Strong-willed 4 Yr Old

Updated on June 02, 2008
D.L. asks from Sun Prairie, WI
20 answers

My 4 yr old daughter wont listen and obey the majority of the time, especially when I'm taking care of my 6mo. old, say nursing, etc. I realize my lack of follow-thru in the past may have "choosing your battles" seems to make her stronger. I feel I have to address EVERYTHING in order to make any progress, and don't have time and sometimes energy for that. She should make a great lawyer some day cause she tries to negotiate everything she is told to do, or argues until I want to scream. I try not to get sucked into her game, but I all of a sudden find myself trying to reason with her and then we are arguing, etc. Any great ideas that have helped those with this kind of child that thinks she should always have HER way???

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So What Happened?

Thanks for the advise. I have a friend that has the Love and Logic books and she shared them with me. It's been helping a lot!

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answers from Milwaukee on

It sounds like she needs some more attention...and consistent boundaries and consequences. Kids love to know what to expect, even when they're testing it. My son is 4 and very strong-willed as well, which I will love when he gets older, but is trying now (especially with my also strong-willed 2 year old daughter testing me). The key is to ALWAYS be consistent. You cave once and they'll start all over again with the testing. And give her some extra snuggles, book readings, or trips out of the house. Best of luck!



answers from Madison on

Sounds like you're describing my 4 1/2 year old daughter! It is very frustrating and really wears me down sometimes. I don't have any great advice, just wanted you to know that you are not alone.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I was wondering if there is any way you can stay home with your children? That would help with being consistent. I have a few verses from Proverbs about raising children. Hope they help you.
Provers 29:15 The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother.
Provers 23:13,14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod, and save his soul from death.
Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.
Proverbs 29:17 Discipline your son, and he will give you peace;he will bring delight to your soul.
Proverbs 10:1 A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Hi D. -
We had this struggle with our daughter as well. Have you ever heard of Love and Logic? It is a parenting technique that we have used for about 6 months now. If you can take classes, great. If not: here are a couple starters; 1) when she argues with you about something - calmly say, "I love you too much to argue with you", she may keep arguing, just keep repeating it "I love you too much to argue with you"
2) Start giving her choices with things - where you are okay with either choice. Would you like cheerios or raisen bran? You can put your jacket on now or in the car. Would you like to go to bed now or in 5 minutes? Just all kinds of choices all day every day. This will help her to feel control when really you are getting your way with either thing she chooses. Let me know how it goes! Oh and the website for love & logic: Check your community listing for classes

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

We went through this with our now 5 year old. We found what his desires were:outings, special toys, special treat, tv program and when he misbehaves we take those privleges away or add them as he is well behaved. Works great.



answers from Minneapolis on

We have a 6yr old girl who is quite stubborn and yet sensitive, and we have a 3yr old boy who is quite a charmer and a firecracker. With both children, we have been very successful using the guidelines from "One, Two, Three...Magic", which are audio tapes (or CD's) that instruct on the method in and psychology behind having your child "take a break". (It should be noted, however, that in order for it to be successful, you have to be very very consistant--whether you have the energy for it or not.) Just like the title, we start counting and the behaviors usually stop. If not, they get the message by sitting on the stairs.



answers from Minneapolis on

It's probably a combination of her age and the new baby. I went through something similar with my two boys when they were those ages. Working full time with two young children you probably don't have a lot of time to read, but I highly recommend Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's book, "Power Struggles." It is also available on CD or DVD I believe. Good luck.



answers from Cedar Rapids on

I highly recommend a class that helped me, "Growing kids God's Way". It is a book too. What an eye opener. This was one factor in saving our marriage and sanity. I learned that I was a "repeating parent" and what to do about it. I learned how much my behavior trains them on what to expect, and how to change it. Some churches in town have it on a regular is helpful and practical regardless of whether you are a church person or not.



answers from Des Moines on

I have experienced this kind of child in my daycare, and what I found to be effective is giving choices. Giving her a choice puts her in "power" so she isn't directly being told what to do - instead she gets to make the decision. Phrasing it as a need instead of a command may help, as well as telling her why you need her to do a particular task. Also - making things a game as often as possible may be helpful.
For example: You want her to pick up the toys in the living room/her bed room. "Sally, I need you to pick up the toys in the living room because someone might step on your puzzle and break it. You get to choose how you want to do it, we can either turn the music on and you can see how much you can get picked up during one song or you can put them away by color." (which means you tell her 'pick up all the red pick up all the green things etc.') Giving her a decision to make will take her mind off the task at hand, making it not seem so "bad".
You being part of whatever task you've asked of her will make her feel as if she's getting attention, like telling her what colors to pick up - you can easily do this from the couch/rocking chair while nursing etc.
Being consistant is key. Never make threats that you won't follow through with and if she does refuse to do what is asked of her, create a consiquence that is associated with the misbehavior. ie: won't pick up the toys and you end up having to do it - put them in a bag/box or tote and let her know that these will be put away for "X" amount of time or until the next time when she's asked to pick up her toys and obeys you.

Good luck...hope this was helpful.

Working mom of 2 in-home businesses



answers from Minneapolis on

My daughter was very much like this. She is now almost 15. I started the "argue back once" rule when she was 4 and have stuck to it. When she was 4 I explained to her that when I tell her to do something,... and she disagrees... I will listen to one argument from her.... if I agree with her position then great.... if I don't? that's the end of it and I refuse to allow any more arguing. I would tell her that I heard her position and I don't agree and no more arguing is allowed. It took awhile for her to get it.. but soon she got it and life has been much easier on both of us. She doesn't get the opportunity to wear me down and knows there is no point in trying to argue any further. good luck.



answers from Sioux City on

I think you've got some great advice here about being consistent and not listening to her arguments. The one thing I would add is to let your daughter hear you talking to your son about how lucky he is to have such a great big sister, and (later) point out to her all the benefits of having him for a little brother - make him an additional source of love and adoration instead of competition for it, and I bet you'll cut in half your aggravation.



answers from Minneapolis on

Since you're working full time AND dealing with a 6 month old, I'm really thinking you're daughter is asking for some quality time with you. Make sure you get some one on one time with her every day.

When you do lay down rules, be consistent and follow through on your regular punishments (time outs, etc). My newly 4 year old daughter is just like this, but consistency is definitely key. Good luck!



answers from Minneapolis on

My oldest is like this - she is very intelligent and argumentative... just like her dad :) I am not an authoritarian parent, so I do not attempt to shut her down completely. If it's something that is not negotiable, that's once thing, but otherwise I will give her a "give me one reason" chance. For example: it's Saturday and we're not busy and she needs to take a bath today. I tell her I want her to get in the bath, but she will say she wanted to play Legos with her sister, and then she'll take a bath after that. Well, okay fine. But if it's not fine, I tell her no, the reason for the no, and that I'm not going to talk about it any more. If the arguing continues I will give her a time out, then take away TV time or something if it escalates. There were a lot of time-outs in the beginning, but I rarely have to punish her any more (she's 8). She's still strong-willed, but I hope I'm helping her set limits while still letting her be herself. I hope you find what works for you!



answers from Minneapolis on

Hi D.,

Your daughter is desperate for leadership. She wants you to be the parent even if she is acting otherwise. We are designed to live in a "pack," a family with a hierarchy. Children sense when there isn't much leadership and they will try to step in and take over if they feel no one is in charge. I believe this is what your daughter is doing.

I know how hard this stage of life is. You are exhausted from morning to night, then up half the time at night dealing with a sick child or a needy husband. But your life we be much more peaceful and easier if you spend some time proving to your daughter that you are a capable "pack" leader. Set some reasonable rules. Don't have too many or it will not be possible to follow through. I started with simple things like, do not interrupt Mommy when she is talking to other adults or pick up toys before supper. Choose some form of disciple for violating those rules. A four year old can understand time out, or no TV this afternoon, but the penalty has to be realistic and short term. Communicate these rules very clearly to your daughter and then follow through with the disciple the first time and every time she violates it. If you keep the list short, it should be possible to follow through on discipline every time.

If you do this consistently and lovingly, she will eventually allow you to be the boss. She wants you to be, but she needs to believe that you are more capable than she is before she will yield.

It is very important that you discipline her BEFORE you get upset. If you do this consistently then you won't have to get upset and you won't need to scream. At this age, there should not be any "negotiating." You need to be the MOM and take your role as her authority.

It is SO worth it to do the work now. If you don't you will set your family up for 16+ years of battles. But if you do the work now, consistently, you will be able to enjoy your children even when they are teenagers. I am so grateful that I saw this concept early on in my motherhood. I no have two adult children and four teenagers and I have yet to be "sassed or even disrespected." (They still don't always obey, but in general they "get it.")



answers from Rapid City on

I also have a child that knew just how to get me involved in the arguing and knew which buttons to push. I sometimes think that when a parent/child's personality are to much alike, there is more head butting with them. My daughter and her father are the same way. My son is now 26 and we still don't see eye to eye, but we don't argue anymore. With that said, I will let you in a little secret from when I was a kid and argued with my mom until she was ready to pull her hair out....lose your temper, the child wins. I would push my mom until she blew up, then I knew I won the arguement, I had control. Is your child a Leo? I am and we are stubborn especially when we want attention. I always acted up more when I felt that I wasn't as important or loved as my sister and brothers. It didn't take much, if mom bought the others something when out shopping and not me (even though reasonably, they needed what was bought and I didn't), if she was yelling at me over things and hugging, holding, loving on the others (it made me feel unloved) and heaven forbid if she told me I wasn't old enough to do something my sister who is 18 months older can do! Good news is, that stubborness kept me from getting into trouble when I was a teen and now as an adult, my mother and I are very good friends. I still tease her when she claimed I was unreasonable. I took a logic test online and got 100% so I tell her that instead of "thinking" I was always right, I have the test to prove I "was" always right! Can't argue with that reasoning eh? ;-)

So my advice is when she is being good, make sure you give her a lot of hugs and love. When she is arguing instead of arguing and trying to reason, tell her that you love her and that you are proud of how big she is that she can do this or that by herself. When you want her to do something say "would you do me a favor?" It does leave it open for her to say no, but if she is like I was, she would do anything as a favor and fight anything that sounded like a order.



answers from Duluth on

My very best advise would be to check out the course LOVE AND LOGIC PARENTING. It has been working wonders for me and my children. I am a single mom of two wonderful and i have been following love and logic since the kids were age 5 and 6 and it definitely has worked for teaching them many lessons in which they make choices for themselves. A child likes to have choices. I first started the love and logic when i was having many issues with bed time. Through love and logic course i learned that giving them the choice to have light on or off, radio on or off, story yes or no....and such gives them the idea that they are in charge of what is happening with out realizing that we are actually making them do what WE want them to do.
In regards to your issue, i would suggest giving options to do now or later, or perhaps choices in which how to do the thing you want them to do. That way she does it and HER way, but she still is doing what you want.
I hope this helps you in some way.


answers from Davenport on

My daughter was/is this same way. In fact, her first two years of report cards came back marked that she does not follow school rules, she makes up her own and gets the other kids to follow them! She is 13 now. What I have done with her when she tries to argue my answer is to tell her that it isn't negotiable by repeating my answer and adding, "Final answer!". When she was younger I would tell her that my answer is not negotiable and cut off her attempts to argue by continually repeating my answer every time she tried to respond with her arguements. (Sometimes it took giving her my anwer and walking out of the room to make my point clear that I was not going to listen). It isn't always easy and they will push you, but it is highly important to stick to your guns when you give her an answer or it will only get worse as she gets older. My daughter still tries to argue or negotiate things but when I make it clear that I'm not going to change my mind nor allow her to try, she stops right away and that's the end of it.



answers from Omaha on

Hi D.,

You will have your work cut out for you for the next few months but it will be time well spent if you can stick with this. First off, go to our library and look for material on Common Sense parenting using the Boys Town method. Anything Boys Town will give you exactly the tools you need to get this situation under control. It will involve a lot of "pre-teaching" which means that when things are calm, you will use an example of a request that you used earlier and she didn't respond to. Remember, this needs to be during a time when things are calm. For example:

You say to your daughter "Claire, earlier I asked you to pick up your clothes and you did not follow directions. When I ask you to pick up your clothes, you need to stop what you are doing and pick them up. No excuses. Your answer to me will be 'Okay Mom' and then you will do it. So, the next time I ask you to do something, your answer will be to 'Okay Mom' and then you will stop, and do as I ask. Now, let's practice that. Okay?.........Claire, please pick up your clothes. (You wait for her to say Okay Mom and then pick up her clothes, and as soon as she follows directions, you praise her) Claire, awesome job! Let's try that again."

Repeat the entire thing again. Afterwards, tell her how proud you are of her for following directions. Use this method EACH AND EVERY TIME. WITH EACH AND EVERY SITUATION. If she does not follow directions, immediately stop what you are doing (even if it is feeding your baby, rocking, etc.) and follow through with a consequence. If you asked her to pick up her clothing and she would not, you may have to manually get up and "help" her pick up the clothes. Then put her in time-out, or take something away from her, limit her t.v. time, etc. Whatever "speaks" to her.

This method will be tough to do...and you MUST be consistent, but I am telling you, it will work. And that stuff about "choosing your battles" is not such a good idea. When kids think that they have a choice in what they will do, eat, say, etc. you end up with children who won't follow directions because they can't filter out when they should/can have a choice and when they need to follow directions. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Good luck!




answers from Minneapolis on

While you have your hands full with a baby and full-time work, arguing with a smart four year old girl is your biggest mistake. How can you WIN with her D.?

What I mean by this is: how can BOTH of you win every "battle" instead of just you or her?

It's time to think outside the box here. What is your tone of voice when you ask her for something? How do you reward her for good behavior? How do you punish her when you are not happy with the outcome?


A new baby in the house means competition and frustration for a four year old girl. She needs a way to express her anger and frustration and is obviously doing it well. You need to catch on - she isn't arguing with you D., she is asking you to LOVE HER TOO, like you do her baby brother.

So, calm down. Use a gentle tone of voice - the same voice you use with her brother. Ask nicely and don't yell when she says "no" - she needs to say "no" right now, she is mad at you. The less you get mad back the less she'll argue with you.

Think like a four year old D.. She is still a baby too! Talk to her with a gentle, loving voice... cuddle her and tell her that you love her EVEN when she says "no". Tell her that her baby brother has NOT replaced her in your heart.

You two have some healing to do - and believe me, it will take a lifetime to heal the wound of breaking up a great twosome like you and her (ask any mom who has had a second child). She'll be mad about this her whole life... so don't add to it.

Remember, she was your ONLY baby just 6 months ago. But she needs to be reminded every day and every minute that she will always be your one true love (even though it's not true).

When you get some extra time, go to the bookstore and pick up: Raising Your Spirited Child by MS Kurckina. A daughter this smart needs a good OWNERS MANUAL. This is the book - you won't regret reading it on your lunch break today.



answers from Minneapolis on

You are not alone on this:) I have a four and almost three year old who test me everyday. And a ten year old who does not help. Last night I asked them to go get their PJ's on and my ten year old said to me "come on, just let us finish this game." I responded "I am tired of asking you to do things three times, so get going now!" I walked out of the room to give them a chance to listen, and put my daughter to bed, and when I came back and they were still in front of the TV, I said "Turn it off now or it will be gone!" Then they quickly turned it off, ran up to get pj's on, brushed their teeth, and in to bed. It is really challenging to keep your temper in check when they do not follow directions. Especially when you have let them do fun stuff all day, and now it is the time to listen and do what you want. When any of our kids get defiant, which they do often, we deal with it right away. Molly, my 3 year old, gets put in her room until she quiets down. Thomas, my four year old, will be asked to listen, warned, also put in time out in his room, or sometimes spanked as he will yell at us or swing at us if he is really stubborn. Aaron, our ten year old only has to be told to get in his room, or warned that he will loose tv, ps, or gameboy privilages if he does not cooperate. Kids will always test there boundaries! They just do it differently as they mature. My three year old will throw a temper tantrum, my four year old will try to argue or act out, my ten year old will try to reason with us... It is ok to choose your battles, but when you know you will not bend on something, they should know it too.
I also agree with spending quality time with your older child. They all need their own special time with you. It does not have to be long. I will read a quick book, give hugs and kisses, tickle them, race around the yard, or pitch to them so they can practice hitting in the yard... Then when I need to get back to cleaning, working, or need to sit for a few minutes, they let me. I gave them attention and expect them to find something to play with or play with each other. One trick my MIL used was to set a timer for fifteen minutes. Let the kdis know she would play whatever they wanted, but when the timer went off she needed to stop and get back to work.
Also, do you pump at all? If so, maybe your four year old could help feed the baby sometimes??? Then he would feel involved and special. Good luck!

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