4 Year Old Not Listening

Updated on March 22, 2010
S.H. asks from Harvest, AL
19 answers

My 4 year old daughter does not listen very well. It's driving me & my husband crazy! We will tell her to do something & she will throw a fit & not do it. An example from this morning:

She comes in & tells me she is hungry. I go with her to the kitchen. She says she wants a cookie. I said no, you need to eat a breakfast food first. Would you like cereal? Or oatmeal? She fusses that she wants a cookie. I continue to tell her that she needs to eat something else, until she finally picks oatmeal. Now the real fight begins...

As I start making the oatmeal, she goes & sits at the table. Her bowl from last night was still on the table. She pushed it away from her & tells me "put this in the sink." I told her she needed to put it in the sink. She just sat there. I told her she wasn't going to eat her oatmeal until she put the bowl in the sink. Again, she just sits there, but now she is fussing & repeatedly saying she wants her oatmeal. For several minutes she fussed without doing what I said. I told her she couldn't watch TV anymore & that just made her fuss more. Her dad came in & she wouldn't listen to him either. So he put the bowl in the sink & I turned her TV off in her room. Now she starts screaming that she wants to put the bowl in the sink! Ahhh!

Then, after she eats her oatmeal, she comes & asks me for that cookie!!!

What are we doing wrong??? Why does she just sit like that & not do what she's told? What should we do??

What can I do next?

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answers from New York on

Because she knows that if she holds her breathe long enough she can get either of you to do what she supposed to do. My oldest was like this and still is in many ways (she's 12). I outright refuse to have my child dominate my life - a lot of my friends think that i'm too harsh but I know that I didn't have the option of telling my mother what I was and wasn't going to do.

My oldest has had many punishments and she still hasn't caught on. The most recent was last summer we were all cleaning out my van because it wasn't all her mess & she shouldn't have to clean it all. So she fussed so much that we had plans to go down to the shore overnite so I made arrangements for her to stay home with my mother-in-law. Maybe it was a bit extreme, but if I don't stick to what I'm trying to show her then she'll continue doing this forever. One of the hardest things for me is to stick to the punishment, but after you do it it knocks them down a few pegs and makes them realize it. My daughter has had sleepovers cancelled at the last minute for her attitude and I know that maybe I should ease up a bit, but it just gets so frustrating. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Tulsa on

This sounds just like my 3 year old! It's so hard. I tell myself that she's 3, she's not an adult, so I shouldn't expect her to behave like one. I may have to tell her 500 times before she gets it right. Or more! And I refuse to argue. I tell her that I can't understand what she's saying when she whines. The thing I have the hardest time with is what to let slide. If I stayed on her back about everything I think she should or should not be doing, her life and mine would be miserable. So we are having a pretty rough patch right now, too. I wish I had the answer. If you find out, please let me know too!!! Good luck!

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answers from New York on

Hi, my daughter is five years old and I had a similar occurence this morning.
She's hungry but after her friend invited her to come over, she said she wasn't hungry for her oatmeal. She started to cry and scream that she wasn't hungry. I said either you eat your oatmeal or she wasn't going over to play. As soon as she realized that screaming wasn't going to work, she finished her oatmeal in 5 mins. It's not easy to do day after day, but you have to set the law and stick to it. If you don't stiick to it, they will pick that up and scream longer until they get what they want. If they continue to scream I progressively will cut things I know she likes such as cartoons. It works for me and I hope it will help you out.

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answers from San Francisco on

Fortunately we did not experience this with our children. Is it possible that this really started early in life.........they are so cute and we give in so easily.

I would sit her down and tell her what the rules are from today forward and that we will all work very hard on these rules together. I would start with a chart/calendar in the kitchen or a good common area and list the things that she can do for a treat...........like clean her plate from the table......ask for things politely.........do what she is told to do the first time.........When she does these things she can have a treat - TV for a 1/2 hour - a cookie - whatever you determine as a treat.

And..........I would unplug the TV in her room until she learns to behave better.

Just some thoughts from my perspective.

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answers from Fayetteville on

You are not being concistent. You told her to put her bowl in the sink before she could have breakfast but she sat there and whined and someone else did it for her. She is used to whining abd getting her way. If you tell her something be prepared to follow through. She sould NOT have eaten her oatmeal until she put the bowl in the sink. If that means she misses breakfast then so be it. She is not receiving consequences for her actions instead she is learning that if she whines she gets what she wants. It can be hard but try it and be firm. You are here parent and what you say goes! Good luck to you!



answers from Mobile on

A book recommended to us over and over and over and I will pass the title along to you:
Shepherding A Child's Heart



answers from Fayetteville on

We have Sneaky Snake living with us and the 1, 2, 3 and you had better be where I am or else technique. Sneaky Snake is only allowed on the floor and used when nothing else works or when we are in public area where he could be hurt or kidnapped due to crowds. When entering the store I explain that he must stay with mommy and that if he does not we will have to call Sneaky Snake to get him and he will then be taken home and not be able to play with his friend or go to Chuckee Cheese or Chick fil a. He knows Sneaky Snake is watching when he hears him hissing. Ever since Sneaky Snake has moved in he has not wandered away in the store and it has stopped him from running out to get to the car.

The 1 2 3 means mom has had enough and if I don't immediately do what she says I am going to be one unhappy little boy. He loves to play Wii for 1/2 hour each day and watch his videos and if he does not do what he is told after two warnings there is no Wii or videos for the day.

He turned 3 in December and was becoming a handful in public running off and laughing when he went around a corner where we could not see him and since you hear so many horror stories about children being abducted every day I was becoming a basket case. He will now tell me when we are going into the store without shopping carts, We don't need Sneaky Snake Mommy, but Sneaky Snake is still around just in case. This has not caused nightmares or made him afraid of anything including snakes. He just had to learn that I meant what I said and I would keep my word on the punishment. A friend has tried this with her unruly child and it has helped with him also with no side effects.



answers from Miami on

I have a 4 year old and I feel your pain. I probably would have left the oatmeal on the counter and told her, "When last night's bowl is in the sink, you can go get your oatmeal." Then I would have gone on to something else. I really hate power struggles.

I have also had a lot of luck with turning things into races. My creativity is pretty dependent on how much sleep I've gotten though, lol. If I was feeling creative, I probably would have said something like, "I bet I can get your oatmeal on the table faster than you can get that bowl in the sink." I know my daughter would have taken off as fast as possible. I use this technique when she dawdles about doing stuff. Example: I bet I can buckle Baby Brother in his seat before you can buckle yourself.

A really wonderful book for communicating with your child is How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. It has great techniques in it.


answers from Austin on

Perhaps some type of schedule might help. Rather than waiting for the "hungry monster", you can dictate what time breakfast is going to be at, what activities are acceptable while she's waiting for it to be cooked, and maybe she could have a piece of fruit if waiting is too hard.
Just like picking out clothes for the next day, you could add clearing the table and thinking about breakfast as part of the bedtime schedule to make sure you're ready to go the next day.
The first, then strategy is OK, that's what they do with my son at school. If he does 2 of the teacher's required worksheets, then he gets to choose the 3rd. They also use a picture schedule and tell him ahead of time about transitions.



answers from Fayetteville on

This sounds a lot like my 4 year old before we started Love and Logic, a parenting book that focuses on giving the child choices when you can. It also teaches you how not to react so that she doesn't get attention that way. There's more to it, but it is really easy and makes your life much calmer. Check out Love and Logic and good luck...it's awful fighting with someone you love so much!



answers from Tuscaloosa on

Totally normal for a 4 year-old! My son would do the same, and he's pretty much a great kid. It's all about them wanting control and testing their limits. Just stick to your guns as much as you can and pick your battles. I wouldn't worry too much about the bowl if the breakfast is more important at the time. I, too, have found great success with turning things into a "race". I think it depends on how competitive your child is. My son HATES to go to brush his teeth and go to bed because we've TOLD him to go. But, if I "race him to the bathroom" it turns it into a fun game and there are usually no tears or fighting. Acting like she is shows she's developing just as she should! Way to go, Mom!


answers from Kansas City on

first, stick to your guns. focus on the cookie. you want the cookie, you eat breakfast. you can't eat your oatmeal, and get your cookie, till the old bowl is in the sink. period. don't let dad interfere and do it for her. you guys both have to be on the same page. he just totally undermined what you were trying to accomplish. S., you told her if she ate her oatmeal she could have a cookie. you didn't say she had to do it nicely, or without a fuss or tantum. you just said she had to eat it. so yes, you should have given it to her. i would be a little more clear next time with her. you have to find a consequence that speaks to her. if it's dessert, playing (my son is not allowed to play or watch tv till his chores are done in the morning. he's not allowed dessert or sweets until he eats his dinner.) whatever the case. but you must stick with it. it's not fair to tell her she can have "X" if she does "Y", then when she does it, with attitude and snottiness, withold it from her. i would let her know that IF she can do as she's told without backtalking, THEN she can have her dessert. keep a good attitude and tell her what a good girl she is, and follow through on what you say.



answers from Hattiesburg on

Wow, sounds very familiar...like my six year old. Here are my suggestions:
Make sure she realizes she gets what you give her or nothing; be grateful for what she has.

A belt works wonders and usually only takes one good whipping to carry a threat later on.

Remember you are the adult. No matter how much it breaks your heart or reminds youof your childhood, don't give in. A child needs a parental figure, not a friend, raising her.

Leave her messes for a day or take her messes to the middle of the floor in her room and explain that these are her responsibilities...once she realizes that she is the only one not pulling her weight maybe her views will change. Kids don't like to be negatively singled out...yes, even at 3, my daughter knew she had certain chores that had to be done before bed or she would be doing them in the middle of the night.

No matter how stern you are, try not to yell or show frustration...they feed off of this...means they got to you and they know it...calm assertiveness with love.

Different things work for different ages and temperaments.



answers from Little Rock on

Reverse psychology works best in these situations with my 5 year old son. This mainly happens when he's cranky. I've learned that me getting frustrated over it, does not help the situation at all... it only makes it worse. If he were to refuse to put the bowl in the sink, I'd say something like well, you better not put it in that sink! and then smile... he thinks it'd be fun because he likes to push my buttons. I wouldn't say you do anything wrong to cause it, it just helps to follow through with your threats. Because she's probably just testing you to see how far she can get with it.



answers from Baton Rouge on

Have you had her hearing checked, if so, suggest a second opinion with a tuning fork. When I was drafted, many years ago, they checked my ears with a electrical machine. They insisted I was lying. I knew I was not as I told them I was deaf in the ear from scarlet fever. Finally they reported me to the Captain he immediately checked my ears personally withthe tuning fork. He told them I was not lying and to have the machine checked.
Your may want to have her eyes also check, and a complete physical.



answers from Baton Rouge on

You're not doing anything wrong - 4 year olds test limits and the best thing you can do is be consistent. She will eventually get it through her head that you mean what you say. No oatmeal, no cookie. If you don't bring your dirty dishes to the sink, you can't watch tv. Period. If she throws a tantrum, put her in her room and ignore it until she stops. If there's no audience, there's no point in her putting on a show. When the tantrum is over, calmly let her know that the rules haven't changed, that she still cannot watch tv because she didn't take her dirty bowl to the sink when she was told to. If rules are consistently enforced, and tantrums get no results, things will get better.



answers from Birmingham on

My daughter will be five at the end of April and we've been dealing wtih the same thing. We've just had to be swift and clear with our punishment. The first time she complains or speaks "ugly" to us, we send her to her room. We make the rules clear, "You can come out when you want to follow directions. No yelling, no kicking...." When the directions we give her aren't followed, we are back in there. Not sure if you believe in spanking, but we pop her hiney once each time she disobeys while she's in her room. It's been a VERY long process but we're finally coming out of it. She is learning to control her temper and we have more times of her obeying each day. Just remember - be swift and be consistent!


answers from Dallas on

Go to the bookstore. Buy the "Love and Logic" books. Look forward to a peaceful home.



answers from Portland on

I am positive that you have tons of answers here, but let me try too. If there was a book (and probably is one) that listed what a child would be like at your child's age, it probably would describe your baby. However, that does not remove the frustration. I think you are doing a great job...just keep up the good work, remembering that you are the Mom and choose which hill to die on with these episodes.....Maybe tackle one, maybe two issues at a time. Best of luck to you.....I do presume that you count to ten very well in your head. "Time Out" might be appropriate here too......but please try to keep your "cool" for your own sake....."This too will pass"...be consistant..

From A Very Old Grammy of 43, and a Mom of 8

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