Four Year Old Hissy Fits, Back Talk, and Won't Stay in TO.

Updated on June 11, 2009
B.S. asks from Platte City, MO
16 answers

Help, Mamas! I'm at the end of my rope. First, let me say that we have had a lot of changes in our family over the past three months. Moved into a new house, new community, took him out of daycare. We have taken this into consideration and have really tried to ease our super-sensitive four year old into the new routine and house. He has been sassing and talking back to me like crazy! We are a love and logic household, so he gets sent to TO. Mind you, we have to sometimes carry him to the chair in the guest room. He won't go there himself or even stay in! I don't want to stand there and hold the door shut while he freaks out on the other side. TO's used to work very very well until the last couple of months. We calmly explain that his time does not start until he is in the chair. Yesterday he was standing in the doorway for almost 30 minutes. Also, bed times have become awful. I get ready to leave the room after good nights, stories, etc., and he just says "NO Mama, you aren't leaving." Of course I do, and it can be up to up to an hour before he gives up and goes to bed. ( We just say "Goodnight" and ignore his demands to come back to his room.) I do try to carve out some one-on-one time for him every day w/out the baby... He is very sensitive and will cry over the least little frustration. I can't keep battling the TO thing, so I am open to any ideas!

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answers from Columbia on

The one thing my mother-in-law suggested to me when certain disciplinary actions wouldn't work, would be to change the discipline. Sometimes old ways of discipline would get old, and we would have to do something different. My son is 16 months old, and I think he is too young to understand time-out, so we haven't moved on to that one yet. I usually go through steps, at first I get down to his level and say no, if that doesn't work, then I slap his hand. I know it seems a bit harsh, but it works for us... for now. I know it must be very frustrating, but just don't give in to him. Usually the best way of dealing with a child acting out, is to just ignore him when he throws his tantrums. At this age, they crave attention and any attention they can get whether it is bad or good. My son is starting to throw tantrums, and when he does, I just ignore him. He knows that he doesn't get a favorable reaction out of me, so he stops. I know that this may not work for every child, but it might be worth a shot. Good luck!

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answers from Kansas City on

Another thing to think about is the fact that he is in a new environment, if he is put in TO in another room, he M. be afraid that you are leaving, after all it's probably not feeling like home yet, especially if you've changed the routine! Why is his TO in another room? He probably needs to be reassured right now that you are still in this strange house.
Nighttime he probably is afraid you are leaving, after all he is in a new place with not so many old faces around. You need to assure him that you won't be leaving the house, it's now your home and you wouldn't leave him behind if you did leave! He's also had one more change, a new sister, he M. just be realizing that she's staying too! Be patient, he'll come around.

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answers from St. Louis on

First, I agree with Susan's suggestion to make sure the child knows they have been heard and understood. However, a 4 y/o is not a toddler and that particular method may not be the best. At 4, what often works is to simply ask, "Do you have a question for me?" And then patiently require that the child speak in a respectful voice so that you can best understand and help. Children usually only throw fits because they do not know how to be effective in a more constructive way.

In my experience, there are several philosophies in the area of parenting that provide much in terms of method - you know, the what to do and how to say it sort of thing. From what I have learned and experienced, I would categorize programs like Love & Logic or Parent Effectiveness Training into the group of philosophies that provide method, but not quite enough real understanding.

In order to mentor a child - companion a child in discovering and developing skills of self awareness, self control, and virtue, of social skills like awareness of others, participation, cooperation, etc. - a more complete understanding is needed. I used to use cook books until a friend taught me to understand how to create a balance of flavors, to understand foods, herbs, and seasonings. Now I constantly create my own recipes. I found that the 'method' books on parenting are like the cook books. Cook books do not make you a cook and method books do not make you an effective parent. Only a clearer understanding what you are trying to accomplish and what you are working with can do that. Few things, other than experimentation and experience, can provide real understanding. The one book that gave me the understanding and focus I needed to become more successful as a mother was The Family Virtues Guide, by Linda K. Popov. You can learn more about the Virtues Project at

The virtue approach taught me much more about myself, as both a person and a parent. It also taught me the attitude of companioning a child, naming virtue instead of shaming, solution based discipline (which works far, far better than TO), and to recognize teachable moments. It provided a way for me to understand how to draw clear boundaries respectfully and how to help a child understand that I can be the best encouragement and support in the world, but that I absolutely require respect from them. It taught me how to see the virtue the child is using, to honor it, and then to encourage them to access some other potential for virtue in order to be more successful in their efforts.

For example. Instead of calling a young child a liar, I can tell him that I see he was using his imagination and being creative. Then, then I can ask what he thought that story might accomplish for him. In other words, "What did you think would happen by telling the story that way?" Because I have honored the child's noble nature, the child is far more willing to confide in me and explain what he was trying to do by telling a lie. Once that is clear, I can then ask questions and make respectful suggestions about how to use imagination, creativity, and truthfulness together to accomplish his goals more successfully. Then we can discuss what he needs to do to repair the damage lies can cause and how to rebuild trust and respect and regain dignity. This approach may take more time out than a TO does, but the more you do it, the less you need to. In the long run, you not only save much time, but it becomes so natural to respond in a loving, encouraging and respectful way that actually works, that it doesn't feel as much like discipline as it becomes simply consistent caring.

Of course, the younger the child, the simpler the approach is. But, take it from a mother who raised a boy that fits the description you wrote to a T. I have studied and read about many parenting methods and have worked with hundreds and hundreds of children over the years. I learned a bit from every approach, but none came close to providing the answers I needed until the Family Virtues Guide was published. It wasn't published until my son was 7 or 8 and it took me a while to really learn it. By the time he was a teenager, I was so very glad I learned it!!! But, I went through the frustration you are describing when he was 4. I remember it clearly!

This is why I facilitate a discussion circle once a month for parents and teachers who are interested in learning to use the strategies taught in that book. If you lived in the St. Louis area, I would recommend you join us. My heart goes out to parents of resilient and determined young men like we have.

Do know that I could not be more proud of our young man who is now 23 and actually tutors programs to train adults to work with children and youth. We studied that book together as he grew and I swear he understands it better than I do!

Keep in mind that it is easy for us to see the signs of frustration in a child and ignore them in ourselves. If your family just moved into a new home and community and have taken your son out of daycare, you can bet that the 4 y/o is not the only family member feeling the stress. I always found that I was able to help my son with his frustrations far more successfully once I helped myself with my own. The Family Virtues Guide taught me how to encourage my own powerful resources of potential for virtue. It could be that the whole family needs some patience and understanding and encouragement as you move through this transition.

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answers from St. Louis on

I heard about a book called 'the happiest toddler on the block' (don't remember the author's name). There is a suggestion to empathize with a toddler who is throwing a tantrum (not to give in to the demands, but to show the child that you understand and are listening).

The technique involves saying something 'YOU DON'T WANT TO GO TO BED!' or whatever the protest is about, with the same amount of emotion that the child is expressing. This is meant to help the child feel that he has been heard... to stop the noise for a minute, so that you can then eventually calmly explain your point of view.

There may be more to it in the book, but that's what I remember. It seemed to work when my oldest was little.

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answers from Springfield on

what ever u do do not give up on the time outs , it takes awhile for him to see u mean bussiness, the worst thing u can do is give up at this point , it is rough on u i know but , time will show u this is the best way to deal with it ,, have u ever watched super nanny on tv , it would help u i bet , hang in there it will get easyer , god bless , E.



answers from Kansas City on

I'm not a big fan of time outs. They work for some kids, but it sounds like they have stopped working for yours.

The main thing to consider is that negative discipline (punishment) is not as effective as positive discipline (praise when he is doing something right). It is okay to ignore some bad behavior since he is probably just doing it for attention. Don't feel like you have to be the police, catching him for every little infraction and punishing him. Instead, pick your battles. Decide what you absolutely won't budge on, and discipline for that. For the rest, ignore him and the behavior.

For example, I don't punish my son for yelling at me, but I also don't do anything he asks when he is yelling. I make him apologize and ask nicely. If he throws his clothes on the floor, I might let it go, but, if he hits or pushes his brother, I take a toy away, take his stool away, etc. Works for us. Good luck!



answers from Joplin on

I think since TO's aren't working you need to approach it from a different angle, I am not saying throw TO's out the window, but he is getting older, and he is old enough to learn from positive reinforcements, if you give him some incentives to being good he might surprise you. A chart where he gets stickers for doing what he is told etc. I know it sounds a litte "lame" but for some kids this really works wonders, you see kids who want attention can get to apoint where they don't care if it is positive attention or negative want your child to desire the Positive attention. I used small rewards like goodies from the dollar store, a trip to the park, getting to have a favorite dessert, and extra story at other words LITTLE or Inexpensive rewards. If he is old enough to work towards a big goal, and you are ok with it...set a big goal with a larger reward...maybe so many days without sass/back talk and he gets something special. I wish you luck! B.



answers from St. Louis on

B., my suggestion would be to not always use the same chair for time out, and to remember time out is equivalent to a child's age so 4 minutes. When he cries remind him that he is allowed to cry and feel all of his feelings but he will still have to go to time out. You may want to say after time out you will go outside or read a book or do something he likes that soothes him. He may be adjusting to all the changes, especially the move and the sibling that requires more care as he develops. when a child is really upset it can be difficult to remain patient, but I would remind you to breathe and know this will not last forever. I used to try to give my kids the vocabulary to express their feelings like " I feel frustrated" i feel cranky, I'm scared, or lonely. I would get an emotion poster and we would talk about feelings before the build up. For example, when something is going great go to the emotion board/poster and say point to the face that shows how you are feeling. I taught my kids as early as two to say I am frustrated, so it would help me know what to do to help. Maybe you could see if there is anything to do with fatigue or after certain foods to alleviate that as a cause. Consistency is everything. I remember when my kids would have fits I would say you may have your feelings but you are still going to do what I ask. I raised 6 kids, and have helped others with ideas to raise theirs....hope this helps. It can be demanding to be a mom and to do a good job of it, try to imagine how you would feel if you were four and didn't have all the information but were on the road to learning it. Thanks for being patient and loving to this sensitive child. Also I always wondered how a child really feels when you say "you sleep alone" and then they watch you and your husband go sleep together.



answers from Wichita on

I don't have a lot of ideas, but my mom's freind's daughter would wash her hands, but not completely rinse her hands (enought to leave a thin layer of soap) & when her daughter would bite she would put her finger in her mouth. It was just enough soap flavor to make her stop. I imagine it would work with a sassy mouth to.
I feel for you as we went through this a few months ago when we lived with my mom for 6 wks, but it was my 7 y/o son that was acting up. We also had to hold our oldest down as he would go through violent tantrums (hitting, kicking, screaming, head butting). I injured my wrist tring to keep control of him & he would not stay in time out either. He would go run & scream & tear up his room (it was scarry to his 3 y/o brother so it had to be stopped). It has gotten much better since we moved into our own home & are not living with my mom. He is happy & back to his calm self now.

God bless!



answers from St. Louis on

I also have a 4yo son that has been going through a spell of back talk and not obeying. I would also characterize him as a sensitive child that reacts strongly to changes in routine and surroundings. Any change in his routine seems to trigger this type of behavior. Now that I have figured out the connection, the instances don't seem to last as long because I have learned to talk to him about the changes. You have to assure him that any changes are okay and are now the norm. TO in another room of the new house might be scaring him. Actually, everything about the new house might be scaring him. I don't know if your son still takes naps, but mine does and if he misses a nap more than one day, he tends to misbehave. This also happens when you doesn't get enough sleep at night. The fact that your son is not going to bed at the usual time might be adding to his behavior problems.
I hope my experience helped you in some way. If nothing else, you know that you are not alone. Good luck!



answers from St. Louis on

We have a challenging 4 y.o too! I suggest moving the time out chair or spot to a closer location and setting a visual timer, like an egg timer or something if you don't already have that set up.
Visual aids are what our behaviorists suggest...make a social story about bed time, a story you create about him going to bed, take pictures of his room and put the book together and read it to him during the day time, so that at night you can remind him of the nighttime ritual. If you want more info on social stories you are welcome to contact me.

Also visual aids for the "House Rules", pick three very important rules and post a visual picture of them somewhere in the house where he can see. When he doesn't follow the rule, show him the rule and then send him to time out.

Phrase your commands in a certain way...instead of "Sweetie (or child's name), can you go get your shoes on?", make it a statement..."Max, go get your shoes on.". Give him 10 seconds before you ask again. If he still has not complied, say it again, and this time add a consequence to the end. Give him another 10 seconds. It's amazing how many times we make commands without giving the child time they may need to process the request.

Not staying in time out is an issue I have also. We have an open floor plan and the time out is where he can still see all of us. We also ignore an impolite words during his time out, becasue he is just trying to get us to pay attention to him when he's in time out. So...ignore ignore ignore. Once they stop getting the attention for the behavior, they supposedly stop. Although, being consistent as a parent to ignore hissy fits is very cahllenging for you too, so try your best to ignore those ugly words. Sometimes I tell my son I cannot hear him when he speaks impolitely...this works sometimes! (hee, hee!)

Good luck, I have a wealth of info, and some stuff works and some doesn't, but I know your frustration, and you aren't alone and some of it is just the age too. Ugh! It's tough, but we are their road to the future and it's our job to guide them down the right path for as long as we can. Good Luck!



answers from St. Louis on

Hi B.,

I do not envy you this position! My little darlings are all grown up now, and I was very lucky when they were little, we did not have many fits to contend with.

I do however have a 4 1/2 year old Granddaughter that is about as stubborn as they come!

With all the changes that you have had recently my most valuable advice to you will be stay consistent! Even when it feels that you just can not do it anymore stay consistent!

Your son will eventually get past all of the changes (mine were Navy brats) so I know all children do adjust - but if you give in and let him push your buttons he will learn to do just that. Sometimes it's just a test of wills and yours has to be stronger!

If you have to move his timeout spot so he is in the same area as you - do it - you just sit him there and ignore him until his time is up.

Also if you find yourself real upset, do not be afraid to give your self a time out - sometimes just a minute in the other room to breathe will help!

About bed time - does he have a favorite blanket or animal to love? I actually have an online store that makes security blankets with the animals attached - I have had several mommies of little guys tell me they have had great success with them comforting their little guys - one lady in Oklahoma said their three year old didn't sleep in his own bed until he owned one. Our Granddaughter (she's the reason I make them) won't sleep without at least one of them. Anyway no matter where it's from maybe let him pick out a special friend to sleep with - it can't hurt to try it.

Good Luck and hang in there - it will all work out!




answers from Wichita on

We'll as I am a daycare provider. I found that ignoring the bad behavior works. It takes some patience at first. He is getting attention and finds that bad attention is better than none. So your are going to have to break the cycle. Remove him from the situation and get his mind on other things if it is disturbing the rest of the family. Bit still ifnoring the negative behavior. And when he is being good Reinforce with possitive attention. They eventually will learn that if they want attention it will have to be good behavior then that will give them attention. Trust me it works. Then they will want to please you. children really do want to please us.



answers from St. Louis on

I just started reading a book called 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan. It is working on my 4 year old. It almost sounds too simple at first when you're reading, but it seems to work. It also has a section on bedtime routine that has helped us a little (not a lot since my four year old shares a room with his two year old sister and they think every night is a slumberparty-LOL). Good luck to you!



answers from St. Louis on

It is time to let your 4 yr. old "grow up" in other words he is ready to be part of the whole move and not coddled any more. He can help with this move and put his room in order. First you sit him down for a "grown up" talk tell him what is going on-manner he can understand you do not need to give him small details but the big stuff- We have moved because ---- We now need to get ourselves set for our new house, we must all work together to make this a great place to live and go to school very soon. Give him jobs in his room-put his clothes away-ok if it is where he is comfortable then let it go for awhile-then straighten later Like in a month or so. He can help put things in the kitchen away too-pots, pans, maybe you have a special place for all those storage containers-like in a cabinet or drawer. He is frustrated and needs to be a part of this process. Then you can take him to a nearby park or maybe the school he will soon attend and let him play on that playground-with you and his sister too! Now if all works well then how about a very special if he is really helpful trip to the local ice cream shop? You need a break too! Let him know he must go to bed at his regular time so he can work again tomorrow and the next day. Many people of all ages cannot deal with changes of any sort-this may be something he will have his whole life so prepare now for structure-this helps greatly! And take time to stop and laugh and relax even if only for a short time-this calms many a wild animal-Good luck with your changes and may all come to rest soon. Since you have tried the TO's and are not getting anywhere remember he is old enough to work this move too and it will be good to prepare for school and life for that matter. Be calm, remind him he has a job to do and help everyone, and stop at some point and relax-all of you!



answers from Kansas City on

I have a four year old he can went through a stage where his was very sassy and did several of the behaviors you describe. It could be a combination of all the changes and the fact that he is four. We use TO. I keep my son in the same room with us. We have a corner in the family room that the tv can not be seen and he can still hear and see that we are having fun with out him. He was scared to be in another room. The time outs were just as effective. Also do not forget to reward good behavior. My son earned a star sticker on the calendar every night he stayed in bed and once the whole page was filled I let him pick a special activity with me or my husband. It gave him a feeling of control. Your little guy my just feel like he does not have control over anything right now. Another good bed time trick I learned was I had two blankets on the bed and when he would start to get upset I would change the subject and ask him which blanket he wanted to cover up with. Anyway that is just my two cents. Good Luck, and things will get better.

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