My 4 year old is making me insane.

Amanda - posted on 11/06/2008 ( 14 moms have responded )

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I am having a horrible time with my daughter these days. She is bossy, whining constantly, having tantrums and backtalking to me. She is respectful and delightful for other adults. As soon as she is home from preschool, the nightmare begins. We do time outs, taking things away and she seems to not care about anything enough to make a difference. I am looking into parent-child interaction classes and am beyond frustrated. Everything turns into a screaming match and I find myself having my own tantrums. HELP!!!

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Cassandra - posted on 07/11/2012

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HI. My 4 year old daughter is often insufferable! She screams, she has tantrums, she is inflexible and creates moutains out of molehills. I have had to out-think her. The real breakthrough was figuring out what she was trying to achieve from this behaviour. Tantrums and constant battles are taxing and take a lot of time and energy, so I deduced that my daughter must be getting something postive out of it. The trick is figuring out what benefit she gets from the behaviour, then taking that benefit away.

I noticed that when her 7 year old brother was not around, she was generally compliant, enthusiastic and agreeable. When her brother was around, she was like a weed trying to steal all the water and sunshine of our love and attention away from him. By engaging us in constant battles, we spent hours a day "dealing" with her while her brother was neglected. "Dealing" included not only punishing, negotiating, threatening, arguing, and pleading, but positive reinforcement processes like sticker charts and long discussions. In the end, her goal was to make everything about her and that's what she got! In desparation we often found ourselves asking our poor son to placate our daughter just to stop her from screaming (which only encouraged her bad behaviour even more, having found out she could use it to earn herself a slave). I was disgusted that our family life deteriorated to the point where the compliant kind child was ignored so that the naughty child could get all the attention!

We determined that since her "benefit" from the bad behaviour was to hog attention for herself, we would take that benefit away by isolating her in her room, thereby giving her no attention at all. We would carry on with ordinary family life (dinner, game, movie, etc.), without her there. She would stay there until she was ready to comply with the underlying request or stop the offending behaviour which was the subject of the battle. Eventually she comes out of her room and complies. Since she doesn't get any attention, she finds there is no point in carrying out the behaviour. I prefer her room to a time out chair becuase the goal is to isolate her completely.

The other benefit she gets, from this type of behaviour, of course, is to engage us in a power struggle. I deduced that becuase she is generally compliant when persons other than her parents give her direction (such as teachers). The parental power struggle is even more appetizing to her when we are in a weakened state, such as being in a public place, or at her mercy of getting ready to get out the door. She knows we have no leverage (we can't throw her in her room) so she goes for it, hoping to get the upper hand.

We deal with this by shifting the power struggle from being as between her and us to being as between her and unknown powerful third parties. I leave the store, hotel room, movie theatre, etc., and say that the managers have told us that your behaviour is unacceptable in their establishment and we have been asked to leave. I get to the car and go in, and she will usually say she will stop doing whatever it was she was doing, and I say I will talk to the managers and see if they will let us back in. Then we go back in, and she is compliant. Again, there is no benefit in the power struggle becuase she learns everyone loses and the "managers" win (who she does not know and cannot control). There is no longer any joy in the struggle for her.

For a time she tried to "win" the room isolation power struggle by peeing her pants when she was sent there. We showed her a mock letter from a hotel we were going to stay at for our next family vacation, which stated that they heard she was peeing on the floor, and that children who are not potty trained are not permitted to stay in the hotel becuase they damage the carpet and furniture. The "hotel" wanted proof by means of a daily diary, signed by a parent, setting out that she has only peed in the toilet and has not peed in her pants or on the floor. Again, we made this power struggle as between her and the hotel, as opposed to being as between her and us. She has not peed her pants since. The joy of the powere struggle having been diffused by the "managers", she no longer saw a point in engaging in it.

I still don't know how get her out the door, though!

For what it is worth, I don't believe in sticker charts and rewards for just "not being bad." I do believe in positive reward systems for children overcoming a difficult task (sleeping through the night, potty training) or showing exceptional behviour, but I don't think it sends the right message to reward a child for just meeting the minimum expectations of behaviour. When they are adults, bosses are not going to praise and bonus them just for coming to work when required to do so. Love interests are not going to shower them with extra love and affection just because they remain monogamous or don't beat their spouse. At some point, children have to learn that there is a minimum level of behaviour that is expected of them, failing which they will be punished. We are not going to bribe and reward them just for meeting that.

Anyway, I hope this helps. See if there are times and places where your child's behaviour tends to be good. Backtrack from there - see what is differnt about that context, and see if you can figure out what she is getting out of the bad behaviour. Then take all the fun out of it.

Amber - posted on 10/12/2012

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Well i am glad i am not the only one my almost 5 year old son throws the biggest screaming crying fits i have ever seen.. He tells me he hates me and i know nothing about him.. Where do they learn this stuff from????

Rachel - posted on 11/11/2008

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Your daughter sounds a little like mine. My twins often have meltdowns after preschool these days. You wouldn't know they had a hard day because they were angels at school. For Megan...she is just very passionate and strong willed. As soon as she hits the door I direct her to some quiet activity. I find out if she has eaten at school. She does best with some time alone...no Mom or brother to bug her. School, while she loves it, does wear her down. She feels free to be herself at home and sometimes that isn't pretty. IF she is really nasty she gets quiet time in her room. I have been working with her to explain that it is okay if she is in a bad mood but not okay to take it out on her family. Lately a cd of her favorite music, a few toys out and juice seems to really help. I hope some of that may help at least a little.

Terri - posted on 11/10/2008

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My nearly 5 y/o is a handful as well; very strong-willed. There are some battles I let her "win" and there are others I won't compromise on. When she gets "like that" I stop and tell her, calmly, how disappointed I am in her behavoir and that we need a time out and I walk away. Usually when she hears me say I'm disappointed she'll come around and tell me she's sorry, and then we'll talk about a compromise, maybe, or why she can't do what she wanted to. If she's beyond the point of no return, I let her have her tantrum by herself. I don't stand around and beg her to snap out of it. I don't have a screaming match with her because I feel that just prolongs the behavior because she's getting a rise out of me and I'm enabling the behavior. (Of course, she doesn't hear me freak out on her dad and blow off steam because I am fired up too! LOL)

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Ronelle - posted on 10/12/2012

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Thanks ladies... I am at my wits end with my 4 year old darling. She is an angel out but a devil at home. Tantrums, screaming, "i hate you, you are mean to me" throwing things...wanting all the attention. Fighting with her older sisters who just give in to have peace. I am tired of battles with her. Shes tired of brushing her teeth, having a bath etc... I know she has a long day at preschool and she is angry about that. We are so scared to offer suggestions incase a scrsaming tantrum begins.

Christy - posted on 06/05/2011

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I highly recommend, "Parenting with Love and Logic." It made all the difference for us as we continue to raise our kids! You should be able to find this book at your local library. They might even have it on audio book!

In the meantime, before you are upset and at the beginning of her tirades, catch her before she's got you mad and practice appropriate behavior. She's getting attention from you and doesn't understand that it's negative attention. So if you can put her in "behavior training" and teach her what is appropriate rather than continue to punish through fits of frustration and anger, you may both be happier and she'll be getting positive attention from mommy!

Elizabeth - posted on 06/05/2011

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I was able to get my daughter to stop whining and demanding at that age by tape recording her and playing it back to her. She was shocked that she sounded that way. It took several times of taping her and playing back to her, after that let's say for example she whined "I want a drink." I would say. "I'm not doing anything for you until you say it in a nice way. Why don't you try asking can I have a drink please." (I would be very calm and kind when I said this even if I felt like snapping) I would not give in unless she asked nicely. After she learned I simply said, "you're whining (or demanding) again. Has that ever helped?" Then I dropped it and ignored her. She learned that a good attitude helped her get what she wanted most times, that if mommy said no, she means no, and that bad attitude never helps.

For the tantrums, I found that its really best to ignore them unless she is causing harm to herself or something of yours. I ignored my daughters tantrum from the start (it was in a store too and I was really embarassed by her behavior and was really biting my tongue) she only ever had two because she didn't get a reaction. I watched my niece on the other hand and she did get a reaction from other people and she tried to do it with me. I ended up breaking her of the habit after several tantrums. I told her each time she started, "I know that you are upset, but this isn't going to help. When you are done, if you need a hug, I'll give you one." Her tantrums actually got worse before they got better. She started throwing things and tearing up things. I only stopped it when they were not her own things or if the things she was throwing would hurt someone or damage something that wasn't hers. When she was about to do something with something that wasn't hers, I took it away and said kindly "that's not yours." If she was going to throw something that would break something, I took it away and kindly said "that's dangerous. " Yes, she broke a couple of her toys. After she was calm, I asked if she needed a hug, she did, she didn't like being that out of control. She was upset that her toys were broke and I didn't give her blame or offer to get her new ones, I simply empathized with her. Once she got so frantic that she was starting to get dangerous to herself, I grabbed her, hugged her tight and told her that I loved her to much to let her get hurt, then I held her until she calmed down to where she wasn't in danger, (she fought it at first) then when I let her go (she was still in the tantrum) I reminded her that when she was done I would give her a hug if she wanted one.

Yes it was extremely difficult to appear totally calm when this was happening. Yes I wanted to correct her for throwing things and for the mean things she said etc. It wasn't easy, but it was very effective.

One last thing, is she getting enough choices? Kids that age like to feel that they have some power. There are all kinds of places to give them some control. Offer them choice between two different veggies or fruit for meal. Give them the choice between a couple different pjs. Give them choice sometimes before bed "it's five minutes before bedtime, would you like to play for five more minutes or would you like to start getting ready now and have an extra book. Things like that. Feeling powerless leads to power struggle, when they have some control, they don't feel as powerless hence less power struggle.

I hope this helps. Keep us updated on what you do that works.

Jennifer - posted on 06/04/2011

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Thank you all for writing what I feel is happening to me everyday with my 4 yo daughter. I love her so much, but I am at wits end right now. She is perfect to all other adults, her nanny, her dad, but to me - she will tell me she loves me, but then is whining, complaining, not going to bed, not eating her meal, not changing her clothes, not willing to brush her teeth...you get the point and I have yelled at her and slammed her bedroom door twice this weekend alone. I feel terrible. I have to emotionally detach myself from the situation but find it so hard. Anyway, again thanks, I needed to read that I am not the only mom struggling with this.

Amanda - posted on 11/11/2008

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Thank you all for your responses. Keep them coming. Ella is in time out as I write this, but at least she isn't trying to kick the door down. We had a "mommy-daughter day", and as soon as we were returning home she became sassy and rude. She was stomping around the house pushing her brother down. She got a time out immediately. As soon as she is out, she does it again with a sassy mouth. I feel like my energy is drained on a daily basis. I am actually looking into a parent child interaction training course that is lead by parent educators. I hope it works because I don't want this to get worse and it couldn't hurt. Right??? Thanks again everyone. I appreciate it.

Coral - posted on 11/11/2008

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i did this thing called one two three time out. i explained to her what was no allowed and what the consequences were. if she did it once that was one strike and the consequences were reminded and acceptable behaviour explained. if she did it the second time she was reminded that she would get a time out. the third time she was put in time out for a few minutes. if she got up out of time out -especially repeatedly...obvious defiance. she got a spanking. i hate to admit it. but some kids just respond better to getting a spanking. and there have been times( ex..opening the car door while driving down the road) that a spanking was absolutely necessary.i always promised myself i would never spank...but now i see why sometimes u just have too...now if she acts up in public and i say zip it or else...she has alot more imagination to what that can be...good luck.and DON'T GIVE UP ON TIME OUTS! THEY DO WORK EVENTUALLY.never give in.And don't feel bad because I am still dealling with some things...especially whining

Cathy - posted on 11/11/2008

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My 4 y/o son is exactly like your daughter is described. I mean, I have even seen it with my own eyes. He will listen to other adults in front of my husband & I even if all they do is tell him the same thing we just did. He can be throwing a fit all the way to church or to Grammy's, but as soon as we get there he is a perfect angel & the other adult never has a single problem with him. Time outs don't work, grounding has not worked, no type of punishment has worked at all. I am hoping this is a stage that he will outgrow, but I am starting to have my doubts.

Dana - posted on 11/11/2008

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Wow - do my children live with you part time? They sound like the same kids. My 10 year old went through the same 4 year old stage, and has now moved on to the pre-hormonal stage. Very fun. But as for my 4 year old "boss" we had to give her the same treatment that our 10 year old got years ago. We went through a stage where every day was a "red" behavior day at school. We took away TV, computer games, riding the bike, everything, but nothing worked. One day I decided to just remove everything from her room except for her bed and dresser. From that point on, every day that she earned a green day at school, she got to pick out one toy to get back. After a couple of weeks, she was earning green days every day. She still has her trying days, but she now knows that mom is serious, that I am the boss, and the I will win when we disagree!

[deleted account]

HI, I feel like I am reading about myself. My 2 girls 4 & 10 are "angels" at school, and as soon as we hit the car, it's like these monsters erupt. Honestly, within less than 5 minutes most days I have already lost my temper because they always pull the same routine...fighting with each other the second they are in the car, my 4 year old whining she's too tired for her seatbelt, my older daughter saying I'm so mean for something or that her sister's mere breathing is bothering her. I have tried giving warning/pep talks in the AM on the way to school, kind of rehearsing what "after school in the car" will be like, and of course at home too. I think for my older one, she can control herself just a bit more, but the 4 year old gets tired and just works me to my edge. I think I need use more of not necessarily time-out, but just that if she can't be civilized, she has to be away from us in her room. Sounds doable, right? HA! :)

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I'm SO glad to hear my 4yo daughter is not the only one doing this!! The other Mom's in her daycare describe very similar behaviors as well. We never went through anything like this with our son (he's 8 now). Little girl's want so much to be like their mom's or any other woman they see a lot of - they want the same "priviledges" they see us get. We get to tell our kids what to do, when to clean up, be the boss of our own lives, etc. Definately do NOT let any of these battles turn into a battle of wills - the 4yo will always win. I've taken to literally picking my daughter up & placing her in her room (locking her in even if I have to) and leaving her there until she stops screaming, being snotty or whatever extreme behavior she's exhibiting at that moment. It's so easy to get drawn into these battles. Try to stop, take a breath, and distance yourself from the situation. Try to remove your emotions and think about it logically for a second - even if that means locking yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes. I love my daughter to death - but man, she gets under my skin!!

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