Child Development: The Formidable Fours

Why is it that in parenting books they talk about the “terrible twos” and “terrible threes” but there’s nothing about the “terrible fours”? Is it some sort of ploy to fool us parents into thinking we just have to get through the first few years and then we’re home free? Or perhaps they thought we would be so used to the cyclical tantrums, whining and crying by now that there was no need to write about it?

Gavin has been whiny and teary a lot lately and behaving even more like a baby than when we first brought Gareth home from the hospital. We always expected regression while he learned to come to grips with having to share the lime light with a sibling but then he took it all in stride and we mistakenly thought we were home free only to be blown out of the water when he started falling apart a year later. And with the criticisms abound about how I’m losing my grip on my son’s behaviour (because I’m too soft on him – that old argument again!!!), I have to admit I’m seriously having doubts about what I’m doing here.

The problem with parenting is that it is usually a rather solitary experience. The only examples you have of what children are really like are your other children (if you happen to have more than one). You may witness other parents in a restaurant or a supermarket having to deal with a tantrummy kid, but they are usually strangers who get labelled as being “bad” parents.

But here’s the thing – children always look better than they are when they are in public. They love to save the worst for Mum (and Dad). Gavin was always receiving rave reviews from strangers on how well behaved he was and Daddy and I would always be thinking, “You haven’t seen him at home!” A friend of mine warned the teachers that her son was a real handful before he started school only to receive glowing reports from the teachers about what an angel he was in class. They say that the reason children behave their worst with their parents is because they know that their parents will always be there for them no matter what. The irony is that such behaviour is a tribute to the strength of your relationship – because your child feels secure with you, he is comfortable letting loose all his negative emotions on you.

Anyway, I’d heard some rumours about the “fabulous fours” some time back and thought that things were only going to get better only to find that they seem to be getting worse. So I thought I’d check in on all my Mummy friends and start Googling the parentsphere again to find out what the weather was really like in 4-year-old territory. “Fabulous fours”? Hmpft! I couldn’t find anything of the sort. But here is a tiny portion of what I did find…

If you want more stories, just Google “Terrible Fours” and you’ll find them. Some parents felt that the Terrible Fours are even worse than the Terrible Twos and Threes so perhaps they should be labeled the Formidable Fours? There was some talk about things levelling out when they hit 5 – any parents with older kids care to comment on that?

I was going to do an introspective analysis of Gavin’s behaviour and how I think I should deal with the Formidable Fours after all the trial and error I’ve been going through but I think I’m too tired to think tonight. More tomorrow… Meanwhile, feel free to share your pearls of wisdom in the comments below.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Child Development: The Formidable Fours

  1. Found your site when I’m searching for linking memory info. Great information! My boy is currently 4 now, having the Terrible 4 behavior too.


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