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How Do I Get My Almost 4 Year Old to Obey Me?

Today I am completely exasperated and at the end of my rope. I tell my little girl not to draw on the wall, and she promptly goes and does it. She'll do things she knows are wrong, then goes and hides under the kitchen table. Help I don't want to be a spanking, yelling mom and I don't know how to respond when she does things that are so annoying (sticking the scissors I just barely used and set down in the jam jar, dropping her hair elastic in her baby sister's porrige when she walks by her high chair...taking the ice cream out of the freezer and sitting under the table to consume it, with her hands...dropping my cell phone into her bath...why does she do all this stuff??? I can't just say "that makes mommy sad" and put her in time out. It's not working. The other day we were at a friend's house for a barbecue and she was alone for 60 seconds after she left the table and when I went to check on her she'd drawn two little pictures on their foot rest that was under the coffee table. Fortunately it's vinyl and I got almost all of it off but help! she so knows that we only draw on paper. Is she just curious and experimenting with the world or trying to be the most difficult kid ever? Another case in point: we're at a friend's house and she has a little magnet board she was arranging pictures on that she'd left leaning against the wall in the living room. Again, out of the room for 2 seconds, I come back and she's taken one of the pictures and just scrunched it all up. Why????? What would possess her to do that? When I start yelling and being mean I see her immediately start treating her little sister poorly. I'm furious with her and that isn't helping either. Any good parenting books that help? I don't have time or energy to work though the thousands that are out there. Thanks!

What can I do next?

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Wow I am a Child Care provider out of my home and have seen many 3/4 year olds doing the same at home. You need to sit clear rules and no minutes out of the room for you. If you need to leave the room take her with you. Explain to her that because of her choices she must stay with you all the time. It will make a difference we other kids are around. She will want to go play and will have to spend time with the boring adults if her behavior isn't better. I have a child in care that makes his mother pull her hair out/ sitting crying because of her sons behavior. He will pee on his bedroom floor for no reason. But in my home he is limited to his bad behaviors because he is under constant watch. When he does make a bad choice we try to catch it and redirect, but if he gets away with it before we have a chance then it is straight to time out. Or the object that he was destroying is removed from him. It becomes an off limits object for him. We do not yell, or hit. We just tell children what we expect, and if they make a mistake we tell them the right thing to do. If you get mad and start yelling they have you on the run. Stay in control of every situation. They do understand what they are doing at this age, so start consequences for bad choices.

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Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years! This book has been VERY helpful for me and my 3.5 year old. I highly recommend it!

Good luck to you!

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My most recent favorite is Love and Logic. Can't remember the author (I borrowed it but need a copy to keep, it's that good).
I have three boys and the oldest is very strong willed, too. I wish I would have realized the link between my angry behaviors and the way he then would lash out at his little brother back when they were 3 and 1. hang in there and look for a parenting support group if that may help. We can feel so isolated as moms but wer're not alone!

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I had a little girl like that once, and she has grown into an incredibly beautiful, smart, resourceful young woman. SO before I answer, I want to assure you that this, too, will pass (it may feel like a kidney stone, but it will pass!)

I struggled with her, and learned through the years, that with this one, the best consequences are natural consequences. If you color on the wall, you have to clean the wall. And you will not have fun, or do the things you want to do or have what you want to have, until you have at least made an honest effort. If you eat the ice cream with your hands, you can't have the ice cream because you made the whole thing melt (or got germs in it), or no one else can eat it. If she ruins someone else's possession, she must give that to that person and say she is sorry. (She will be embarrassed, especially if you step out of the picture and she has to do it herself).

You're right, it is difficult not to become a screaming meemie (been there too, and it really does not work). You have to consistently get her to begin to think through ... (which is not age-appropriate for a 3 and a half year old, but it's never too early to try) ... "If I do this, what will happen?" If the only consequence she can think of is making you angry, or making you have to clean up after her, then she is getting what she really wants, which is attention from a mom who now has a little sister to tend to, as well.

I hate to tell you mommy, but this is not about you, it's about her. Step out of the picture, try to stop thinking of it as "disobeying," you and start to think of it as, "How can I teach her to live in the world so that she avoids the pain of constantly having to always explain herself, say she is sorry, or make amends?"

Good luck! It's a long journey, but I promise you that one of these days, you will look back on that little girl and know that you took her curiosity and ingenuity and channeled that energy into something great!!!!

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I'm sorry you're having such a trying time. It's certainly not easy being a parent. One can not be lazy or indifferent and raise a well-adjusted child. It takes time and work to learn about your little one and to guide them well. Sometimes our old wounds and fears keep us from trusting our instincts and being the authority our children need. Something that helped me want to discipline my children when they were very young was hearing on a parenting cassette that if I don't discipline my children people won't want to be around them. Of course I wanted my children to be well liked.

I want to take this opportunity to say something to all young moms in general. Do you look into your precious little one's faces and speak to them with love, admiration and respect the way you want your husband to speak to you? Do you take some time with them that's not shared with your friend on the cell phone or the computer, t.v., ipod or other technology? Do you touch them in gentle caring ways? Do you know what they are feeling, what their fears are, what brings them joy? I'm a mother of 3 adults, grandmother of 3, and a former pre-school teacher. Every one of us wants to be known, loved, treasured and we all have ways of acting out when our needs aren't met. We have to have a balance between showing little ones we adore them and giving them the security of boundaries and discipline.

Another great book to consider is the one on the 5 Languages of Love. There's one specifically for parenting.

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My five your old son also misbehaves when he needs a little extra attention. I discipline him because I do not want to reward that type of behavior and then I examine how his past few days or week has been. If we have been running nonstop then I try to designate a night at home with early bed times and a little extra attention. Think back to when this started and if you have been able to give her a little attention that is just hers. I put my 22 month daughter to bed first and then give my son my undivided attention for 15-20 mins. It seems to meet his needs most of the time. I also try to make sure he doesn't get away with anything. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed I am not as consistent as I should be. I just try to get consistent and be firm and loving. Between the extra attention, the night off, and consistent discipline it seems to put out the fire. I hope this helps because I have felt your pain.

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I taught 4-year-olds in AISD PreK classes for 5 years. It sounds like most of your daughter's behavior is attention-seeking. The important thing about behavior is to look for what incites it & try to prevent the inciting incident. (For example, if a child bites whenever a child tries to take a toy from him, you supervise play to intervene if another kid gets grabby). If you think it sounds possible that your daughter is vying for your attention, do everything you can to give her as much POSITIVE attention as you can. Maybe you could even spend some time alone, while the baby is with Daddy or someone else, so she can have you to herself, like it used to be.

And when she does anything you approve of, thank her. Try not to just use generic praise ("Good job, honey" or "What a pretty picture"). Also try to avoid focusing on yourself ("I like how you were so sweet to your sister today.") Instead, use specific encouragement such as "You did it!" or "You're using so many colors in your picture! Tell me about it." or "You were so sweet to your sister today!" And if you are having trouble phrasing things (it's a challenge to change this behavior in ourselves - I've been at it for about 7 years & still hear myself saying "Good job" a lot) then just say thank you. Try to say things as you would say them to an adult. I suggest googling praise versus encouragement. I don't have any specific good resources, but you should be able to find some more examples of this. Whether your daughter's acting out for attention or not, giving her positive attention (vs. yelling and time outs that are not working) will help her to feel accepted and capable of good behavior.

It's also possible that sometimes she just forgets what is appropriate & what is not. Four-year-olds can be so well-spoken and seem so mature - so far from the toddlers they were yesterday. But memory is not fully developed yet, impulse control is still difficult, & they're still babies, really. Granted some of the things you described sound over the top, but try to look at things one incident at a time, & don't let it all pile up in your head til your fuming if some of it is just typical kid stuff.

People will probably recommend incentive charts & such. Be careful that you don't set her up to think she deserves a pay off just for doing the right thing (this can be ok in the short term but should be phased out) & be VERY sure to choose something that very frequently monitors behavior & that you can commit to keeping up with. It's very difficult to do, but to be age appropriate it should be a system that allows her to feel successful, so you want to be giving her a star or whatever every 30-60 minutes, not just at the end of the day (which is very long for a little kid & just sets her up for failure). Also, a reward should be earned quickly, like in a day or two, not a week or two.

My last bit of advice is what I feel is most important. From what you described, your daughter sounds a bit like my son. I cannot recommend highly enough the book "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. There is a workbook you could get to read with it, too. I'm reading them now & finding them to be very helpful, & I've heard hugely positive reviews from parents probably a good 40 times.

Earlier I mentioned some baby free time. If there's a chance that her behavior is related to the baby, I've heard great things about the book "Siblings Without Rivalry." It may help you, too.

Good luck to you!

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Wow I am a Child Care provider out of my home and have seen many 3/4 year olds doing the same at home. You need to sit clear rules and no minutes out of the room for you. If you need to leave the room take her with you. Explain to her that because of her choices she must stay with you all the time. It will make a difference we other kids are around. She will want to go play and will have to spend time with the boring adults if her behavior isn't better. I have a child in care that makes his mother pull her hair out/ sitting crying because of her sons behavior. He will pee on his bedroom floor for no reason. But in my home he is limited to his bad behaviors because he is under constant watch. When he does make a bad choice we try to catch it and redirect, but if he gets away with it before we have a chance then it is straight to time out. Or the object that he was destroying is removed from him. It becomes an off limits object for him. We do not yell, or hit. We just tell children what we expect, and if they make a mistake we tell them the right thing to do. If you get mad and start yelling they have you on the run. Stay in control of every situation. They do understand what they are doing at this age, so start consequences for bad choices.

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Hi K.,
I am a BIG fan of Smart Disipline! They did a presentation at our church recently and it is great! She is exactly the age they say to start using this, my son is 5 yrs. and it is working very well for us. You can find it at smartdiscipline.com. They have a video and workbook that is great, it is about $50.00 for the two of them. You could contact them and have them come to your church. When our church did it they (church) paid for the first 50 pepole and after that was on $10.00 a person. Great program that really does work. They talk about how to discipline in a positive way and make them responsible for their own actions. For example they get 3 chances and then they star loosing privledges, ie: TV time, outside and so on. It makes them really proud of themselves when they don't loose anything. Good luck and God bless,

P.S. This is very similar to Super Nanny!

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Your three year old needs attention. She is crying out for you. Leave the baby with a sitter and have some time just for her. Take her to the zoo, to get a pizza, or to buy her a book. Love her and listen to her. She is giving you all the signs of a child who needs you. She is willing to get attention anyway she can even if it is the wrong kind of attention. Find something she likes to do, a little workbook for children or make cookie together. Tell her how much you love these really positive things she is doing. Find ways to tell how she makes you ssssoooooooo happy. Change the way she has found to deal with a situation she doesn't understand.

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"Making Children Mind without losing yours" is a great book.

She is BEGGING you to discipline her mom. She is testing to see how you react and figuring out which buttons to push that cause the biggest reactions - it's not that she's evil, she is just learning about her world - so teach her!

Here's a few pointers:
1. Guilt will never work (It makes mommy sad) - its too complex of an emotion to put on a 4 year old and teaches them manipulation which will only bite you in the butt when she's a teen! lol! :)
2. If you can't behave, we can't stay - IMMEDIATELY remove her from friends houses, playdates, etc. for behaviors like you just described above. No big drama, just a simple statement of fact and a quick movement out the door (Plan for 3 testings of this rule at a minimum before she realizes that you mean it - if you back out or bend the rules even once you've wasted your time and she owns you!)
3. What we mess up - we clean up. The vinyl chair cleaning is her job. The scissors in the jelly are her job, etc. Make her responsible and involved in the cleanup (especially if she's missing out on fun stuff while that gets done and you have to leave as soon as its clean because she didn't behave in public).
4. We take responsiblilty for our actions. "I am sorry for marking on your chair and disrespecting your home Ms. _____" Sometimes the horror of having to apologize to a grownup (or complete stranger) is enough for her to get the idea that our actions effect others.
5. The more consistent, cool, calm and collected "these are the facts of life darling" you are - the easier life will be for all of you!

Yes, I've had to leave in the middle of a best friend's birthday party and it sucked for me, but it was the right thing to do. Besides, if you stay at the party after she does stuff like that then other guests will see you as the one who lets her kids run crazy and you don't want that rep. It doesn't honor yourself, your children, or your spouse.

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don't know if this will help, but it may help you feel better about the situation... gifted and talented kids are often rebellious, antagonistic, high-energy, destructive, and creative, among other things. does she fit into these categories? all that energy has to go somewhere, i am pretty sure it won't just "stop". i know she is too young for real school, but could she go to a preschool? not all preschools are created equal.... look around and if you want some names, pm me. then, i bet if you google "gifted and talented" you will find some info. start planning ahead for your glorious little mess! (my mother in law calls my daughter a glorious little mess, please don't take offense, it is a term of endearement!)

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Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years! This book has been VERY helpful for me and my 3.5 year old. I highly recommend it!

Good luck to you!

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Hi K., I'm not usually a stay at home mom,recently I am due to a broken foot. I have a 4 year old, a 15 month old and one on the way. I know exactly how you feel! I found myself getting in screaming matches with the4 year old on a very (too) regular basis. Even so frustrated that I am cussing at him. In the last few weeks that I have been at home I realized several things and have been trying to devote more time to working with him, I know how hard I have been working around the house and realize that I am still doing all the stuff I did before, only now I have more time to do it and it still seems impossible.My son draws on the walls, paints them with my nail polish and has snuck the scissors into his room and used them to cut his screen, as well as the netting on the baby's playpen ( we have a 2 story home and his room is upstairs) I am forever watching Nanny 911 because I know that this is not how it should be.So what I have been doing is making our day more schedule oriented We have breakfast, then cartoons, then we practice our abc's together, or do some coloring, I try to include him in the things that I am doing then lunch, naptime and so on . I have found that more than he doesn't like to be spanked he hates being put in the corner or sent to his room, because there is no attention there. I will also take away his t.v. (that he probably shouldn't have in the first place) just finding the things that are important to him. Finding the currency to use is the key and also making a schedule and sticking to it, trust me it's harder than it sounds but it's a start. This is what seems to be working the best for me hope it helps you!

I would love to know how to get an almost 4 year old to obey. My son is the exact same way....I do not like to leave the house with him b/c I am almost afraid of how is going to behave in public or what he is going to destroy. I know he knows the difference between right and wrong b/c the 2 days a week he goes to school he is good, it is just around me. If I could offer some advice I would, but just to let you know that you are not alone in this situation....there are others out there struggling with this same problem. I at times could just pull my hair out or sit in a corner and cry b/c I do not know what to do.

K., I feel for you! I wonder if she's just trying to get your attention, even if it is negative. Your kiddos are close in age and she might feel neglected since the baby requires so much immediate attention. Is there a way that you can have two times during the day, even if it is just 20 minutes, where you are totally devoted to playing with her the way she wants to play? Do one early in the morning to start her day off right and one in the afternoon that she can anticipate. Don't take it away as a punishment, ever.

I know being a SAHM makes you the only person looking out for both babies, but maybe before Daddy leaves for work and after he comes home? How about during baby's nap? That means, of course, not getting housework done, but at the end of your life are you going to think back and thank God you had time to clean your house or thank God you had time to help your daughter grow? I'm not saying that to sound condescending, rather that is something I have to remind myself every single day :)

I wish you luck and I'm sending you some mom support vibes.

Thanks K. for asking the question and putting it out there and thanks to all who responded. I have learned alot as I'm sure K. has as well. AND I'm so glad to know that there are other moms out there, pulling their hair out with a 3/4 yr old as well.

Misery loves company after all :-)


The most important part, and most difficult part, of discipline is consistancy. Anytime you make a threat, you have to follow through. For example, if you tell them that you will take away their crayons if they color on the wall again, the crayons go away immediately. Find out what your daughter responds to best. My daughter responded best to being put in timeout. We had a chair specificly for the purpose, and there were days it seemed she was in that chair all day. My son responded best to being put in his room (no toys allowed..he just had to sit there) for tantrums and removing his favorite toys/books for disobedience.

It is equally important to watch for the good things that she does and make sure to comment on them. If they are far and few between, make a big deal of her doing the right thing.

It sounds like you can pretty much take away crayons until she can prove to you that she can use them appropriately. When she destroys other people's property, she should be the on to both apologize and clean up the mess (the foot stool). If she destroys a favorite toy that can be fixed, she should give them her most favorite toy as a replacement. When you get home, she could write a note of apology (which could just be pictures) and mail it/give it the victim of her behavior. She needs to take some responsibility for her actions. If she drops her hair band in her sister's porridge, she should be the one to take it back out of the porridge and apologize to her sister. Then she can wash the hair band.

Keep in mind that her sister has probably recently begun talking and/or getting a bit more independent as she transitions from baby to toddler. Your daughter could be jealous in a way she may not have been of her as a baby. Your daughter is transitioning from a toddler to a preschooler. She may see her sister as replacing her. She is also reasserting her independence and learning her boundaries. Try to understand her perspective, but there shouldn't be any allowances for the behavior you described. Treat her behavior as it deserves, but in between give her lots of hugs and kisses and recognition of the positive behavior.

I think the best thing you can do it talk to a child therapist. She is acting out for some reason but you will likely go crazy trying to figure it out on your own. Are you setting very firm limits with consequences? What kind of punishment does she get? Do you take away things she likes? She might be very "hungry" for rules and limits and maybe they are just not clear.

I think she is jealous for your attention. I have 5 kids and the oldest is only 9, but my first 3 are only 3years apart (actually lack 2 weeks of being 3 yrs), but the middle of these 3 has done everything you have described and more! It helped when I started calling him a good boy even tho he wasn't acting like it (b/c she is a good girl, just her behavior isn't). He immediately started acting better. Saying, "I believe in you." and praising the behavior you like is very important.

I was also going to reccomend the same book as Misty. It was actually recommended to me by a family counselor. Sheperding a Child's Heart by Ted Tripp. I have several of the other books mentioned, but this one I recommend above all the others. It is wonderful!

She really needs opportunities to do things you are proud of-- helping take the clothes out of the dryer, helping you by getting diapers for the little one, helping you in the kitchen. Do things daily w/her--maybe while the baby is sleeping you can read to her, etc. Also, take her on dates or have daddy take her on dates occasionally. Then she won't have to demand your attention so much.

Most importantly, be patient and consistent. I know how hard it can be! It will get better.

Mom to 5 Wonderful Kids

Wow! She's good! It sounds like she's competeing with my just turned 4 year old.
I wanted to say though, that my daughters behaviors were always just on the edge of out of control and I was so frustrated that I didn't have the relationship with her that I wanted. It had been going on for just about a year with random days that were wonderful. I spoke with her doctors and used all the best behavioral systems. Finally, I took her to an allergist (I noticed puffy eyes at times) and she was tested for everything and had NOTHING, but he sent me to ears throat nose and it turns out she has sinus problems and it's the equivalent to a year long sinus infection that didn't clear with 10 day antibiotics. She never had symptoms except the behaviors and infrequent puffy eyes. They put her on monster antibiotics and within a week I had a different child. Mind you, she is still incredibly active and keen towards trouble (esp. when tired), but most our days are filled with great interactions. When there's problems (painting her 1 year old sister with 1/2 gallon of latex paint), she immediately follows through with the consequence and apologizes. So, this curbed the out of control aspect, but she will always be a challenge.
Really observe her to see if you notice any physical symptoms and then really check with doctors. You may need to shop around to different types of doctors.

From a teacher's perpsective, it sounds like she is acting out to get attention. If kids can't get good attention, then they seek out bad attention. I would try to schedule time with just her (not include her sister), and do something special. I would make it a routine. Something she can look forward to weekly or daily if you can. In the meantime, really push the positive praise and down play the attention she gets when she does something wrong. Perhaps you have rewarded the negative behavior with too much attention and she thinks that is the only kind of attention that she can get. Good luck.

first of all - congratulations for having such a bright inquisitive little girl! I know that her "activities" are annoying and worrisome, but it is just a sign of her intelligence. Most of what you described is not defiant behavior - but more so inquisitive behavior - coupled with boredom and a lack of "self discipline". Kids dont see the big picture and dont understand that writing on the wall is bad, they just learn that you dont like it. So my recommendation is...
1. when she does anything that creates a mess, rather than scold, just make her "accountable" for it by having her clean it up to the best of her ability. If it is a behavior that occurs repeatedly, then you may have to implement some sort of punishment along with the cleaning up - but make sure you clearly explain in advance what that punishment will be. then make sure you follow thru immediately and consistently.
2. Find some creative activities for her to do - she appears to be very advanced - and can probably handle more than you give her credit for.
3. Give her some chores or task to do to help you at activities and around the house. Because she is bright - she is also bored and needs some "big girl" things to do.

My husband told me a story about a german shepherd dog that when given his commands, would guard the sheep of a farmer all night long. But on an evening where the commands were not given, did just the opposite and "worried" the sheep all night long. So - the "lesson" here is to give her something to "do" with rewards. You are going to have to be creative, and there will still be some incidents, but they should be less and more deserving of a "photo opportunity" than a spanking.

Good Luck!

About me - a 53 yr old mom of two grown kids. Married 30 yrs.

You desperately need to read To Train Up a Child by Michael Pearl found at NoGreaterJoy.ORG. It will be a lifesaver and change your entire household for the better.

I've been going through the exact same thing with my 6, 3, and 2 year old. I recently had a baby so most of my time seems to be taking care of her. I think my kids are acting out more now because they want attention too. It seems to be at it's worse when I'm feeding the baby or on the computer. I've now started to try and spend more time with them. 5-10 minutes of my undivided time seems to go a long way with them. When they get a little crazy I try and re-direct them to something else and get involved with them if possible. It is so hard sometimes. I totally understand that you don't want to be the yelling screaming mom. That is what I'm afraid of becoming too.

I would just like to say this one simple thing. Alot of moms are afraid of how their children will act out in public and it shouldn't be like that. Moms need to be alot firmer with their children. Where ever they misbehave is where they should be disciplined!! Discipline starts at home and most of all discipline has to be taught. Yelling never works,you can discipline without yelling and if you don't start discilping now,it will get worse,so please start now. How can a person not control a 4yr. old,please explain that to me because I can't grasp that. I let my child know that I'm the parent.


I have to agree with Umber. It sounds like she's acting out..maybe jealous of the fact that she used to be number one until baby sister came into the picture...now she feels she has to resort to bad behavior to get your attention. I would follow Umber's instructions...set out a few times a day where it's just you and her...or have a you and her day (or half day) where Dad can look after the youngest while you two are out having a girl day.
It may just be what she needs.
It could also be that she gets the most reaction and the most "quantity attention" when she's bad. I'm not implying that you're yellin all the time, it's just that kids react to what gets the most attention. Although I think she's too young for this concept.
Good luck!

Wow, Katheryn,
Sounds like you've got your hands full! I am the mother of an also mischevious 3 1/2 year old boy, who is into everything. What's helped me is actually atching Supernanny, and reading her books. I also have barely 5 minutes to myself daily, which I think is part of the problem, they need alot of attention at this age, and I don't always have the time to give it. One Supernanny thiing that I have done is to set up a list of rules for the house (not written down because he can't read yet), but I have told him that we have house rules, and he is not to hit his baby sister of feed her chicken McNuggets, throw toys, write on my carpets with red crayon, etc... if he does, he will ont be able to go play outside, or the crayon, toy or whatever he isn't using properly will be taken away and put up on a high shelf in the closet for a few days until he can use it the right way. I do make a note to really listen to him when he is talking, because when he feels ignored, he acts out and hits. Also there is a series of books by Louise Bate Ames, PhD, "Your Two-Year-Old, Terrible or Tender, and Your Three-Year-Old Friend or Enemy" That I have found to really give some insight into each age and half age. There are books by her for each age, I haven't bought 4 yet, but they are short books, and they are really good, you can jump around. And its amazing how what they say about a 3 1/2 year old is true for mine as well as many other people, so you don't feel alone in trying to solve the problem. My son's teacher gave me the books for 2 and 3 and told me to read before the age he is and also after. I hope this helps. Maybe it'l at least make it easier to raise the younger ones having read the books beforehand. Good Luck.

Hi Kathyryn! I am in the same boat - whoever said the two's were bad obviously never made it to the three's or four's. My daughter is 5 and it is not better yet. I bought a book called The Strong Willed Child. We have days when we think she is in trouble all day long. You have to find what her currency is and then be consistent. We have no colors or markers in my house because my daughter keeps drawing on things she is not supposed to. When she cut her hair with scissors - gone. Then slowly I bring them back to see if she can handle them. She is very attached to her blankie...I take it away for a night. It makes an impact. I totally agree though that it is baffling to think that such a young child knows exactly what to do to push your buttons....good luck!

A great program to watch is "Nanny911". You need to get down to her level and look her in the eye and tell her firmly what she is doing is wrong and why and if she does it again she will get a time out. Now the time out thing dosent usually work right away and you might be spending an hour or so grabbing your running child and putting her back in her time out. I think she is testing her boundarys and it seems like she dosent have any. She is getting away with everything. She knows that the conciquences for her actions arent strong enough. You might also talk to her peidatrition and ask if she might have a.d.d. or some other medical thing going on. Probley not but I would hate to be giving wrong advice. Even so she must know that this is not the way to behave. My neighbor had a "beast" of a little girl when she was 3 and 4. Her husband moved due to work and the mother now has a wooden spoon and spanks her when she dissobeys. HUGE difference in the girl. She now knows that go to bed means the first time mom said not two hours later. I think this would work with time out also. Also the little girl would get angery and make the meaniest face and scratch who ever she was mad at even me. That also calmed down alot. Good luck to you and the little girl is now five and still spunky but enjoyable too. My husband even likes her now! Mean business your in charge and your the boss not her. What you say goes and dont just let them be words. your yelling seems to be " all bark and no bite". and i think she knows it.

My most recent favorite is Love and Logic. Can't remember the author (I borrowed it but need a copy to keep, it's that good).
I have three boys and the oldest is very strong willed, too. I wish I would have realized the link between my angry behaviors and the way he then would lash out at his little brother back when they were 3 and 1. hang in there and look for a parenting support group if that may help. We can feel so isolated as moms but wer're not alone!

She is doing this to get attention or to get back at you for maybe spending more time with the baby. You have to decide on a dicipline plan and stick to it. Time out isn't for every child. Sorry if I am being blunt, but maybe she needs a good spanking. Spanking doesn't need to be often but once in a blue moon it is necessary. Reward her for the positive things. You can't wait until a child is four to teach them respect for things and respect for other people. But you still have time. I don't have any advice for books. I never read any. Consistency is key. Take a breath. This will probably not be a quick thing, but worth it in the end. Good luck.

Hi K.,

I am part of an organization that is teaching a program for parents called Family Rules: Positive Parenting with a Plan by Dr. Matthew A. Johnson. Even though your little one is only 4 it's never to early to start teaching them about boundaries, structure and consequences in a positive way. You can follow the program as Dr. Johnson describes in the book and then make it age appropriate for your family. Let me know if you'd like more information about Family Rules.


It sounds to me like your daughter is acting out because she is jealous of her sister and the time that you spend with her. She is also mad at you and is doing those things to get your attention. She needs your attention more than ever. There is someone else taking HER time away from mommy. I went through this with my two children. What I did was set a schedule for mommy time. I would explain to my older one that I have to change and feed her brother and I would ask her to help me. Make her feel like she is doing this with you. I would ask her to go get a diaper or put the powder on your brother, anything that you can think of so she thinks that she is helping. Also, when my husband would get home, I would give him the baby and spend an hour or two with my older child and let her pick the activity. You would be suprised at how fast the "daring you" will stop. She will be so excited for your time!! Hope this helps!

C. B.

K. ,
i think your best bet would be to find a child physcolgist to help you out ,you dont seem to phase her at all ,maybe they can spend some time with her and help you out

Your situation sounds similar to mine and I believe it is due to desire for attention. My children are spaced just a tad bit further apart than yours but my oldest has been doing things lately that get attention and it doesn't matter what kind.

We have started setting special time aside just "you & me" time every day. Make a big deal of it by saying stuff like now it's time for big kid reading, little baby is too small for this, it's just you and me. And even though it's not a 'super' extra special thing it sure makes them feel like it is.

Good luck!

Sounds to me like this is a power struggle. Since you clean up her messes she looks at it like she can do what she wants and mommy will "fix" it. I suggest that you make her accountable for her actions and clean up or replace the mean thing she has done with something nice for that person. Make her apologize for what she has done and have her state what she did and why it was the wrong choice. Once she realizes that she doesn't control the situation then she will stop the behavior.
M.-SAHM mom of 4 ages 7, 4.5, 2.5, and 1.5

You've gotten some very good advice. I have a 3 yr and 2 year old. I know how the sibling rivalry is. So, here are some things I did. I read the book "parenting the strong willed child" by Dobson. Good book, but couldn't seem to train myself for the first step, but used some techniques in there. Also read Parenting with love for toddlers. That was a good book too and I use lots of techniques from it. I work and kids go to day care all day. I am self employed, so I can make exceptions. I have worked it so that I have one hour a week w/ my son doing something special (zoo, library reading, park, movie) then I do the same for daughter. Her's is tumbling. Then at home, I do my best to keep them occupied and I engage with them for a short while, but lets face it, you have to cook and clean too. So I try to have them play together and if they can't then I sepreate them into their rooms until I can get what I need done. When my son was younger I would keep him nearby, but now he plays with his trains in his room and seems content. When my daughter does things to get attention, I calmly tell her to stop or blank and I inform her of the consequences. If she continues, then I enforce the consequences. I explain it is her choice. Say whenI let them color, I pull them out and say if I see you coloring on anything but paper they will be put away and if you put them in your mouth then they will be put away and neither of you will get to color. Then I give them to them and supervise. If they break the rule then they get the conseqence that was told to them. Yes, one broke the rule and both suffer. Life isn't fair. We have taken all my daughter's luzury things, toys, books, animals, tv, etc.. away due to back talk. She went 3 weeks with nothing utnil she realized that we weren't required to give her those things and that her choices dictated what she has. She behaves, she has things. She breaks the rules, she doesn't and is very lonely in time out. I am proud to say my kids are well behaved most of the time. They have their moments though. I think I am the only mom to get a call that both her children bit someone at daycare on the same day!! Thank goodness they bit each other. I had them go a week without chocolate milk and juice. They could have plain milk or water. They have not bitten anyone since. Every time they asked for chocolate milk or juice I reiterated that they could have milk or water becasue they bit. They got the message quick and I stood firm. I put my son to bed 30 mintues before my daughter. Big girls get to stay up later. I read to her alone or we do sticker books. When she acts up, she has to go to bed at the same time as her brother becasue she wasn't acting like a big girl so she gets treated like a baby. She values that time with me and usually when she starts to act up I ask her if she wants to go to bed early and it nips it in the bud. Good luck to you. I know how trying it can be. I really try not to yell and I just keep saying this too shall pass.

I am a mother of 7 two being 3 year old twins who are almost 4. I thought at first how does she know about my daughter. and then thought oh she's talking about hers. I too have this problem. Being a problematic child myself I always ask myself when she's acting out, what was it that I wanted when I was acting out? I know we all as parents say we give our children plenty of attention, but believe it or not that's what she wants. When my daughter is on a roll she yells, screams, hits the wall, and anything else she can think to do. I know a negative+a negative does not equal a positive. Respond only with positive, calm, discipline. Sometimes I have to make her go lay down to give myself time to regroup and deal with her ot out of anger and frustration

I had the same problems with my son. At 3 years old it was all he knew of me to yell at him because he never did anything for me to praise him for.. I got fed up. I scheduled him a psychology apointment. Turns out he was ADHD and had developed ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) from all the negative discapline I'd given him. No matter what your children do, if you yell, they win. I'm not saying she has ADHD but my husband and I went through some counseling. It was for my son but the advice is more for us...because he's still young.

It really sounds like your at your wit's end, like I was. After he got kicked out of daycare for being violent with the teachers and children me and his doctor decided to put him on a small dose of Ritalin along with the behavior counseling. He's still a boy and still misbehaves but we've seen a massive change in his attitude. (He's more happy, can concentrate on being good, can understand consequences because he takes the time to think it through, isn't impulsive like your daughter) There's a list of improvements.

You've gotta really step back and look at yourself too though. I had to realize that I wasn't doing it all right either so I couldn't hold it all against my son. Go to a local MHMR (I go to Dan who works in Temple and Cameron.) He's been wonderful so far.

I really wish you luck. I feel for you!

Try the book 'How to talk so kids will listen'.

I am not where you are yet. My guy is 2 1/2 and fairly well behaved, BUT I am expecting another baby in September and I am mentally preparing for the kind of behavior you describe once the baby arrives.

This is just my 2 cents: It sounds like she is seeking attention by acting out. I would give toys and things that are miss-used a "time out". Like in a basket in plain sight. "We don't throw dolls at sister. So Doll is getting a time out" then let her cry a bit and then re-direct. Keep it simple-don't lecture. Catch her doing Good behavior and allow her to pick a toy to come out of the time out basket.

One thing would try is make her clean up her messes. If she destroys things take something of hers away and make her earn it back by minding you.
Gods Bless You, D. L.

She may be jelous of her little sister. Have you tried to get them to play together or play with them both at the same time? I also have an almost 4 year old girl and and a 2 year old boy and I have noticed that when I do not give her enough attention she starts to act up as well. My son is the same way. If he does not get enough attention he will do things out of spite too. She is doing these things because she knows it gets your attention and will get a reaction. She does not care whether it is positive or negative. A great parenting book is Supper Nanny's. They have it at both Walmart and Target. The techniques in there are great! You may want to check the book store at the mall as well.

When your daughter is acting out in public it is a great time to teacher her humility! Believe me, if she's smart enough to be pushing your buttons she's smart enough to learn.
The next time she does something wrong at a friend's home, make her bring it out in the open and apologize to your friend. My kids HATE this. Explain "We don't destroy other people's things. It's wrong and disrespectful. Apologize to Miss Becky for crumpling her pictures." Then have her help clean up. Making her take responsibility for her actions should go a long way in correcting her behavior.

Time outs don't work with all kids. Find what punishment works for your daughter. Also, it sounds like saying "that makes mommy sad" doesn't have the same impact as it used to - change your phrase. Tell her the facts, not just your emotions. Explain why it's bad ("Writing on the walls destroys the paint and makes our house look trashy.") My daughter hates for me to tell her "I am so disappointed in what you did". I know she knows the right way to behave, and she knows I know it. :) It's a complicated game sometimes, but one that you must always win, because you are the mother!

Discipline, Discipline, Discipline! Every child is different but you as a mother has to find out what hurts the most. Spanking, timeout, stripping the room except for the bed, playing with friends, etc. And then once you figure that out, you stick to you guns and show her who is boss around the house. Right now, she knows what she can get by with and what she cant. Then you when you start to scoll her, you start filling bad and start loving on her. Discipline her however you are going to discipline her and when you are done about an hour or so of discipline explain to her why she got the discipline she did. The problem is that your 4 year old is the boss NOT YOU! Take control and you will see a difference. JH

I have one that was exactly like this whose antics lasted from three to four and a half. I got a little photo book and gave myself the mantra..."Don't get mad, get the camera." I have pictures of nesquick all over the floor, oil and balsamic vinegar salad dressing on the carpet, robitussin on the carpet (I was giving it to her when she grabbed the bottle, pulled out the rubber dispensing stopper and poured it on the floor.) The scissor marks in the leather sofa arm, and the piece de resistance...the stamp ink that she used to "paint" the walls, the coffee table, the sofa, etc. So you are not alone. These kids are just exploring their world with very little comprehension about cause and effect. She is not only trying to do things to make you mad (she is testing you at times though when she directly violates an order). Anyway, "Parenting the Strong-willed Child" is a good book. One of the things that I noticed, was that even though she could create a disaster within 30 seconds, I would get busy or distracted and not pay as much attention to her as I could have. I would get on the phone or computer and the disasters would ensue. Maybe give her some craft materials that she can get out with your supervision when she starts to get ancy or needs a creative outlet and try to get more involved...may not help, but at least you will be there to head-off disasters! Good luck, and know that this is just a phase and will pass.

Read "The Strong Willed Child" by Dr. James Dobson. My four year old son is exactly like that. You need a time out too. They take their cues on behavior from you. I know it is hard but you have to keep a calm voice and be firm. I live most of my life with my tongue between my teeth! CB

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