4 Year Old Behavior Problems

Updated on July 02, 2010
K.M. asks from Forest Hill, MD
7 answers

My son who just turned 4 has been having problems with talking back and telling me and his daycare teachers that we are mean and unfair when he is told something he doesn't like. I know that is somewhat normal for a 4 year old, but he has always been this sweet, caring child and lately when he gets mad or frustrated he lashes out on us, his teachers and his friends. He has even gotten physical with his friends and told his teachers that he didn't like them anymore. I'm very concerned about how to teach him respect and how to deal with his feelings but have no clue where to start. He knows what he is doing is wrong and feels bad for it afterwards, but he had no impluse control and when a situation arrises that will make him mad, he instinctively gets nasty. I've tried punishments at home, but I can't help how he is at school. The teachers are working with me to help him there, but I still feel like there is more that I should be doing. I konw it is a phase, but I want to stop it before it gets out of hand-please help!!!

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answers from Philadelphia on

In my preschool class I see these behaviors all the time (as well as with my own daughter)! At this age they are just learning how to deal with their feelings when they are angry/frustrated. It is important to acknowledge the feeling ("Boy, it looks like that made you really mad when they took that toy from you/knocked over your block tower/etc.") and redirect the behavior into a more appropriate response ("You may not hit but you could ask for the toy back/tell them you did not like it when they knocked down the tower/etc.) At first children often need to be prompted through each step and even given the exact words to say.....and it takes many repetitions of this help over time in many situations for children to begin to respond appropriately on their own. The appropriate response varies depending on the situation and the child. Some children need the strategy of removing themself from the situation until they can calm. You need to adjust for what you know about your son. If he is very active/physical he may need an appropriate physical activity to work off steam when he is mad (pound some playdough, bounce a ball, etc). The use of the phrases, "I hate you!" or "I don't like you any more." are also common. I am always careful not to become upset or hurt by this and to calmly say, "I still like/love you." and then move into the labeling of the feeling and following steps described earlier. Later, when the situation is over, you could have a discussion about how saying those things hurt your feelings....but in the heat of the moment is it best not to give those words any power by a strong reaction. Kids need to know that everyone gets angry/frustrated/sad sometimes and that those feelings are okay. They just need to learn appropriate ways of expressing and handling those feelings and situations. I hope this was helpful.


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

ya know i am not a doctor, i maybe i am wrong, but i dont always think that "differant" behavior is due to an "illness", in my opinion, there is a name for everything now..

i have a 4 yr old that talks back, used to kick and scream and hit, says that her teacher is always right and i know nothing...

we discipline her when she acts out,, we explain that she needs to be respectful, etc.. i am not sure if she completely understands, but i do know as she is getting a little older its easier..

maybe he needs an outlet for his frustration.. its ok to be anger and to be frustrated, he just needs to be taught how and when to show it.

if you think its medical, by all means, you know your child best. but get more then one professionals opinion before you start giving him pills or anything..



answers from Harrisburg on

It sounds like he is trying to spread his wings. He's 4, but his communication skills are just not up to par yet. You say he's frustrated, and he does feel remorse for things he does. My boss' daughter went through something like this, and she taught her how to give herself a time-out and breathe minute. Whenever there was something she didn't want to do, or couldn't do, she got frustrated, which led to anger, and then she would "shutdown". Also, he may want to make his own choices, be his own boss, so when you want to do something, give him two choices (both choices leading into the thing you want him to do) and let him pick which way he wants to do it, if the one he picks is too hard, then gently explain "well let's try it this way and see, maybe this will help you" The worse thing you can do is let him see you get upset, because kids can feel you get tense, and it reflects right back. If you can, take the day and go to school with him, and spend the day. That way you can see and feel the atmosphere that he does, and he'll love having you there by his side. Best of luck.



answers from Washington DC on

I wouldn't go the whole evaluation route. I do not think something is "wrong" with him. It sounds like he is trying on a new form of self expression that is negative. (My son did similarly when he was four - that was a very tough age for him.) Remember when you were a kid and something inside you said, "Go on.....try it! See what happens." Keep up with the consistent consequences. I would look into videos and books that encourage good social skills. You could look online or contact the guidance counselor at your local elementary school for ideas. I am sure he/she would be very helpful. That and, if you can head off a confrontation, give him something to repeat to express his frustration to the other person that is appropriate. He could have a list of simple statements (like 3 or so). Then he could tell about what he needs. When you're frustrated you always need something to change in your environment. It may not be always possible for that change to happen, but it helps if the "offending" person knows about it. Hope this helps you. Five years old is definitely easier....it's coming! :)



answers from Washington DC on

Something no one has mentioned yet... Is your child going through anything new? New home, new family situation, new caregiver, new friends, new or different anything?? It could be something as small as you started serving new foods or having him wear shorts instead of pants!! Think real hard about anything, anything at all that's changed (from his point of view!)...
Depending on what you think of is how you would handle your situation.
But please don't just jump to "oh there's gotta be something wrong with him" Just think about it!



answers from Pittsburgh on

your 4 year old sounds like my 3 year old. Who was recently diagnoised with Destructive Disturbance Behavioral Disorder and he also have the symptoms of ADHD. The pycholocgist tried to give him an autism test but he wouldnt cooperate. After doing research on my own I am thinking he may also had PPD which is a form of autism. I am trying to get him into Family Links to be evaulated again and better this time I hope. I would contact the developmental unit of your local Childrens hosptial and get him evaulated. It is alwasy ebtter to be safer than sorry and he is at the age that anything can be treated with Behavorial Modification therapy. Which is why we are trying to get my son into Family links. You do not want this to go untreated and then find out later it is ADHD or something that could have been treated when he was younger. It is harder to treat as the child gets older. Good luck. Let us nkow how it goes



answers from Albuquerque on

My son is 4 and he does the same things. He is really bad about talking back and arguing with me and his dad. When he gets told no or gets disciplined then he always tells me I hurt his feelings and that he is sad. I have tried to explain to him that when he is not nice to his dad or I or his little brother that it makes us sad too. He is slowly beginning to understand, but it is a work in progress for sure. We tried to teach him to be fair to his brother, but now he thinks that his sibling should be in trouble as well as him in order to be fair. He tells me a lot that he doesnt like me anymore but later he always tells me that he loves me and he is sorry, I am hoping he will grow out of it soon, and yours as well! Best wishes!