24 answers

Help with My 4 Almost 5 Year Olds Behavior

OH my Gosh, what has happened to my child, I think the devil got re-incarnated in him. My loving child with minor terrible two issues is now four and a half and if i thought the twos were bad the fours are worse. My child is defiant, bossy, disruptive, verbally aggressive, rude arrogant and has this almighty attitude. I have tried one on one time, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, I have screamed and yelled and cried and he just keeps at it. How do I get him to behavior and be the kind loving helpfully little boy that I know he is, what am i doing wrong??? I am lost and feel all of a sudden out of my depth at this whole parenting thing. I am usually the person people ask for help, i am just so tired of arguing with a four year old (maybe that is my mistake) what rational adult argues with a four year old. AHHHHH help me please!

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thanks everyone for the advice. It has been a help just to know their are others who have been through it.

So let me add a few bits of info, I am a special needs teacher with knowledge of autism adhd add etc, my son possibly has adhd, but linked to diet. I guess with his age and with his new sisters we have become a bit lax on diet, I don't like to always be saying no to foods when we are out with friends, so we try to balance it normally, but as late with the stress of two little ones balance doesn't always happen. We are trying to stick to a budget and sometimes finding whole foods can be difficult on a budget when you live in an asian country as we do (expats living abroad). WE don't have access to the same quick easy choices. He does have some food related allergies, not entirely sure of specifics so try to limit preservatives flavours and colours where possible. I have gone back to my strict ways on this. It seems to be helping a bit.

My son is also quite communicative and mature he is also tall for his age, and sometimes i forget that he is only four, my husband and i decided that perhaps we have been giving him too much responsibilities, (although i love the advice of sitting untill the toys are cleaned up if he doesn't want to help, i am going to do that). I do know the 123-magic, but have been inconsistent with it since baby number three arrived. And as things like this seem to esculate we have decided to slow down and focus more on this approach again. He is enrolled in a taekwondo class and I see huge benefits, maybe he could do more than one day a week, he has a lot of energy.

I know we will get there, he is a lovely child just high spirited with boundless energy, I know that. But I guess with a new baby in the house, I am tired and he never slows down. I am a perfectionist and he is a little boy, sometimes the battle of wills is like war, but i am the parent and he is the child. We will get there because he is my angel and i love him and i will be the parent consistent and patient because I owe him that. It has been getting better already. Thank-you everyone!

Featured Answers

Wow, that sounds just like my son, he's ADHD. We put him on concerta & in karate classes to help with his over-energy & disipline problems. It's helped a lot for us, he's still got a "colorful" mouth sometimes, but I put him on the lowest dose possible to help with his focus against the doctors wishes. They wanted to put him on a higher dose but I don't think it's really needed. His mouth I can deal with but the lack of focus is the main problem for us. He's 10 and was becoming a problem in school so we really had no choice. Good luck to you Mama, things will get better soon!!

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C., FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT, STOP YELLING, what you are saying is "when I am mad or frustrated WE yell!) Many children go through frightful fours, instead of terrible two's. Have a calm talk with your child when nothing is going on, ask what is going on and explain, from here on those actions will not be tolerated, walk away when your child is screaming or acting inappropriate, explain you will talk when he is calm, if you are in public, (ie grocery...) 1 warning and you will leave. BE CONSISTANT and CALM! It takes time. Also, this might sound strange, make light of the "almighty" attitude, give him a new nick name, KING ATTITUDE! explain even Kings say please and use their manners! He wants the control and the attention, only give it when his actions are good, try a little dramatics, ie.. EXCUSEEMWA my king, my sensative ears can not understand when your voice is loud, does the king want to go to his dungeon? (his room) Say please and thank you in a new language, make manners fun. If he is having a "bad" moment quietly say wait, we have to try something, "close your eyes, turn around 4 times, and when you open your eyes, you will have a new tude! (attitude) When
his attitude is good, quietly tell him how happy that makes everyone. If he has a good part of the day, say morning, let him choose what he gets for lunch, or surprise him, my kids favorite was peanut butter and bananas with a little whip cream on a piece of bread. You can do it! I am a mother of 5 grown successful kids, have been a childcare provider for 30 years. The most important, be consistant, stay calm. Take care hon K.

1 mom found this helpful

Set limits, talk to him about your expectations calmly and clearly (it is not okay for you to talk to people like that. It is rude. Tell him how he could speak what he is feeling in a more polite way)
set a good example and don't over react
Don't let him get you all riled up
have logical consequences for bad choices - let him know before hand as much as possible
ex. if you make rude, mean comments you will have to go to your room because we do not want to hear that
Then don't listen to him if he continues, just move him calmly to his room without a reaction to the upset words he's saying, it's not personal against you

You must stay super mommy calm, patient, consistent when insisting on your rules and expectation

Also watching SuperNanny on evening tv to see some ideas put into action

1 mom found this helpful

Wow I can totally relate. My son turned 4 in February and you would think he was the parent. He is bossy, extremely competitive, yells, wants his, rude. It is not very fun to deal with. It does seem worse now then when he was two. His teacher said it is very normal they want to see just how far they can push. Just remember you are the parent and he needs to listen. Try to remain calm and be consistent. I am sure this can't last too long right? I have two older children and I do not remember them going through this. Good luck.

It sounds like you have tried a lot of different methods. I agree with you to stop arguing with a four year old. You are the parent and you will have to really remember that when they are teenagers too. If not arguing and letting him know what the consequence will be for a bad behavior does not work talk with your doctor. If this is a sudden change in behavior make sure there is nothing physically wrong. I say this because my youngest behavior changed for awhile and I was taking the other one to the doctor and told the doctor about the other child's behavior. She looked into his ears and he had double ear infections. No regular symptoms except horrible behavior. When you change your pattern of behavior he will try to manipulate you back to all the things you use to do. Stay strong and follow through. He could just be testing the waters to see what he is able to get away with at this time, too.
Good Luck,
D. O

C., my daughter is almost 4 and we are going through the same thing. She has such a big attitude and uses my "lines" back at me all the time. It's very frustrating...and I really don't know what to do with her either! So, I have no good advice to offer - but you are NOT alone! I think it's a normal stage they go through at this age to test their boundaries and flex their independant muscles a little. I think consistency is the key, and they will eventually calm down and continue to feel safe and secure knowing that you respond the same way to them each time they act up. Best of luck!

I cetainly feel your pain. I have a similar issue with my son. His seems to come and go in spurts. We will hit a rough patch of a few weeks where he tells me I am an evil mom and that he is going to call the police and tell them I am mean because I put him in time out. He can be very challenging for me because we seem to have a misunderstanding in that he thinks he and I are equals.

But, these rough patches never last forever and I have come to realize that when I am fighting him tooth and nail, day after day and feel like all I do is yell!!! It is usually him responding to how I AM ACTING! When I get bent out of shape, he feeds off that and we do battle. He doesn't have this issue with his father. He never even questions the man. Which can be frustrating.

I am in the same boat, and like you I am learning as I go and I just pray it's a phase. I am sure it is. It has to be. Right? God, I hope so. So I guess my advice is to take a deep breath and count to ten and remind him that you love him even when you aren't getting along.

Good luck and it will get better.


I had this problem with my now 14 year old. I told him that he's being left out of family activities and he'd lose his turn to go to the store with me for acting out of line. You have to be diligent and although it's hard, you just have to put up with the screaming. As long as he's not hurting himself or others in his fits. He's wanting attention, good or bad. You have to set an example because the other little ones will eventually pick up on his actions and do it too. I also would make the kids sit and watch me clean up if they wouldn't do it themselves. I would tell them once if they would help we would get it done faster and they can go back to playing. I just had a hard time with 3 boys close in age all not wanting to do something because it wasn't their turn.

You've answered your own question! Don't argue, don't reason, etc. Just say this is it, end of conversation. I have a hard time doing that, but DH is the King of it with our 7 yo son. It works!

Also, be consistant with your punishment, repremands, praises, what ever you're using.

Yes, it's all hard, but you can do it! Good Luck!

I feel for you! The advise you've gotten is good. Its so important to stay calm! And soooo hard. It really seems to make the difference. And staying consistent. There were times I put myself in the time out. I'd say "I'm getting angry at (this behavior) and I might lose my temper at you, so I'm going in my room for 5 minutes. When I come out we're going to solve this problem". At the very least it gave me a chance to calm down. Kind of freaks them out at first, too. Language makes a big difference, too. Like, "Cut it out" doesn't seem as effective as "You need to stop doing that now". At least with my kids. Its like I'm going down to their level and they smell vulnerability! I don't know if you watch TV but Jo on Supernanny has some really effective techniques. I like to watch it and assure myself I'm not as bad as those people!

Wow, that sounds just like my son, he's ADHD. We put him on concerta & in karate classes to help with his over-energy & disipline problems. It's helped a lot for us, he's still got a "colorful" mouth sometimes, but I put him on the lowest dose possible to help with his focus against the doctors wishes. They wanted to put him on a higher dose but I don't think it's really needed. His mouth I can deal with but the lack of focus is the main problem for us. He's 10 and was becoming a problem in school so we really had no choice. Good luck to you Mama, things will get better soon!!

I would imagine that the changes he's been through over the last 14 1/2 months have something to do with his behavior. Adding two younger siblings can throw them completely off. Sounds like you have tried everything I would have suggested though so not sure what else to say but remember YOU are the adult and are the one in charge. I've used this one a lot with my kids. I get tired of the arguements and the hissy fits and say "You are the child, I am the adult. I am the boss and I will win every time so keep pushing and the consequences will start coming." and then when they keep going - you have to start giving out the consequences - which sucks becuase more often than not - it screws up YOUR plans - not theirs so much! I was working at one of my 13 year olds - trying to get her to stop saying shut up. I HATE those two words! I explained why I didnt' want her to say it and she continued and then acted all sorry. I finally said "Ok - enough sorry's. Words don't mean much anymore - you've used them to much. Now it's going to cost you. $1.00 each time you say it. When she racked up $8.00 in a couple days time I said - "At $10.00 - you clean the downstairs toilet. AT $15.00 you clean BOTH toilets!" It was less than 2 days later she was at $15.00. She tried to argue with me but she gave in quite easily and cleaned both toilets. I have to say - haven't heard those words come out of her mouth since!!! :) I figured - why not make her do the worst job in the house for saying the meanest, rudest words there are!!!!
edit: I agree with Gail. I have used the 123 magic and it works like a charm!!!!! There's no arguements then becuase you've already set things out for them and they know the expectations and the guidelines. Remember - children WANT boundries - they want to know what they can get away with and what they can't. At 4 years old - the only way they can figure that out is to push the lines and then see what happens...

As far as Deanna S says - I am raising my kids in a christian home and I'm sorry - but there are times when taking the nice way and just hugging and loving them doesn't work. I would have to guess she has never had a difficult child. They do exist in MANY forms. If you have a child who seems to have oppositional defient disorder - no amount of hugging and loving and "nice" talk works. Stern voice, boundries talked about before pushing and consistancy with a healthy dose of love is about the only way you can stay sane!!!

I do have to say though - I agree with those who suggest checking all medical reasons first. Maybe he has a form of autism. It's so hard to diagnose! I have a friend who was just diagnosed a year ago - she's in her early 40's!!! It's no wonder she's a little "off" - but we love her anyway. Just doesn't seem to fit in but we've learned to overlook those things and now - it all makes sense. Now we know we just have to be straight up with her.


well I was going to tell you to try Super Nanny, but someone already has. Not try her as in have her come to your home, but use some of her techniques.
There is no arguing with a child, your the parent and that's that. You make the rules and enforce them, your child needs to know that thee are punishments for going against what mom and dad say.
Be firm and consistant and loving.

Good luck


I just purchased the book 1-2-3 Magic by Dr. Thomas Phelan for my bossy, unruly, stubborn 4 year old. Get it, it works like a charm on children of all ages.

Dear C., Life and death are in the power of the tongue, no matter what, you must speak out life, he is on loan to you C., love him no matter what, not one negative about who he is what it seems to be that he is doing, I think the devil got reincarnated in him, if this is coming out of your mouth you surely will have it as you say, C., God is real, and so is his word, I never call my kids names even now, I never tagged them as anything but the very best, like my Kenneth & Matthew, I would always tell my boys they had the strength of Samson, or the Wisdom of Solomon, they have a great kids bible thats in cartoon form, I would read these stories to them all the time. You must sit this little precious boy down on your lap , and tell him how much you love him, even when he is acting out bad behavior, you must stop what your doing when it seems to be a bad time, give him your full attention, I see you doing things while talking to him, busy busy, Stop every time and address him, he is trying to tell you something and your arguing with him, stop and listen,sit him down, to find out what he is trying to say and sit down with him. I pray wisdom into your life C.. Blessings


My kids absolutely love their video game time. If they misbehave (which has been known to happen every so often) they get the video games taken away and they are sent to their room until they settle down and act appropriately. All three of my boys are ODD, two are Aspbergers so I know what you're dealing with. Find what's most important to him and take it away combined with sending him to his room if he's going to be verbally or physically abusive. Give it back to him if he acts appropriately for a certin amount of time. Every time you have to take it away make it a little longer before he gets it back. He'll come around, I guarantee it. Just stick to your guns and keep your cool. You blowing up at him only fuels his bad behavior. He's learning from you the proper way to react in different situations. Show him what you want to see instead of what you do see. Good luck - S.

Is there anything that is really important to him? I know my own son went through a phase where he was really difficult to deal with, and at the time, he was really into molding clay figures, so it would drive him crazy if I just took away his clay for 5 minutes or so at a time for infractions. I'd tell him, You can get it back if you behave for 5 minutes.... and he'd be a perfect little angel, because he couldn't bear to be parted from his clay. If you can find something that your child can't stand to be without, and then give it back, a little at a time, for good behavior, that can work wonders. For my daughter, it was those Russian nesting dolls--the ones where the tiny little ones fit inside the ones just a little bit larger. I'd start by taking away the very smallest one. You wouldn't even know it was missing to look at the doll, but it drove her nuts, knowing that the tiniest one that was supposed to be inside there was gone. Another infraction meant the next size up had to go. A long enough time of good behavior got a doll back. And don't raise your voice and scream. It's a great way to let off steam for you, and lord knows I've done it--just tonight, in fact, and now they're 11 and 9. But it does nothing for discipline, in my experience. Just keep a calm voice, stay in control, make a plan, and stick to it. The important thing is to find something that's going to get to them. It really has to be individualized. Obviously, taking away clay or Russian dolls won't work for every child. You just have to find what's important to your kid, and use it. Not in a mean way, but in a way that will improve their behavior. And it has to be coupled with the reward of getting back whatever was taken away, plus maybe something additional, if they are particularly good. I just know that the traditional "time out" and "go to your room" have never worked for me. It has to be more of a custom fit. Think about your kids and what's important to them, and what you can actually follow through with. And *follow through with it*.

Watch a few episodes of Super Nanny! he-he. Yes, I'm making a joke but I'm also pretty serious. The techniques she uses with the parents and kids DO work but you have to be consistent.

When your son is in a listening state of mind, take him aside and tell him straight forward, "These are the rules of this house". Write them out or print them out on your computer and hang them on the refrigerator or somewhere he can see them all the time. Even if he can't read yet he can still see that being in print is serious business.

Tell him, "These are the rules and if you break the rules, you will get punished (time out, toy taken away, no TV time, etc)." And then stick to the plan. Keep with it. Personally I think time outs work best but ONLY if you stick to it. And make sure when you're speaking to him or reprimanding him that you're squatting down, looking him in the eye, and letting him no that you mean business. You're the boss, not him.

Good luck. This phase will pass soon I hope and you'll get your loving boy back but remember, YOU have to work at it.


You're right. Aruging with a 4 year old won't help. It doesn't get any better when they turn 7.

Have you tried telling him you won't talk/respond to him until he's being nice. I don't know if it will work, but it seems you've tried everything else. It worked with our son.

Lovely name!
OK you have a couple of choices here. One will take perserverence big time. And that is to find a time out spot, put him there at the moment he does something unacceptable, keep putting him back there if he gets out. And you go about your stuff, not speaking to him etc. When he stays for the allotted time, you go back and explain that this is where he will be when he does any of the following. Maybe post rules here and there so that he sees you mean business. After he's 'served his sentence', big hug time.
OR don't even give him the time of day. He's trying to get your attention. You don't have to play his game. You're the one in charge.
Good luck. It isn't easy, but we didn't sign on for easy when we got pregnant.

Hi C.....
I'm sorry your experiencing this with your child. I went through this myself, but my son has aspergers and an oppositional defiance disorder. I would speak to your pediatrician, maybe your child has a food allergy your not aware of, perhaps a sensitivity to something... then if things don't work out on the medical end. Your welcome to email me ____@____.com, son goes to for therapy at New Oakland in Livonia. My son was just days from being placed into an inpatient psych care program and these folks not only kept him out of that situation but really helped change him. My son was physically abusive to me and other things to long to explain here.
I found that time outs only gave him time to think up the next destructive thing he could do... and corporal punishment <spanking> only resulted in him turning around and smacking me in the face or biting me. I got creative and did chore punishment. I have 8 oak trees in my yard... I do acorn pickup in the fall, where he has to fill a shopping bag full of acorns... or raking... in the summer its other things.. Keep your childs hands and brain busy by punishing them with something to do that they find unpleasant. He's never filled a bag full of acorns, but it got out all of his agression and anger in a safe manner in my fenced in yard... and got him away from me for a few so I could gather my head too.
I hope this helps... and good luck!

You cannot argue with a 4 year old, You have to find some kind of discipline that works...makes the child upset enough...where they will want to stop, and just keep at it, keep at it is the biggest key, if it' s time outs from things they like to do, a naughty chait, even if away you can say they have earned time in the naughty chair, but then do it at home!!, you HAVE to be consistent with it, it is so important, that is the only way they will respond to it, otherwise they will see they can push the limits and nothing happens to them, mommy just gets all upset but we're ok!!
good luck!
i don't know if you'd be intterested but raising kids god's way, a christian book, shows biblical principles on how to manage kids, or....lol watch super nanny!!

The Half ages are really really hard. This age is full of discovering new skills cognitivly and physically. Jean Piaget a child psychologist from way back who mapped out child development said that children go through stages of equilibrium and disequilibrium. during equilibrium the world is hunky dory the child understands everything he is capable of understanding and can do everything that he wants to (physically) This means a happy child who is content in his world. On the other hand disequilibrium is a stage in which the child is learning new skills (social, cognitive, and physical) and tends to be confused,frustrated, and acts out. As the new skills are mastered the child moves back into equilibrium.

Guess when disequilibrium occurs most often....half ages.

I found that when my children are in disequilibrium it makes life a lot easier if I don't argue with them, I don't punish them (unless they repeatedly do something unsafe) I offer a lot of Help, a lot of Hugs, and an absolutely safe place for them to grow and learn and test out their new skills. I'm firm with them without shaming them or making them feel badly about themselves (people who feel bad, act bad)

Good luck...I know it's hard when you're in the thick of it but it will get easier.

I used to joke that three year olds were why someone invented preschool and 5yos are why there is Kindergarten -- to increase the childhood survival rates.

5yos are exploring 'who am I' again, much the same way 2.5yos do, and it takes about 6 months of disequillibrium for them to generally be back the way they used to be.

Yes, arguing with anyone over the age of 2.5 is a waste of time, their verbal skills are too well-developed and you will lose (thank you, Barbara Coloroso!)

Most of this anti-social behaviour is best dealt with my ignoring it. Hard, but worth the effort. He is mostly trying to exert his own power and when he sees that 'this' (whatever behaviour) works to do that, it will increase in frequency. When 'this' behaviour doesn't work, it will diminish on its own.

For an excellent overview of why all the arguing, punishing, threatening, negative reinforcement, etc., don't work (and will never start working), read Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parentning. It may save your sanity. It will certainly increase the peace in your home.

Hi--if you can find a "Love and Logic" class in your area - usually the public schools offer it, TAKE IT. Drag, if necessary, your husband as well. You will not regret the few hours.

It was a lifesaver for us --same issues with my step-daughter. I became sane, and got a really great child in the process. It really didnt take long either, once we, the parents, started doing things a different way. :)

good luck!

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