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.

3 moms found this helpful

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,

3 moms found this helpful

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.

2 moms found this helpful

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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