Frustrating Four

My daughter is 4 and becoming very difficult. When I ask her to do something, she doesn’t want to do it (like brush her hair in the morning). She will say to me “Sorry mom but I am not going to do that” or yell or give me a dagger look. She has become obnoxious and rude. She also whines constantly, especially when you don’t do what she wants. I feel like I have tried everything and find myself getting too frustrated. Do you know of any effective ways to handle this behavior?

This is typical four-year-old behavior. Your daughter is in a transition stage. She is becoming a child rather than a toddler, and in doing this she is asserting her independence. It is really a normal stage, even though it is frustrating for parents. So the first thing you need to do is recognize that it is a stage, and it will pass. Children in transition stages (this applies to the teens as well) often insist on doing things themselves or on being in charge of things. The next moment they are whining and wanting you to do things for them that they can do for themselves. Parents need to ignore a lot of frustrating behavior during transition stages, knowing it will pass as the child matures.

Your daughter may well respond positively if you find ways in which she can be more responsible for her own care rather than you having to remind her all the time. For example, you could make a little chart with her with pictures of all the things she needs to do in the morning (brush teeth, brush hair, etc.) She gets to put a star on the chart when she gets something done. Then you stop nagging her about doing things. She can show you her chart when she is finished and you can tell her what a big girl she is becoming.

Whining is to be ignored, unless she is actually sick. One technique is to say “I can’t hear you when you whine”,and then just ignore her unless she asks for something in a normal tone of voice. You have to stick it out until she learns that you mean this. Kids are generally aware that parents find whining so irritating that they eventually give in. If she knows you won’t give in, she will eventually give up whining.

But you must also make sure that you do respond positively to your daughter when she asks for something in a normal tone of voice. Be careful not to say “no” as a matter of course. You can say, “Give me time to think” if you don’t know whether you want to say yes or no. Then get back to her a minute later. Four-year-olds don’t have a very long attention span. Make sure that if you do say no, you mean it and don’t give in later. This just rewards persistence and whining.