4 Year Old Sass

Updated on May 30, 2012
J.G. asks from Chicago, IL
13 answers

My 4 year old daughter has started sassing us. I recall one of her friends getting cheeky after turning 4, and I knew it was coming, but I really am not sure how to handle it. I try to use positive parenting as much as possible, and we have lots of discussions about how to treat people, but she gets in these wild moods where sticking out her tongue and being cheeky is all she seems capable of doing.

Today I took away something she really likes, but this approach never seems to work with her.

Best strategies for 4 year old sass and/or cheekiness?

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answers from Phoenix on

The first time each of my kids did that, they got soap in their mouth. They didn't do it again. Good luck.

6 moms found this helpful

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answers from Provo on

With 'most' of my children...the most effective thing for us has been to firmly state one time, "We do not talk or act like that in this family. You are welcome to join us when you can treat everyone respectfully." and then put the child in his/her room. After the first few times, I don't even say anything, I just put them in their room. If they come out and I can tell they still have that 'attitude'...I just put them back in without saying a word. I try to compliment them when they are being respectful (not overkill...just a "I love it when you're kind." or "I sure enjoy being around you."). Like I said, it worked very effectively for 'most' of our kids :).

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

We treated Sass just like whining.

"That is not a nice way to speak."

"I do understand that tone. "

"Tell me what you are really saying. "


"I do not like that tone.. go to your room and look for your polite voice. "

Follow any of the above with. "I know you can speak better."
Also never give into sass.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

When my 5-year-old gets into those moods and says something remotely sassy, I stop in my tracks, turn to him, and say, "Excuse me? Is there something you would like to say to me now?" He knows he has exactly three seconds to apologize or he will go in timeout. It cuts it way down. His dad is not nearly as firm with him, and I will often overhear our son speak to him in a way that I never tolerate.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I have two categories of sass:

One is self-indulgent grumbling, which means that the sassing is really about my son being peeved about something I've asked him to do/not do. Any griping, whining or complaining gets zero response, usually because it is meant to elicit attention. My son will often say "no" to something and then go ahead and grudgingly do it anyway. Ignoring this saves us a lot of time.

The second category is the more direct and personal, snotty "I'm not going to do what you say" sass, and I do not put up with that for a second. If it's one of my preschoolers, I take them to a chair in a quiet space and tell them (in a calm but stern way) "You may not speak to me that way. You may sit in this chair until you are ready to come and check in with me." And then I let them sit until they are ready to do just that. Some kids will sit for quite a while, some will bounce right back up and instantly correct themselves.

With my son (5) at home, being rude means being in your room until *I* am ready for your company again. This could vary, depending on how his other behavior was before the rudeness happened. I've gone as long as twenty minutes for really uncooperative/super-rude behavior. It might seem a bit long, but kids need to learn sometimes that it's not their 'right' to get to be around the adults/others, there's a social agreement at play here. Either we all get along fine and solve our problems respectfully, or we need to take a break until that's possible.

I've also changed our plans when my son has been having a longer time of being rude/arguing. Sometimes, that means missing out on going out to pizza or out to the zoo or library-- "I will not take a rude, arguing child out to a special treat. It's no fun for other people to hear that. We'll try it again another day." I have to say it in a matter-of-fact way, without emotion, or it becomes punitive instead of a matter-of-course: poor behavior isn't pleasant for those around us, and if you can't behave at home, I'm not taking you anywhere else. Just a fact of life.

Good for you that you are trying now to curb this. I've recently seen a child I've known for quite a while become pretty out of control with this, mainly because their mother doesn't address it quickly and immediately, so the child is now extending this to other adults in their world. It's terrible to watch.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Redding on

Nothing worse than having your child sass you in front of other people because then you are under the microscope to see what your reaction to it is going to be.
It's best to nip sassiness in the bud at home with whatever tactic/punishment works best for you so you don't have to endure the embarrassment later.
I'm thankful my kids dad was very much a "Did you HEAR what your mother just said?" kind of guy; he made sure they minded me and I'm quite thankful for that backup even tho he became an ex.... he was good at motivating my boys to mind their manners.
Sass needs an instant consequence, one that eventually only requires a "look" from Mom that ends in an "I'm sorry" from child.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

A pop on the butt with a firm, "You are NOT to speak to people like that!" always worked for me.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

i ditto what Jaz R said. When my recently turned 3 year old says something he shouldn't i look at him (so he knows he has my attention) and ask him "What did you say?" and he knows if he doesn't apologize it's a time out. I have always tried to explain to him how we treat people, HE started apologizing to me on his own a bit before he turned 3, and seems truly sorry when he says it or does something else that isn't nice, so I believe 4 is old enough to know it's wrong. Sorry, sass or cheekiness is plain disrespect.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Well different kids respond to different methods.
Try what will work.

All I know is, (I work part time at my kids' school), and everyday, I see and hear kids, even Kindergarteners, that are sassy and sass and talk back... to other kids and even the adults.
So, nip this in the bud.
Or sometimes a child begins school and just keeps doing it.
Then that child becomes... unappealing to friends and others.

At a certain age, it can be overlooked. But not when they get older or once they start school.
It is not "cute" anymore.

Teach your child how to communicate. Or role-play.
As well as whatever method of repercussion you think is appropriate.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Tallahassee on

4 1/2 to 5 1/2 was terrible. We disciplined consistently but DD has always been very strong willed and stubborn and just didn't care. We tried disciplining the bad behavior, rewarding the positive behavior and for quite a while we took ALL of her toys away and she just didn't care. She was so terrible around her 5th birthday that we only gave her one birthday gift. She's almost 6 now and she's finally come around quite a bit and has much better behavior. All I can say is to stay consistent and don't give up - eventually she will get it. Things will get better eventually as long as you're not letting her just get away with things.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

Second Catharine C. Also, the book Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson is great to build respectful happy kids who don't go down the "normal" roads of getting more and more rude as they hit 5, 6, 7. Positive parenting is great 90% of the time, but you need to keep effective discipline in the picture for the other 10% if you don't want this to snowball.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Hazel W.'s tactics are great -- calm and firm.

I also would add: Depending on how serious the sass is: If it's fairly minor, have you tried instantly removal of the one thing she probably loves most -- you?

When she sticks out her tongue or sasses, you could say immediately and in a very cool tone, "Sorry, I can't understand you when you talk like that," and turn around quickly and leave the room. Start doing a very busy-looking chore immediately in the next room.

That can really stop a kid this age in his or her tracks. You don't want to yell it or give any other reaction other than a chilly, very brief statement and instant removal of mom. She likely will follow you immediately (and might be upset) but you can tell her that you can only be in the room and talk with her if she talks like a big girl. If she says sorry, of course you give a big hug and thank you and ask her what she really wanted to say!

She's old enough to know you are not disappearing forever, but also young enough to be taken aback when you remove yourself and your attention from her in an instant. Follow it up with plenty of positive attention once she straightens up.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

How about rewarding her for every day that she doesn't sass you? That will reinforce positive behavior instead of punishing

1 mom found this helpful
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