25 answers

Trying to Avoid Spanking Fiesty 4 Year Old -- Help!

My daughter Alexandra is an adorable, very smart, very strong-willed, very independent, VERY FRUSTRATING 4-year-old little tornado. She has many wonderful qualities but her extreme shortcoming at this point in life is minding. More often than not, she just chooses to ignore requests completely. After the "count to three" final warning has ended, she'll just barely pick up her feet and start to mosey along over to whatever it was I asked her to do but by then it's too late. Because timeouts and getting sent to bed early don't seem to bother her, I just lately have begun smacking her bum out of sheer frustration -- but I absolutely hate doing that!

I don't want my children to mind me because they are afraid of me, and I loathe myself when I lose my temper the way I have been lately. Any suggestions on how I can try to approach her differently when she flat out refuses to mind? I understand her behavior is perfectly, developmentally appropriate, and I don't want to stifle her spirit; but I also want her to have a healthy respect for authority. Please help me find the right balance in how I deal with her. Thanks so much!

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Featured Answers

Can you think of a conseqence for her that she would mind? Taking away a favorite toy or something else that she looks forward to? You've got to make it so that it is in her best interest to mind you. . . .good luck.

Hi K.,
So glad to hear that there are many mothers out there that have the same spirited child that I do! And even more glad to hear that there are others that are trying to find ways besides spanking to get through to them. I am actually suprised at a couple of the responses here.....

My theory about spanking.....I do not like to do it but will if it means something very serious such as going out into the road when told/taught not too or doing something that could potentially harm them. I would NEVER hit them with another object.

Counting backwards does help us sometimes, time outs do help us sometimes, and taking things away helps us sometimes. I went and bought the "Love and Logic" book today for more ideas. Good luck and if you need someone to chat to...email me!

Try telling Her that you will take a favorit toy away. And stick too it. Or we wont go outside to play if She wont be good.

More Answers

My advice from the perspective of a grandmother who absolutely loves children is consistency and acting promptly. I see so many parents (and grandparents and other caregivers) who ask a child to do something, then don't do anything about their refusal to respond. The counting to 3,or 10, or whatever just tells them they have that much longer to do what they are doing or try to wear you down. I really think a few times of jumping up as soon as they refuse to mind and either making them do it (often helping them) or at least stopping what they are doing will make a big difference. It seems the next step to follow is for them to defiantly look you in the eye and do exactly what they have been told not to do, whether it is eating a cookie, hitting someone, or running into the street. You can kind of tolerate the first two, but when it comes to something dangerous, they have to know to mind the first time, and not after the count to 10. They won't know to do it when it is dangerous if they get by with ignoring you the rest of the time. It takes more of your energy to jump up and stop them than telling them over an over, but I think in the long run it will save a lot of trouble - for you, the child and everyone around them! Also helps you avoid you getting to the point of frustration to have to resort to yelling or a spanking. I also think it is important to "pick you battles" - have a reason for telling them to do or not do something - not just say no for the sake of saying no. An explanation of why is good, but I think after you stop the behavior, not to try to convince them to stop. Hope this helps!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi K.,

It sounds like you are definately going through a difficult time with your daughter. The only time I have spanked our children is if they have done or tried to do something really dangerous, like running into a street or running away from me in the parking lot, lclimbing up onto high furniture ot putting things in electical outlets (my youngest could get the plug covers off at 16 months old,scary!). Have you tried having Alex repeat the request that has been made to her? That's what I do with my oldest who is almost 6 and he's busy playing. Also, if he's playing with something and he doesn't do as told after repeating the request, I take that toy away from him and he isn't allowed to have it until the next day. I also try to give him a lot of choices so he feels in control (For example Do you want to clean up your toys now or in ten minutes wehn the timer goes off? Do you want oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast?, do you want to wear the red or green shirt today?, etc.) Then when I need to make the decision that is important to me I say "It's mommy's turn to decide." Alex may not be so defiant if she gets to make lots of choices (about things that don't really matter to you) and feels like she is in conrol. The key to all of this is to remain calm and don't let her see that she has gotten a strong reaction from you such as anger or frustration. Keep your voice calm and matter of fact, then she won't be so entertained by the reactions she can elicit in you. If these approaches don't work you might also consider taking away her favorite toys one by one for a period of time (a week seems like an eternity to a four year old) and then giving them back to her as a reward when she is behaving well. Good luck! I'll say a prayer for you.

Try the book Love and Logic. It's all about consequence for their actions, and being consistent.

Try telling Her that you will take a favorit toy away. And stick too it. Or we wont go outside to play if She wont be good.

Hi K.,
So glad to hear that there are many mothers out there that have the same spirited child that I do! And even more glad to hear that there are others that are trying to find ways besides spanking to get through to them. I am actually suprised at a couple of the responses here.....

My theory about spanking.....I do not like to do it but will if it means something very serious such as going out into the road when told/taught not too or doing something that could potentially harm them. I would NEVER hit them with another object.

Counting backwards does help us sometimes, time outs do help us sometimes, and taking things away helps us sometimes. I went and bought the "Love and Logic" book today for more ideas. Good luck and if you need someone to chat to...email me!

Can you think of a conseqence for her that she would mind? Taking away a favorite toy or something else that she looks forward to? You've got to make it so that it is in her best interest to mind you. . . .good luck.

I know that there are books about strong-willed children, and since I'm a reader, that's the course of action I'd take.

Good luck! Kids can be hard to work with. I work with 16 four year olds everyday! They can definatly be hard at times, and some of them more often then not. I don't have a good answer because every child is so different and different things work for disipline. But what we try to do if at all possible is really look at what is causing the behavior...attention getting, if they are testing you ,etc. And try to get to the root of the problem. There are many things you could try. For attention problems we ignore the bad behavior to the point possible, and praise even the slightest improvement. For difiance you have to give them two choices you are okay with "you can either pick up your toys by yourself, and we will sit here as long as it takes, or I can help you pick them up, we can race, etc..." or if you need to set up consequences and let her know before what they are. Most important is consistancy and follow through for any child I think. Also sometimes when I am really starting to get ajetated I go to another area take a slight deep breathe go back to the situation and sometimes get on their level and just talk about what is going on, tell them "I see a problem"ask them what they are doing that isn't right, ask them what the rule is, ask how they can fix the problem. Also I try to view things from their world occasionally.It does sometimes get hard for everyone to keep their cool..even those of us who most people consider pretty patient! :). So good luck, I've had quite a few children that have been very difficult to deal with, just keep trying. You are a great mom for wanting to teach these things to your children! Keep going!

Hi K.,

Have you tried a switch on her bottom? Like a willow limb or large twig, something along that line will get her attention real quick. She definately needs to know who's in charge and it isn't you as long as she keeps winning the battles. You..not her are in charge, take back your lost ground then make a stand with the switch..not the hand. This way it's the switch that stings not Mom's loving hand. Be firm, sure and consistent. Don't give her any warnings. If you say to stop, go or jump and she refuses or pokes along you give her the switch. Stop with the counting game. That only gives them lee-way to disobey. Best wishes, L.

I've not read most of the books recommended, but I did go to a Love & Logic seminar one night. It was good, but not something I'd be willing to follow rigidly. I liked their idea of actions and consequences best and that's what I used with my super feisty girl when she was 4. For example, when she wouldn't pick up her things, I let her know that the consequence was that whatever I picked up was mine to choose what to do with it. I could give it away, but it in storage or keep it for a few days. She's much better at picking up now -- most of the time. When she hurt a girl in her kindergarten class because she didn't want to change something, I explained that she'd made a poor choice in handling the situation. The consequence of her poor choice was no choices of any kind for a week. We still struggle, but over time this seems to have helped us both. I don't get so angry with her and she is usually more respectful and follows directions better.

You have many moms recommending Parenting with Love and Logic. This is such a great program because it helped me to get in control and have a fabulous relationship with my kids. I am able to get what I want without feeling guilty for losing it! I strongly suggest that you get the books or CD's from the website www.loveandlogic.com and pay attention to the empathy part in particular so that it will work faster! Good luck, there is hope!

Hi K.!

A swat at this age will save you much grief later on. I have three teenage girls. When they were small the only time they ever got a swat was for open defiance. You will find both sides of the spectrum -- Moms who would never swat their toddler, ones who beat them with spoons, ones who let Dad hit them so they don't have to (or worse, the kids gets a double whammy), etc. I gave one swat -- enough to get their attention and let them know who was Mom -- and it was only for disobedience.

You are absolutely correct in saying that her behavior is normal. She's testing her boundaries. If you do not address it, it will get worse and more difficult to correct. Your daughter will grow up to be very happy and a sheer joy to you if you don't let her strong will become a curse rather than a blessing.

I highly recommend the book "Kids Are Worth It" by Barbara Coloroso. She gives wonderful parenting advice that works from toddlers to teens. It's the only parenting book I still have and my girls are 17, 15, and 12.

Best Wishes,

A good book to read is The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham. You can get the book from a local library. He gives advice that does work. You have to be patient for the techniques to work. Granted I don't agree with the whole book, but his suggestions help.

I have one of those fiesty ones. Honestly, the only thing he has responded to consistently comes from the Love & Logic book specifically written for this age group (birth to 6 years). When I remember to do it, it is like night and day with my little guy. I highly recommend the book. It is a quick read (I read it in just over a day) and has really great examples of how to handle very common situations. It works well for all my kids, but it is the only thing that comes close to working with my fiercely independent one - I think because it's all about empowering your little ones to be able to feel some control in their little lives. It really helps build the self-esteem of the independent ones.

K., I cannot recommend strongly enough that you pick up a copy of Love and Logic Magic for the Early Childhood Years by Jim Fay. We just bought the book and within ONE DAY our strong-willed 2 year old was acting more civilized. . . one day. I just had the best weekend that I've had in months! The whole concept is based on consequences for actions (or no action) just like in the real world but with a hefty dose of love and empathy. I can't believe how great it worked. Good luck!

There's nothing more frustrating than feeling like you don't have control in your own home...especially when it's the child that's taking over. From my experience (I have a 7, 8 and 10 year old), if you don't teach your children how to treat you, the lack of respect and frustration will increase.

Yes, your child is 4 and is an independent being; however, all children are not born with the skill set of proper communication and behavior. I can assure you that her spirit will not be broken because you decide to lay down the law of how mommy is going to be treated. If anything, she doesn't know where her boundaries are and therefore is testing them all the time to figure out what's ok and what's not. It's up to us to parent our children and to help them to learn how to make good choices as well as experience the consequences when they make bad ones. My guess is that you threaten a lot and never really follow through...thus, the ignoring.

I couldn't agree more with one of the posts below...the book, Parenting with Love and Logic, is a godsend and worth every penny and then some. I love it so much that I actually gift a copy of the book to all my friends whose children turn 1 year-old.

Honestly my first response to your question is: "Spare the rod spoil the child." However, I know how you feel. My 5 year old laughs when his dad is trying to discipline him. It makes my husband and me so mad that he doesn't respect him, but I think that is his outlet. We do use 1 spanking with the wooden spoon when he ignores us or is being rude or mean. The one thing that I can suggest to do that works GREAT with our son is to take everything away. If he cannot respect us by doing what we ask then he does not deserve to have any toys. We have had to do this 2 times in his little lifetime and it has straightened him out considerably. This last time we made him pack up all his toys and take them to our bedroom. He also was grounded from his friends for the week. At the end of the week we did not give him all of his toys back. He had to slowly earn them back by listening, showing us respect, and doing what he is told.

Hi there! Same situation here, but with a boy:) I know exactly how you feel. a good friend recommended the book Raising your Spirited Child to me and I felt stronger after the first chapter. You can get it on Amazon.com. you are not alone, and this book will definitely help! The workbook is great too!

Hi K.,
You know I have been wondering if there were others out there with this problem (I knew there had to be...:))Anyway, I'm a Grandma, having my 6 1/2 yr old going on 16 grand daughter for the summer. I don't really like smacking or spanking with kids now days.. it seems like timeout..no watching tv and stopping things they want to do, works better. I'm also trying to get her to not argue back and be respectful. Children now days are not like what they were when you all were coming up. They are exposed to more and like the Bible says...they will be weaker and wiser. A friend of mine told me...the reason they are so smart and have all this knowledge is because they are not going to be here as long. Hang in there, I also find ignoring helps. You have the younger one watching so you have to be consistant. I said earlier, I really don't like smacking or spanking but sometimes it is needed (it didn't damage my kids coming up who are now 43, 40 & 36). You have to let them know who is boss...your the adult she is the child.Let her know she must show respect and believe me she will understand. J. B. 66 yr old Grandma

Thanks for asking this question. I am having the same problem with my almost 4 year old daughter and desperately need some advice. I'll be reading the responses you get!


Someone recommended the book Daring to Discipline. I have started reading it, but haven't gotten very far. I know it is frustrating to have your kids totally ignore you like you don't exist. My three-year old has started doing that. My other option is learning to laugh. A lot of times, I will respond with "Well, I can't do "this" for you" Or "well you can't do "this"" I also hear love and logic books help a lot. Good luck. And you are a good mom. Spanking her bum once is not necessarily a bad thing. But you have to do what is good for you and your family.

Hey, K.-- I feel your frustration and I applaud you for working to maintain a trusting relationship with your child. I think it's risky to set up an adversarial relationship when kids are young, because then they will not trust us when they are teens. You don't want her to hit, so you have to set the example of dealing with frustration in non-violent ways. It's hard.
I struggle with not swatting my kids in anger when they don't listen and let me tell you, the book "How to talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk" probably saved their lives (and my sanity). I am so much less likely to blow up and so much less likley to resort to physical threats because of what I learned from that book. It's a quick, easy read available in paperback and probably at your local library. There are no mind games or weird manipulations, just straight-up communication techniques that will diffuse your anger and her tantrums, and encourage her to listen and follow instructions.
I really believe a healthy respect for authority must be founded in trust. Developing and maintaining relationships of mutual trust is the key for getting anyone to follow directions. I have also enjoyed "The Discipline Book" by Dr. William Sears, "Adventures in gentle Discipline" by Hilary Flower, and "Hold on to your Kids" by Gordon Neufeld for ideas about how to create the kind of relationship that makes children willing to cooperate. (Although "How to Talk" is the ultimate gold standard for this situation. Seriously.)
I suggest you skip the counting thing (it only tells her she does not need to take you seriously until the numbers get bigger; in effect YOU are buying HER time to misbehave, probably not what you want to do). Consider using very positive concrete terms to say what you want. Instead of "don't hit the kitty!" try "Please pet the kitty gently." Also, start directions with "I need you to," "I want you to," I expect you to," "It is time to," and "It's important that you. . . " It's also OK to validate her feelings and or wish grant without succumbing to inappropriate preferences. It's OK to say, "You really like cookies! If cookies were healthy for you, I'd let you have 100!" Then you can laugh about being buried in cookies but you still do not have to give her the extra cookies she whines for.
I think 4-year-olds need a lot of follow-through on requests, so it is important that you follow through and help her do what you've asked. At this age, learning to follow two- and three-step instructions is a new, developing skill. You can play Simon Says and similar games to practice.
I also think being well-fed and well-rested makes a world of difference in cooperation level. My eldest son's preschool teacher (who is pretty much a child development genius)says preschoolers (and maybe the rest of us, too) have behavior problems when they are tired, hungry, legitimately need positive attention, or are going through a phase of learning something. Remembering this has helped me keep my cool. She also often says, "A person's a person, no matter how small" (from Dr. Seuss)and "Children behave as well as they are treated."
I have three boys and my first, in particular, has a very intense personality. I really respect your efforts to appreciate your daughter's spirited nature while steering her towards good things. I believe you are right that children should not have to cooperate out of fear of punishment.
Hang in there. Best wishes to you and your family!

Take away her favorite toys or limit/restrict tv, video game, "media" time. That's the only thing that works w/my son...plus the half hearted spanking - besides making you feel bad - really won't work...just not effective if there isn't some "anger" behind it - and obviously that isn't in your nature (or mine!!)...

Good luck.

She sounds like my 5 year old. He does the EXACT same behaviors. Things that work for me - discuss all these BEFORE she becomes obstinate. She at least knows that there is a time limit. I use it for everything from cleaning up to bath time to getting dressed or ready for bed...

Give notice, for instance: At the next commercial, we're going to 'blah'. If you have the ability to 'pause the TV'. use that feature at the commercial or end of a program.

Set a timer, make sure she knows before you set the timer what the task is beforehand.

Good Luck to you. I know it's hard. I've been there and spanked the back of the legs... He laughs, which is even more frustrating.

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