Formidable Fours – Here We Go Again

After a period of relatively benign behaviour since the last storm blew in, we seem to have hit another rough patch again and I know exactly when it started – last week when Gavin started at his new school after 8 weeks of holiday. He has been uncooperative, stubborn, back-talking, unreasonable, and down-right rude to everyone at home. But just as I was begining to lament over my failure as a mother, Gavin’s teacher gives me positive feedback on how well Gavin has been doing at school. He gets along well with the teachers, he has made friends, he is compassionate and helpful to other students, and he appears to be enjoying school.

So what’s with the split personality?

Often you hear things like “it’s just a phase they grow through” and “he’ll grow out of it”. Sure, it might be a phase that we have to survive, and in the meantime I feel like drop-kicking him into the next country, but what if it isn’t just a phase? Surely, like all other things in life, it is a learning exercise for all of us – parents to learn how to deal with their children and teach them what is appropriate and what isn’t, and children to learn how to conform to the rules of society and learn what sort of behaviours are appropriate and what aren’t.

For good measure, I took a look at what “normal” 4 year old behaviour is supposed to be like (just to reassure myself that this behaviour isn’t the result of me spoiling him rotten):

The “Out of Bounds” 4 is exuberant and rebellious.

  • the child talks well and thinks the child is a big shot. – Oh yes.
  • Fours tell outrageous lies and are very stubborn. – Haven’t really heard many outrageous lies but he is certainly very stubborn.
  • They talk all the time and mix reality and fantasy. – Definitely can’t stop talking but I’d say he’s got a good grip on reality and fantasy because he knows that the animals in his TV programs can’t really talk and do the things that they do.
  • They ask “why” in order to argue. – Yup.
  • They are bossy and defiant, “I won’t”. – Yup.
  • They refuse to nap but will fall asleep at 5:30 and wake up ready to stay up all night. – He refuses to nap but he usually makes it all the way to bedtime after dinner so I don’t really sweat this one.
  • They think up all sorts of ways to avoid getting in bed. – Oh yes!
  • At night, they are likely to have bad dreams. – Sometimes.
  • They can dress and undress themselves with little assistance. – Most of the time but sometimes he wants help because his baby brother gets help.
  • They eat too fast or not at all. – Hmmm… not really. He’s been a lot better with eating but never too fast, if anything, it’s too slow.
  • They can now wash hands and face and brush teeth without assistance if they have been trained. – Yup.
  • They run ahead of adults and refuse to hold hands. – Very dangerous habit given the environment we live in.
  • Fours play feelies with other children and need honest information about bodies and babies.
  • A fussy four needs exercise and then a rest.
  • When excited, the child will need to urinate.
  • When stressed, the child’s stomach will hurt.

Based on this criteria, he’s a regular four year old so this behaviour is to be expected. Additionally, knowing he can behave well at school is also reassuring because I know he is generally a good kid. Nevertheless, good kids also need boundaries and discipline. I thought this was great advice for four year olds:

Discipline: Don’t argue with a four.

  • Talk less than the child does. – Not hard to do since he talks non-stop.
  • Don’t ask a four if the child did something. You will teach the child to lie. – Thought this was great advice.
  • Teach the child the consequences for misbehavior; then when the child misbehaves, apply the consequences.
  • Be very consistent with a four and the child will learn to control the child’s own behavior.
  • Four seems big but the child is still a baby when stressed or tired.
  • Give the child lots of hugs and kisses even if you have to catch the child to do it.

Here are more useful bits of information:

I have said before that I don’t believe in corporal punishment – I still don’t – but another thing I don’t believe in is yelling at a child. Although I don’t believe in it, that doesn’t mean I have never yelled at my children because I have – I’m human and I have a short fuse. Since I haven’t always been able to control my temper, I make it a point to apologise for it when I do. I tell Gavin that what he did is still wrong, but my yelling at him was also wrong. Besides, I find that when I yell, Gavin gets more defiant and why wouldn’t he? Does anyone feel more inclined to listen to a person who shouts at them or someone who speaks to them nicely? Just because he is a child doesn’t mean he has to endure something we would never expect another adult to. I am a great believer that if you want to teach your child respect, you have to show him respect. I find that when I apologise to Gavin for yelling at him, he is more willing to make up for his misdemeanour.

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.

3 thoughts on “Formidable Fours – Here We Go Again

  1. Wow, thanks for this….actually I find I am MORE busy now than when Ben was younger because he is getting to be such a handful! Your articles reassures me that Ben is just progressing fine. Thanks! Phew!


    1. I thought it was a good reminder for me as well because it is easy to forget that 4 year old children do behave like this – especially when you get those looks from others like you’re the worst parent in the world because your child is acting up.


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