QUESTION: My sweet, obedient, almost 4-year-old has turned into a terror overnight. Besides almost hourly temper tantrums and constant “I don’t want to” and “I don’t like that,” he has now started to run away from us when he doesn’t want to listen. He even finds ways to complain or be rude when he is getting exactly what he wants. Consequences don’t seem to bother him much anymore nor do time outs in his room. We have tried to be empathetic. We have tried to be stern. We have “love bombed” him in case it is attention he needs. Nothing seems to make a lasting impression. This has been the last few weeks, and it is torturous. We don’t know where our little boy went.
BBB: Your little boy is still there, even though it feels like “the invasion of the body snatchers.” And I can promise you, much of his behavior is typical 4-year-old stuff. There is a reason that I refer to Fours as the “f@#$%&* Fours!”
Fours can be incredibly challenging—bossy, boastful, and out of bounds. They can be physically out of bounds—racing to the car, running everywhere, needing always to be first.
They can be emotionally out-of-bounds—laughing hilariously or wailing about a tiny scratch. They can be verbally out-of-bounds—testing swear words, weaving toilet talk into every conversation, spewing exaggerations.
Fours are quite full of themselves and have discovered their own power. In addition, the four has figured out that he can do unacceptable things and the roof doesn’t fall in.
On the other side of the coin, the typical 4-year-old is enthusiastic and loving, and he loves adventure, excursions, excitement and anything new! Fours love their mommies in particular.
That said, parenting a 4-year-old is exhausting. It takes infinite patience because fours are also speedy. They do everything quickly (except if you are in a hurry, in which case it takes them forever!), and they are studies in extremes.
They love and they hate; they can be noisy or quiet, wild or calm, social or withdrawn. You never know who you are going to get.
In parenting your 4-year-old, consistency is key. Fours respond well to ritual and routine, as in this is what we always do, what is always expected of you. They seek regularity and rules in their world.
For this reason, you must have house rules. They like, need and respect boundaries, despite the fact that they will challenge them.
I don’t know exactly how you have been handling your 4-year-old bandit, but I can tell you that a child at this age needs clear, immediate, logical consequences for each of his misbehaviors. That’s why timeouts (the one-size-fits-all consequence) don’t work.
He needs to feel that he is the one who invited the consequence by his behavior. So taking away iPad privileges for his “toilet talk” not only makes no sense, but it also won’t work. For more information on different kinds of consequences, please see the chapter on discipline in my book, “Just Tell Me What to Say.” I think I wrote it just for you!
Do not take your 4-year-old too seriously. Make sure you have lots of good, old-fashioned play time, wrestling time and fun time. Make sure you also have plenty of love time—sharing cuddles, reading stories and being close.
I promise you, your boy will return, sometime after 4½!
Note: Many of my topical seminars, including “Discipline Dos and Don’ts,” will become available on my website. Stay tuned!
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.