4 Year Old Behaving Badly with Peers

Updated on July 26, 2010
B.M. asks from Plainview, NY
10 answers

Our 4 year old son has started to behave badly with his peers: refusing to share, screaming, crying, hitting, poking, saying "I don't want to be your friend", slamming doors, etc. He has a new baby sister, recently moved, and recently started a new day care. Any tips on how to teach him manners while also boosting his confidence?

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answers from New York on

He is dealing with a lot of changes and this is how it is showing up (he is angry). Remind him of rules and expected behavior but it will probably take a while. It took probably at least 9 months for my son to adjust to his baby sister. He still complains about her and says mean things but the acting up at preschool is much less (the baby is 18 months). Also giving him one on one parent attention helps (even if it is hard to fit on with a new baby). If you can do an activity for 15 minutes when the baby is sleeping it can make a big difference for the day.

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answers from Portland on

Punishment, as such, is seldom needed when children are given productive ways of dealing with their own issues. It sounds like your little boy has some good reasons to be experiencing distress. His life has delivered some big, big changes, over which he has had no control. And 4yo's really, really crave control, choice, and autonomy.

Rather that give the message "X behavior is unacceptable and will get you punished," kids generally respond more positively and quickly to "I see by X behavior, you want/need more of Y. I really, really understand. I wish we could give you as much Y as you want. More, even! Now, would you like to go and have some fun with your friends? Figure out which toys you can share. If you don't want to do that, we can go home and have some quiet time now, instead. But I'll bet you'd probably rather play awhile, wouldn't you?"

My grandson never has reason to tantrum, and his acting out has almost disappeared since instituting this approach a couple of years ago (he's now 4.5). Though he does receive the logical consequences for his choices, punishment has virtually disappeared from his life – there's simply no need for it. His parents (and grandparents) don't have to coerce or manipulate him, or seldom even raise our voices, to get his calm, respectful, often cheerful cooperation.

If this sounds as wonderful to you as it is, I hope you'll google Emotion Coaching to learn more. Here's one very informative link to get you started: http://www.education.com/reference/article/important-pare... . There are also some terrific books working with these techniques. One of my favorites is by Faber and Mazlish, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

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answers from Las Vegas on

He's had a lot of changes going on. I'm sure that has made him feel a bit out of sorts and insecure. I agree with consequences, as Angelina had suggested, but I would also recommend talking to him before the playdate and discussing what behavior you expect from him and telling him that if there are any toys that he does not want to share, then he should put them away so that they won't be a temptation to him or the other kids during the playdate.

I would also develop some consistent sharing rules for the kids to follow. For my 2 children, the rule was that if one child wanted to play with a toy that another child was playing with, then the child should ask to play with the toy and wait a little while for the other child to hand it over. I usually had the asking child sing the ABC Song and after they were done, that is when the other child had to relinquish the toy.

If you have some clear sharing rules in place, this may help your son understand better what is expected of him. If he breaks a rule, then the naughty corner or time out maybe what's needed.

Hope this helps.


answers from Kansas City on

enforcing good behavior WILL boost his confidence in the long run - but you are in for a rocky road of course. all these changes at once will take awhile to adjust to. we moved and started preschool in the same month, and my son took four months (and back-to-square-one potty training) to get back on track. this was when he was three, three and a half. it will be hard and there is no easy route, but i just wanted to lend my support - you may have to get back to basics and fundamentals with discipline. make sure you don't let him slide because you feel bad for him. it will only make it harder later. stick to the rules. if he can't play nice then he can't play with his friends, either a time out, or ending the play date if it gets too out of hand. absolutely stick to your guns. and definitely reward GOOD behavior as much as you possibly can. spend one on one time with him (i know it's harder than ever but it's also more important than ever) and make sure he knows you still love him. talk to him and tell him what a good big brother he is, how proud you are of him for being such a big boy. good luck. he'll get through it. this is one of those times in parenting they don't tell you about - it's all about hard work at this point. hang in there!



answers from Utica on

Sounds like he is acting out the frustration of the stress level he is in. At least you know why he is stressed. Manners will come as you show him manners. Kids that act like they could use a good scolding, usually need more love and peace. Show him those and his manners will return.
God bless you and your wonderful family with peace and joy in the Lord



answers from New York on

I don't think it's a manners issue, he is angry and frustrated that so much has changed in his life which he has no control over. I might do away with the playdates right now if they are too stressful for him (and hurtful to the other little kids). It's important for him to have an appropriate outlet for his anger. Let him know it is okay to talk about being mad or frustrated about the things that have happened in his life recently. Due to so many changes, the most important thing is for him to have stablity and a routine, so be sure that you've set one up and are following it daily. Knowing what to expect makes kids much calmer. Good luck


answers from Chicago on

He needs consequences for his actions at all times no matter where you are ... when he acts out and you allow it , it will just get worst .... never scream at him but go down to his level and explain that you love him and that is behavior is not acceptable and punish him how you feel fit..... It so hard i know but you have to really stand firm and you are the parent he is the child.... hope this helps



answers from Jamestown on

He's suffering from adjustment issues and acting out. Everything he's known for 4 years has been disrupted. You need to show him how to adjust to the changes by being an example.

Go to the park with him and walk up to other parents and introduce yourself. Show him your confidence in meeting new people and doing new things. Show him that (some) change is good and that he can have fun with it.




answers from New York on

Patience, firmness, modelling good behavior. He doesn't need confidence or excuses for his behavior - nor anger. It's understandable that he is acting out - that's a huge number of changes.

When he is not in the middle of acting out is a good time to briefly explain rules - boys don't need lots of words babbled at them or 'honey it hurts their feelings'. They need clear concise boundaries enforced firmly and consistently.

The best advice re: new baby I got from a mom of 4 was if the baby and the sibling were both crying, to let the baby cry and attend to the other child. The other child has to wait, understand, accommodate so much with a new baby, and babies cry a lot anyway, that when they both need something, the child needs to know he sometimes comes first. That was hugely helpful in our family and spoke volumes to the older ones.

Continually check your motivations - we're training our children to be adults who can control themselves and care for others - but that takes years of continual care and attention. We don't simply care about what others think of us or our parenting.

I know you must be exhausted from all the newness, too, so relax and know it will take a few months.

All the best,



answers from New York on

Teaching him manners should not be the focus right now. This little guy's world has been ROCKED and from his perspective, not in a good way. Too much change in the life of a young child will lead to regression and acting out - just like you are seeing.

What he needs is a lot of attention, a lot of understanding, a lot of reassurance and a lot of patience from you. Take time each day to play alone with him (have someone else manage the baby for an hour and let the moving boxes sit for awhile).

Help him set up his room and put away his toys using tons of kindness and enthusiasm and continue to reassure him that even though there have been a lot of changes, the family is together, things will settle down, and he is fine.

It may seem that he is old enough to handle all of this and to understand what's going on but he is NOT.

In a kind but firm voice you can tell him "No, honey, we don't hit when we are mad. We use our words. Can you tell me why you are angry right now?"
when he starts acting out but really this sounds like a major adjustment issue and your primary focus should be on helping him to feel secure.

Hang in there and good luck!


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