Stubborn 4 Year Old

Updated on May 27, 2008
C.H. asks from Kemp, TX
27 answers

My son is 4 years old and most of the time he is a really good boy, but there are times when he does not listen. If he's in a mood, he does what he wants, when he wants and if he can't have things his own way he throws a fit. Also, a lot of the time, he will do the exact opposite of what he's told while looking me or my husband right in the face. Open defiance, and it drives me crazy. We discipline him for it and I keep thinking he will learn from that, but it's almost like a switch gets thrown in his head sometimes and he is almost impossible to deal with. I have a 16 year old daughter who was nothing like this when she was his age, so there's no comparison. Help! I'm open to any advice or suggestions.

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S.R.

answers from Dallas on

My daughter is going through this exact same thing. I keep thinking, where did my Jenna go? Anyway, my mom talked with me yesterday about it because apparently my oldest sister did the exact same thing. My mom said that the pediatrician told her my sister's allergies were so bad that it caused her to act like this. Now, I know this is not going to be the reason for every child, but you never know. The dr. said that when she acts like this, you need to remember that the allergies are doing this and my mom could actually tell that this was true when she would think back, ok what was she just around (animals, etc.). Anyway, I am going to take my little one to see about allergy testing. I want to find out if this is what is going on with her. If not, at least I know she is not suffering from allergies and we can rule that out. My mom also noted that my daughter just started acting like this after January, which is the time allergy season starts and it is at its worse right now. So, who knows. Just thought I would throw that out there.

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V.H.

answers from Dallas on

I read the book Love and Logic, it was perfect for my daughter who was the same way. She is 15 now and we have no power struggles. I refer back to it in my head over and over, even now. It helps you take the power struggle out of it. Because that is exactly what is going on. He wants some control and he will take it where he can get it. It helps you see what the control is about and how to give them a sense of control while keeping you in charge.

J.L.

answers from Dallas on

It seems that kids that are openly defiant are just looking to get a rise out of you. When he behaves like that, ignore the behavior. Do not respond to him until he is presenting an acceptable behavior. When he is displaying an acceptable behavior, lavish him with praise. He will soon learn that the good behavior gets the response, not the bad.
Best of luck to you.
J.

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K.C.

answers from Dallas on

This is an exact description of my middle son, he just turned 5 this month. Here are things that I have found:

The key is to deal with him calmly. If you get upset or yell, it feeds into his fit.

I touch my son's face when I talk to him to be sure he makes eye contact.

My son often reacts this way when the house is stressful or he feels rushed. I always try to give him a warning before we do anything. "Zach we are leaving in 5 minutes, please get your socks & shoes on so you'll be ready to go." Also, before disciplining, I will give him a counting warning. We were SO against this, as my husband feels that our son should do exactly as he's told immediately. We saw a child psychologist who said our son has trouble making transitions, that is switching gears from one activity to another. She recommended the counting warning, "I'll give you until the count of 3, etc". There's a book called 1,2,3 Parenting that she recommended too.

Poor impulse control and a strong will make for difficult times. I can tell you this, now that he's 5, we've noticed fewer incidents and an improvement in his behavior overall. We constantly try to reinforce, model and acknowledge all good behavior, no matter how small. When your child is like this, it's so easy to constantly criticize or judge him harshly. He needs to have constant reassurance that he's good.

I know our son will always have a strong will, but as he matures, he's able to handle his impulses better.

Be sure that you, your husband, your daughter & mother all be united in how you deal and discipline him. It sounds excessive, but hold a family meeting. Don't assume everyone is on the same page. Consistency is most important. He should know that the rules are the same, no matter who is watching him as well as the consequences are also the same.

Please feel free to send me a private message if you'd like. I know how hard it is to have an child that seems uncontrollable & every one else's child seems to go along with the program. Sometimes it just helps to share.

K.
Mom to 3 ages 6, 5 & 3

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R.L.

answers from Dallas on

I have a 3 year old daughter (almost 4) that sounds very similar. She is an only child who thinks the world revolves around her. We tried discipline but that doesn't work well so we did an alternate. We took all of her toys out of her room. She literally thought someone had come to her house taken them away and they were gone. The only thing we left in her room to keep her occupied was books and puzzles. (educational items) We used a behavior chart at the end of each night to monitor her day. She would earn a little toy back for 3 good things and a big toy back for 10 good things. She was really excited that we were proud of her good behavior. Now she is pretty much my sweet little girl and when she forgets we remind her we can talk all of her toys away, again. I hope this helps.

A little about me: I am a Christian mom who is raising a 3 year old only child. I have also also been married for almost 7 years.

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B.B.

answers from Dallas on

Hey, I was wondering how you ended up with my 4 year old son. You have described him exactly. What I found as a great help is the following book - "Making Children Mind Without Lossing Yours" by Kevin Leman. This is a book based heavily on Ephesians 6:1-4. I bought it along with "Bringing Up Boys" by Dr. James Dobson. My daughter was so much easier at this age. I thought I better figure out the boy factor before I would know exactly what I was up against. Both books have been very helpful. I haven't finished "Bringing Up Boys" yet but absolutely love and agree with Kevin Leman's approach to descipline. I have already seen remarkable improvement in how my son responds to me. I have to admit, I was the one who was needing the lesson. I was simply being an over loving pushover, empowering my son to take charge. Once I took back the true parenting role, our whole situation improved.

Good luck.

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R.B.

answers from Dallas on

Hi, C.,
It sounds like a power struggle between you (parents) and your son has developed. Your concerns stimulated some questions for me before I could offer suggestions. When you say "discipline", do you mean punishment or disciplie? Punishment denotes some kind of action that hurts in order to stop a behavior. Discipline denotes teaching, from the root word disciple. Removing yourself from the power struggle is not easy or quick. A united front from the adults in a plan of natural and logical consequences will work best in the long run. I would suggest all of the adults read a good book on parenting with natural/logical consequences such as "Raising a Responsible Child" by Matthew McKay. Your 4-yr-old may be trying to assert himself in a house of "big people" because he feels powerless. Giving him choices of two outcomes chosen by the adults starts him feeling some sense of empowerment without the adult relinquishing being in charge. You must always be in charge. There are many ways to begin helping him learn better behavior choices, too many to list here. Google natural and logical consequences for many choices of books to help the adults get on the same page in teaching your son appropriate behavioral choices and maintaing a good relationship with him at the same time. Good luck.

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A.J.

answers from Dallas on

C.

The most important fact you need to accept is that you are the proud parent of a BOY at least that is the explanation I was given when my gr son started this at 4 and all of the old grandmother type people chuckled as they said it. grrr

The best and only thing you can do is immediately when he defies you is to gently but firmly remind him of what he was told to do or not do. When he doesn't comply, quietly w/o anger or warning pick him up and put him in a time out chair.
He will scream and kick and a whole bunch of other stuff and if he doesn't do it now rest assured he will in the future. Explain to him time out starts when he is quiet and if he starts acting up..well, time starts over. We have even reached the point of making him put mine's hands on his head. Amazingly, hands on your head works very well when in public.

He is testing his limits. He is testing authority; yours for now and setting limits for school etc.

When you gently but firmly remind of him what he should do...praise him i.e. you are too sweet and/or too smart to be acting like this. Above all, when he comes off that chair do the same thing. Tell him how sweet he is and how smart he is and it hurts you to see him act in an ugly manner because he is better than that.
You can also tell him that the chair is part of your home. He is part of your home. It is your job to teach him to be sweet and obedient and respectful. It is the chair's job to be there for him to sit in until he learns. It is his choice if he wants to sit in a chair all the time or play etc. and build muscles to grow big and tall. lol

Remember above all, one reminder then consequences. Use praise to his character while administering consequences. This will come and go and even get worse before it gets better. it will also start over and get worse when he starts school and meets a new discipline protocol and usually not so positive and more permissive. Just hang tight. Have faith in yourself and the sweet boy he is and remember that you are raising some poor girl's future husband.
You might also want to monitor what he eats or drinks and if his behavior changes within a 3-4 hour period afterwards. I and another group of mothers have found a key culprit in misbehavior and defiance is tv /video games/computer of more than one hour is duration, msg and high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is in so many things including every brand of ketchup and bbq sauce made and most kids drinks. It is even is cookies.
So your son could have food allergies that are intensifying a normal 4 yr old testing stage.

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C.H.

answers from Dallas on

Hi C.,
Have you thought to have your sons allergies tested. Food allergies can cause a mirid of problems, including defiance. My son would eat chocolate and argue no matter what I said. Food allergies affect people differently.
Also, if your husband or yourself have any background of ADD or ADHD this is possibly a stem from that.
I would start with and Elisa or FICA test it is more assuring than the prick test and they draw a vile of blood and the testing is done from that. If you fed him peanut butter or peanut products before he was two this promotes allergies. Hope this helps.
Good Luck !
Keep the Peace of God in Your Heart.
Char H

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S.B.

answers from Dallas on

Remember the movie Jurassic Park where the animal kept throwing itself at the fence looking for a weak spot? Meet your son! Mine did the same thing and one is now in the Infantry and doing very well. Start now meeting your sons friends and their Moms - you WILL NEED that habit for when he becomes a teenager. How involved is Dad? Are you both consistent? I also used to tell the boys I stayed up nights trying to think of ways to make their lives miserable - When they said "You don't love me!" I replied with a "smart mouth" answer (what they really want is for you to cave on an issue).Or you could responded, "Yes darling I love you and no you still can't have _______." Keep him busy with chores, it will give him a good work ethic later in life (and scrubbing toilets for bad language/behavior had an impact on one of mine). Pray, Pray & then Pray and ask God for what you want your son to become. Ask your husband for stories about his childhood and then note the people he admired/respected were the ones who kept him off guard and were loving but firm. Also remember, a man will chose respect over love; your son shows he loves you when he gives you respect. Enjoy these years; copy down the funny & strange things he says and does in a diary over the next few years, developing a good relationship with him will give you MUCH pleasure!
Proud Mother of 3 young men who love her still.

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S.A.

answers from Dallas on

Hi C.!
I can't say I have too much advice to offer b/c I am actually going through the exact same thing right now w/my four year old son...I have an older daughter as well (she is 22months older) who tested the waters at a much younger age so discipline was so much easier b/c she learned so much quicker at that age! Anyhow, I just wanted to assure you that what you are going thorugh w/your little guy is normal...I think there should really be the label "terrible fours" not "terrible two's" for boys...boys mature at a later age...anyhow, good luck! Perhaps we can offer four year old boy advice to one another....OH James Dobson's bringing up boys dvd/small group study is good!

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M.A.

answers from Dallas on

C.,
Most of the behavior you are describing seems age appropriate, especially for a bright child. However, it is very frustrating to deal with. I would encourage you to talk through the behavior choices he is making. Explain that he has a choice and what the consequences are. I know that sounds like a lot for a 4 year old, but if you start now it will really help him be successful in school. Also, start praising him more when he does what he is supposed to, even if it is just a little thing. Help him to crave the positive attention rather than the negative. With bright children, they often will test their limits of how far they can go. Stay calm, though it is hard at times, I know! With prayer and communication, you will get through this. Good luck!

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R.S.

answers from Dallas on

My 4 year old is the same way - basically a really good kid, but also alimit tester, which his older brother never was. My best advice is to stay consitent, as exhausting as it can be. Make sure his negative behaviors always have a consequence (preferably a natural consequence that "fits the crime") and that you always follow through with that consequence. I am hoping that my little man will outgrow most of this behavior with maturity, but at the same time I think it is somewhat part of his personality. He has some trouble with impulse control and focus that makes me think we need to explore more coping mechanisms for dealing with ADHD. But the first big step is just staying consistent!

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C.H.

answers from Amarillo on

I have a four year old too and he can be head strong. I have my education in child development and this is what I have learned. Children have things they love to do, mine loves to watch TV, play on the computer, and doesnt much like to have to go to his room and miss out on whats going on with us. SO 1st you have to be consistant with your discipline if you say its going to happen you have to follow though or it wont work. Children need rules and boundries and they constantly test them to see where they are, They want to know if I do x then y will happen. So for example if my son is doing something I have asked him not to do then I tell him ok I am going to count to 3 and if you havent stoped what your doing then your going to loose TV for the rest of the night, and I start counting, now if your having to count alot say if I have to count 1 more time then its automatic loss of X. Then follow threw if you gronded him to his room for the night then make it so dont give in it will be your down fall. If you just let kids know what you expect of them and whats going to happen then they know whats going to happen. Also you may want to pick your battles think to your self is this really a big deal as long as its not something that could hurt him or someone else it may not be worth it. Also if you tell children were leaving in 10 min then tell them at 5 min then 2 min when its time to go on to something else there less likely to fight you on it. Lots of Luck

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K.M.

answers from Dallas on

C.-
I know a little about this myself! :) I have 5 children (ages 16- 4 months) and our 3rd child was the one that wanted to "push our buttons" around the age of 3 or 4. Unfortunately there is no quick answer- we just had to pray and pray (and pray) and be consistant with him. Sometimes I felt like all I accomplished in a day was disciplining my little Sam! It has paid off- he is growing in the Lord and becoming a great little guy (age 10 now). There are times we still deal with anger and disobedience, but because we dealt with it when he was little (and with prayer! :) things are more easily taken care of.
I wish there was a quick and easy way to get you through this, but trust me, being consistant pays off in the long run! :)
God Bless you and your family!
K.Morris

A little about me: I am a Christian stay at home mom, married 18 years and mother of 5 children -4 boys and 1 girl- ages 16, 14(girl), 10, 7 and 4 months.

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K.S.

answers from Dallas on

Our almost 4 year old granddaughter is going through a similar phase the last couple of weeks. We babysit her during the week, so we get a lot of time to observe that we didn't when our girls were little.

She spends a lot of time in her own fantasy world exploring her imagination and she is preoccupied with her own thoughts. If we interrupt her, she's sometimes only half listening. Most of the time what we're asking of her is not critical (like getting out of the path of a car), but when we are preparing to go somewhere in public, it's important to lay the groundwork with her that she needs to come back to earth and pay attention to our instructions.

It's important that young children especially have time to themselves to get in touch with their imaginations. We actually play into it with her, which is an effective way of reaching her sometimes.

These days she has a "boyfriend" who misbehaves and treats her badly. I've told her that he sounds like trouble and she needs to tell that troublemaking boyfriend to hit the road. If her friends won't treat her right and behave then she needs to find other friends.

Another big item with her is that she "learns things in her class". She doesn't go to preschool or any organized activities right now, but she's always talking about her class and her teacher and what she learned. When she sees a bus, it's her school bus that she takes to class. She asked me a couple of times last week if I'd pick her up from her class, and of course, I said I would. She's obviously preparing herself for going to school.

In the last several months especially, she has very big into story telling. You might call it lying, but there's no malicious intention involved. She's just telling stories.

She clearly understands a line between fantasy and reality, but she chooses to blur that line to "try on different feelings and scenarios".

The last couple of weeks she's been making up her own versions of words. (My mom said I used to do the same thing when I was little. It wasn't that I didn't know the words. I just like the way mine sounded better.) Last week she was talking about a hop grass. I ask her if she was talking about a grasshopper and she smiled that she was.

So for now, we're just enjoying her stories about her baby sister/brother, the baby she's growing that will come out her navel, the misbehavior and the knowledge she's learning about at her class, and especially her life as Ariel the mermaid when she's swimming. Her grandfather is Neptune and she has to save Prince Eric from all kinds of trouble. The sea witch Ursula is always planning some kind of devilment that has to be disrupted.

Pick and choose when to apply discipline for now and assure that your son has time in his day for role playing and play acting. Don't be afraid to enter his world on occasion either. It can be endlessly entertaining.

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L.W.

answers from Dallas on

Consistent, structured discipline. Do not back down nor give into his tantrums. No means no and do not ask again. Whatever you do, do not buy the logic that boys are different from girls because disciplining both with the same rules are applicable to both genders. Hang in there.

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S.T.

answers from Dallas on

C.,
Read Dobson's "the new strong willed child" and look up "loveandlogic.com". Both the men are christians and have different approaches. You want to get this straightened out because a rebellious 15 year old can do alot of damage to himself.
S.

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L.H.

answers from Dallas on

i have the same pronlbem with my 3 yr. old son.he tries his dad and i.what we do is stick him in time out and make him sit there and not to move until we say that he can get up. i know that time out doesnot work with all kids but it does with ours. god bless and good luck.

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J.H.

answers from Amarillo on

Make sure you don't give in to what he wants when he throws a fit, or it will re-enforce him thinking this gets it. Try and divert attention to some thing else, or just ignore him. If he dosed the defiance thing, stand him in the corner, tell him this action is not acceptable, if the corner doesn't work think of some other form of punishment that will.

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T.R.

answers from Dallas on

Read "Love and Logic" for a great way to talk to your child. It is all about natural consequences and teaching your child to be a thinker.

www.loveandlogic.com

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M.W.

answers from Dallas on

C.,

This may sound crazy, but you can try to just reason with him. Tell him that you want him to learn to make the right decisions because they are right not because he gets something. You want him to not do the wrong thing because it is wrong not because he will be punished. When he does something right, give him a high five because he chose the right thing. When he does something wrong ask him if he really thought what he did was right or wrong. Tell him what you think about the rightness or wrongness of what he did. If he does some thing wrong tell him you are disappointed, you wish he did the right thing, but you still love him. Tell him you hope that in the future he will do the right thing, but you understand that it is not always easy to do the right thing -- that is why God gave him parents to help him with the tough things. You may not think he is old enough to understand, but if you keep have the same loving conversation with him, he can get it. My son who is now almost 9 did. Good luck.

m.j.

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A.B.

answers from Dallas on

Check out www.loveandlogic.com ...get a book...it's so helpful and really takes a lot of stress out of parenting! Good luck...I have a 4yr old boy, too. They can be trying, but so much fun!

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C.G.

answers from Jacksonville on

Make sure you don't loose your cool. Make it so that you don't do anything fun for him for a set period of time, and only do fun things when he does the things you ask. I have a 14 yr old and this works for him, take away all electronics and he has to go to his room or to bed if he misbehaves. I only allow him to use his "toys" when he shows respect. I talk to him and if he tries to argue I don't engage him and walk away. If you need to have some fun, but he has been bad, get him a baby sitter who will send him to bed and not allow anything fun for a night and you go out and let him know that his actions (in kid words) are keeping him from having fun. Kids understand more than we give them credit for.

And, I would take one toy at a time and have him give it to someone who is less fortunate or to a good will (personally) as a volunteering thing to do.

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C.R.

answers from Dallas on

Make sure your little guy NEVER wins when he acts like this. Make sure the consquences of this bahaviour is always worse than the pleasure he gets from defying you.
If you make sure he NEVER wins, he will soon decide it's not worth it.

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L.S.

answers from Dallas on

There is a book called "To Train Up a Child" by Mike and Debi Pearle. It is a wonderful book to help you have obedient children from a Chrisitan perspective. Because basically he is thumbing his nose at you in defiance and in attitude. If he were mine he would get a spanking every time he did not obey until he learned to. You can find the above book and others at www.nogreaterjoy.com I used this book as the basis for discipline in our household. I don't use it all, but do use the rod theory of correction.
I strongly advise that you get a hold on this problem now.
Good luck,
L.

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T.O.

answers from Dallas on

You don't know how nice it was to see your request...I've currently going through the same thing with my 3 1/2 year old. Because I'm a working mom and have to take my son to daycare things haven't been so rosy. Especially when others don't have the patience and interest in your child like you do. It's been really really frustrating to the point of tears but I know it will pass but like the other moms I would like to rule out things so that we can help him get through this very important time in life. He does have allergies (not formally tested) and yes, he is one of those who will test ALL limits. Does anyone know of a good Dr. in the Frisco or Plano area who is recommendable for allergy testing. I'm also in the process of ruling out other things as well. He is a very smart boy and he seems to get bored easily, when at home giving him projects and keeping him occupied certainly helps. Hang in there!

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