The Terrible Fours and the Impossibility of Handling the Attitude

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The Terrible Fours - Because it's at four that you start having the attitude and strong-will behavior!We’ve hit the terrible fours

It’s here. At long last the “terrible” age has struck my once sweet, relatively obedient children and turned them into bi-polar terrors.

There’s tantrums, name calling, extremes, screaming, door slamming, hitting, slapping, jumping, climbing, door locking, unbuckling, and whining coming far too frequently from my four year old daughters. In fact, for three days in a row, we couldn’t even make it through breakfast without Alison throwing a fit, because I did something wrong, like got her the wrong spoon, didn’t pour in enough milk, or got her the wrong cereal. End of the world type stuff, ya know? One morning this meant Alison screaming “YOU’RE SO MEAN!” at me for a solid 20 minutes. Over cold cereal and milk.

And then there is the ordeal of leaving places. Alison won’t want to leave about 70% of the time, so it too often means I am carrying out a thrashing and screaming child out to my car, forcibly strapping her into her booster seat, which she may or may not then proceed to unbuckle or wear inappropriately. Or she will lock herself in a room at a friend’s house so she won’t have to go. Or run away from me in the parking lot so I have to run after her. Or make me drag her across the ground, because she refuses to walk, and I refuse to pick up and carry a defiant, four year old who weighs 40lbs.

And then there’s Lisa who refuses to listen to me, but yet demands that I look at her and listen to her, as she repeatedly says, “Mom! I need to tell you something!” And that “something” usually seems to be very made up on the spot, although it can be an “I love you” so I shouldn’t complain too much. However, her lack of gratitude can be very frustrating as her demands are frequent and her patience null. Never have I dreaded hearing my name more than I do right now, as I constantly hear a very capable four year old tell me all the things she needs or is doing or wants or is thinking about.

And if it’s getting close to bed time and Lisa didn’t nap that day, watch out! Because there will be a lot of screaming going on. And she’s got her father’s opera singer lungs so it’s loud, and it’s intense, and often right in your ear, you know, because she “wanted to tell you something like a secret, only to shout it in your ear. In the evening Lisa doesn’t want to listen or obey anything you tell her to do. And that’s usually when her lying begins. “Yes, I brushed my teeth already…”

My sweet girls sometime seem lost in teenage drama already too. I didn’t know I could upset my child so much by saying “no” about not having a certain type of cereal on hand that she would moodily walk away, go to her bedroom, slam the door, and then burst into tears, all at the tender age of four!  I wasn’t even mean about telling her we didn’t have what she wanted.

And beside the attitude I sometimes have to deal with, I face the delightful fact that my four year olds are smart and creative and getting more independent. What this means is that my four year olds are constantly in our kitchen, helping themselves to food. You’d think I never fed them… or didn’t just feed them two big bowls of cereal for breakfast two hours ago. Or a sandwich for lunch 20 minutes prior to their kitchen ravaging.

They help themselves to butter knives full of peanut butter as they “make sandwiches.” They get into the sprinkles and sugar canister for their sweet fixes, or eat some frosting from a tub if we have some opened in our fridge. They’ll grab yogurt cups just about every hour on the hour all day long, as well as crackers, and they help themselves to their multivitamin gummies in the kitchen cabinet whose child lock top is a joke. They’ll grab our dining room stools so they can reach everything and anything in the kitchen and around the house. They’ll snatch their cereal boxes and then eat fists full of dry cereal, often pretending they are animals (cats/dogs) and put a pile of cereal on the floor to eat up. My daughters also chug directly from the gallon milk container, our water pitcher, and our juice bottles. My kids can eat; well, except for whatever it is I make for dinner, of course.

My four year olds also unlock their brother’s bedroom door and wake him up (or cheer him up if he was crying) mostly so they can mess with the storage items in that room. We have an eye and hook at the top of his door to keep them out, but that no longer works because they scoot over their table and bathroom stool to stand on and unhook it themselves. They also undo the chain lock on our front door. Or grab things from shelves and drawers that I don’t want them getting into.

One day I found Barbie’s bangs scattered around their bedroom floor as they told me they didn’t like Barbie’s bangs and she needed a hair cut (thankfully it was just the bangs, as she does look better without them! And thankfully they didn’t cut each others hair or themselves with the scissors). The fact of the matter is that nothing stays where I put it in this house. I am constantly picking up messes and toys and things I have already cleaned up that day. It’s a tad crazy. And they jump on our couch constantly, climbing on the back, running along its length, flipping over the tall side, and jumping off of it.

I’m not really sure what to do about these “terrible” four year old antics, because while, sure, my discipline hasn’t been nearly as strict, and my follow-through perhaps less than stellar lately, I also don’t want to be yelling or correcting my children all. day. long. Part of me has resigned to the fact that this is a new normal with three kids. Part of me is resigned to the fact that I don’t want to control my children, or tell them that no, exploring your own home or learning how to reach and do more things is bad and to stop doing them.

If I want independent children, then how can I fully discourage them and discipline them for being their age, for being exploratory, for being strong-willed? So, I guess I’m picking my battles. I’m understanding that no matter how many times I tell my children to stop jumping or walking on the couch, that it will likely continue for the next 4+ years of their life, so why stress and yell so much now? Although perhaps by saying and doing that makes me a lazy, no-follow-through, entitling parent, the kind I am fundamentally opposed to being. . .

Do I like the crazy, terrible, four year old phase? Absolutely not. But, I see that much of it has to do with the fact that my babies, my preschoolers, are growing into individual persons. So, yes, they are showing me their strong wills in full force. Yes, they are showing me they are both capable and incapable of doing certain things when I ask them. Yes, they are a handful. But, no, I don’t want them to stop. Because I love them just as they are: tantrums, high emotions and energy, demands, exploring, and destruction included, because they aren’t the only qualities my children exhibit. This post talked about the terribleness of their fourness, but my four year old twin daughters are much more than that. Much, much more. Their bad qualities don’t define who their are, or their worth to me as their mother. I love them more dearly each and every day, and no fit or terribleness will ever stop me from loving the wonderful people they are. Because they truly are amazing, loving, wonderful little girls that I am so blessed to have in my life.

What terrible antics has your child been up to lately?

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  1. says

    For me, something happened when my 4 year old turned 5. It was like a magic button was pushed and he became a new kid. That year of being 4 must be hard for them too I imagine. They are constantly struggling between no longer being the toddler, but not quite being the big kid yet. Great perspective and thanks so much for linking up!! 🙂

  2. says

    I’m sure it’s much more intense with twins!! At our house we add ten years to their age when they get like that…ex. my 3 year old turns 13 and my 5 yr old turns 15…My husband I say to each other, looks who’s a teen today. We’re hoping it makes a laugh a bit more when they are a teen and we can pretend we already lived through it. 😉 Good luck!

  3. says

    These are definitely the times that challenge us the most. Some of my kids will grunt loudly when made then stomp their feet as they run away so I can’t even resolve or even figure out what’s wrong until later- that’s what I dislike the most. I love your ending point though- it doesn’t define who they are. (P.S. Love the new blog design!)

    • says

      I don’t like when they stomp away either or won’t tell you what’s wrong. Sometimes it’s even something physical, like an owie, and I have no idea because they are just screaming or going on. And thanks! I like to end on a positive note with my posts. Be real, but hopeful, encouraging, right? And thanks! I love the new design so much better than the old one!

  4. says

    Oh my! You just reminded me of my days. My third turned two today… she started the morning with falling to the ground and giving me a whole 20 minutes of tantrum time. Now, I am scared of when she will turn four. 🙂

  5. says

    “If I want independent children, then how can I fully discourage them and discipline them for being their age, for being exploratory, for being strong-willed? ” I have no idea but if you figure it out will you let me know so I can apply it to my own four year old.

    Because that whole list- it’s gotta be a four year old thing. She does all the same stuff. refuse to listen? check. screaming? check. kitchen ravaging? double check that one. waking up little sister to play? check. No where in the house is safe to hide things? check.
    Although instead of barbie’s hair she’ll just cut anything she finds into tiny pieces.

    So thank you I feel much better about my own terrible four year old!
    Five is coming… Five is coming…

    • says

      Ha ha ha Jessie. Glad I’m not alone! I keep thinking that five is coming too, though it’s still several months away and I”m not sure anything will change. *Sigh* Kids. Good luck!

  6. says

    My 4-year-old daughter is a feisty one herself. It’s interesting to me that different kids have different “rough” ages. It seems like if 18 months to 3 is really hard, then they simmer down and get easier and easier from then on. But if they are pretty cooperative as toddlers, then watch out as they hit 3 and 4! Just an observation. Who knows, they always keep us guessing!!!

  7. says

    Yes, yes, yes! You hear so much about the terrible twos, but I actually love the toddler age. It was around 4 (and now 5) that the sassy, back-talking, I-know-everything stage comes out – and that’s far harder for me than any toddler!

  8. Kyla says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Your pain and frustration brings me SO much relief and comfort. (Sorry about that 😉 )My four year old daughter has become unrecognizable lately, and there are days where I would rather eat glass than try to wrangle her. She acts like she’s listening but she’s not absorbing a word, I’ve tried everything to get on her level and try to get her to take in what I’m saying. Twisting, turning, screaming and wrenching away in busy parking lots and stores. Tormenting the animals and throwing herself in the floor when we tell her to back off, lest she get scratched or bit (and our animals are very docile but even they can only handle so much). And yes, the lack of gratitude at this age… is frustrating to say the least. But, as you said, we all love our children dearly, I will not ever give up or give in, because she’s going to be an awesome woman one day. So, gonna roll up my sleeves, start getting a little more sleep at night and get back in the ring…

  9. Taisha says

    I have to say how much I appreciate reading this because I don’t feel so alone in dealing with the exact same thing in my home. Although I only have one 4 year old, my youngest is nearly 2 and she copies everything her big sister does, so she’s becoming 4 fast. I couldn’t imagine having two 4 year old’s at the same time. Kudos to you!

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