32 answers

My Four Year Old Won't Listen and Obey!

I'm hoping this is typical four year old behavior but My husband and I are having a problem with our four year old son not listening to us. He's very bright and he hears us, he just chooses not to do what we say. If we ask(or tell) him do do something(whether it be a favor or telling him to stop hurting his little brother), in most cases he says "No" or all of the sudden he's "too tired" to do what we ask of him. Then if we tell him more than once, it escalates and he starts yelling at us and throwing a fit. Also in preschool when the teacher introduces a craft or assignment he tells her that he doesn't want to do it or refuses to participate in activities. We deal with this issue on a daily basis. He's an awesome and good kid, but lately every day he acts up in some way and it snowballs into a discipline situation, which is very stressful for the whole family. We've tried positive reenforcement for good behavior (magnets on his chart at the end of the day), I try to always point out and give him praise for good behavior. For negative behavior we've tried time outs, time ins, talking it out with him, spanking, taking away priviledges, and today I actually grounded him for the first time. That actually kind of worked. I'm just tired of every day being a battle with him. When he is calm and I talk to him about it, he says he tries to listen but he can't help it, he says he can't be good. I never tell him he's bad! I never want him to think that. I love my little guy and I want him to be happy. I know life can't be skittles and rainbows all of the time but that would be nice sometimes. When my husband comes home from work after not seeing his children all day, I don't want him to just have to discipline all evening. I want them to have quality time. I guess my question is. What am I doing wrong?! Has anyone had similar situations and had something work to turn around this type of behavior? How do I work with my son so that we can have a peaceful family? P.S. He's great one-on-one but once the whole family is together he's a different kid. I'm sure it's partly due to him wanting more attention, but he can't have one-on-one interactions all of the time. Any advice on this would be very helpful. Thank you!

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You are being tested and so far he is stronger than you are.

I would not dream of telling you how, but you have to dominate him in a non anger way. I advocate spanking but do what you think is best. Punishment and discipline are two differnet things, one is done in anger and one is done with forethought and positive ends.

You can try 1-2-3 Magic. It has cut out a lot of discipline problems for us...that and sticker charts with smiley faces for good behavior. The most important thing is increase 1:1 time with him to play and interact as much as you can. Just love him and be supportive as much as possible. Best of luck.

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Okay, so my son is only 2, but I have been going with my son's fathering to parenting/communication therapy for about two months now. Not that it makes me an expert but, we had a conversation about how we should approach our son who is now starting to realize there are limits and what to do when he begins to push them.

Our therapist, who is amazing, told us to put the word's discipline, train and problem out of our minds when it came to acting out or against the 'norm'. She said our expectations for toddler behavior had to suit the toddler, and not the other way around. If we expected him to fit in a specific box of behavior we'd be beating a dead horse. And, that 'training' is for animals and not people...loved that!!

Her theory is that are response, like the other posters said, is what creates the problem after the behavior has occurred and not the behavior itself. So, if my son is playing with Dad's tools and he shouldn't be then the response to our 2 year should not be anger or 'Stop' but, we should respond with redirection. Example: 'J you shouldn't play with Daddy's tool, but we can play with your blocks instead.' Of course, she said tantrums would follow when he's persistent but, to follow it up with discussion. 'When you're ready to play I have a great game we can play with your blocks'...when tantrum ends follow-up with recognition of the 'feeling' (anger, frustration, etc) and move forward with the activity.

The theory is that this can be done starting as early at 2 and continued through age 6, and this creates the ability to then redirect themselves away from the behavior once they are told it is not okay.

Since your son is 4 and already in pre-school, I would talk to your hubby and create a gameplan of how you are going to 'react' to the behavior. And, then make your son a part of it...you could sit down and explain the 'rules' and even have him help you write them down on a big piece of paper. We used to do this in my classroom, and it became a big project that everyone was a part of. Put it somewhere where he can see it, and you can reference it whenever the rules are being broken. Follow that with stages throughout the day, the more rules he breaks the longer he's in timeout or the more points he loses or gains or something like that. Then, you can have your system of dealing with the behavior, like losing points, stickers, stars whatever and then at the end of the week he can earn something if it's all across the board a good week.

Something that just came to mind! There is the same age difference between me and my sister, and I used to hate getting trouble for things and my sister not being subject to the same punishment. My Mom would always say that she was too little...I'm wondering if that has something to do with it?? Just a thought.

I think it's tough being the older child, and learning your way is a HUGE thing for a toddler. You also said, he's not very into school, maybe talk to the teacher and ask what kind of system they use and gets some ideas so you can work together to streamline it throughout his day.

You could also try setting up famiy activities that he is responsible for...like game night...or pizza night or something that he can have ownership over and everyone can do together. But, I remember as a kid cherishing my outings with either just my Mom or my Dad especially once I became a big sister. My dad would take me to the park or my Mom would take me out to McDonald's for ice cream. Those kinds of things leave a huge mark on kiddos.

Good Luck and I hope my rambling helped, even just a bit.

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It's normal....its all about "ages and stages."

Read up on each age group, and it's characteristics. Arm yourself with understanding each age. This helps a great deal. No matter what, some things just won't work, unless it is taking into consideration what stage and age the child is. Sometimes, "discipline" methods will just go over their heads.

A good book is "Your 4 Year Old" or "Your 5 Year Old" You can get it on amazon.com

At 4 yrs., they are changing a great deal.

Like anything else, if you want to be successful at something.. what do you do? You learn about it and research it right? Or learn about your "opponent" (as in sports) and then reflect on that and see how you can get better at understanding them and do better, right? Well, the same for a child that we have... we must FIRST learn about them...not use generic things on them, and then once we understand THEM... see what we can do to improve them or us. Yes, Parents too, have to learn and improve, in relation to "how" we handle our children in the best way possible.

Some phases, you just have to ride it out... and it's irritating....but pick your battles and choose how you interact with him too. Kids spend ALL day and everyday... being at the short end of the stick, and being told how they are NOT being what we want. How fun is that?

Another important thing is this: He is your ELDEST child, and he has a younger siblings. Ya know, for a 4 year old...to be 'EXPECTED" to be 'perfect' all the time is just NOT feasible. They are not mature enough mentally or emotionally to "BE" everything to everyone, at all times. It's a hard thing to be for a young child... and, it's a "role" they simply don't want at times. We have to be cognizant of this. They are, by "default", the child that has to put-up with everything, be perfect, be obedient, be good, listen all the time, do everything, AND be a scape-goat for their baby sibling. This is a LOT of pressure on them.... they can't be expected to KNOW automatically how to cope. They need help themselves, in how to cope with it all. It's a big burden to have on their shoulders, day in and day out. It cannot be. It is often said, that eldest siblings sometimes don't have a "childhood" of their own... because they were always expected to ACT "older" than they were, and more responsible than they were, and to just be everything and help and perform and listen and be "good" and "please" everyone, all the time. Meanwhile... they didn't even have a chance to be nurtured themselves or be asked "how are you about having a sibling?" They have no choice in "choosing" to be an eldest child... and with any child, their moods fluctuate. We have to allow for this.

He probably does not like big crowds because it is stressful for him, and then there are MORE expectations upon him. Egad!
Run for the hills!

Do NOT put all the pressure of "having a peaceful family" on his shoulders. It's not his responsibility. Certainly not at only 4 years old. Yes, you want him to be happy...but he is obviously not... and is not getting what he needs, internally. The poor guy probably also feels marginalized by everything, and it is not only the Mom who had a baby...it is him too. HE had a baby too! His sibling. But, all he is told is scolded or told "no" or have exasperation and frustration looking at him in the eye. How disappointing for a child.... they can never "live up" to what the Parents want.

I have a 2 year old, and my daughter is 6 (but was 4 when we had my youngest child). I made EXTRA sure that I prepped her for having a sibling and they adore each other. But she too, goes through spurts of simply NOT listening to ANYTHING I say... and she will tell me point blank- "YOU LOVE BROTHER MORE THEN ME!" Yelling that to me. It hurts... the child. But instead of "correcting" her... I hug her, spend time with her, I actually apologize to her that I make her feel this way... and we "make-up." In our hurried lives, we often forget what the other oldest child truly needs. My daughter will even, when I am busy... tell me "Mommy... you didn't hear a thing I said, I tried to be patient and ask nicely... but now I am MAD! You need to apologize!" And, you know what, I gotta love my daughter's articulate way of expressing herself...and she IS right. I admit it. Sometimes I get SO busy, everyday, and since she is the oldest, I "assume" she's fine... but they are not. They feel "neglected." Kids NEED a LOT of us, and from us. And we HAVE TO listen to them in their hour of needs.

Kids, will most often be this way when they are not getting what they need. At least for my daughter that is the case.

Their internal and emotional well-being is what is important. If not, well, they won't respect us, or listen. If we don't listen to them, why should they listen to us?

All the best, sorry for rambling,

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Have you considered he might have an issue with transitions? This is considered a sensory issue and very common in kids. What made me think this most is when the teacher brings out a new project and that's when he starts acting up. Children with transition issues hate being surprised with change. They like predictability.

My nephew has a big issue with transitions, and it also manifested in undesirable behaviors. When my brother and his wife started using warnings (i.e. in 5 minutes I'm going to ask you... or in 2 minutes we're going to go and do...) then my nephew was better. In school it was a real issue for him, and what they found helped was if the teacher put a schedule of the day up so then my nephew could see when new activities would occur.

Clearly this doesn't help when he's hurting his brother. We have a similar issue with our two boys where the older one hurts the younger one by pushing or grabbing toys. A child development specialist told me the best approach in those situations is to focus on the younger child, or child being harmed. But removing focus on the offending child, he will learn that he will not get extra attention when he acts this way. The specialist who told me this is a parenting coach, so if you need further assistance just email me and I can give you her name.

Take care,

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Hi M.:
First,its important, that you know,your not alone. Children at this age,are learning how to be more independent. They want to spread their wings a bit,and prove to their parents,they are able to make some simple choices on their own. Even at this age, their main priority is to please you. They thrive on praise. They will test you ,to see what their limitations are.What can they get away with,how far can they push,until you (lose patience)I know this has been said here time and again,but (pick your battles) If you find yourselves getting more frustrated,repeating yourself over and again,and it appears your constantly having to yell or punish your child,then your (over doing it) I'm not saying,that a child doesn't require guidance,or that he doesn't need to learn limitations, or rules set,however,it can get to a point,where he feels hes being nagged at,or picked on,for each and every thing he does. I'm not saying your guilty of this,i'm saying that many parents,become so concerned about their child becoming a problem child, that they can quite honestly ,without knowing it.Create a problem child.Parents need to know when to let the little things slide,and keep the disapline and tongue lashings for the (real problems) Children need to experience growing up.Yes, we're there to guide them,but they need to experience loses,and disapointments,and spills,If we're there to catch them,or to make up excuses for them,each time they make a mistake,they will never grow up.They'll grow into one of those individuals,who will believe its always someone elses fault they failed,and expect someone else to pick up the pieces.When I was growing up,and would get into some trouble,mom was one that would say "Wait till your father gets home" I always thought that so cruel and unfair. For one thing,I'd forget what i'd done by the time he got home.Imagine after not seeing my daddy all day,being greeted and recieving a spanking from the man I'd missed all day. I often wondered how my father felt,when the moment he walked in the door, he was hit with the news "Julie was bad" "you need to give her a spanking" He hadn't even seen me all day. I use to wonder why my mother never spanked us kids. I guess she didn't want to come out the "bad guy" Thing is, my siblings and I knew who's idea it was! So she WAS the bad guy" wether she thought so or not. I broke that chain,when i had two sons of my own. I never layed a hand on them. I never had to. Pick your battles M..Don't concentrate so much on disaplining,and allow him some room for error.He will learn from you with loving guidance. I wish you and your growing son the very best.

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Hi M.,

I'm sorry your son is choosing not to listen to you. My first question for you is, "Do you want your child to choose to listen to you or obey you?"

Now don't take this to be a negative tone but if you want your child to obey you and listen to you because you say so, then your child will grow up doing what everyone else tells him to do and obeying them as well. I say this because that's how I was raised and I fought it the whole way. I also found it hard to have my own opinion of things because I was so used to having others tell me what I needed to do.

Now, if you want your child to do as you say because he is choosing to do it, then you've got a different situation. When your child can choose then he's using his own self-determinism to do it which basically means that he can control his own actions. When you guide your child to the right and correct choices, without making them for him, you end up with a child that you can communicate with and he understands why he's doing what he's doing instead of doing the right thing because he was told to do it. Believe me it takes some practice but it's worth it in the end. When you are able to have a child choose to share, choose to appoligize, choose to do what's right without having to force him to do these things, they feel so much better about themselves. I have a son who's 4 and we work on this everyday. He doesn't do things that are nice and kind for fear of being punished or forced, he does them because he wants to do them. If you are interested in taking a course on this information, or just want the literature, send me a message.

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I was in your shoes last year but with identical twin boys. They have always been a bit rambunctious and I was told that the terrible twos and trying threes would be the worst of it but to tell you the truth I thought they were really going to give me a heart attack this past year at four. They were at the age when people stopped making excuses for their behaviors in daycare and at preschool and started expecting instant obedience. My boys did NOT comply...and although I didn't have issues with them obeying me necessarily, I did have a lot of problems with caregivers.
I read the "Love and Logic" book which seemed really helpful and also got a book entitled "The Strong-Willed Child" - I really liked Love and Logic as it gave some strategies to deal with the negative behaviors and others to enhance the positive behaviors. My issue was finding people to follow through with what I was doing at home - and who had the time and inclination to do so. It sounds like your little guy might be jealous of time and attention with his younger brother - one thing that I do with my guys now is have some structured time with kindergarten age material or in your case, preschool age material, for a set amount of time every morning. I also know that the guys had a difficult time when they weren't able to have a nap in the afternoons when they were four - it was a BIG transition for them.

This year the boys seem so much more mature at age five - and, with the arrival of our second set of twins they have been really helpful with everything. I have a feeling that you will see a change in his level of understanding as far as consequences - cause and effect - are concerned. I also have the kindergarten teachers use stickers and notes home to help them stay on track with their behavior in school.

Hope this helps in some small way - it is a phase - and you guys will make it through!
Good luck and God bless!

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Hi M., I must say, this sounds normal... however how you respond to it is what makes the difference. My son is just over 3yrs old.. he was the "perfect" boy during his so-called "terrible two's" and once 3 hit, he did start to test us by showing his assertiveness and rebelling. We have a wonderful book that we read when he was turning 2 in preparation but have started to re-read and use now. It's called Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. Just remember, you are the parent and if you let his behavior continue and just let it slide, it will get worse. Discipline means to train a child, however it also means that if the child imposes his own will and refuses to listen to what is being taught there should be some consequence. Children at that age, I don't believe, understand "time-out" and they are supposed to sit and "reflect" on what they've done. To me it's an excuse to be alone in their room and not face what they are being disobedient to. First and foremost both you and your hubby need to be on the same page as far as discipline and you have to be willing to provide it, including consequences, anytime- even when family is there, even when you're on vacation, because training his behavior doesn't stop during the holidays...lol Anyway, best wishes!



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Been going through the same thing with our 3 1/2 yr old. I wanted to shoot myself. I finally started a consequence chart/ discipline chart that we learned at a seminar a couple of years ago. It's called Smart Discipline by Larry Koenig, PhD
Of course we also did a positive reinforcement chart.
Let me tell you it worked in one day! The next day after starting this chart, a Sat. was the best day we had in almost a month. It's been 2 wks now and it's working great. He doesn't want an x on the chart and then possibly to lose privileges.
You make a set of rules, we did 5. Then for ages 4-8 you make a chart of 4 squares. The first three are freebies/chances. From the 4th-8th square you list privileges to lose, least to most wanted. ex. ours starts with -outside, cars, TV, video games, early bed. Explain the chart first, talk it over, make sure they understand. You give them a time out for breaking the rules and put an x on the chart. The more x's the more they lose. Because they are so small, this is per day, So they get privileges back every day.
The positive reinforcement chart, I did my own. Made several boxes and at the end put a sticker of Disneyland and Grandma's house. The big guns, where he really wants to go. We go to Disneyland a lot, so not until his behavior is better. I use smiley and star stickers and put about 3 per box. For whatever good choice he does on playing nicely etc., he gets a sticker. Anyway good luck. Here's the website.


P.S. Our rules include- not yelling at mommy or daddy. No getting out of bed. No shooting at people (was a problem when he got angry), do what you're told the first time, no screaming. Choose what's most important to you.

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First of all you are not doing anything wrong. (Repeat that to yourself).
I went through this with one of my twins, In fact we are still going through it somewhat he's 9 now.
Here are a few suggestions (from experience)
1. Explain to him that he is not bad, (I never allow anyone to say "bad boy"). His choices are bad or good. When things calm down ask him to help you figure out what a good choice would be. Example: When we ask you not to... and you say "no" that is not a good choice answer. How else can you respond. Why is it you say "no". Its very frustrating to Mommy and Daddy. He may be a bit young, so you supply the answers too and see if he agrees.
2. Punishment and reward have to change constantly - they are never the same. Stickers one week, happy faces the next. Time out one week, grounding the next and so on and so forth.
For Time out - have him place his nose to the wall standing up with arms behind his back. No moving. Time starts when he stops crying, whining or moving. (sounds harsh, but they get the hang of it by the second time)
3. I found that ignoring my son or giving the silent treatment when he is having a temper tantrum works like a miracle. I simply tell him, I will not talk to you until you are calm, and then walk away from him.

4. He's strong willed, or at least sounds like it. Therefore he detests being told what to do or how to do it. Make it a choice - would you like to stop hitting your brother or go to time out? Would you like to wear the red sweater or the blue one? It sounds weird but it works.
5. Talk to his pre-school teacher, see if she understands a strong willed child and knows how to work with him. A my way or the highway type teacher will never work with this child. Also I bet if she enlists his help in setting up the next activity he will be much more likely to do it. Like let's color - Jonny can you help me carry the crayons to this table?
6. Consistency is key. My son will not respect anyone who is not consistent to this day. He tests his teachers every year for about two weeks. (I've always warned them as soon as I can).

The Guide on Strong willed children in my opion is "The Strong Willed Child" by Dr. Dobson this was my life saver. It explains how to deal with this type of child.

Take Heart: Strong willed children become strong willed adults and those are the movers and shakers of the world. They are less likely to be swayed by peers in the teenage years. Strong Willed people that are motivated to make policies and change the world. They are CEO's, CIO's and other top top performers. They are the ones that make things happen.
So be proud! This strong willed little guy may one day run a company or the country.
The challenge is compliance without breaking his will.

Good Luck to you Both!

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I have four boys - oldest 26, youngest 9. I can't say I ever experienced this with any of mine, but I used to do daycare in my home and I saw it in other kids. It seemed to me that the kids who were exhibiting this behavior were the kids who did not get enough one-on-one attention. They were the kids who were at daycare or school all day, with very busy parents. I'm not trying to lay the blame on you, but you did mention that your son is in preschool. Why not give preschool a rest for awhile and see if that improves his behavior? Time with mom/at home is FAR more important at this age than preschool, especially for boys, many of whom simply are not ready for school at this age. His behavior is speaking to you loud and clear. LISTEN! His teachers seem to be telling you that he isn't ready for school. Perhaps not in so many words, but that is the message I would get from what they are telling you. My mother was an elementary school principal for 30 years, and she insisted that it was the boys who were started in school too early who had behavioral issues which followed them all through their school career. She firmly believed that little boys should start kindergarten at the age of 6 - no earlier. Just something for you to consider. Your son is crying out for attention. Give it to him in a positive way and he will not seek it in a negative way.

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Dear M.,
My middle son was like that and Dr. James Dobson's book called "A Strong Willed Child" has lots of information on handling them that I found helpful. Just so you know, strong willed children are usually very smart-know what they want. He also sounds like he is still jealous of the younger son. Make sure you set a special time apart just for him everyday when the little one is napping or after he goes to bed. Then during the day when you are doing things with both, you can assure him that he will get his special time at ....
Boys are fun...had three! I will be praying that you will be able to help him now...I was always afraid that my son would be an atrocious teenager, but he was one of the best:)

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I've always said that if they wrote books about 3 year olds people just wouldn't have kids. The terrible twos are so sweet compared to the 3s and 4s. The hearing problem I like to call selective hearing, the same kind of hearing you get from your husband. LOL. Now is the time when you need to establish who is the boss and have very specific rules and concequences. 3 and 4 year olds are very defiant and are simply trying to find the limits to everything. You set the rules and you stand by the concequenses (positive and negative) or they will run all over you. Once they realize that mommy means business then you will begin to see better cooperation. Luckily you will should start to see more cooperative behavior toward the end of the 4th year. My very strong willed daughter, now 6 knows who is boss. She is now a very sweet, conciencious girl. Remember: parents, teachers and grownups make the rules not because we are mean, but because we are teaching our children to make safe, healthy, smart decisions. Once they realize that we are helping them when we make the rules they are much more willing to cooperate.

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HI M. - I have a six year old and strong willed 3 year old boy. There was a period where I spent part of every day feeling so out of control and angry because my youngest just refused to listen or pushed my buttons all the time.
I finally decided to stop being angry. I found Snady McDaniel's website: www.parentingsos.com. She also spoke at my son's school and was amazing. On the website there is a list of problems on the side and something called the Minute drill. That worked wonders in my house! I could say in a calm voice:You have one minute to do as I ask. For every minute after that, I will take 15 minutes off of ......" It only took two times for him to see I was serious and start complying AND I wasn't getting angry anymore because it was his choice. The big kicker that Sandy taught me was when punishment time comes, you rope them into it and then take it away: (excitedly: "Garrett, a new Diego cartoon is on, let's go watch it..... (sadly: "oh no... you lost 15 minutes of Tv today, you will have to leave the room for 15 mintues and then you can watch the rest.) It is a killer for them because they realize what they are missing, but it doesn't feel like I am being mean or angry or vindictive. It is pure cause and effect.
I highly recommend the website and her book Parenting Recipes. She really took the anger out of my parenting.
Good luck!

I hear you on this one! My guy will be four in a couple of months and we are in the middle of this too (with a four month old sister in the house). Yes, I'm sure you are right that it's about wanting one on one time, and yes you're right that they can't have it that way all the time. What I have found that works for "motivating" our son is first of all staying VERY calm, as if what he's doing doesn't affect your mood at all (even when it makes you want to pull your hair out!). Then he gets a simple choice - this puts the consequence on his plate and no discipline is your fault or you being "mean". (by the way, we get the "I'm too tired" excuse all the time!) Ok, so here's how it goes with teeth brushing - our biggest battle. "It's time to brush your teeth" I don't want to brush my teeth "Ok, then it's time to sleep, goodnight." (Mom walks out of room quietly and calmly) Wait mom! I want to brush my teeth!!!! (Mom enters doorway) "Ok, go ahead, then it's time to sleep" (Boy brushes teeth, goes potty and hops into bed feeling like he just WON - haha I brushed my teeth, I really showed her! Mom kisses boy goodnight feeling like SHE won - haha he brushed his teeth and now he's in bed with a smile, I really showed him!) As far as things like cleaning up go with the whole "I'm to tired" excuse I just tell him that's fine, you rest until you're ready to clean up the blocks, but if you're too tired then you can't get other toys out to play with. Luckily I have a very easy kid in this way, that once you tell him a rule, he follows it to the letter! He will sit on the floor quietly pouting while I go about my business until he decides he really wants that other toy out, and then he'll clean up the blocks and we celebrate with a little dance together. This is not always that easy with all kids. If things are melting down in the evening, maybe try moving dinner up a little bit and getting him in the bathtub early - water is very soothing to kids and it will keep him occupied for a little while. I would say that overall the less emotion shown during these "collisions" the better - although I know how hard that is! Just stick to it and within a couple of weeks it should get better - I feel like I'm missing something but my brain isn't working after a long night with the baby... so for now that's all I can advise and send along some good luck!

Have you read "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child" by John Gottman PHD? He seems to have focused much of his research and recommendations on 4 yr olds. Very interesting way of dealing with anger, sadness, tantrums, etc. regarding your reactions to it and how to help him deal with his.

Sounds like you have tried "everything" but for how long did you try each thing? Time outs didn't work right away so did you move on to spanking, then that didn't work right away, etc? I have read and learned that you need to try your technique long enough to make sure he knows that EVERY time he misbehaves he will ALWAYS get that same result (Whatever method you are using)If you give up on something too quickly it doesn't have time to take hold and be taken seriously. Once he realizes the result will ALWAYS be _______ the behavior will stop and you won't have to spend all your time doing the discipline. (then he will learn some new behavior to try!!) :-)Good luck!

OMG! You must have stolen my son.

Seriously though....I have your problems. My son can also be super loving. and part of me wonders if he has some sort of mental imbalance. Because it seems like he actually can't behave correctly. I even had his hearing checked-it was just fine. I find taht extreme measures usually work-like when he will not stay in his bed and he wakes up his brother and sister and then mouths off at me-he gets sent down stairs to sleep on the sofa. For some reason that works. and I have hired babysitters to stay w/ him when the rest of the family goes somewhere. He can be so mean. If you figure soemthing out PLEASE share the info.

You might check out the book "Parenting with Love and Logic" or the child psychologist, John Rosemond. Both have some great techniques that free you from the daily battle routine. I've used both with my own children and the high school kids I teach and it works wonderfully.

Good luck!

You are being tested and so far he is stronger than you are.

I would not dream of telling you how, but you have to dominate him in a non anger way. I advocate spanking but do what you think is best. Punishment and discipline are two differnet things, one is done in anger and one is done with forethought and positive ends.

Who is the boss??????

Hi M.,

I know you've already received a lot of replies, but there are some things that have worked for me that I wanted to share. I've been going through the same thing. My oldest son will be 5 in a few months and my youngest son is 16 months old. I agree with other posts that jealously and lack of sleep seem to often be at the root of the problem with my oldest. I've had trouble increasing his sleep time though. If I put him to bed earlier, he just wakes up earlier. And even with "down time" in the afternoon, he doesn't fall asleep.

By itself, time outs aren't very effective at our house, even though I try to follow the Supernanny technique exactly. When I have implemented them, often he will start to kick at me or run away and then he turns into a limp sack of potatoes that I'm trying to drag to the time out spot...it's all a game to him. If he sees by my voice and mannerisms that I'm getting frustrated, he'll start to smirk and laugh. And he's not very bothered by the time out when he does serve one. Very frustrating for me!

But I have found a couple techniques that have worked very well for us. First, I try really hard to remain calm and matter-of-fact with my voice. Then I purposely avoid becoming the "policeman". (You know how everyone hates to be told what to do or that they are doing something wrong, especially if they're strong willed like he is.) The key for my son is I give him a "choice". Now, I'm very careful and have to think quickly about the choices I give him in order for it to turn out my way. In a calm voice I say "you can either do _____ like mommy asks or you can go in time out AND lose ______ (something he is interested in at that very MOMENT, even if it's small, like drinking with his crazy straw or if there's no object/privilege to take away immediately, I default to a time out and taking away the animal he sleeps with for one night.) But I make sure the second choice is a time out AND the loss of something. After I outline his two choices, I always calmly reiterate "it's your choice". In the six months I've been doing this (sometimes daily), he's only chosen the time out/loss TWO times! Otherwise, he says in a sweet, but kind of resigned voice "I'll do what mommy asks" and then does it without argument. It's been like a miracle in our house. Also, if I find that we're having a particularly bad hour, with me repeatedly offering choices every time I want him to do/not do something that he objects to, I've tried saying "I don't like this behavior that's been going on, please tell the sweet boy to come back." Then he says out loud "Here I am!" in the sweetest voice and instantly his calm and agreeable persona appears! Usually this gentle behavior will last for at least several minutes (which I think is good!).

I just made up these techniques myself after trying numerous other things, so I can't quote any experts. But it couldn't hurt to try and hopefully you'll have some luck with them too!

All the best to you,

Hi, M.--

I'd really encourage to visit the website for The Parent's Toolshop. They have wonderful resources, many of them free, and the book is a 400+ page parenting bible. It's pretty dense reading, but it will give you a wonderful tool they call "The Universal Blueprint" that will help you through any parenting challenge I can think of, so it's really worth the slog. I only wish I had had this when my children were small.

I really empathize with your situation, because I had the same issues with my two daughters 18 years ago.

Here's the link:


Best of luck,

Have you ever watched any of the "Nanny" shows on tv? They are very helpful. Much as I hated it in the beginning they taught me that most of the problems we were having your my fault. Not that I am a bad mom but just that my response was creating the disasters. There is no reason for a four year old to be learning to approach the world this way. Check out your tv listings. Good luck

I have a two year old that can be the same way. I bought the book "The Happiest Toddler on The Block." It has advice for kids up to five years old and it's working for us. We learned that with spirited kids, you often get further along faster by trying to make a game out of picking up toys, getting dressed, or whatever task is at hand. For instance, my toddler would not pick up the 14 crayons he put all over the living room floor. I tried to explain the dog was going to eat them and he wouldn't have them anymore or that I would throw them away or save them until he was older if he didn't listen. None of those type of things would work and because they didn't, I would just keep getting more and more frustrated. After I read the book, I would say things like, I need all the yellow crayons in this cup. Then I need all the green crayons, etc. It worked like a charm and it was so easy. When getting dressed he would run away from me. My husband is usually getting ready at the same time as him so I asked my husband to "have a race" with him on who could get ready faster. It works every time and they are laughing and smiling instead of everyone upset and crying. You can skip around in the book and just read the areas that pertain to the age groups of your kids, you have a younger one too and might be able to nip things in the bud sooner with some of the author's ideas (he is a pediatrician.)

I just wanted to thank you for your post. We have 2 boys the same ages and we are having some of the same problems with our 4 year old. Fortunately he is perfectly behaved at school.=) (knock on wood).

I got some really good ideas from the responses. I think it is his age and jealousy of brother. We are working on it and trying to find the best method to use. Some days are great and others are a nightmare, I guess that is the joy of parenting!=)He is a sweet little boy and hope he grows out of this stage quickly, before I go insane. If you find a great method, please let me know. Thanks again for the post.


Hi M.,

Yes, this is typical behavior. I have 2 boys, same ages 4 & 18 months. My 4 year old has been acting the same way! Here's the deal: 4 year olds don't like to be told what to do! They want to make the rules & decisions. They know they need to be taken care of but they don't want to be taken care of. When he challenges you tell him that he deserves to be taken care of. That when you were a little girl & daddy was a little boy, your mommies & daddies & teachers took care of you. Now that you are grown up it is your turn to take care of him. When he is grown up, it will be his turn to take care of the babies & "big boys" (I know they don't like when you say "little"!)

Our son has the same type of outbursts, sometimes out of no where. They have a lot of frustration at this age so we just ignore it if it's not hurting anyone & help him find a way to deal if he'll let us. Sometimes I suggest he punches a pillow. At first, he's very mad & then he starts to think it's funny & calms down.

If he does need to be corrected, I really do think the time-outs are effective if you are consistent. They don't always work the first time. Sometimes they will test you, so it may take 3 or 4 in a row. My husband had wanted to try spanking at one time & I felt we had not been consistent enough with the time-outs. We were getting frustrated ourselves, yelling, just off-track. My son had learned that he may not always get the same punishment so he was testing a lot. He would also say he was stronger than me & refuse to stay in the time out. Every kid has a comodity, something that is really, really important to him. At those times I would threaten to take away his tv time & that would usually get him to cooperate. A couple times, we just had to prove we meant what we said & take away tv time & keep giving time-outs. If the "grounding" is working - taking away something that is important to him, I would stick with it. Whatever you choose, just be consistent so he knows what to expect.

As far as the one on one time, maybe if you put in the calendar "special time" with mommy and/or daddy & showed him then he would have something to look forward to & count on.

Oh & on the "he can't be good" just keep telling him he is a good kid or whatever in your own words. The more you hear something the more you believe it. It takes something like 16 times to hear something positive to block out 1 negative thought.

Hope this helps! Obviously you are not alone!

Wow!! All I can say is wow!! Did you step into my life and replicate it into words?!?! I have the exact same dilemma & my 2 boys are exactly your boys' ages!! Sheesh, no one warned me about 4. Maybe the even ages are the hard ones. Well, we too, have tried all of the things you listed... time outs, spanking, taking away of privileges, distraction, reward charts, all to no avail so far. I don't think it's someting YOU are doing wrong, I think (hope?) it's just a stage. A gfriend of mine has 3 boys b/the ages of 2 1/2 yo - 6 yo and she said 4-5 was the HARDEST age for her. It's like the boys become deaf. (hmmmm, they learn at a young age I guesss!) My son simply tells me when we talk about disobeying " I dont know Mom, I cant hear you, maybe I should go to the doctor..." (EVERYTHING is fine in that dept)...Or that he's "tired & trying to wake up.." I don't get it! I know that negotiating with your child shouldn't really be an option, but sometimes that's the only way to get through to him! He is a well mannered boy when HE chooses to be and can be so helpful, but then there are the times when I just find myself bewildered with his actions. So, girl, you are not alone in your dilemma!! Don't blame yourself or feel like there is something that your missing, I think it's just boys being boys... I recall a conversation with my old daycare provider about a little boy in class who was about the same age as my oldest is now and she simply said that >>>"4-5 was her least fav age bc the kids are getting ready to transition...into Kindergarten and they push all their boundaries and limits..." And she did daycare for 25+ years, so I would consider her to be a little bit of a resource on the subject. I will cont repeating myself a thousand times a day about the things he knows he shouldn't do & hope that in time it sinks in. Should you find a fabulous solution, please let me know, and I'll do the same for you!! Best of luck & just remember YOU AREN'T ALONE!!! =)

He sounds strong willed perhaps, but real, real normal. That Supper Nanny program does really understand this stage in child development. They have great suggestions too. It’s on Friday nights. Your adorable son is growing up, learning his independence, and separateness from you. Because of this, testing you becomes his job. In turn, consistency becomes yours. Trying everything does not work. Sticking with one thing, like time outs is a better bet. Unfortunately, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. Watch
Supper Nanny, if nothing else, you will get a kick out of it.

One thing that gets my kids to listen is, putting their attitude towards me, back on them.

You know the: I need to go here, I need this for school, I need you to stop at the store for this etc. So when I ask you to do something you'd better jump to it. Especially because I don't ask very often, I ask when I need help because I put my stuff on hold to do what they needed. Your son is younger so you'll have to decide on different things to not do for him.

When my kids give me the why me, why do I have to do it, or any other slack I stop doing things they ask me to do.
Mom I need you to take me to susies. I say well I needed you to clean your bathroom. You didn't think it was important I don't think it's important to take you to Susies. Or simply say, Nah I don't want to. This works for School projects, Friends b-day parties, everything. And don't give in, no matter what. I know you will feel guilty and horrible for them missing something important. But life is about give and take. Not about mom giving and giving. They soon realize that they have a part in this family, it's not all about them.

Another thing that worked for me was deep cleaning something. When they didn't mind I thought for a few minutes then I gave them a big shore. clean out the frig, clean the bathroom, wipe out cubbards, clean baseboards. Anything that I never had time to get to. This way they aren't playing in their room, or sitting thier staring into space. It's not timed, it's a job. They soon realize that this stinks and be better. And don't accept a crappy job. Even a four year old can do a good job, it might not be adult good but you can tell if they are trying or not.
Also if you are going to do time outs then they should be standing toes and nose on the wall if he takes his toes or nose off the wall then time has to start again. He must be in a standing possition also. If someone punished you to sit on a chair, you'd be greatful for the moment to get to sit. Punishment should be tough. The thing I like about this time out is there are walls at church, at the store, at grandma's, the doctor's the dentist. So they can stand on a wall anywhere. And your legs get tired. We are all cappable of standing for hours, but when you have to stand with toes and nose on the wall you realize your legs are tired. I have never had to make my kids stand on a wall at any of these places, I simply had to say: would you like me to find a wall for you to stand on. They straighten right up. Just the thought of having to do that in public makes them change attitudes.

Remember though your son states he doesn't know why he does it, and he can't be good. So watch for other symptoms of depression. Maybe it's a cemical imbalance.

Ask him what makes him mad, and ask him about friends and school mates (if he goes to any schools). Tell him stories about some kids bugging you and how it made you mad, and that somedays you couldn't get past the mad. This is good for 2 things. 1) you are telling him it's normal to have feelings like this. 2) opening up to him might make him open up to you, and he might tell you something that happens to him which makes him this way.

Teachers don't see everything. 5 People can go to the same event and all 5 will tell you diffrent things. A teacher might see 2 kids look like they are talking, when listening closer one could be threatening the other.

Please try all angles to get him to talk to you and tell you his secrets. We are all cappable of being good, being bad, or simply just having a bad day. Maybe it is something deeper. Good luck to you! Your a great mom! J.

You can try 1-2-3 Magic. It has cut out a lot of discipline problems for us...that and sticker charts with smiley faces for good behavior. The most important thing is increase 1:1 time with him to play and interact as much as you can. Just love him and be supportive as much as possible. Best of luck.

Aloha - I'm a mom of 4 children, all grown with children of their own. I had similar problems 1st with the 2 girls who were older than the 2 boys. I handled the situations just as you did the 1st time with the girls and was better when I handled it with the boys. With the boys I finally wised up and gave them the choice of the alternatives that I wanted and stuck to it no matter what. E.g. = you can pick up the toys after you've had your bath or do it now ( which you actually want ) & allow the child to decide. I rarely praised them for doing things that each was expected to do but did praise when something was done unexpectedly. If the child doesn't do the task as he chose, then the next time the same thing cam around, I repeated the choices I offered which weren't complied with so " this time I'm saying clean up now " or whatever it is that you had requested. After a few times of you sticking to your decisions, hopefully your child will get it that you're the one running the household. It's difficult to be the one doing the discipline all day and not have your husband start his quality time with that task, but do remind him that he too is the parent and although discipline is the last thing he wants to start the evening off with, he could inquire from time to time how things went during the day when he does speak to the children or tuck them in, be sure to inquire as to why they acted that way & decided not to help out and instead of discipline, he could either reinforce what should be done or say " that'll mean you won't be able to do such & such when we have play time or when I'm off on the weekend you won't be able to do such & such". I too would rely on discipline from my husband with the children when he came home and often times landed up being the " nice, good or favorite parent in the eyes of the children ". We all want that but we're not raising friends, we're raising our children and discipline, punishment, spanking and consistency is all what's needed to bring up a child. Often times our children become immune to our threats, spanks, time-outs = so being creative to your types of alternatives can alleviate your frustration of the rearing your child. I used to keep a little notebook of how some of my discipline tactics worked or didn't work but made sure my voice was always the tone I meant it to be. On the other hand "special time " for each child during a day or the week, helps to alleviate the need to have your attention and that can be a time for a special book, craft or just something your child may want the both of you to do. Again if what you want done doesn't get done, then I didn't have special time for that day or that week because I'd say that " I was the one who had to pick up the toys or whatever it was that your child was suppose to do and did not or refused to do it, that's why I don't have time for your special time ". Just for your sanity & to laugh about it, try acting like they do when they ask you something and reverse the rolls. I know it sounds crazy but a taste of their own antics sometimes brings light to their own behavior. Oh well who said being a mom, had all the right answers or methods. Be creative, be firm, be the parent and stick to your discipline. If there's a hint that you're wishy washy in any way, your child picks up on that very quickly and instinctively he/she works it and wears you down but if he/she sees that you're not giving in, they'll know sooner or later they've got to do it.
P.S. If that doesn't work, take yourself to the park and shout out your frustration. Anyway try it, it may just work.

Hello, this is Z., I am a 16 year old, and I think these sites about 3, 4, 5, and 6, and old kids that are not listening, this is stereotyping, not all kids are like this, there are mothers out there who don't listen to their kids and do things that help them learn, listen to their feelings, see how they feel and think about why they do that, the things that people are putting on here, what you are doing is emotionally and mentally and sometimes physically hurting them, you people need to stop and think, you people have no respect for the youth, if you give respect to us, we'll give you the respect you want, think about that, I'm adopted by a 60 year old mother who didn't listen to me when I tried to tell her what she doesn't see, she doesn't get what I'm trying to tell her, talk to them, just because they don't listen doesn't mean they are ignoring you, let them talk, get to know them a little more, before the world gets the problems out to them, don't yell at them, go down to them and play with them, get to know them, okay, thank you for reading.

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