How Can I Change My 4 Year Old's Attitude

Updated on April 24, 2009
B.H. asks from Detroit, MI
6 answers

My son is 4 years old and for the longest time I have had issues with his behavior. Some days are better than others but for the must part my son has to argue with me on just about everything. He does not want to do anything I tell him to do. If it's time too eat he tells me he does not like what we are having and does not want it. When I ask him to get ready for bed there is a stuggle about that every night. He seems to always be in a bad mood when I'm trying to dicipline or instruct him.
He goes to preschool 4 days a week and his teacher tells me he is very cooperative and helpful and has never seen a tantrum. He is doing very well in school.
On Easter Sunday we went to church with his aunt. My son had a fit because he wanted to go straight to the playroom. I told him not yet. He got down on the ground in the parking lot and became dead weight. I told him to get up and he would not. His aunt tried to help and I told her that I would handle it. I wanted him to listen to me. After about 3 minutes of this struggle in the parking lot his aunt asked him to get up. He hoped right up and grabbed her hand and walked into the building. I felt like a idiot and as if I had no control and my whole day was ruined.
Also, I always follow though with my son. I don't let him get away with anything. If I say it's bed time then it is. So, he knows I always enforce what I say but still it does not good.
Any advice on how I can get my child to listen and respect me. I haved tried to be a good mom. I don't have this problem with my 2 year old.

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answers from Detroit on

Hi B.,

My take is a little different, but maybe this will work for you. I have a 3-1/2 year old son. If he acts up, I discipline him, but I also let his dad know of the bad behavior, so his dad reinforces my position and talks to him about it. The extra support seems to work and has stopped many bad behaviors from continuing. My son has a different type of respect for his dad (probably more fearful since dad is the leader of the pack), so when he acts out and I go to tell dad, he shapes up.



answers from Detroit on


Just letting you know that your not the only one! My 4 year old son can make me feel like a bad mom. My 12 yr old daughter was never this defiant & rude. Honestly wanted another child, but not confident I can handle another one with him. I will be watching for advice because I too am struggling for some sanity & control. I'm afraid if he's like this now, what will they be like at 14? Good luck & hang in there! Moms supporting moms!



answers from Saginaw on

So, to rest your mind a little, the reason your son is cooperative with the teacher (and probably his aunt) and not you is because at school he has no reason to believe he won't be killed if he doesn't comply, whereas he trusts you to help him survive. That means that at school he has to survive on his own, doing whatever the big people demand, but at home he knows you and can negotiate. Observant teachers understand this normal fear, but all capable teachers are quite happy to leave that veiled threat right where it is, because they have much more placid classrooms as a result. The stress might stop may kids from learning anything, but at least they're quiet so others can learn.

Consistency, though popular, is totally over-rated. Frankly, with a child who is convinced that he is either himself *or* compliant with whatever demand is made upon him -- but not both -- being consistent isn't going to help. Unless your goal is as many arguments a day as possible. When a child is willing to go to the mat over the colour of a cup or the order of books read, it's usually because he's identifying the objects of his desire with the acceptableness, or even wholeness, of himself.

The thing is, kids like this tend to be hyper-logical, and if the reason for the demand makes sense to them, they'll often be much more diligent and compliant with the rules than the average passive kid who may be paying a lot less attention, but's just going along with whatever.

You might like to try giving him information, rather than orders. If he knew why he wasn't going to the playroom first, he could have evaluated that reason and may have readily gone along with it. But issuing orders is almost always a failure with this kind of kid, and it has nothing to do with respect for parents, it has to do with a sense of himself as a whole, acceptable person... which you will readily see why he can't just let go of because you want him to.

I recommend reading Alfie Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting, for tools and tips for gaining cooperation through influence and relationship rather than trying to get respect through demanding it, particularly with your type of child.



answers from Detroit on

This reminded me so much of my daughter, she Aries, stubborn as a goat. I noticed when my husband would try to get he to do something she just wouldn't, and they'd lock horns over it. I found talking to her, giving her the option of 2 choices, and tone of voice really make a difference.
Children have so little control over what goes on these are there only ways of getting control. Say bed time - I say it's time to get read for bed, if she doesn't want to she can choose. Get ready now and have her 2 stories, or wait 5 min and have no stories because she used up that time not getting ready.
You could make a time chart of what happens when, then when he doesn't want to go read the chart. (Might also give him a head start on telling time). Make sure to leave time for him to choose something, like for dinner what vegetable do you want, give 2 choices. The if he fusses about it later, say he chose it. And can pick something different the next day.
I also found talking about the in the morning helped, my daughter knew what was planned, and when she'd have time to chose something. And I'd also tell her how I expected her to behave at such and such event "just so you know".
I've also found trying to work with a hungry kid is hard work. So when mine is giving me a hard time I ask if she's hungry.
Good luck I hope it works for you! A. H



answers from Detroit on

I'm sure you know your child best and as long as you've ruled out any medical or physical reasons as to why this is happening, then I'd have to agree he's just being defiant and testing his limits with you, and - unfortunately, sounds like he's winning. In order to not spend the next 10 years and beyond dealing with this behavior, you have to nip it in the bud right away.

Two rules with kids I learned at a very young age, 1) don't start any habit you will need to correct later and 2) consistency, consistency, consistency.

For instance, bribing a child with a soda and a popcorn in order to sit nicely in the cart so you can shop - - no way. (My sister did this with her daughter and it drove me nuts to watch!!) Not your situation, but it has always been my number one rule anyway!

Secondly, pacifying a tantrum-throwing child with anything is simply unacceptable. All you've done with that is taught the child that the unacceptable behavior will be rewared with whatever "treat" they've managed to get from you. You have to hold your ground and not give in. Once you give in, the child "has you". They know given the right tantrum, at the right time and place and you'll melt like butter in their hand and do whatever it takes to resolve the situation. Once you start standing your ground and being consistent, it will stop. BUT- I promise it will get worst before it gets better because in their mind, they're saying "it worked yesterday, why isn't it working today? I guess I better scream a bit louder, a bit longer"... and on about day three when you've had enough, you cannot give in to it. It will stop on day four if you can keep it together one more day. Otherwise, you've lost 3 solid days of progress; even though it doesn't appear to be progress, you'll be back to square one. They get the new toy they're screaming about. Now you've taught them persistence. They are thinking "Yep- she really doesn't mean business at all - I just have to be a bit louder, a bit longer and then BINGO - I get what I want."

You are best to set up some practice sessions and plan on atleast a week of hard times. One week - such a short amount of time in the big scheme of things really. When the behavior starts, in a totally calm and emotionless tone, tell him "That behavior is unexceptable and if you don't stop it, we are going home." The absolute instance it happens again, the child is removed from the cart, the half full buggy of groceries is promptly deposited at the Customer Service counter and you immediately drive straight home, without addressing the child at all, no words, no eye contact, nothing. Once at home, you calmly tell your son "This is what will happen from now on if you cannot listen and behave in an unexceptable manner." Then there are no trips out for the rest of the day (thankfully Meijer is open 24/7 and you can run back once the kids are in bed and asleep with dad or a babysitter and you can pick up whatever you really needed.)

Your child will know you mean business because you are managing the situation unlike anything he has seen before. He will be stunned. He didn't elicit an emotional response from you, there were no idol threats - you explained what would happen to him in clear, simple terms, and then it happened and he didn't have a chance to escalate the situation to another level and "win".

I know it sounds easy on paper, and like I mentioned before, it gets worse before it gets better. But I promise it works - I have two 11 year olds as proof.

Once you're over the "hump", be sure to reward the good behavior. Kids need praise, love and attention by the buckets full. You have to make it so the desired response from you comes from doing things "right". You have to notice every little detail and make sure it's noted as important and appreciated. "Wow - you did a fantastic job of picking up your toys!" "Hey, I had fun helping you with that." "You know, you're the best kid ever!" You need to find 20 ways a day to compliment and build your son up in a positive light so he sees the rewards of his good behavior. I know I enjoy my job a little more when my boss tells me I did something right- certainly you son will as well.

Sorry for the long reply - I just got off on a tangent. I hope there was a piece or two of advice that will help you on your way!


answers from Detroit on

Like most human beings,your son seems to stretch the boundaries with whom he is most secure with. Don't beat yourself up too much. Instead of feeling inadequate as a mom wallow in the fact that he is most secure with you and proceed to teach him the lessons of life.

As to advices on how to make your son listen to you, I have to use the age old adage, "Children do not come with a set on instructions." To think that a cookie cutter form of discipline would work for all children is plain ludicrous to me.

There are basic expectations and things to follow. Sometimes we have to change our parenting tactics.

Personally, I wouldn't force him to eat but I wouldn't offer him an alternative either.

Try talking about feelings. "Are you frustrated that you can't go to the playroom at this moment?"

"How do you think Mommy feels when you act this way?"

"I don't appreciate what you're doing but I love you anyway."

From your summation it does seem that you have a well behave child. His attitude away from you is a testament of who great of a job you're doing. It makes me wonder if he feels that he needs more of your time. Just the two of you. Not just a physical time but an emotional time. Even grocery shopping but engaging him throughout the trip. I personally take my 3 year old to a coffee shop to actually enjoy her company.


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