handle conflict peacefully and express their opinions well, so we always take the time afterward to talk about why they were feeling frustrated. Most importantly, we discuss and model and practice the more appropriate way to express their emotions so that they begin to learn how to handle it in the future.

Hi S. B, First of all, please do not be alarmed by this advice. Please talk to your son and make sure no one is causing him any type of harm while he is in daycare. Children act out when they have problems they cannot express. When my daughter was about eight years old, she told me that another little girl at the babysitters house had suddenly turned mean and angry and aggressive toward the babysitter. The little girl was about 10 years old. I just didn't feel right about it. So, that night when I picked up my daughter, I spoke to the little girl privately in another room. She confided to me that the babysitter would leave her alone with her husband while she went out with the other children. This man, as soon as his wife left, pushed the child on the bed and tried to pull her pants down. He would also touch her inappropriately. I took her home with me and called her mother immediately. Of course, the babysitter stuck up for her husband.
Sometimes when we leave our children in other peoples homes, they may have older children or friends that should not be around children. Remind your son about good and bad touch and get him into counseling. Also he may just be mimicking another child's behavior. Hopefully, it is just a phase that will pass. I wish all of you the best.

Hi S.,

First, just like you said; it's frustrating - defiance is a real tightrope; kids need to know what they think, It's a goal to focus them toward positive interactions with others; sometimes a challenge as they explore limits on their interactions with authority figures.

Be sure to have Dad involved in the strategy and him being willing to sit with your son and do Dad's actions as a mentor and role model - Dad's the most effective eye-to-eye authority to positively direct boys on the right application of a boy's will-power. Iti will be a man's will-power soon and needs to be responsible and as wise as possible. Moms can do it when Dads are not around, yet a Dad (or Grandpa or adult role model) works absolute magic when he intervenes in a positive way and by his intervention, he focuses a child, models responsible adult authority behavior, and takes the burden off of Mom.

I have not raised kids of my own- My experience is from having babysat and from spending loads of time with many relatives children and kids in the neighboorhood, often been the one that they "try new things out on". Kids are so fun- they keep my mind open and playful and protect me from being a narrow minded adult, (whiffle-ball in the cul-de-sac is a riot) - I have fun, they have a role model, we sing sitting on the curbs, and it gives mom and dad a breather to know there is adult supervision who cares about their children.

Here's' what I learned: When a good child suddenly starts doing odd or negative things, I point out the behavior and ask the child to do a better alternative ("Hey, Joey, you might hurt the neighbors drain pipe if you throw rocks at it, why don't you play catch with us instead?) (I am brief, honest and not directive unless someone else is getting hurt).

I let their parents know what happened, and if it's been a bad pattern, I ask them to look into three questions that often matter, to get at the source of the behavior and focus on that too. That way the problem doesnt' come back or show up some other way, and I ask how I can cooperate with changing the behavior however the parents perfer.

The question are:

1) is he associating with new (possibly negative) friends or adults recently (or poor value TV/video programs)? since that may be both source and encouragement for the behavior (You name it on influene; defiance and power struggles are only a small part of negative stuff from poor TV and wild friends) and it will have to be changed or stopped before any parent efforts are successful.

2) is there a new stressor in the home like mom or dad just got a new boss or project team or new work hours and schedule change at work, and a parent is accidently modeling or leading and/or rewarding their child's negative behavior? (children are great imitators and reactors) Same as any influence, it will have to be changed before the defiance can be addressed successfully

3) Not as frequent, but totally important to catch- If there is a major attitude or personality change, did he hit his head on something or start eating new food in his diet which is affecting his personality?

The best reference I found on that, especially with baffling personalities in general, is "Change your brain, Change your life" by Dr. Dan Amen. It has checklists that us non-doctors can use, to sort out possible need for medical or diet advice on sustained, anti-social or self-destructive behavior. Sometimes it's a simple change in diet! -like when to have a snack or when to avoid heavy carbohydrates.

For some cases of negative behavoir, the checklists note when something may going on in the medical arena of brain chemistry and needs specific medical or dietary check-out. This is ONLY if the efforts to change negative behavior just don't seem to work or the problem gets much worse.

That's the book that social workers in our county have, to help spot things that may be more than just social adjustment difficulies, for both kids and adults. It gave me a whole new perspective on things that influence difficult personalities, from diet to injuries, and it also helps me stop moodiness or irritablity in my own life right at the start.

I wish you and your son best success. You'll figure out how to help him get through this. He's fortunate to have you catching this and re-directing his skills. He sounds like a leader-in-the-making; your intervention to teach him positive skills to channel his willpower, will benefit himself and his community, for the rest of his life.


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