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4 Year Old Son Thinks It Is Funny Not To Listen To Mom

by Sarah Smith
(Moorseville, NC)

When I ask my 4 year old son to stop doing something, he thinks it is funny and continues to do what I have nicely asked him not to do multiple times.

He also likes to laugh and run around when he is told to do something like brush his teeth. Time out doesn't work. It is out of control. I want to be such a good mother.

Please tell me the right thing to do.

Comments for 4 Year Old Son Thinks It Is Funny Not To Listen To Mom

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Positive Tips For Handling A Four Year Old
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Sarah,
A four year old can be a bit of a handful. The best thing you can do is engage his sense of humor, since this clearly is a very strong trait in him.

Life is joyous when you are four. They have no concept of why it is important to brush your teeth or bedtime, life is for having fun. But it is not fun for you when it ends up being a power clash and a battle to get him to do anything!

A four year old is learning about power, how much can he challenge, how to get his own way. He has no concept that he can't all the time, he just wants to do what he what HE wants. And lets face it, running around excitedly is much more fun than brushing your teeth!

Make Your Demands Exciting!

So your job is to make other things more exciting. Racing him to the bathroom, brushing your teeth together, or having a smile contest in the mirror:
"Oh no, is that a piece of your dinner I spotted in there, quick scrub it out before Bertie Germ gets hold of it"
"Who has the sparkliest teeth in this house?"
Maybe Dad can judge after he has brushed. Pretend to be dazzled by his smile:
"Oh my goodness, where are my sun glasses, those sparkling teeth are hurting my eyes!

A four year old is full of fun, as you have found. But if you come on head long to crush that with your demands and your power as a parent, you end up with a battle on your hands. I know, I know, sometimes we just need them do what we ask!! But it takes a lot longer to have a battle than it does to have some fun with it all.

When you find he is doing something you don't want, find what you do want and steer him toward that. Just throwing lots of don't do that, stop that, do not do that . . , at him just gets his back up and there is no reason in his mind that what you want is better than what he wants.

A four year old needs lots of attention and lots of energy, and boys often need lots of physical energy, chasing games, rolling around with him, tickling etc. As parents we are often too busy, we just yell instructions at our kids and then tear our hair out when they don't jump when we say jump.

Part Two Follows . . .

Positive Tips For Handling A Four Year Old - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

If he is doing something dangerous or hurtful then yes stop it right away and call a halt to the situation. Time out is only useful as a way of cooling down and a way of taking stock. It is not useful as a punishment, except VERY sparingly, and even then I don't recommend punishments so much as making amends. If he has hurt someone then time to sit until he is ready to do something nice for that person. Or time to cool down if he has lost his temper. And remember, parents need time out too. If we are loosing our cool and yelling or feeling mad, we need time out to calm down and be more rational.

Explain Don't Lecture

Kids also need explanations. Just because we say so, is not good enough. If we give our children reasons it starts to expand their me thinking, to getting a perspective from someone elses point of view.

But we need to balance explanations not lectures! And explanation is giving more information as to why you want him to do something. A lecture is telling him all the things he is doing wrong.

Your body need energy so you don't run out of giggle juice. Dinner is nearly ready, so lets see how quickly you can pick up your toys.

If he is being defiant and running around laughing, then he clearly wants your attention. Kids will set up negative attention if they are not getting enough positive input. I suspect he is a pretty high energy child so lots of chasing, tickling, you being a monster type games will help him burn off the excess and give him lots of fun positive attention from you. Then when he does co-operate - even if the tickly monster has chased him to brush his teeth, then give him lots of praise to reinforce the things he did well.

Avoid Power Battles

When you get locked into a power battle of you trying to force him to do what you say, and him resisting and playing games then it ends up being a negative dynamic that gets a bit entrenched. So start thinking of how you can make it fun, or how you can engage his sense of fun will by pass the battle.

You can also try reward charts. Keep it pretty simple at this age, but there can be some things that he needs to do each day, like brush his teeth, set the table, put away his toys. He can work towards collecting enough stars or stickers to getting something a bit special - watching a movie together, doing something he wants.

Part Three Follows . . . .

Positive Tips For Handling A Four Year Old - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Transition Time Is So Important

Give him plenty of time to get himself ready to move to the next task - we interrupt out kids all the time to do what we want - Why are our demands more important than what they are doing? Would you like it if you were watching your favorite TV program and your husband suddenly told you to go and brush your teeth? Probably not. But we expect our kids to comply happily just because we are the adult and can boss them around.

No wonder our kids push back! Of course as the parent we are holding the bigger picture in our hands. We know they have to be fed, get to bed at a reasonable time or they will be unmanageable. We know they have to learn to take care of their toys and to start to participate in the household. But it works so much better if you make it fun and interesting so he wants to do it, not because he is scared of being punished so complies through fear.

You say you ask him nicely to do something and he ignores you, and you ask multiple times and then it sounds like you may well get mad and he starts running around gleefully. Firstly, kids do need transition time. So the first time you let him know it is nearly time to pick up his toys, brush his teeth, or whatever.

Help Him To Manage His Time

Then get him to put the timer on so he knows when it goes off that is time to change what he is doing. Getting him to do it, is giving him some power, it also engages his agreement to some extent that he is aware that the end is coming for his game. Often we are in the kitchen and we call out for our kids to do something, maybe several times and then get mad when they have not done it. Many times the kids are engrossed in their own little world and may have vaguely heard you call out something, but it was not interesting enough to break their attention and to register what you asked. So make sure you have his attention so he really does know it is nearly pack up time.

Then when the timer goes off, have a race to pack up the toys or get to the bathroom. Make it exciting and urgent, so what you want is more interesting than what he was doing.

Sometimes we can negotiate. If our kids are clearly in the middle of something major, we can help them to learn to negotiate with us.
I can see you are having a really great time building that Lego castle, if you come quickly and put your pajamas on and brush your teeth, you can have an extra 10 minutes for a special treat. (Not all the time or he will expect to push the boundaries and get extra all the time)

Or ask him how much longer:
"How much time do you want to put on the timer so you feel you are ready to leave your game and come to dinner?" You don't have to agree with it, if he says 30 minutes and that is not reasonable then negotiate back - "your dinner will be cold and horrible by then, how about another 10 minutes, that will give you a good chunk of time to finish that section."

Part Four Follows . . .

Positive Tips For Handling A Four Year Old - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

You are teaching him a valuable skill to learn to negotiate. Life is full of compromises and people that learn the skills of asking for what they want, and being prepared to help the other person get what they want, have a very valuable resource. Sometimes the compromises can be better! Move away from winning and loosing and having to enforce your control, to helping him learn skills that will serve him in the future.

There is no perfect right way to parent, much of it is trial and error. Every child is different, what works with one may not for the next. The bottom line is, if you are feeling unhappy, then try something different. The more fun and good energy you put into parenting, the more rewarding it is, and the more our kids respond positively.

Clearly you love your son and want to be the best Mom you can - just enjoy him, have lots of fun and positive interaction with him, and keep it simple.

All the best,
Annie D :)

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