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Frustrated Four Year Old

by Gaby

Hello, I'm having trouble with my 4 year old boy, he gets frustrated about everything. When I want him to do something like cleaning his toys or room, take a shower, or if I want him to come and eat, he just yells at me and gets angry.

He looks like he has no patience. Sometimes he's mean with his little sister, she's only one year old and he makes her cry. My husband and I tried everything, we talked to him, yelled at him, punished him, and he just looks to get worse.

I know I'm not doing a good job, I know I'm doing something wrong, but I don't know how to start, or where to start. I can't stand to see him crying for nothing, I get so angry when he starts yelling at me or his Dad or being a bad brother. I just don't feel connected with him, and I know that he's not Mommy's fan anymore. I love him so much and that's why I feel bad. Please I would like some advice.


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Dealing With Four Year Old Boys
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Gaby,
First of all, don't give yourself a hard time for not doing a good job - raising kids is not all that easy and most of the time you probably do a fantastic job!

Clearly you love your son, and that is the baseline you work from. But some of his (and maybe your!) behavior is not working, or is destructive, and that is what you are finding hard.

Four year old boys can be very stroppy, they are testing boundaries and asserting their power, and if we are not careful, it can become a bit of a battle ground, which becomes a habit.

I suspect having a little sister around who most likely gets a heap of your attention, is pushing buttons with him, and it is contributing to him being mean to her. She is someone he has power over, so can do things that firstly get a reaction from her, and secondly gets attention from you. The only thing is, that is negative attention, and really is not what he needs.

What Does He Need?

I have found more often than not, most misbehavior comes from our kids having unmet needs. This does NOT mean spoiling them, or letting them get away with bad behavior, but it does mean you need to put more time aside for him. The fact that you are saying you don't feel connected with him, really highlights that you are not getting enough quality time together.

He needs plenty of one to one time. When your daughter has a nap, do a puzzle with your son, when you husband comes home, maybe he can have some special father-son time, reading a story, playing ball, while you get your daughter ready for bed. Every day, find moments that you can just be with him, sharing fun times. He can help you in the kitchen, make it a game that only big boys get to do, that his sister is too young for, he can stack the dishwasher, peel potatoes, measure out the pasta.

Allow Time To Transition

We have a tendency to fire orders at our kids and expect them to jump when we say jump. One of the frequent areas of conflict with younger children, is we don't allow them enough transition time to be ready to switch from an exciting game to having a shower, or getting ready for school - boring stuff! My son was diabolical at four years old. It took me a while to figure out he needed plenty of warning about getting ready. Not nagging - but letting him know he had 15 minutes left to play before needing to pack up. Then a 5 minute reminder. Then sometimes a 2 minute.

One really good trick is to get a timer, and put him in charge of it. Get him to set it for reminder times, like 5 minutes more. Then when it goes off he is much more likely to comply with bath time, as he has been in control of the process. He can set the timer for the shower too!

Part Two Follows . . .

Dealing With Four Year Old Boys - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Make It Fun!

Don't go head on into battle to force him to do what you want. The more you make it a game, and head off outright conflict, then the more he will co-operate. He is getting fun attention, rather than nagging and telling off, he is motivated to run into the shower because the mommy monster is going to get him, or he is motivated to get his PJ's on because you really really want to read the new library book to him.

Little kids have their whole lives arranged for them, we tell them when they have to shower, get dressed, go to school, when to eat. We boss them around from dawn til dusk, so no wonder they start to push back when they simply don't want to eat yet.

Help Him Negotiate A Win Win

Sometimes you can negotiate, when you see he is engrossed in a game, then ask him how long he needs to be ready to do what you want. Give him the timer and get him to decide. Then when it goes off, don't get into bossy confrontation mode to enforce it, make it fun - "Yay! Now you can come and help Me! I need my big strong four year old to carry this heavy washing upstairs"

If he does mess up or yell back or be mean to his sister - then let him know as calmly as you can, that is not acceptable. Time out only works if it is reflection time, rather than forced punishment. So some time to sit on the sofa until he feels like co-operating again, or until he can think of something kind to do for his sister. Sometimes time out works best when both of you take time out - you can go and stomp somewhere until you are calmer, or you can both sit quietly until you both calm down.

If you show to him you are in control or can get your strong feelings under control, then you teach him. If you loose your temper and yell - what are you showing him? We often expect our kids to behave in ways that we don't! Plus we don't always show our kids how we get control. As adults we might yell, then walk away or take a breath, then try to be more rational.

Kids actually have to learn the process of feeling the feeling, but then making a choice about how to react. There are a heap of brain developmental processes that have to happen for this to become automatic, and lots of adults don't have this well developed at all!

Part Three Follows.. . .

Dealing With Four Year Old Boys - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Model How You Deal With Frustration

Showing him how to sit quietly and take some deep breaths when he is getting mad, do a grumpy stomp dance, go outside and yell. Help him to express his frustration without being mean to you or his sister, or without destroying anything. Feelings are good, they let us know something is out of whack. But what we do with them is not always good. As a parent we feel terrible when we have yelled at our kids or lost our temper, so it is good learning for us too, to take some time out, to break the pattern of nagging or yelling.

When you feel the situation escalating - you are trying to force him to do something and it is not working. The first thing is to notice that, then stop. Say, "hey, this isn't working, we are both getting mad at each other. Lets stop and figure out how we can both be happy" Kids can come up with the most amazing solutions sometimes if we stop trying to be the boss all the time.

I remember one day when I had cut my thumb badly so was struggling to cook a meal with a bandaged thumb, the kids were fighting, and I was yelling. Then I burst into tears and sat down on the kitchen floor, and said, STOP - this is horrible! Both my kids came and sat down with me and my daughter said "I think you just need a hug". (Of course that made me cry all the more!) But it totally interrupted the cycle of yelling and fighting. - it was real - they saw my pain and being upset, and realized the impact of all the fighting, and they were able to offer a solution. They were amazingly well behaved for several days!

Not that I am advocating manipulating by crying, but when we try to keep in control all the time and start yelling to get control, we really are out of control! Showing kids how you feel, is a good learning for them, they can see the impact on you, and if you empower them to offer ideas they can often be spot on.

Kids Can Solve Problems And Self Correct

When kids mess up, they can come up with the solution, rather than you lecturing, or punishing. "You've really hurt your sister's feelings, what do you think would be something you can do that would make you both feel better?" He might suggest she play in another room! It may well be she took his piece of lego, or wrecked his game. Don't expect his solution to be saying sorry, or doing something nice. The best solution may well be to separate them.

Part Four Follows . . .

Dealing With Four Year Old Boys - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Help Kids To Figure Out
What They Need

Kids often don't know what they need. When they are acting up, call a halt and ask, "what do you need right now?" It may be he needs you to leave him alone. It may be that he needs a hug, it may be that he needs his sister taken away, it may be that he needs your attention. If you can't offer what he needs at the time - negotiate a time. I really want to spend some time with you, let me put the baby to bed, and then we will have some special time just the two of us without your sister interrupting.". If he learns to trust you WILL get back to him, and you are not just fobbing him off, he will start to learn to negotiate what he needs instead of throwing a tantrum or yelling at you.

Play Is Brain Development And Learning

A four year old has a heap of brain development happening, play is learning, and we tend to think play is messing around and the important stuff is getting dressed and eating and going to school. What he is doing is really valuable and it is our job to help our kids learn to balance different demands that may well be in conflict with each other. Learning to get along in a family, starts to set the scene for working in a team as an adult. Learning to deal with conflict, learning to speak up and assert oneself are all valuable skills. It can be exhausting to be on the receiving end of it all though!

I am sure you will notice a huge difference when you start consistently finding special time with him. He needs heaps of time with you or his father, and it will help to build a very strong relationship together. Fun times are so important as a family, we get bogged down in the nitty gritty of chores, food, washing and cleaning and we really have to make fun family and one on one time a top priority.

Best of luck Gaby, feel free to comment or add anything below via the comments.

All the best,
Annie D :)

Frustrated 4 year old
by: Gaby loa

Hello!!! I'm sorry I didn't thank you before, but I'm so busy. Thank you so much, your advice made me feel better.

I see that I can do a lot of things to help me and my child to have a good relationship, I'm really trying, it is hard, but I think it's so worth it. I love my boy, so I will try to do many of the ideas you advise, thank u so much!!!!

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