Help with Defiant 4 Year Old

Updated on August 03, 2011
K.A. asks from New York, NY
11 answers

I am at my wits end with my 4 year old daughter. She has always been sweet, loving and a really good girl, but lately she has been so defiant. She doesn't listen to a word my husband and I say, she say "no" or "I don't want to" to absolutely everything. I honestly don't know what to do. She's been having meltdowns (as have I!) We've tried reward charts, positive reinforcement, and even punishment and taking things away. Nothing seems to work. Brushing her teeth, in particular, has become a constant battle. She's always been strong willed, and I know she's just testing boundaries, but I don't know if I can take it much more. My husband, who is always very calm and cool has even been losing his temper with her. Any words of wisdom or advice?

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answers from Beaumont on

I have some good input regarding that "brushing the teeth" issue. When my son did that, I said, "Okay, I guess you can have a choice in this but if you choose to do that, I'll choose to give you no sugar, no juice drinks, no ice cream no nothing until this gets rectified. You see, you have choices but I do too. If you don't protect those teeth, I will".. He stewed on that all night. The next day, he got no sugar, but that night, he went back to brushing. It just took one day, of ZERO sweets. Good luck, it's tough!

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answers from Cleveland on

Yep, you're right. She's testing boundaries, and this is just another stage. If I remember correctly, it lasted about three months with my son and about two months with my daughter.

Just continue to be consistent with everything (including her punishments - you need to choose one, then stick with it).

Get down to her level when you talk to her. Give her your full attention when you are talking to her. Don't let yourself get distracted by the other 20 things you've got going on (as all moms do!). Use her name. State your expectations. "Taylor, it's time to brush your teeth. Please go to the bathroom and get ready to brush." When she says no, just reestablish eye contact, and say it again. "It's time to brush your teeth, Taylor, and I expect you to do as I say." Don't break eye contact. Let her know by your facial expression that you mean business. Don't look mad. Just look firm. If she still refuses to do as you ask, let her know what the consequence will be. (Personally, at this age, I prefer the sit and hold technique. But whatever you choose to do, again, be consistent.) After a few minutes, give her the chance to obey you. Tell her again what needs to happen. Hopefully she'll do it then. If not, repeat the consequence. It may take a while if she is really stubborn, but eventually she will see that you are not going to get angry, she will not receive any more (extra) attention from you, and she will have the same consequence each time she doesn't listen. She'll give up.

Above all, remember that though she is testing boundaries, she very much wants to see that they are still the same. Those boundaries are security to her, and she needs and wants you to enforce them.

Good luck! Hang in there and remember to keep reciting the Mama Mantra. "This, too, shall pass." : )

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

We have never done consequences (beyond the natural ones like gravity) and DS (5-1/2) is doing well. Things that helped a lot at 4 with the toothbrushing were:

1. Explaining why we brush - germs we can't see will eat holes in your teeth.

2. Give a warning when breakfast is almost over - in 2 minutes it will be tooth brushing time.

3. Make it fun. We STILL race to be the first to the bathroom to brush. Phrased more like - wow, you're looking a little tired this morning, I bet I can get to the bathroom before you can even make it out of the kitchen. Of course we have to let him win.

4. We do it together (dentists strongly recommend that parents brush their kid's teeth until at least 6 years anyway). I would ask him which toothbrush he wanted (we have several battery ones in different colors). If he didn't pick one, I would tell him I would pick for him. And did. I would then ask him if he wanted to brush or whether he wanted me to do it. Sometimes he did it, sometimes I did. (When he brushed himself, I would check and do a quick once over).

I try to remember that he is doing the best he can for who he is today. Not who he will be tomorrow or next year. And not who I think he should be. Children do not want us to be angry at them, nor do they want to be angry all the time either. They are still learning the tools to communicate what they need and want.

I try to think that I am not raising a child to obey me. I am raising an adult whom I hope will be compassionate, empathetic, questioning and rational, not obedient. So I need to help him acquire these skills and values now. I want him to ask me why. I want him to tell me why he doesn't want to do something (most of the time it's because he is doing something else right now, wants to do it differently or wants to do it a different way - often very valid concerns).

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I think you need to research strong willed children and defiant children. You also have to watch yourself and your husband, make sure your on the same page and how to handle everything. My 2 1/2 yr old is strong-willed and had her super defiant times. Consistency always gets it done. The thing with defiant kids is that you have to shrink the negative and pump up the positive. With most defiant or strong-willed kids punishment backfires (fuels the fire) and rewards fail. I couldn't use either with my daughter and she was night/day like you said about your 4 yr old. With punishing it will become a power struggle, whether it's spanking or taking away things. I would get that book and see how to implement it. I think books tend to have similarities but reading through it and doing the whole method consistently will help.

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answers from Washington DC on

I recommend time outs. Done the right way, they work.
You need to be consistent. You need to be firm.
When my kids told me "I don't want to", I told them I understood, but they had to. Sometimes that was enough. I also used time -- "In 5 minutes, I need you to do ____." Then I'd give a 3 minute warning and a 2 minute warning and a 30 second warning. Then they had a little bit of control and it was the clock that decided when they would do the chore or whatever.

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answers from Williamsport on

Keep things simple, concise and timeless. If it's taking way too long to sink in, chances are there is not a stark enough difference between her loving, happy, supportive, day to day norm and the very firm consequences delivered calmly after a clear warning, no anger or escalation, when she acts out, is disrespectful etc.

If your daughter has no medical issues blocking her understanding, this behavior is a result of gradual escalation because things were not adequately nipped.

I can honestly tell you, none of my kids stepped further than one millimeter over those boundaries without consistent, swift, calm action from myself or my husband, and as a result, the tendencies never grew, and we've never been angry with the kids. We've never had to leave locations, do lengthy time outs, take thing or privileges away, any of that. No power struggles. No tantrums and defiance. We spend virtually no time on discipline which enable natural positivity most of the time.

If you are effective, you'll have a lot less trouble on your hands and she'll be much happier in every way.

Get the book Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson-it is perfect for this age at effectively instilling respect in your child firmly enough in a loving home. There is no wheel reinvention, it's how discipline has been done right for generations. Enforcing her behavior very early on will not remove her ability to do right on her own. My daughter already does right on her own and doesn't need my enforcement other than explanation, but that was not always the case.

I have 3 kids, my oldest (daughter) is 5. She is the joy of my life and a wonderful, respectful, sensitive, giving, mature amazing young lady thanks to early discipline, like the system in the book. She hasn't been disciplined since she was 3, and I never have to worry she will act out, she can go anywhere with me and has a lot of mature activities she can do on her own without me worrying. We're literally best friends. My 3 year old son is also awesome and my ex terror who is now 2 is "getting it". 2 and 3 are the crucial discipline ages, and 4 is getting on the late side, but you can do it. Check out the reviews and read about it on Amazon. It will solve this if you are philosophically OK with discipline.

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answers from Sacramento on

Oh the frustrating fours!! It's such a hard age and for us it lasts quite a while. They are getting old enough to do things for themselves, but only want to do them sometimes. They want to be big, but still act like toddlers at times. It can be maddening. If there's a younger sibling it's worse because there's a perception that the younger sibling is getting more help equalling more attention and love.

Be consistent with her. She gets a choice, always, and be clear that the consequences (good or bad) are her choice. I did this with my son today... I told him to pick up the toys he left all over my bed, and to do so by snack time. Plenty of time. He didn't do it. I told him that if he didn't pick them up himself I would put them in a garbage bag and he would not have them for a week. He got sassy mouthed with me and wasn't picking them up, so they went in the bag. He was mad at me about it, and I calmly told him (when he settled down) that he made a choice, and we went over what had happened. We do this a lot.

Good luck!

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answers from New York on

I am in the same boat as you. My daughter is difiant as the day is long. She battles us on EVERYTHING. She will be 5 in October and I swear I am dealing with a 12 year-old. I honestly think it's the age, society (things that they pick up via friends, school, tv, etc.). When things are calm with her, I talk to her about it and she always says she doesn't mean to act that way and she can't help it. So, we try to remind her (gently) to think before she speaks (we have a lot of talking back too) and acts and it does help a little. They say reinforcement is good but I have to say...I feel like I am stuck on "repeat". We have also found that with our daughter rewarding her for good behavior isn't as effective as taking something away from her when she misbehaves. Don't know if that will help in your situtation but I thought I would put that out there too.

Good luck, you are not alone!!



answers from Rochester on

I think you've been given great advice so far. I wanted to stress that it's how you handle her journey through this that establishes the quality of the relationship you develop with your daughter. I have no doubt you're managing things very well. Just remember: you can't ever reach your 'wits end'. Ever. You are her parent for the long haul. Once you accept that as truth, handling her personality and phases becomes easier. As hard as it is for you and your husband, it's all far harder on her. Whether it's sooner, or later... it WILL get better!


answers from Phoenix on

You think the terrible twos would end at some point, but I learned real quick that the tantrums and the testing the boundaries don't end, it just changes with age as they grow. :-) I am at my wits end with my 2 year old. Whines all the time, does not like his diaper changed and that is a constant battle each and every time.
Just stick to consistancy with the consequences, and be firm. You can ignore some battles that seem pidly, and pick the ones you want her to stick by your rules and keep it that way.
A lot of the times, tiredness, or crankiness, plays a role in this. With children her age, and younger, sometimes it's hard for them to put into words how they feel, so they show you by their actions. They just haven't developed that skill to its full potential yet. It is definitely overwhelming and exhausting for sure. My oldest son is going on 7 now, and it has gotten a bit easier with him minding and doing what he is told. If you have a place where you can go and feel tranquil, I suggest going there. Have your husband stay home with your daughter while you go and get some much needed R&R to help revive you. If you have a friend or family member to watch your daughter, you and your hubby go do something fun for just you two. It will really help refresh your mind. Try not to pull 'all' your hair out. LOL (mine is thinning from me doing that...ha ha ha..just kidding).



answers from New York on

When my son was 4-1/2 I was talking to a friend who also had a 4-1/2 year old, both of our children were doing all of these same defiant things. It really is just a phase. I read some books about 4-year olds and they all said that you would soon have your sweetheart back. They said that this phase was even harder than "terrible 2s" because now they're smarter and know how to push your buttons.
Good luck to you.

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