How to discipline a 4 year old who is defiant – advice and strategies

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Have you been wondering how to discipline a 4 years old who is defiant? If yes, we have some good strategies and advice in this article..

How to discipline a 4 year old who is defiant

By age four, your child has his/her own identity.

This may make the child act rebelliously as kids at this age like experimenting to see how their actions influence the world around them.

Listening is also difficult for the 4-5 age range because curiosity is at its highest level.

Thankfully, defiance is a temporary stage (for the most part) although it’s exhausting having to deal with it.

Meanwhile, below is how to discipline a 4 year old who is defiant (as you wait for them to outgrow this terribly frustrating phase)..


How to discipline a 4 year old who is defiant – advice and helpful strategies to deal with the defiance

Use Positive Language

Focus on what your child can do rather than what he/she can’t.

So instead of saying “No toys until you have cleaned your room!”, just tell them: “You will play with your beautiful toys as soon as get your room clean”

In other words, you want to be offering positive choices that give your son/daughter a little sense of control.

The truth is, experts encourage parents who have defiant children to make it a habit to offer choices because it helps a child feel that they have some control over themselves.

So allow your child to choose between two dresses/pairs of trousers you’ve selected instead of telling them what to put on.

Likewise, you can let your child choose what they want for dinner from two choices that you have.

And so on.

Now, if you keep offering good choices to no avail, it could be time to step up to choice-consequences(either you get yourself dressed now or there is no (insert a revocable privilege here).


Set clear rules

Give your child clear boundaries so that he/she knows what’s expected of him/her.

In a nutshell, you want to set a few simple rules and discuss them with your kiddo.

For example, if they often hit other babies or things when upset, set the following rule and explain it to them: “We don’t hit- If you’re upset, just use your words.”

Now, once you’ve made a rule, always try to stick to it.

And please don’t make threats you won’t carry through!


Praise good behavior

One of the best ways to teach your child to obey set rules is to praise them a lot when he/she does the right thing.
Don’t say “What a good boy!” – Nay! Try to be more specific about what they did right.

For instance, you can tell them: “Thank you for collecting the toys when mommy asked you to!”.

This could encourage him/her to do more (of the same).


Be sympathetic

When you ask him/her to come have dinner and he/she yells “No!” (and start to cry), don’t go down the force route…

It makes more sense to try and put yourself in their shoes so give the little one a sweet hug and tell them you know it’s annoying to stop the fun but hey, dinner is ready…

The whole idea is, rather than getting angry and escalating the issue into a conflict, you show your baby that you understand his/her feelings.

Oh, you want to be kind but firm….


Be consistent

Repetition is key for teaching a four year olds how to behave.

You see, your child may not obey a rule the first time they hear it but if you deal with his/her actions in the same way every time, it’s easier for a child to learn what’s expected of them.

The thing is the more often you give in to your 4 years, the more the kid will learn that rules can be broken so be sure to stick to your guns when rules are broken.

Teach them cooperation

As difficult as this age is to deal with (your 4 years old may appear to want to be independent), it’s advisable to accept that you’ll never be able to completely control your child’s behavior- at least during this phase.

So if trying to make him/her obey you unquestioningly is making both of you agitated and frustrated, focus on teaching him/her that cooperation is the best thing for everyone because it makes life run more smoothly.

Get ways to make them understand that your requests and the rules you have set are good for both of you.

Here is an informative piece on teaching children cooperation.


Don’t get emotional

Your little one is learning from you and he/she can easily sense your moods -and decide they won’t listen to what you say.

Now, if you often scream in anger, you’re showing him/her how to react with anger and we know that this is not the point.

So be sure to always calm yourself first before reprimanding him/her.


Tell your 4 year old what to do -instead of “don’t”

You may be guilty of constantly ordering your son/daughter don’t do this (or that)..

Well, this is a negative command and it makes your child keep wondering what they should actually NOT do as well as what they’re expected to do instead.

Friend, change this tactic to statements such as this:

Say “Donny, please put all your toys in your toy box” instead of “DON’T leave the toys on the floor”…


Teach empathy

At 4 years old, your child doesn’t always understand why they shouldn’t do something they think is fun such as hitting, biting, or taking toys from other children.

That being so, it’s better to explain to your child about the whys and your explanation should be empathy-driven…

So you can tell him/her “Madeleine, when you take Taylor’s toy, they feel very sad” to help her understand how their toy-grabbing behavior affects others.


Watch your words

At this age, your child can be immensely stubborn so try all you can to turn “you” messages into “I” messages

For example, instead of telling your child “You’re now acting selfishly” when they refuse to share their toys, try and say “I really love it when I notice you share toys with a friend”.

The bottom-line is to try and frame these kinds of statements reasonably and positively


Make sure they understand what you said

Remember that a 4 years old often misunderstands (or forgets) what he/she has been asked to do.

To avoid frequent fights, make asking your child to repeat back what you have said a habit.


Give advance warning

Rather than expecting your 4 years old child to jump up immediately from a game they have been enjoying to get into the bathroom, give him/her a few minutes’ notice to help them change gears.

So you can give a notice like this: “Nellie, we will be leaving in about 30 minutes so please wind up and come take a bath”..


Try positive reinforcement

If you have not already, try positive reinforcement like having a positive visual sticker chart?

So he/she gets a little sticker when they put their clothes on, leave the park without arguing, and so on.

Try it- reinforcing good behavior could do the trick!.


Pick your battles wisely

Before you clash over a particular issue, ask yourself whether it’s worth getting into a conflict over.

For example, if your child wants to put on a short instead of the trouser you ordered them into, it may be wise to grit your teeth and let him be!

The idea is to prioritize issues that you need to act on to make sure your kid grows up to be someone responsible and to give a pass to the less important things.


How to discipline a 4 year old who is defiant – helpful resources

ABCs of child rearing course

Check out the behavior-change techniques in Yale’s ABCs of Child Rearing free video course here.

Parenting the strong-willed child program

This famous five-week program is transformative for Parents of defiant two- to six-year-olds.

Check it out on Amazon.

How to talk so little kids will listen

This is an amazing must-have guide with lots of creative methods and strategies to help you handle children aged 2-7 years.

Read its reviews on Amazon.


How to discipline a 4 year old who is defiant – Summing it up

The above strategies can help but it’s more important to remember that your child will grow out of this phase as they learn to control their impulses and develop the ability to empathize and cooperate with others.
One more thing:

See a behavioral specialist if things keep getting nastier- some children may be suffering from ODD(oppositional defiance disorder) and an early diagnosis is super helpful.


How to discipline a 3 year old who is strong willed (strategies that work)

Strong willed toddler characteristics –what to look out for


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