25 answers

Mean 4-Year Old

My 4-year old niece is ver articulate and bright, but when she is corrected, even very gently, she responds with name calling and then finishes with "you're not my friend." She does this to EVERYONE. She also spits out her tongue. When her uncle very gently and nicely pointed out that she was putting her shoes on the wrong feet, she yelled at him "You're a loser. Don't tell me what to do. Go away. You're not my friend." Her mom tries to make her apologize, but the child will not do it. Time-outs don't work, taking away fun privileges don't work. Any advice would be appreciated.

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Get the book "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. It's helped me with my 7 year old soon to be step-son as well as all the other relationships in my life. It's basic, effective & something you can do even if you are not her Parent.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Sounds like she is not getting the firm and consistant response at home. This means a consequence, every single time. Many parents have a very hard time doing this seemingly simple thing. I would try firstly an instant consequence, something boring and unpleasant but totally manageable (and portable) examples: time out facing the wall (one minute per year of age) or push-ups are great! You are right that these consequences won't work ... unless they are totally consistant. No discussion, no arguing, no talking. Only threaten a consequence that can be carried out on site. Second, remind her that she will not have ANY friends if she behaves that way and that she will be lonely when this happens. People will not like her or want to play with her. Don't sugar coat this one to her even though she is young because it is very true. I have met adults who behave this way and they are lonely. Stress this social consequence to her, even when it is not an immediate issue by taking every opportunity to point out how unpleasant it is when others behave that way and also when others accept corrections/input with grace and how nice that is - especially people she admires like a big sister or even a tv character. There are lots of kid movies that really show the importance of being able to accept guidance and input from others so try to find those themes and point them out to her. Emphasize that helping people is a positive thing that people do because they care about each other even if sometimes it feels uncomfortable. Good luck on this one.

More Answers

If she does that, her world comes crashing down. Figure out what matters to her and that's gone or over. In our son's case, it's video games, so if he backtalks or has other bad behavior, no more video game time that day. At the same time, he earns video game time for good behavior. You do need the balance there.

Our son's behavioral therapist has recommended another strategy that we've used that also works. Child says something horrible or misbehaves, just keep repeating, "I'm not going to talk to you until you apologize for what you said/pick up your toys/etc." Then repeat it over and over word for word until the action is made. Our son craves attention, this really bothered him and would finally do what we said.

Wish them good luck! I know first hand how hard it is to have a spirited child!

2 moms found this helpful

Hi E. K,
This niece of yours has the tendency to become a "beastly problem child". Nip it in the bud right now and right away.
When she name calls she must be removed from the area and also apologize immediately to the person. Also inform her YOU are not her friend and her MOM is not her friend, Her RELATIVES ARE NOT HER FRIENDS. She has to make friends at school. And she has to respect her family and all whom she encounters in this life. Take everything away from her that she likes, since time-outs don't work.
Patti B.

1 mom found this helpful

I would recommend checking out the work of Gordon Neufeld about attachment and behavior. His book is called HOLD ON TO YOUR KIDS. It is actually pretty normal for a child that age NOT to respond to any person but a parent (you didn't mention how she responds to her parents.) It's called counterwill and can actually be protective for a child. I have a 4 year old who is VERY spirited and independant. We took a class about preschoolers from one of Neufeld's proteges and we have seen such a big shift in his behavior--and we have focused mostly on our connection with out son. Behavior modification was not really part of what we did. The change came as a result of improving the relationship, and being aware of our child's senstivity.

When I first read his book, I really wasn't sure how to implement the suggestions, but thew class really helped. It's called Understanding Preshcoolers, and it is from Transformative Parenting in Marin. www.transformativeparenting.com.

Hope that is helpful!
E. Bender, NC, CHN
www.nutritionforthewholefamily.com

1 mom found this helpful

WOW!
#1 Try a Different Approach to Correction
#2 Address the Name Calling
#3 Address the Tongue
#4 Address the "You're Not My Friend"

#1
Maybe very little spoken words for correction will work better with her. For instance, with the shoes - just point at them (or place both hands on them) and say "switch" with a motion of the hands. Then walk away.

#2
The name calling has GOT to stop. Pleasantly, but expressively, say, "Wow! How do you you think that makes me feel?" or "Did you just raise your voice to me?" or "Do you think Jesus would be happy to hear your mean words?"

I have a very forward 6 year old boy who is 'candid' in speech, but questions such as the examples above stop him in his tracks and he is nearly always remorseful. "Sorry, Momma", he'll say.

#3
When the tongue comes out, say "Come here - let me see that thing". You could go in either direction, making fun such as, "I think something is wrong with this thing - hey, momma/auntie/daddy (or whoever) come over here and take a look at this". Once you get a laugh or a giggle, then address how rude it is to stick out a tongue and remind her of the real purpose for a tongue with a simple, quick conversation asking her not to do it again. OR you could go in another direction, and put a dab of hot sauce on it! When she tells you how it burns, tell her that's how her mean words, or her rude behavior, feels in your heart!

#4
To the "You're Not My Friend!" comment, say - "That's okay, I have enough love for both of us". Or, "That's okay, Jesus is my friend and He has enough love for all of us."

Hope that helps! I've had my share of TRY TO BE sassy children! But consistency in addressing these concerns has breeded a healthy respect in our family. It may be a good idea to address any older children (or parents) about their speech (afterall, how does a 4 year old get hold of the phrase "you're a loser!") Remind older children that the younger ones are sponges AND parrots! Be good examples!

Mother of Four: 18 yr girl, 11 yr boy, 6 yr boy, a baby on the way. Married to a patient, fun-loving husband, whose been creative with me in addressing such concerns with all of our children!

1 mom found this helpful

Get the book "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. It's helped me with my 7 year old soon to be step-son as well as all the other relationships in my life. It's basic, effective & something you can do even if you are not her Parent.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

If her mom doesn't follow through on the expectation of an apology, the child will never see the importance of it. Mom needs to follow through. You can try reading with her and pointing out nice ways the characters say things to each other, accept cricicism or correction, etc., but if she is living in a world where she "gets away with everything," there's not much you can do. Is her mom your sister? Maybe you could talk to her about getting parenting support through a community class or something. It's hard to be a mom, and your niece's family probably could use some help.

1 mom found this helpful

Give her a few minutes to calm down after a bout of "attitude" then get down to her level and ask her if she knows what she just did, or said, means. Ask her if someone has said those things to her and if so then how it made her feel to hear someone say she was not their friend anymore. Tell her it hurts daddy feelings when she says things like that to him. More importantly, he needs to give her a really sad face and say that hurts my feelings to hear you say that.

I find there is a time and a place for physical discipline but at the age of four playing on their emotions and making them “feel” the consequences works better. After all don’t we expect our children to “use their words” to display their emotions and get what they want, instead of hitting or biting. And if we do not teach them how to use words they hear, like your not my friend, or go away, then they will not learn the proper way to express their feelings.

She has heard some new phrases and probably did not like how they made her feel, so she is testing an adult to see how they react to it. I remember when I was about nine I heard the word bastard for the first time and while my dad was tickling me and we were playing I said you’re such a bastard, while laughing. Obviously not the correct use of the word <grin>! After saying it about three times he stopped playing and the fun was over. My mom came into the room and very sternly said J. Michelle, we do not use that word and that is was not a nice thing to say. I don’t really remember the next thing she said, if anything, but I remember feeling bad that I had said something not nice to my dad and never said it again!!

Empathy is a tough thing to teach, but now is the age and putting aside our initial shock, or anger and help them analyzing their thoughts and feelings and put words to them.

Good luck!!

1 mom found this helpful

Man oh man...I would NEVER allow my kids to speak to ANYONE like that. I'm not suggesting anyone "lets" her do it, but has anyone ever told her very FIRMLY, "Don't EVER speak to Uncle -- like that!" Then pull her close, give her a hug, and explain why we speak nicely to each other.(There's a scripture that say something like "reprimand with sharpness then show an increase in love afterwards so they don't esteem you as an enemy".) then tickle her and say "isn't that right? we love you! and we love Uncle! and we love mom! and we love dad!" you get the idea. Misbehavior comes from an unmet need, and with words like the ones she's using, it sounds like she's been spoken to like that and needs someone to assure her that she's loved. (? I'm not a psycologist, but maybe I should have been?)
I've use "bench" time-different than time outs- with my kids since they were small. You need to have a designated "bench" (ours is just a place in the hall). When a child misbehaves, she is told to " sit on bench". The child can not talk, play, etc. or get up, until THEY EXPLAIN HOW THEY WILL CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR! It could be 2 minutes or 2 hours! I don't tell them why they are bench, they already know, alright...she's smart! This puts the responsibility on the child, to recognize they are wrong, and decide they would rather choose the right behavior, than sit on bench. This technique was taught to some friends of mine by a child psychologist. It saved their sanity and their family with 7 kids!
LOVE CONQUERS ALL! but behavior modification helps. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

E.,
I would have to say that a four year old would not say those things unless she had heard them from somewhere else to begin with. Sounds like maybe mom and dad have arguments
and she over hears them, when they think she is not around or is supposed to be asleep. I remember laying in bed listening to my parents, wishing they would just shut up.
Maybe you should have a moms day out, and tentatively ask
some detailed questions, to get to the point. And I agree
she needs a firmer hand with the disciplne, I would guess that it is not being followed thru with. Maybe she should also have to explain to her parents what she was put into time out for....this will reinforce for her why she was
there to begin with.
W.

Not sure about the rudenss but I would not point out things she is doing wrong. A 4 year old is pushing for independence and telling him/her that they have their shoes on the wrong feet does not help. Who cares if the shoes are wrong? If you have to say something then try-How do your shoes feel? And see if she can come up with the realization they are not on the right feet.

If you are assualted with rudenss I would say something like-we don't use words like that-if would want me to listen you need to change your words. I don't like being talked to like that. Maybe even try ignoring her. Surely don't get into a power struggle. I also don't suggest forcing her to apologize, it does not teach her what she needs to know-it makes her resent the situation even more. She has to learn it is an unwanted behavior.

Since she is your niece you probably have little control over how she is raised. Realistically, your choice is to enforce appropriate verbal behavior toward you and simply ignore her behavior to others or, if that will cause a rift in your family, simply get some distance. Your child does not need to be influenced by her cousin's rude behavior.

Your niece seems old enough to understand that it is not acceptable to talk to people who have charge of her in this very rude way. That said, the family has some choices. One: Stop correcting her altogether when the consequences will not cause injury to her. For example, shoes on the wrong feet cause pain, maybe, and inconvenience walking, but is self-correcting in that she is likely to put the shoes right as soon as she cannot stand the discomfort for one more minute. You can use this tactic with anything she might reasonable be expected to know: shoes on the correct feet, raincoat on if it is raining.

You cannot ignore serious issues of safety: child seat belts in the car, crossing the street or anything where the consequences may cause injury to her. So, number two: if she sasses an adult who has corrected her because her error could cause serious injury or because she needs to learn something ("time to clean your room", "take my hand to cross the street", for example) then she should immediately be told "you may not talk to an adult (or your mother, or your father, or your aunt etc.) that way. Go to your room. You can come out when you apologize." - This should be absolutely irrevocable. In other words, the outing is cancelled or the rest of the family goes while she stays home (call a babysitter if she will not apologize immediately). Yes, the family pays the price for a while but the older she gets the higher the price will go.

The trick is to apply some consequence instantly. Any delay teaches her to gamble: "Maybe I'll get punished this time and maybe I won't". This behavior was probably "cute" at one time and people laughed at her, thereby reinforcing the behavior (everyone likes being the center of attention) but the behavior is no longer cute. And it will only get less so as time goes on. Good luck getting this child to a good place. It will take determination and perseverence.

Unplug and Stop letting her watch TV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Give her 2 hours of Saturday cartoons and that's it!! TV is a very bad influence and she sounds like she's getting potty mouth from there.

How about washing her little mouth out with soap when she talks mean to other people. That would get the point across that it is wrong. Not alot of soap, but just a tiny bit to get the taste in there.

RP

I am wondering what is going on at home to make this child so sensitive? Please don't get the wrong idea, but this is a very hostile reaction and I am wondering where it is coming from, she seems really insecure. Is she going to school and getting teased? Is seems like she has been through a trauma of some sort to have such a reaction to a simple mistake as putting on the wrong shoes. How is her home life? I would be gentle with her and just explain that her reaction is hurtful and you love her and are only trying to help. Is she around other kids that are perhaps teasing her? I really think there is a lot more here then meets the eye. Good luck

She learned that behavior from someone. She didn't just come up with the phrase "You're a loser" on her own, you know?

So who is talking to her like that? Or who is *being* talked to like that around her? Her dad? Her mom? Someone else? She has learned these mean responses from someone around her.

Do her family members say "please", "thank you", and treat one another kindly?

If you treat a child politely, gently and respectfully, the child will learn to be polite and respectful. That is my experience.

I am NOT saying that there should be no limits on behavior. Rude behavior is unacceptable. But you explain briefly *why* it is unacceptable ("that makes Uncle feel bad when you talk to him that way. He is trying to help you with your shoes.") and then you model correct behavior by answering on her behalf. "Oh OK Uncle. Thanks for helping me with my shoes."

You can also help her by reflecting her feelings:
"I can see it makes you mad when Uncle tried to help you with your shoes. Do you want to do it all by yourself?"

And JoAnn C...what the heck? So this girl is being rude, perhaps because others are rude to her, or maybe she sees that as a pattern from someone around her. Or maybe she is just going through a rough period.

Your answer is to start beating her? Great, now she can learn that violence should be used when you can't or won't bother to figure something out! Nice, real nice. Someone is bugging you? Well, just hit them. That will fix it.
Geez. There's some good modeling for you. NOT.

Im not gonna give any psycological style answer, but here's what works for me.
Whenever time outs etc dont work for my children, the one thing that always works is I find the toy that means the most to them and take it away and put it high up in the garage. Sometimes they keep saying they dont care so I keep grabbing more toys. Eventually they start crying, which means I won! I keep it out there for 2-7days depending on how they are acting. Sometimes I ask them first which toy they dont want to lose and they will say "anything but ****" and then I take that toy. Gotta outwit the 4year old!

This behavior is unacceptable, but I also believe that it a result of something else. Your niece is repeating words that she has heard over and over from other people. Why is she so sensitive and aggressive? In general I don't believe in eradicating "symptoms" but l like to look for the sources of a problem and go from there. Compassion is very important, as well as being firm and consequent, especially with little kids. Good luck!

I recommend a book called "Parenting is Heart Work." It addresses the fact that correcting the behavior is just a symptom of the real issue - changing the heart attitude behind the behavior should be the real goal when parenting.

Did she hear those phrases from someone?
She is a big spirit in a little body, the children know they are important and want to be treated with respect. It is important to give her respect, but also demand that you are important enough to be treated with respect also. If someone doesn't value their own self-worth, the children will pick up on it and push your buttons until the adults finally own their self-worth.

Consider her a teacher in a way, they come in all sizes and shapes! She teaches that some other way of communicating will be better. She's mirroring someone that's almost certain.
Love, L.

It sounds like this child is being inadvertently rewarded for her behavoir somehow, or one of these techniques would have worked. I recommend the book '1-2-3-Magic', which explains in great detail how to make sure no rewards, such as extra attention, slip into the time-out routine. As an aunt, you can do your part by saying, "I feel really hurt when I hear you talk that way. In the future, I wish you would use only kind words with me and my child. And if you don't, I'll leave.' And then keep your word-- if she gets mean while you're visiting, apologize to your child that the visit is over, pack up your stuff and go-- if she likes your visits, it should only take once to get to come around, at least while you're there.

WOW!! Sorry, but she is not being parented properly. Her behavior is way out of line. I don't really know what you can do since she is only your niece. Kids should be allowed to do a little back-talk but there has to be a limit. Maybe the other moms have some good suggestions. All I know is my kids are never allowed to cross a certain line of respect.

If you've tried everything and nothing seems to work, sounds like she needs a tongue tune-up. A little dash of tobasco on the tongue will get her to understand how the tongue can hurt others. A little sugar goes a whole lot further!

kids learn what they see

Where is this little girl getting that language? She is hearing it on a regular basis from someone. That problem needs to be addressed first. She is going to have MAJOR problems at school if it does not stop. I suggest a child psychologist. This is a real problem, not a phase. I think the people around her need to begin to treat each other with utmost respect too. If she is really not hearing it at home then the mom needs to check out the other places where the girl spends time like at the daycare if she goes to one.

Sounds like she is not getting the firm and consistant response at home. This means a consequence, every single time. Many parents have a very hard time doing this seemingly simple thing. I would try firstly an instant consequence, something boring and unpleasant but totally manageable (and portable) examples: time out facing the wall (one minute per year of age) or push-ups are great! You are right that these consequences won't work ... unless they are totally consistant. No discussion, no arguing, no talking. Only threaten a consequence that can be carried out on site. Second, remind her that she will not have ANY friends if she behaves that way and that she will be lonely when this happens. People will not like her or want to play with her. Don't sugar coat this one to her even though she is young because it is very true. I have met adults who behave this way and they are lonely. Stress this social consequence to her, even when it is not an immediate issue by taking every opportunity to point out how unpleasant it is when others behave that way and also when others accept corrections/input with grace and how nice that is - especially people she admires like a big sister or even a tv character. There are lots of kid movies that really show the importance of being able to accept guidance and input from others so try to find those themes and point them out to her. Emphasize that helping people is a positive thing that people do because they care about each other even if sometimes it feels uncomfortable. Good luck on this one.

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