Is your 4 year old not listening? If you’re having behavior issues and power struggles with your preschooler, these tips will help.
A short while ago I was having a mommy crises.
I felt my 4 year old son was really going through a hard time. Lots of crying, whining, and meltdowns. Our babysitter even commented that he seemed “sad” and didn’t want to play with his siblings.
I started watching him like a hawk and was shocked at what I saw.
He seemed down, defeated, and unhappy.
I cried and cried and cried until I was ready to think of a plan. A plan to get to the bottom of what was happening with my son.
Turns out… it wasn’t such a mystery.
He felt lost in the hubbub of our large family
My husband and I talked at length about what to do and then, starting the next day, waged a 4 pronged attack. Even after two days of the plan, the results were astonishing. I wouldn’t have believed it if it weren’t my own life.
Using the 4 keys below, we re-connected with him in such a meaningful way his tantrums basically went away, he was smiling again, and he became his normal happy self.
Check off critical household, social, and hygiene skills for your child so they’re prepared (not petrified) of growing up!
Helping Your Little One To Listen
While it may seem counter intuitive, the best approach is not always knuckling down and getting more “strict.”
Kids know the rules, they sometimes need to remember why they care about the rules in the first place.
Give Away Control You Don’t Need
A lot of behavior issues stem from one thing: feeling powerless.
A parent can relinquish control without endangering their child or giving them inappropriate freedoms for their age.
They don’t *have* to use the red cup and it doesn’t *actually* matter if their favorite shirt and shorts don’t match. Children who feel they have a certain measure of control over their lives will be more likely to cooperate with your requests.
Children who feel they never get to decide anything will find other ways to exert their power. They’ll ignore you, they’ll procrastinate, they’ll say “okay” then not do it.
Children need to have a sense they have some power and – if you don’t give it to them – they’ll prove they have it in ways you don’t like.
Read: What’s Really Happening When Your Kids Are Defiant
Be Sure You Have Your Child’s Heart
Ultimately, children end up obeying their parents and adopting their values because they grew up in an environment of love, acceptance, and support. A nurturing and loving connection is the foundation of parenting.
If your child doesn’t feel understood, loved, or valued they won’t give a rip what you want them to do. You think a child should obey your every command because you are their mother.
A child knows deep down they have the choice whether or not to obey you, and without a strong nurturing bond, they won’t bother trying to please you.
Read: A Simple Step That Will Unlock Your Child’s Heart
Emotions are a H U G E part of a young child’s life. These “I Am Feeling” cards will reduce tantrums, meltdowns, and help your little one learn emotional awareness.Learn More
Be More Playful
Kids play all day. It’s their default. It’s how they learn and how they bond. The best way to connect with your small child?
Become more playful.
This means laughing, tickling, roughhousing and being silly with your child. This is very hard for certain personalities, but take heart.
It’s not about playing pretend for 3 hours, it’s about connecting with your child in a way they understand completely. This will help them feel safe and loved. When they feel safe and loved?
You guessed it. They want to cooperate.
Read: A No-Drama Approach To Your Child’s Behavior Problems
Pay Actual Attention To Your Preschooler’s Behavior And Say What You See®
I realized a while ago that it’s incredibly difficult to stay in the moment for me. My head is always spinning, thinking, and planning and this is not a good quality when it comes to spending time with my children. 4 year old behavior can get particularly tricky if we’re distracted all the time.
I become a commentator. When I sit with them or join them in a game, I don’t necessarily have to take a role in the play. I can simply comment on it using the Say What You See® method from Language of Listening®.
“You are building with LEGO. You love building.”
“Your Barbie can do flips. Wow, you like making her spin.”
“I see you are jumping up and down. That looks really fun, you are laughing a lot!”
You’ll feel completely ridiculous doing this until you see how your child reacts. Mine’s eyes light up and they feel so understood and loved.
When I make sure and use this strategy in my normal interactions with them, the days are so much more peaceful. Less fighting, less tantrums, less arguing.
Read: How To Be A Present Parent Without Losing It
Pull out these fun connecting questions to share some laughs with your precious ones!
Use them at:
- meal times
- car rides
- as a “calm down” trick
- for dinner time conversation
- or any time the day is getting chaotic or
- you need a reset to connect.
The long and short of it…
When children know you’re paying attention they feel loved.
Then, when children feel loved, they are settled.
When children are settled, they are at peace.
And when children are at peace, they are more cooperative.
If your child is refusing to listen or obey, don’t give more consequences. Give more time.
I needed to read this today, thank you!
Stutee Kapoor says
Katia Lopez says
LeAndra S Metzger says
I absolutely needed this today. After a weekend full of tantrums, this is reassuring and I’m ready to try it out.
OMG, this was one timely e-mail.
For myself, though I managed to pull myself back from the brink of consequencing yesterday, after I realised that my two-and-a-half year old is not driving me crazy on purpose. All he wanted was attention and connection at a time when I had none, so he found a way to create it in the worst ways. I had overlooked the ways he tried in good ways before that, because I was not present at all, my head being full of house hunting…
But its also great for a friend who literally told me her four year old is “out of control”. I could see that the poor child was desperate for love but could not quite explain what was happening to my friend. But you put it in words perfectly.
Also, commentating is a great way to connect when the parent is I’ll, because you can just lay there…
Thank you for this. It applies even when u have only two kids!
I needed to read this today. It was perfect timing. Thank you for your inspired post! :)
I was surprised to see tickling recommended as a way to connect with a child. Tickling can be a form of torture to many people – but it looks like they are enjoying it because the INVOLUNTARY response is smiling and laughter. Different people have different sensitivities and a lot of people don’t know when to stop. Surely there are better ways to connect and make the child feel loved.
You have a lot of wonderful ideas!
Rachel Norman says
Hi Deborah, okay I’ll say I hated tickling as a child but I follow my children’s cues. I do a few seconds then stop and then wait and see if they want me to do it again. Most of them do and when they’re done they say “stop.” I agree to follow their lead!
Rachel Norman says
I actually HATE tickling. But my kids LOVE it when their dad does it,so I totally get where you’re coming from. As long as the child can say ‘no’ then I think it’s enjoyable to them?
Yep! Mine love to be tickled, though I did not, and they regularly ask for it, declaring it one of their fav ways to snuggle. If they say pause, I pause. If they say too hard, I soften it. If they say stop, I stop. They love the level of control they have in it too. It was a great way for me to teach them about body respect and taking control of their person early on. They despise laying still in my arms soaking up the love, though I would love nothing more. In fact my first never did that at all, and no, he is not on the spectrum. He is just busy, and prefers actively engaging at any level to reclining in peace. Sometimes our kids are wired differently than us, and we need to be available in the language they receive, whether or not it’s ours.
Excellent and insightful article as always! Thank you I needed to read this today. :)
Thank you for this! Very insightful and much needed! From a mommy in the throws of toddlerhood and tantrums…
Question: Do you have any advice on giving your child (toddler) the time and attention they crave/need when you have their infant sibling attached to you all day? I am a SAHM and my daughter is used to having my attention all day. Now that baby brother is here (6 months old), and VERY attached to Mommy, she is acting out and not listening. I now identify that she needed some more of me, but honestly I have no idea how to do that now or where to begin. The little time I do get away from baby, I try to spend with her, but it is difficult because it’s the only time I can get stuff done…
Apologize for long comment… desperate Mom here! ?
I am in the same boat
Me too. Have a 5 week old and feeling trapped for time with a baby at the breast all the time.
Jacquelynn Mcgowan says
Please i need advice
My health issues keep me from getting down to my childrens level so I guess I’m s.o.l.
Personally, I find that when I can’t spend active time with my kids for whatever reason, that an age appropriate board game, or other game, or reading a book to them helps us to connect. When they don’t want to sit still for any length of time it gets harder, but most of the time they crave connection and will join me for a little while at least!
I am at my vite end my four year old daughter won’t listen she had to stop at from school on after 2 days I shouted every 5 minutes but she stills misbehaving do what to do
Thank you so much for your advice. I was in desperate need to read your words. I have an almost 4yr old son and it’s been extremely difficult for me. I seem to be finding myself crying from feeling so bad and my temper has been very intense lately. So again thank you for your words. I really needed this.
Yup, totally relate and I liked the part about being in the present and genuinely acknowledging what they do!
This is wonderful advice to curb the overall tension between parent and child so that they listen willingly. I will definitely pay closer attention to MY actions as well as my little ones.
Thank you and appreciate your tips!
P.S. I’m with you on the tickling, my 2 1/2 year old asks me to chase him and tickle his feet when I catch him.
I love your work! Thank you for making motherhood a sweeter, more organized and more impactful journey!
Stutee Kapoor says
I have read a lot of your posts and you give out wonderful and concrete ideas unlike some other sites/posts.
Could I email you about some concerns regarding my kids if you don’t mind? Let me know.
Julie L says
This has helped me so much, Rachel. THANK YOU!!! I am one of those that doesn’t easily play- I clean and mend and crunch numbers for fun. After reading this I built in two or three scheduled daily play times (she chooses the game for ~30 minutes) for me and my littlest and by the end of the first week I was amazed at the difference. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
J Alexander says
Any thoughts or advice for the working parent? I found that even during our super long lockdown (we were living in Oregon for a large part of the last two years), no matter how much time I committed to my oldest (then 2 and 3, now 4)–and then, my son and I were both home full time, without work to interrupt–it wasn’t enough, he still wanted more. I am already an introverted person and am now a full-time teacher, so I interact with people all day. I have some energy to give my kiddos, but not a ton, so I’m not 100% sure how to get him to a place where he feels connected enough.
We have also been struggling a lot with having a kiddo who is always at a nine and virtually always one step away from flipping his lid, emotionally speaking. I know that our schedule is hard for everyone, but we don’t have the choice for me not to work right now or change jobs. Would just giving him a focused half hour every day really improve the situation, or are there other things we need to do? For reference, we eat dinner as a family and have a regular, consistent evening routine. He sleeps ~10-10.5 hours a night, which is the most I can seem to get out of him.
Rachel Norman says
You’ll know as the mom, but I do think sometimes – whatever it is – is never enough for the kids. I had this talk with mine the other day, they want me to NEVER work and NEVER do adult stuff. They want me 100% of the time all the time. Of course, they’re kids. That doesn’t mean it’s possible or right. So I think sometimes we feel GUILTY like we don’t give enough, when really the kids can use their sad voice and we go in overdrive. NOT SAYING HE’S MANIPULATING YOU… but you’ll know!