Surviving Four-Year-Old Behavior Problems

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I know they call it the terrible twos, but the fours have been the most difficult year so far! My little fournado turned five in July, and things are starting to simmer down a bit. These are my and survival tips for your four-year-old behavior problems.

remember: it’s normal!

It’s totally normal for your once-pleasant angel to turn into a monster right around four! Having an attitude, refusing to listen, and developing a hair-trigger are all right on target for some kids this age. If you think your kid might be showing signs of a disorder, by all means, have your pediatrician take a look. But most of the time, this extreme change in temperament is your child’s brain rapidly growing and experiencing the world in a new way.

testing boundaries

Your four-year-old is learning to test boundaries in a whole new way. When she was two, she liked to experiment with cause and effect: if I drop my cup on the floor again, will Mommy pick it up again? But now that she’s four, she’s testing how far her independence goes – and she is perfectly capable of expressing her feelings about the results. You want her to clean up her toys? Your new independent spirit will refuse until she’s a puddle on the floor. This personality change can be shocking for parents who had agreeable three-year-olds. (Emma used to loved the Daniel Tiger clean up song…) But it’s a normal part of your four-year-old learning that she is no longer a part of you, and she has the power to tell you no.

some are worse than others

Some kids seem to skip the freakin’ fours. They get all of their boundary-testing out between two and three, and settle into being lovely little children around four. For the rest of us, there are some things we can do to help survive four-year-old behavior problems with our sanity!

stay calm

I know, it seems impossible to stay calm while your little tyrant is screaming at 7am! I’m definitely guilty of losing my cool way more than I’d like to admit. But when I do manage to stay calm, I can stay in control of the situation and choose my words purposefully. My calmness also has an effect on my daughter; when she realizes that her shenanigans aren’t working, she’s more likely to stop without a full-blown tantrum.

model good behavior

This is a hard one! We don’t want our kids to be sassy, so we need to stop being sassy. We want them to follow the rules, so we need to follow the rules. It’s hard to model good behavior as adults – most of us get uncomfortable having limits placed on us after finally being old enough to make our own choices. But four-year-olds learn best by seeing others do it first, and who better than their own parents? Let your kid see you work things out with words, take deep breaths when you get upset, and watch you make good choices (with narration!). For example, if you really want to get home faster, but you know you need to go the speed limit for safety, tell your kid about it! You’ll be laying the groundwork for a good driver in the future.

mean it the first time

When you say something, mean it! Your four-year-old is smart – she knows when you’re serious. If you’re only serious after you’ve said what you want twice, gave her a warning, threatened to go home, counted to three, then finally said her name in “the voice”… She’ll only listen after all that happens! Skip the theatrics by meaning what you say the first time.

give real consequences

When your four-year-old decides not to listen, make sure you’re giving meaningful consequences! If timeouts don’t work for her – she keeps getting up, or she doesn’t mind playing in the corner for a few minutes – then that won’t work. Similarly, don’t use empty threats. If you say you’re going to go home if she doesn’t behave, make sure you’re actually willing to do that! Remember, the goal of consequences isn’t to make your child cry. It’s to make her realize that she has power over her actions, for better or worse. Giving consequences that work for your unique child will help you four-year-old’s behavior problems improve.

you’ll survive this!

Most importantly, remember that you’ll make it through this! Four was a long year, but we’re well into five now and Emma’s behavior is improving. Starting kindergarten has improved her vocabulary and taught her some coping mechanisms. The years really do fly by, so enjoy those slow moments and drink in those sleepy morning hugs!

Is your four-year-old having behavior problems? Did your fournado slow down when she turned five? Leave a comment and share your war stories!

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