4 Year Old Boy, Rude and Disrespectful

Updated on April 17, 2010
A.M. asks from Spokane, WA
12 answers

My son is 4 years old. He has always looked at the world different then other kids. He was never fascinated by toys as a baby and bored quickly. I love that my son is smart and intuitive to the world around him. He understands his responsibility in situations and has compassion for those around him. However, with his quick mind I found that he is doing things that most other 4 year olds don't. He will ask me a question and when given the answer tells me that I'm wrong. He acts like he is completely exasperated with us sighs, rolls his eyes, and will say "OOKKAAYYY MMOOMM" when asked to do things. His daycare see's all of these things also. They are always saying what a great boy he is and how smart and well behaved he is. It's makes it even harder to not get super frustrated when I know he knows better and can tell me what he's done and understands not to.

We have tried time outs, talking, sending him to his room, taking toys away, not talking to him...and many others. It seems that nothing works and just creates a power struggle. He's so smart!!!

I feel like I have a 16 year old already. I wasn't ready for this yet?

How do I teach my son that he isn’t an adult and that we are in charge, that he need to treat others with respect, and that sometimes he isn’t going to get it his way (without creating a fight)?

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answers from Sacramento on

Switch it around and focus on rewards. Smart kids can be particularly challenging to manage because they don't fall for the typical parenting strategies. However, rewards often can be a good alternative when punishments don't work. For instance, tell him it's not ok to talk back to you and give him an example so he understands. Tell him on days when he's a good listener and polite, he gets a reward. This could be a trip to the park, a toy from the dollar store, whatever. Make it daily so he gets the immediate reward. If he has to wait too long, he'll lose motivation and interest. Hope this helps!

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answers from Portland on

Hi There-

I worked with your son, only she was the 4 year old I was a Nanny for = )

Here is what I did:

First, I realized how great it was for her to be smart and observant at such a young age. I tried to view it as a bonus to enhance, (even when it bugged me to death).

Next, I realized the word "no" or other negative wording did not work for her, so I used Yes Statements, "Yes you can go outside, as soon as...."

I also believe in listening and encouraging respectful negoiations. I don't always see everything that happened, so if she came to me stating a punishment was unfair, I listened. However, she had to present her argument in a respectful way & honor my final decision. This helped a lot.

Kids who are smart and independent do not respond to normal techniques. Instead of treating him like a child, as most adults do, treat him like a person, talk to him, explain WHY you need X, Y, Z to happen. While he is not your equal, he is begging for respect, but in rude ways.

Tell him you're starting a new rule, you will listen to him, but he has to be respectful and show/tell him what you belive respectful is. When he is being rude, tell him, "try again, I felt that was rude".

You'll be teaching him great skills while eliminating the fighting. When kids feel respected and listened to, they will obey!

R. Magby

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answers from Kansas City on

i'm sorry - it sounds to me like you're placing the blame on him giving you attitude on his incredible intelligence instead of on the parents which is where it belongs. just because a child is super smart (even if he is a certified genius) doesn't mean he can treat people disrespectfully. don't allow him to treat you that way and he won't. be consistent, don't laugh or say how smart or cute he is, don't give him whatever he is asking for - stick to your discipline for bad attitude. if it is consistent and he stops getting what he wants from it (attention, whatever), then it WILL stop. ask him to repeat his statement WITHOUT being rude to mommy. refuse to respond until he asks properly. give him NOTHING, not even a glass of water, unless he is respectful. he didn't magically dream this behavior up just because he's "so" smart. it's been allowed. a super smart child should be quite capable of learning better behavior, if he's taught.

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answers from Spokane on

I could have written this! We have a saying in our house that "Our boy is wicked smart"!

My 4 yr old is also this way...I have had to basically just let him know by telling him straight out that "You are not the boss"!

I get the "okay mom" as well as the eye rolling and the "never mind, you just don't understand" (he was trying to tell me he was big enough to walk to the park alone!)...after some time of pointing out his behavior, these days I can just tell him he had "better check himself" and he realizes he is acting too big for his britches!

He is in a regular pre-school class now but next year I am going to enroll him in the Pre-K class...he needs to be challenged!

Mine needs and craves structure...so we plan out every day then have a talk about it the night before and first thing in the morning...so he knows what to expect and doesn't start plotting what he is going to do next, to take over the world:)

*I just saw you live in Spokane too...hope you guys are enjoying our wonderful weather...finally, right?!

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answers from Dallas on

Sounds like aside from this, he's a great kid!! Dr. Sears discipline talks about this in his book, so I would recommend it to you.


One thing, when my son starts to back talk, my husband jumps in and says, "do not disrespect your mother". Really, teaching him to respect you and enforcing that you are the dominant person can be tough, but it can happen.

Also, if he sees other kids or adults being disrespectful, he may be mirroring this behavior from them. Arguing back and disrespecting them (we may do it without realizing it) can be contributing factors.

Maybe giving him a challenge to serve could help his attitude. Maybe everday, ask him if he has helped anyone that day? Have a little family lesson about helping others and seeking ways to help someone everyday and he may begin to look for opportunities to serve and be respectful towards others.

start small, knocking on a door before entering, asking to help clear the table... patterns develop over time, so starting small can be helpful

some good articles that can offer more examples and advice:

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answers from Honolulu on

My daughter is very intuitive and "smart" as well... her emotional IQ is more than the usual kid her age. She too gets like that when we give her answers for things.

For us, we explain and talk to her at her level. Not talking it down for her... because she understands things even though she is only 7. We don't treat her like an adult... but if we give her HONEST answers or even saying "I don't know the answer to that..." she respects that... then we'll say "since we don't know the answer, lets go research it..." and then we do that.. .and she gets real interested in that and in "learning" the PROCESS of finding out things.

We also teach her about attitude and how that relates to relationships and friends/family etc. If a child is "smart" sometimes, they get impatient and that can come across as being arrogant. So... you teach the child HOW to treat others... because otherwise they will have a hard time making friends/keeping friends/being friends with others. So... teaching the kid that everyone is different... with DIFFERENT talents/knowledge... and that he does NOT know everything.
Teach him about getting along with people.... for my girl though, because she is so intuitive and emotionally "smart"... she can navigate herself around all kinds of people and she "respects" differences in people. We taught her that... that EVERYONE is DIFFERENT and has qualities that matters. She even befriended an Autistic boy who was in her Kindergarten class. No one else would interact with him, but my daughter did... she has "empathy."

So nurture these traits in your son... otherwise he will be real frustrated with the diversity of people/kids/friends out there in the "real" world. The "ability" of "teamwork" is also in tandem with this... and that the child can have a voice and say their "ideas"... not censoring them... but that it takes tact and understanding of others.

That is my advice. People skills and emotional IQ and ability... is what really makes or breaks a person... or makes difficulties more difficult or not.
"Emotional Intelligence" is real important to nurture in a child. It is not just about being "smart"... .

all the best,

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answers from Eugene on

He might be a genius. Therefore begin to take him to special lessons that build self discipline and respect. Tai Kwan Do does that. You will have to take him a couple of times per week. It will really pay off. It did with our out of control 4 year old who is now a high school honor student.

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answers from Seattle on

I am just going to focus on the discipline part of your post, I think you have already gotten some great suggestion on how to keep your child challenged and giving rewards for good behavior.

"We have tried time outs, talking, sending him to his room, taking toys away, not talking to him...and many others. It seems that nothing works and just creates a power struggle."
OF COURSE it is a power struggle. That is what discipline is! You have to assert your authority and stop letting him run the show.
Pick whatever disciplinary measure you feel most comfortable with and stick with it! I prefer time out, because the are immediate and can be administered anywhere - but whatever you like best will work.
You MUST stick with your chosen discipline and administer it predictably and immediately, without exception EVERY TIME he breaks a rule.

Limit yourself to a few easy to follow rules at first, maybe ask your daycare for a set of theirs and use them for your home (I assume he is doing well at daycare).

Right now you have taught him that if he just puts up a hard enough fight, you will eventually give in. You have to stick to your guns! Don't back down!

He will put up a hell of a fight in the beginning, but I promise you, if you stick with it consistently and predictably, you will eventually have less fighting and a better adjusted child. He is smart, right now he knows you're a pushover - let him figure out that you mean business!
Good luck.

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answers from Charlotte on

Hi Lis,

You have a hard task before you dealing with a child whose IQ is most probably very high, including higher than most adults around him. He's also incredibly verbal, too, which means that his ability to communicate is a lot more advanced than his maturity.

Several years ago I ran across a family with a 4 year old child who was smarter than most people and talked like an adult. We were at a resort overseas, and the family was nice, interesting and eager to be friendly. (My kind of family!!) All of a sudden my son came up to us so very upset, telling me he wanted to go inside because the boy was saying awful things to him. The boy followed him up to us and continued berating my son, in front of us all. He was obviously brilliant - oh my goodness, with a vocabulary like that, I can't imagine what his IQ is. I had never met a child who could talk on this level. But he was horribly rude and had my 6th grader close to tears.

It was obvious that the parents had no idea what to do with the child. They were apologetic, but I really hope they figured out over the last 6 years how to handle their child's brilliance and difficult personality.

It doesn't appear from what you write that your son verbally abuses other children like the child I just talked about, but it's worth knowing about so that you see the possibility down the pike. I'm not blaming this child for not handling himself better, and I'm not even blaming the parents for not knowing how to keep him from it. But I do know that his life will be and probably already is VERY difficult because if he hasn't figured out how to communicate on an appropriate level with everyone around him, he will never have any friends and later on will probably lose every job he has. There have to be gifted educators and psychologists who can help parents with children like this navigate their intellect. Start with trying to find one through your doctor. Don't wait until he goes to school. I promise that having an expert on your side will make a difference. At the very least, you won't feel like you're alone in this.

All my best,

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answers from Seattle on

I think if you look at any of the love and logic books, CDs or DVDs, you'll find the answers there. They have excellent techniques for dealing with kids of all ages and perhaps what works on teenagers might work on your son.

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answers from Indianapolis on

Good responses from the other moms.

I grew-up in a very disciplinary family, so respect was expected, and it was clearly pointed out when it wasn't shown. We're not to the extreme my parents were, but we do have high expectations for our kids.

I do think your son's exhibiting somewhat normal behavior for his age - or, at least, we're seeing the same thing with our 3.5 year old to an extent.

We're in the process of transferring the names of parents from "Miss XXXX" to "Mrs. XXXXX". We often have to remind our son that Mom and Dad are the boss, and kids have to listen.

We spoke with our pediatrician about discipline at his sister's 2 year well-baby visit a few weeks ago. Our kids have different personalities, so we have to discipline differently but consistently. We've found that taking things from our son is good, but he's responding better to positive reinforcement. Basically, we acknowledge and reaffirm the good behavior and try to do it more frequently than pointing out what he's doing wrong.

Don't get me wrong, he can still be a stinker.....A LOT!

But, the respect issue does need to go both ways, and we're working on being better role models. If we want him to do something, we always ask "Please" and "Thank You" when we ask for favors.

It sounds like your son is all around a good kid, so you've been doing a lot of things well. Setting expectations, being consistent and reminding him that you're the authority figure are probably my best words of advice.



answers from Portland on

That is tough......... but like you said it's really great that he's intelligent and compassionate.

Kids are very impressionable, much more so than an adult can relate to. If you look at TV shows, a lot of the culture of them are what you are describing in your son's behavior. And a lot in mainstream culture promotes that behavior. Kids see it and think it's funny or it gets them attention so they emulate it. I would try completely eliminating TV and videos if you haven't already, and concentrating on books in which the characters behave in ways you admire; you can browse around on Amazon and check them out at the library, or talk to the librarian. I would also limit the time he spends with people who behave in that way, and talk to your husband and others close to him about what you are working on.
best wishes!

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