4 Year Old with a Bad Attitude?

Updated on June 21, 2010
M.B. asks from Conway, SC
8 answers

I'm 24 and have a 4 year old daughter who is out of control. I recently had another girl (4months old) and we all live with the 2nd childs father. My 4 year old is having a lot of trouble here lately. She constantly cries when she doesn't get her wayand not a tantrum cry, a mental breakdown cry. If I send her to her room it is almost guaranteed that she will do something worse than what she initially got in trouble for. I have tried spanking, talking, timeout, and taking toys away. Nothing works. She always talks back, lies, and gives attitude about everything. I have to repeat myself several times when I tell her to do something. Sometime she looks at me as if she could run through me. I feel like the more I punish her the worse the behaviors get. Anytime I tell her to do something she does the direct opposite. My friends and family have mentioned her behavior also. She always demands attention and wants to be the center of it. I feel like she gets treated very well yet the behavior continues....HELP!!

2 moms found this helpful

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So What Happened?

WOW I never expected to get so many responses so soon!! Thank you so much for all of your advice! The majority of you insisted on consistency and thats where I have the biggest issue..because I am never that consistence. I feel bad sometimes, like I over punished her, or I wear myself out because its constant behaviors. I am going to try again, I like the counting to 3 method. I will just need to figure out the punishment after 3! Also, what are your opinions on this...my 2nd daughters father doesn't treat Jayden the same as he does his kids. Is this appropriate? I don't agree with him because I always treat his kids the same as mine.

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answers from Dallas on

If you feel as if you are appropriately disciplining her do consider if she may have any sensory or ADD type symptoms. Sometimes it looks like bad behavior when something else is going on. Food allergies can cause negative behaviors and biochemical imbalances.

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answers from Williamsport on

No matter what the reasons are, the sooner she learns to act well, the happier she'll be. She'll feel more loved once you succeed in setting her boundaries, so she knows and wants to do the right thing. Usually kids who are very difficult at 4 were sort of difficult before and it wasn't nipped, because the personal radar of the parent was tolerant up until it got super bad. Terrible twos were considered "normal" etc. Rarely do they wake up at 4 suddenly raging like you describe. This is good news, it means you just have to catch up on things.
Amp up the quality time and positivity-especially with the new baby in the house etc. Firm up and calm down the discipline. Act after just one or two calm warnings. Be consistent, choose one effective thing, not several sporadic ones like you mentioned, choose the firmest one, make it count, every time. Don't get fed up or insecure and yell. She's used to intimidating you and making you give up on discipline tactics. It's not too late. This attitude is totally normal.
We nipped the very first signs of rudeness in our kids in the 2s and 3s and never let them escalate. Every time my 4 year old tries out a new little snide look or comment she's heard at school (even though it's sort of funny at first) she is immediately clearly told she is not allowed to speak that way to us, and she knows one more warning would have a consequence.
The kids have never completed a tantrum without a consequence. After just a few, they didn't try them. Your daughter will be harder at first since she's gotten this far, but it can be done. Keep things very positive and happy in the house most of the time and keep discipline brief, so she sees it's her choice to keep things smooth or have an immediate unpleasant result.
Check out www.backtobasicsdiscipline.com

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Hi M., I think you have a strong willed child (as I do..she is six) and she needs to be delt with differently than you would a normal child. I have found that when my daughter gets rewarded for her good behavior (which is becomming more prevelant) she feels the need to keep acting well behaved. You need to make her feel incharge even though she is not. I give my daughter two options (of course both being beneficial to me) to everything, and the great thing is that she gets to control the final outcome. She feels good about chosing what to do and I tell her what a great job she did deciding. We are both proud and left feeling great. Example: I ask her to help me set the table, she says "I don't want to" I tell her she has two choices....help me set the table like a big six year old or....go to her room until its time to eat....than I tell her "you decide"....after weighing both options with her out loud and having a calm discussion...she then feels that I treated her as an equal and she decides to help me....As she is helping me set the table I tell her how proud I am of her for being such a big girl and choosing to help me. And that I really needed her help and I am so glad that she is there for me.....She is so happy that she is feeling needed and grown up! Of course it took lots of patience and time and it doesn't always work for every situation, but it has made our relationship better and she is always thinking now. The moral is...Don't break their spirit....God made them this strong for a reason...don't blow out their flame....help them shine. Good luck to you, I have three children and each child is soooo different, its our jobs to learn how to best deal with each individual.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

This is a very normal phase and they will give us a lot of grief. Because I run a daycare I always have children in all the various ages and stages. I never get far from this.

You need to pick a couple of ways you want to handle this and then stay on top of it with little changing. Change is all she's had lately. You listed a lot of ways you have disciplined. There's a new baby in the house. She's being expected to give up her toddler and preschool childish ways and trade them in for the big helper, little girl stage. On top of that, she's witnessing the best parts of being little with you and the new baby! That would be a lot like trying to give up smoking if everyone in your household still smoked.

There's no quick fix with this. She doesn't sound broken. She sounds like a 4 year old with a new baby sister. I'm not making excuses for her or saying you are handling everything wrong. Just hang in there, love her like you always have, give firm discipline when you need to and all the love you possibly can everyday. This too will pass.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

i highly doubt your daughter has a medical issue, and i don't think being a strong-willed child has much to do with it either. her life has been through a lot of changes lately (four months is not enough time for her to get used to little sis) and a new man in her life, new living situation...all these things, plus inconsistency in discipline, are, yes, going to cause these problems in ANY child. you have a lot on your plate too and it's no wonder. read amy j's answer again. follow it. most likely (i feel 100% sure that it is) this is a behavior/discipline issue, and nothing more. being a mom takes WORK and good for you for coming forward and asking for help. now you have to do the work. if you do, you will see improvements. if you don't, and continue to be lax in discipline, unpredictable, the worse it will get. kids are all about predictability. how has her life changed lately? she has no confidence that everything won't be turned upside down again. be there for her, be solid, be predictable, react with love and firmness, and she will get through this phase.


answers from Washington DC on

You need to sit down with her and make some rules. You need to put them in a place where she can see them - it doesn't matter that she can't read.
You also need to ask her what you should do when she breaks the rules - it will be interesting to see what she says.
You need to do time out the right way. She needs to sit on a step or a mat or a kitchen chair - DO NOT SEND HER TO HER ROOM. If you are at a friend's house and she is nasty, excuse yourselves and take her home. She does not get a second chance. Tell her this before you get there so she is warned.
At home:
If she is rude - time out.
If she gives attitude - time out.
If she yells - time out.
If she hits - time out.

You may spend a lot of time putting her in time out, but trust me, it's worth it.
Once you put her in time out the timer starts. IF she talks - the timer starts over. 1 min. per year of age... If she gets up, the timer starts over...
It will get worse before it gets better.



answers from Chicago on

My guess would be that she was used to being mommy's little girl and now you have added a new man and a new baby into her life. Maybe she feels she doesn't matter to you as much anymore. She may need reassuring that you still love her as much as you always did..or even more now that she is the big sister. Attention seeking usually is a sign of insecurity and at 4yrs old positive or negative attention is still giving her what she is looking for. Have you tried spending time with just her? Or maybe have your 2nd child's father take her out to the zoo or something just for the two of them?


answers from Pittsburgh on

You got a lot of good info here, particularly from Amy J. She is our resident discipline expert! (She doesn't proclaim to be, I am just saying that she really has a wonderful handle on the basic and essential principles behind effectively disciplining children... hi Amy. :)

I only wanted to elaborate on Amy's post a little by saying that the child who feels right acts right. The child who feels wrong acts wrong. You need to set firm boundaries and have a clear and consistent approach - one that is undesired enough so as to discourage unwanted behaviors, and STICK TO IT. Children DO need boundaries to feel safe and secure. Although on the outside, it appears they want to be in control, what they NEED is to know that you are in control. And if she is walking all over you, she is getting the message that you are not in control.

Be very deliberate about praising her for positive behaviors. Children inherently want to please us, and the gratification they feel by pleasing us will encourage them to continue doing so. And remember that kids will live up to what we expect of them. If you expect your daughter to behave as you described, that's what you'll get. You need to be clear with yourself and with her about what you expect. And hold her to it.

Best wishes.

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