Normal 4 Year Old Behavior?

Updated on June 16, 2009
T.E. asks from Dallastown, PA
12 answers

My 4 year old son has really been testing his limits lately - talking back, major attitude, and most recently sticking his tongue out. I'm not the type of person to tolerate disrespect from my kids so I feel like I'm constantly talking to him about this, putting him in time out, and telling him "we don't talk like this", etc. etc. It's very stressful some days. Please tell me this is normal 4 year old behavior!!

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answers from Philadelphia on

It's totally normal. My son is going through the same stage...back talk, sending his sister into time out, lack of respect....

This is the time when they are emerging from dependence to independence and back again...and it doesn't end until their late teens!

I feel for you but just hang in there!

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answers from Philadelphia on

Yes this is normal 4 year old behavior. 4 year olds like to test their limits, as many ages do. They are very capable people at that age and feel as if they can do and know so very much. That being said, just because it is normal does NOT mean that it is ok. The first thing to do is remember that he is 4 and do not get into a battle of wills or an argument.Stay Clam. Let him know that his behavior is not acceptable and that if it continues there will be consequences. Let him know what those are. Will he miss game time with the family? ( if he is being unkind to the family members then he will not be aloud to participate in an activity. No one deserve to be treated unkindly. He can have play choices in other rooms) He could loose privileges. If he enjoys being a door opener, or family activity chooser he could have to step down from those. They carry heavy responsibility and until your son can make the right choices about his behavior he will not be able to hold such lofty jobs ( to him this will mean a lot). He could also have to be excused to play in his room alone. Not an hour long time out. Not solitary confinement, but just time spent away from the people that are being offended.
Take a step back and make sure that no one in your family speaks like your son does. No one speaks unkindly, fights "dirty", yells. Parents are models and kids will follow.

Children do not just grow out of stages they learn better coping and problem solving techniques.
Have a great day,
B. Davis

Child And Family Coaching
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Because nothing is more important than family


answers from Pittsburgh on

Hi T.~

I have a 3 1/2 year old little boy... he goes through phases of testing limits, and other times, he is really quite compliant... But I do know where you are coming from... we have days, sometimes weeks, where all I feel like I do is correct, discipline, correct, discipline...
But it always passes, and my son seems to get back on track.

I would say that it is normal to a degree for your son to be testing you... I would say to be very consistent in how you address his unacceptable behavior, and make sure that your discipline is meaningful to him, meaning that he really doesn't like it, otherwise it won't work... hopefully it will pass... I think it will...

Best of luck...



answers from Philadelphia on

Dear T. E:
There are two things that are going on with your 4-year old.
1st - 4-year olds always like to win games. For some reason, if a child at 4 wins all his games, he learns to be a good sport when he loses games when he gets older. You must have game time, whether it is UNO, monopoly, candyland, whatever. He needs your private time as he is getting older. Designate the time of day for this and tell him that he will lose this time with you if he does not behave. His grandfather once stacked my son's cards when playing UNO and my son's eyes just about jumped out of their sockets...we could have won "America's Funniest Home Videos".
2nd - Your 4-year old is a little boy and may feel that he is in competition for your affection that the 2 year old has. You make the call on this one. 4 years is the time to start the time-out corner chair. You sit him there until you can behave and cannot get up until you are willing to behave like a young gentlemen with good manners. An apology is in order. After the child knows that he has done wrong, then give him beautiful mother's hug to know that he is always loved, in that order. He will always love you for taking the time to care. Enjoy him T....



answers from Philadelphia on

It was normal for my son at 4. Not my daughters, just him. Now at almost 6, it's a little better, but he still has his moments. Just be as consistent as you can, but to save your own sanity, make sure you are picking your battles. If you can, give him some slack on some other stuff without compromising your rules. That way you stay consistent with the rules but you won't feel like your yelling so much. Good luck! If any other 'trick' works, let me know! I could still use all the help I can get!




answers from Johnstown on

Yep--totally normal! My 4 yr old twins are doing the same thing. I thought they'd just gotten an attitude off their older sister since she's developed a horrible one since starting school, but other parents tell me it's normal. I feel your pain!



answers from Pittsburgh on

Kids that age can seem like they are two different day all sweetness and light, and the next you're looking for the horn nubs on top of the head! LOL
He's testing limits and boundaries. Totally normal for the age. Make sure you're being completely clear about what IS and what IS NOT acceptable and allowed in your home. Follow through with the consequences you've decided on (ahead of time) for the infractions to the rules. Post rules if that will help him to remember. You might want to read them over every morning.
Make sure that his care providers are on the same page and talk to them about new behaviors he is displaying. Compare notes with them. Lots of people tend to think that kids "pick up" bad behavior from other kids, but a lot of kids will only be bold enough to display this "new attitude" at home, so you'll bear the brunt of the discipline.
Good luck!



answers from Philadelphia on

Welcome to the F*ing 4's!! Seriously, it is completely normal. My daughter started doing that at about 3 1/2 and continued till about 4 1/2. All I can say is, 'Make sure you are consistent with disipline.' This is a time that they are testing their boundries, but this too shall pass. My daughter was, and still is, a pretty good kid, but there were times that I didn't thik she was going to live till her 5th birthday.



answers from Scranton on

It is totally normal. There is a wonderful set of books on child development by Louise Bates Ames (available on Amazon). In her book on four year olds she describes this behavior. Learn not to negotiate, tell him this is not acceptable and give consequences immediately.

The difficult part is to realize that children go through these developmental phases such as the "terrible 2's & 3's about every 2 to 3 years, so they repeat testing their limits. However, if you are prepared for it and know it is coming AND leaving life is much easier!


answers from Allentown on

Hi T.,

This is not normal behavior. Try working with a teen ager with type of behavior!

You son is angry for some reason.

Tell your son:

When you.............describe the behavior,

I feel.............describe how you feel about his behavior.

In the future, when you.......describe the behavior,

give him a consequence........whatever he enjoys..

or you can ask him about what happened that he is angry about.
What does he need to do to clean things up with you.

You the Restorative Practice philosophy.

Good luck. D.



answers from Philadelphia on

YES! My 4 year old is testing me CONSTANTLY! it's exhausting!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just requested the books Amy L mentioned, from the library! :-) thank you!



answers from Philadelphia on

Does your son attend; Pre-K, daycare, etc. If so, he may be picking this behavior up from other children or even another child/peer that he admires and thinks that this is acceptable because maybe this child or children haven't been challenged by their caretakers/parents/elders to STOP the behavior. Ask his teacher or the adult that cares for him how his behavior is during their watch. You are going to have to crack down on him concerning this..It is NOT CUTE, FUNNY or something to IGNORE!He is 4! He knows what he is doing! He is highly intelligent! I am "Old School" some children need a little more than "stop sweetheart, that's not nice!" and sitting in the time-out corner...

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