4 Year Old Decided to Start Mouthing Off....

Updated on February 23, 2010
H.L. asks from Los Angeles, CA
12 answers

Hi moms...
So, i have a 4 year old (and a 1 year old)... he's always been a "leader", tough kid... i've found that with time out and some rule setting, he does much better, since he understands consequences... i've done time out, i've kept him home from parties and playdates, i've even taken and thrown away his toys... up until now, he's been a very "good" (and i dont like to label) boy...obviously, he'/s a kid, so he'll test his ground sometimes, gets a privelage taken away, and we/re good again.. my husband's been out of town, 2 weeks, so we were together ALL the time.. he had a hard time, was very clingy and whiny... Now my husband is back... its been about a week, and i feel ever since he's been back, this child of mine has decided that talking back to me is more fun then listening to me... "get your clothes on please..." LATER..."eat your breakfast please", I DONT WANT TO... "Wash your hands please" I DID It IN SCHOOL..... and its constant backtalk... i mean, i know that kids do that, but i'm not OK with it... any suggestions on how to nip it in the butt??? i find myself yelling, and i dont like it... at my wits end....

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answers from San Diego on

I had the same problem with my daughter. I used many of the strategies that have been suggested. I just want to second the warining of nipping it now because when 5 rolls around, children go through a stage where they truly believe they are old enough to make all the decisions. Luckily, my daughter already knew the boundries, so when the "I can do it by myself attitude came(she once told me she could drive me home), she knew it would have to be within the boundries of the choices I give her. She also knows back-talking will get her no choices at all.

Good luck. The next phase is actually amazing to watch as they grow into their personality.


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answers from Los Angeles on

Typical. I have a 4.5 year old, too, and we just exited that phase. Successfully, I might add! :)

When our daughter started sassing, we stopped it immediately. We pointed out that you do not speak to adults in that manner and in that tone of voice. We focused on respect (soooo important!) in talking to other people, especially adults and parents. We told her what the appropriate response would be. And we nipped it in the bud every time. At the end, all we'd have to say is her name in a warning voice and give her "the look."

I'm happy to say that it's all "yes, mom" and "yes, dad" now. Good luck!!



answers from San Diego on

Hi H., Try telling him instead of asking him. if you ask he can say no, he answering a question, but if you tell him you are giving him an order, then if he says no, it's defiant and he must have coinsequences, and remember punishment and discipline is not the same thing. You are punishing him, but your not disciplining him. J.



answers from Portland on

Any behavior can be seen as a strategy to get a need fulfilled. Granted, some behaviors, especially in children who are still experimenting, are not so effective, and can be annoying as heck for parents or siblings.

But, if you can see the backtalk and stubbornness as an attempt by your son to meet a need, maybe you can figure out what the need is and help him find a more effective and pleasant strategy. At 4, my grandson seems to really respond to his parents' willingness to try to understand what he needs. The underlying need is real and legitimate.

You might get a lot of useful strategies of your own from the wise and practical book "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk." Read some of the book here: http://www.amazon.com/How-Talk-Kids-Will-Listen/dp/038081...#



answers from Honolulu on

When my daughter has done that... I simply stopped asking her anything... and when she asked me something (to do) I declined, calmly and without lecturing. Then walked away.
My daughter knew why, didn't like being "ignored" and then stopped talking back. Whenever she does talk back or says that she knows everything before I even say it, that is what I do. She does not like it. Then I tell her that it is not nice to talk back/to treat Mommy that way... we are a family and she knows better than that.
I don't do this with every whim/talking back she does when it is a real need or she needs help. But for the times when it is talking back just for the sake of talking back and sassying.... then that is what I do.
Again, my daughter knows better than to do that... but sometimes, kids, they talk back. But I don't tolerate it.

All the best,


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi H.,

The only effective way to deal with your son's behavior is to understand it. You can punish him into behaving the way you want him to only for so long. As he gets older, those techniques become ineffective. Additionally, punishing send the message that he is wrong for feeling the way he does.

Start by asking (yourself and even your son) why he is behaving the way he is. From what you've described, it sounds to me as if he's angry (at you? at his dad?). We all get angry sometimes and there isn't anything wrong with that. He needs you to validate those feelings, articulate them for him and, only then, can you help him find healthier ways of expressing himself.

Here is an article that should be very helpful for you.


Be well,
G. B., M.A.
Child Development Specialist & Parent Educator



answers from San Diego on

I right there with ya sister! I have a 5 yo son and a 2.5 yo daughter. My son really started back talking and outright disobeying when he was about 3.5 or 4. And it still continues. So I am still on him about it. Warning, time out, priviledges taken away, and then the last consequence is a spanking by me, and THEN if it still continues I call Daddy at work and have my son tell Daddy what happened (my son HATES when he disappoints Daddy). And if it STILL continues, he gets a spanking from Daddy when Daddy gets home. Usually we do a few rounds of priviledges taken away and redirection and then he stops with whatever offending or disobedient behavior he is doing.

I definitely agree that we as parents need to set boundaries for our kids early on. We started with our son from about 6 months old when he started crawling. A little hand slap here, a firm "NO" there, etc. Now he is 5 and so the discipline is more severe and so are the consequences.

A few older Moms that I know who have grown boys have told me that ages 4-6 are really tough for boys because that is when they get their first surges of testosterone. So they have the craziness of puberty hormones, but do not have the mental and emotional capability/knowledge to constructively deal with it so they get frustrated often. Plus they are testing their boundaries, trying to mimic older kids, etc.

I try to keep that in mind each day. But I still won't let him get away with bad behavior. Watching shows like Supernanny and Nanny 911 help me to keep things in perspective. I don't want my kids to be like "those" kids on the shows, so even though it's very tough at times and it seems like I am always yelling, punishing, and on top of my kids for everything...I'd rather be that way then have my 5 yo shouting four letter words at me.

I also constantly talk to my sons preschool teacher to get ideas on what I can do to deal with the bad behavior. What practices do they use at school to keep the kids in line? What activities are they doing that keeps the kids interests so I do something similar with my son and daughter to redirect them from the bad behavior, etc.? And I ask her all kinds of parenting advice since she has 4 grown children of her own plus over 20 years teaching experience.

Anyhow, I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone. I like to think of it this way: All my hard work now with my kids, all the tough days, all the yelling, spanking and taking away of priviledges will pay off in 20 years when my kids are intelligent, confident, honest, productive members of the world and are living on their own. Our pay off as parents will be in 20 years and the dividends will be great!



answers from Reno on

Hi there!

I have three things, all of which worked with my little tough guy.

First, tell him the correct answer when you ask him to do something is "yes, mom" and then he promptly does whatever you asked. Practice it, correct tone and everything, and accept nothing else. If he forgets, you respond with, "I'm sorry that's not the correct answer; please try again." If he blows it the second time, he faces a consequence (extra chores, if it were my kid).

Second, give choices whenever possible. It won't always be possible and your son needs to know that, which is when "yes, mom" kicks in.

Third, and perhaps most important, your husband needs to have a man-to-man chat with his son about proper respect for you (and women in general). It's never too early to start this lesson. If your husband doesn't support you 100%, you might have a bigger issue to deal with. If my husband hears my boys talking disrespectfully to me, he marches in, and gives them "the dad look" and they shape up right away.

If your son is particularly stubborn (as mine was), revoke all privileges. They will be earned back as he learns to treat you respectfully. Respect for mom is non-negotiable and if you don't demand it as your due, you won't get it which creates awful problems later on. (I teach high school and listen to boys talk about and to their moms and it galls me.)

Best of all, do it with a smile. You're the mom, you're in charge, things happen your way, period, amen, thank you very much. I highly recommend "Parenting with Love and Logic" to give you some great tips on how to do this. I've used this method with both my students and my sons and it works like a charm with even the most obnoxious children. Best of all, I'm no longer a stress-case from all the yelling.

Good luck!



answers from Chicago on

I've got a back-talker too, lol...When I get this back talk, I simply say "you don't talk back to mommy" or "no sassing mommy" ...something like that in a stern voice. I have found that recently my little girl likes to argue about everything and it drives me crazy! I am not one of those people that will negotiate with my 3 year old. I think if I ask her to do something, then she needs to do it. So I say "No back talk" and then I repeat what I have asked her to do. If she argues again then I will start counting for a timeout. I tell her no arguing and that if she sasses me or argues it will be some time in her room until she is ready to behave. I know every mom is different, I just personally don't agree with arguing with your kids. I don't care if she is hungry, tired, etc.... I am the mom, that is that. It sounds like you are doing great. Just keep enforcing that you are the mom and arguing is the same as disobeying you. Sometimes I say "I am not asking you, I am telling you." She usually sees that I mean business. It can be so frustrating to feel like every little thing is a fight sometimes! Don't get into a power struggle if you can avoid it =) What you say goes otherwise there needs to be a consequence. Now a days I see people arguing in stores with little ones and the kid is telling the mom "No I won't put my coat on." and carrying on. The mom actually stands and argues with the child about what they are going to do. That stuff blows my mind. My kid has never throw a tantrum when we have been out. She has acted up with whining and back talk on occasion. I swear I have found a corner at the grocery store and put her in it for two minutes when it was warranted. Basically just follow through and be consistent, that is the secret to kids having good behavior and taking you seriously =) And make sure hubby is backing you up every step of the way when he is around. Sometimes my husband will step in and say, "You don't talk back to your mother, do what she asked you to do." That helps too--at least I know I am not alone!



answers from Los Angeles on

No where do you mention your husband in raiseing your son doesnt he back you up on disaplin it takes 2 parents to raise chileren my husbandand of61 years raised 4 wonderfur children good luck A. no hills


answers from St. Louis on

Try posing questions to him in the form of an option instead of asking him to do something.

Want to put your shirt or shoes on first?

Do you want me to wash your hands or will you do it?

It's time to eat. If you do not eat now, you can eat later, but no snacks then.

If he doesn't eat, then don't force him. He'll do it when he's hungry. If he doesn't want to get dressed and fights it, you may have to just overpower him and do it. If he doesn't want to wash his hands, then tell him that he cannot get X if he doesn't (play with his toys, etc). Or make it fun "I bet you can make a bubble with your hands! Show me!"

It sounds like he's enjoying the fun of the back talking. Think about it - he had you to himself for 2 weeks...now he has to share with Daddy. He sounds smart and realizes that if she back talks, he'll get even more attention from you.

Good luck!



answers from San Diego on

Hello, I raised four kids, ran my own licensed daycare for several years, have six grandkids (raised one for three years) and worked in elementary education for several years. I now volunteer in an elementary school. I never allowed the sassing. It can come up on you before you even realize it is there. When my kids (even those who weren't mine) would even think about sassing me, I would tell them one of two things. 1) I am not asking you, I am telling you. 2) You can either pick up the toys, or you can go to time out. Those seem to work very well. When I am volunteering, once in a while, there will be a child who decides to not do his/her work and will test me. I tell them, "I have nothing else that I have to do today except to be here and help you with your work. When the other children go out to play, you and I can be sitting here doing this, but you will get it done. My dog will wait for me to get home." I have never had to stay. They always decide to get it done. No yelling, just matter of fact. I always thank the child for making the right decision. Most kids come around as soon as they realize you mean business and respect you for it.
Good luck with your precious family.
K. K.

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