Energetic, Willful and Stubborn 4 Year Old

Updated on September 17, 2006
C.W. asks from Jacksonville, FL
12 answers

Hello Ladies...

I have three children. Ages 17, 15 and 4. My 4 year old is so attached to me and I seem to be the only one in the family that plays with her. The teenagers are too busy with other things. She follows me EVERYWHERE, I can not even go to the bathroom with out her. Now don't get me wrong, I love her with all my heart and soul, I just need a break! SHe is VERY energetic and will not play by herself. If I tell her that I can not play right now, she will tell me that she doesn't like me or she will say that I dont love her and she will go in her room and slam her door. My oldest daughter taught her that! I can only play so much my little pony, school, house, barbies etc...
She goes to 4 year old Kindergarten and fulltime daycare. You would think that she would be tired when she gets home. NO....she bounces off the walls. She has to be entertained 24/7. How do I get her to play by herself for a while???

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So What Happened?


Thank you so much for your advice. The one that worked best was letting her know what I was going to do first and telling her that after I am finished I will play with her. She was very patient and waited!

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answers from Melbourne on

The 4-yr old is another first-born because of the wide gap in years between her and the 15-yr old and will be an 'only child' since she has no siblings close to her age. If I were you I'd go see what they are doing at daycare all day, and how they deal with her personality. Maybe she doesnt get to play with other children all day like you think she does.

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answers from Tampa on

I know exactly what you are going through minus the teens I have an only child too a 3 yearold girl she will be 4 in feb and she is the exact same way as soon as she gets home she is off the walls nd up my butt...lol...it is hard because she wont play by herself unless she is in the bath also...what I do is tell her that I am busy and she neeeds to have time with her toys and I put her in her room and she will usually play ok for about 30 min...it took a while for this to work but she knows now that hse has to have a little toy time without mommy also another thing that really helped was we got her a cat...she will chase the cat around for atleast an hour if not more and it is her pet plus she is really good about making sure it has food and water so you might want to think about a small pet that is hers it really helped us out a ton!!!!! but I hear what you are saying it is hard!!!! it is really hard too since I am a single parent so there is noone else but me and her here...hope this helped oph also I got her some dvds and she will watch about 15 to 20 mins of them I know the amount of time doesnt seem like much but in my case 10 min of her not wanting constent entertainment is god sent!!! Good luck!



answers from Tampa on

Hello C.,
How long is your 4 yr old in school/daycare for each day and how many days a week? I know it is hard when you get home to try to get dinner ready and entertain your daughter. Have you tried to have her help you with dinner or set her up with and activity at the table. Tell her that after things have settled down that you will spend some time with her before she has her bath and read her a story before bed time. When you tell her you cannot play right now and she goes into her room what do you do? If you leave her there to pout does she adventually play by herself? Do not go to her when she is throwing a fit because you said not now. You are the parent. Be sure that if you tell her "I will play barbies with you after dinner", that you do or she will not trust you will next time. you can set a timer and tell her I will play with you until the timer goes off then I need to finish my work, etc. I hope this helps you some, let me know how it goes.

A little about me: I have 3 children 19,17 & 15. I was a single mom for several years and have now been married to a wonderful man for 5 years. I have been a pre-school teacher for 12 years.



answers from Jacksonville on

Hi, I am a PP Doula and the mother of 5 and grandmother of almost 5...I also had two close and then a 7 year span so I know how it is....I use to tell the younger one that we will do one thing after school and daycare and then she needs to be set up by herself to do creative things that she can surpise you with.... if she knows she will have your attention even when she is done playing or doing something by herself she will like that....include her in things with your older children as long as they are ok for her to see or hear...don't forget she is competeing with two older and she is the only younger one...ask the older ones to do the same, save time and let her do something to surprise them...hope this helps.....



answers from Tampa on

This is a kind of tough. She has already gotten what she wanted, now you are backing off, and she is not happy. It's always easier to not do something than to undo it after you started. That said, are their any children in your neighborhood her age? You may wish to take her for a walk and see if you can meet someone appropriate for her to spend time with. I understand the teens not wanting to play with her. Maybe their friends might have a little sister she could hang out with. The local park is also a good place to find playmates for young children. The bottom line is, she needs to learn that Mommy needs time to herself, and she needs to learn to be comfortable alone sometimes. A four year old should be old enough to start understanding that. Maybe the fact that she spends all day away causes her to cling more. Has she always been your shadow, or has that gotten more prominent since she started kindergarten? Perhaps you could find ways for her to help you? That way she would be with you, but you wouldn't feel so drained. There has to be give and take with any relationship, even children. I hope these ideas help.



answers from Tampa on

Hello! Have you tried assigning her "tasks"? For example if you are in the kitchen and she wants your attention but you are fixing dinner maybe you could say something like "Mommy really needs all the lids put on the tupperware containers - could you do that while I do this?" My son responds quite well to simply stated requests, and has for years. I also am a single parent and the only playmate so I know how draining it can be. As she gets older your assignments can involve longer periods of separation in them (I need you to go organize the books on your shelf). Eventually though she is just going to have to accept that you are not her entertainment committee and she will need to learn to play solo. That time will come - just take care of yourself in the meantime!



answers from Orlando on

Hi, C.--

You've had a lot of great responses so far. One thing I would highly highly recommend (in fact, for ANYONE who interacts with children-- or with any member of the human race, while we're at it!) is the book "The Five Love Languages of Children" by Gary Chapman (here's the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Five-Love-Languages-Children/dp/188... ). It sounds like you have a "quality time" kid on your hands, just like I do. That may be why you never had the same problem with your other kids; they might be focused on one of the other love languages: gifts, touch, acts of service (helping), or positive words. I could go through examples from my own daughter, but it would be infinitely more helpful for you to get that book and read every page of it. It could even spice up your marriage! The local libraries have plenty of copies, and in some counties will even deliver a copy to your house for free. Try it! I swear you'll want to get copies for your friends, it's that much of an eye-opener (assuming, of course, that you get her into the bubblebath so you can read!) And by the way, he also has books on the Five Love Languages for couples and for TEENS!

Best of luck, and God bless.



answers from Miami on

I agree with what Peggy has recommended. I have a 4 year old who also attend preschool full time, and when he gets home he wants to spend time with me as opposed to playing with his toys.(remember, your child has been away from you all day!) I try to involve him somehow with dinner prep, even if it is just letting him 'wash' some plastic dishes in the sink beside me while I prepare dinner. Another thing he likes to do is put away the utensils from the dishwasher. He's old enough to be able to sort them properly. I just pull the utensil holder out of the drawer and put it on the table where he can reach it. He will watch t.v., but the more t.v. he watches, the less able he is to entertain himself with toys and books,(as another reply mentioned) so I am trying to limit television watching after school. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't!
Good luck!



answers from Tampa on

Dear C.,

My youngest was the same. The big change that I made was no TV. After about two weeks of torture and withdrawal from TV she started to play by herself and draw and make things. Before, it seemed that the TV and movies made a child that could not entertain herself. We have had no TV for a couple of months now and it has become a pleasure. My daughter lay in her bed yesterday looking at her books. She did this for at least an hour. It was great.

When your daughter comes home from daycare, try feeding her a healthy snack, a sandwhich, fruit, etc. Mine is always starving when she gets home and I have to feed her a good meal and then she eats again at dinner.

Hope that helps.




answers from Tampa on

Bless your heart, C....your little girl sure does love you! :) Sounds like you have a duckling on your hands...trust me, I know how that can be as I have two of my own. :) With two teens in the house as well, you're a very brave woman! :)

My kids are two years apart, so they play together very well. I was just telling my husband last night that I'm SO thankful for this fact. In any case, because your little girl is so far in age from her two siblings, she sees you as the only one who'll pay quality attention to her at home.

Have you asked your teens to watch her more? Instead of being the resident "playmate," what about getting your older ones more involved? I know it must be easier said than done, but they are a part of the family too and should take some responsibility in playing with their little sister. If appealing to their sense of altruism doesn't work, maybe you can wrap it up in a payment plan...maybe pay them some nominal fee for going on playdates. Teens respond to cash! :)

I could give you loads of craft and activity ideas to hopefully occupy your daughter's time, but it's clear that she ultimately wants YOU. If you could somehow be taken off her radar as the only household playmate she has, then you may get that little bit of freedom you're looking for.



answers from Orlando on

I would "turn the tables" when your 4 year old's behaving badly. Tell her you don't want to play with her when she acts like that, leave the room, shut the door (don't slam it - that only validates it as acceptable behavior!) and go read a book. I'll bet she'll soon come out of the room and want to read with you.

She's ruling the roost right now and learning that she can control you. She needs to learn that being "ugly" won't get the result she wants. Ever!

Have you ever seen people trying to catch a dog that's run away? It becomes a game for the dog, and the chase is on...! The best way to get him back, is to run the other way. Most of the time the dog will join the "chase" and run after the owner. Reverse psychology works in pets and people.



answers from Orlando on

Sounds like my 3 year old. What works best for me, is telling her my agenda. Mommy has to cook the meat and cut the vegetables first, and then, I promise I will play with you. Why don't you draw me a picture, play puzzles, write your letters, watch "Clifford", etc. And then we will play Legos, okay? I promise.

If she hasn't seen you all day, she needs to connect with YOU, her best friend. My daughter hates rejection, and will go in her room, crying, "you hurt my feelings." I reassure her that I love her and explain my reason for rejecting her, again, and give lots of hugs and kisses. Then it's back to my chore.

Usually it works. I am a single Mom, living alone with an only child. If she has a tantrum, she is banished to her room and not allowed out until she apologizes for her bad behavior. She hates the separation from me, and that seems to work well for us.

Sometimes, I just say, "I AM THE BOSS" out loud, just to remind her (and myself) that a child shouldn't be running the household. Strong willed children need strong caregivers.

Let me know if this helps, okay?


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