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DD is 4 years old and we really need some advice please her behaviour is horrible, there is no other way to describe it

(55 Posts)
hereagain99 Tue 19-Nov-13 11:04:26

As I have said DD is 4yo and at the moment nothing seems to work.

A bit of background:

I have been separated from her dad since she was 16 months old so she doesn't remember us living with him. We live with my partner, it has been almost two years now. She accepted him very well and loves him to bits. DD sees her father every 8 weeks (although sometimes more) due to distance, we live on the other side of the country (that has been a blessing). Our parenting skills are completely different, we have rules and routines which go out of the window when she is with him (I am not criticising him for that it is his option and we cannot do anything about it)

Now, DD's behaviour has been very difficult lately. She will shout, scream, stamp her feet and everything else at the moment that she doesn't get her own way. When we ask her to do something she will answer "I am not going to do it". We try to reason with her, explain to her how it makes us feel, tell her that we don't like her behaviour, explain to her that when she ask us to do something we do it and we expect the same from her when we ask her to do something (we don't ask anything unreasonable, i.e. set the table, get dressed, tidy up).

We have always used "unconditional parenting techniques" but at the moment we are questioning if it is working. We are not happy about rewards charts or "naughty steps" or things like this, we believe that she should be doing it not because of the reward she gets but because it is the right thing to do.

Today she has told us that she wanted a "Proud Parent Certificate" for the school and we have told her that at the moment given her behaviour we cannot write anything on it. What would we say? That she only shouts and screams at us, that she is treating us badly. We know that she can behave very well, she does it at school and with other people so the problem must be with us. We don't know what to do at the moment, we need some advice please.


VerucaInTheNutRoom Tue 19-Nov-13 13:02:07

Can I ask what are the consequences for her when she misbehaves? I think sometimes trying to reason with a 4 year old (I have one of my own) can be like banging your head against a brick wall and that taking away TV time, for example, as a consequence for bad behaviour is more effective. I don't know what unconditional parenting involves so perhaps you would not be keen to try this but it works for us. Particularly if we do a count to ten first to give DS time to calm down or do whatever it is we are asking him to do.

VerucaInTheNutRoom Tue 19-Nov-13 13:05:02

Also, is she getting enough sleep? DS started school this year and is very tired towards the end of the day. His behaviour is much worse when he's worn out.

Snowflakepie Tue 19-Nov-13 13:10:27

The only way we get cooperation with DD (3.10) is to make it into a game or race. So I could ask and ask her to tidy up or go up to bed, and she will shout, scream, refuse, backchat, or just ignore me until I get angry, and that still doesn't work. We did try removing toys but there's nothing she's that attached to, time out also didn't make any difference. But telling her that I'm going to race up the stairs and finish brushing my teeth before her seems to work every time! Same with tidying toys, if I say I will help I get no luck, but saying I'm going to win by doing x first does. If she goes into a tantrum, being silly or tickling her has her giggling and along down, then we can cuddle and talk later. Reasoning with her at the time tends to just inflame things and get her more angry and irrational.

It's hard, especially if things are different with her dad. But they can handle different rules in different settings, as long as you are consistent. How does she get on at school? They may have other techniques that are used. I hope there's something that you feel might work for you, good luck x

PassTheSherry Tue 19-Nov-13 13:57:54

I'm not sure you should refuse her the 'Proud Parent certificate', although I can understand why it's tempting.

If this is a thing where families say something nice about the child, and the child then gets to show it off at school - it could be really humiliating, if she is the only kid in class whose family can't think of a single thing they like about her. That's not very unconditional, and seems so harsh, as she's only 4. She sounds unhappy.

Be proud of whatever it is about her that makes you proud. Just because her behaviour is really difficult right now, doesn't mean that all the reasons to be proud of her has suddenly gone.

Saying that, I'm dubious about 'unconditional parenting techniques' though - if someone is behaving in an anti-social manner they need to be told, and experience the consequences their unreasonable actions. There is stuff around 'natural consequences' you could try.

I think adults can spend too much time negotiating with younger children at times, when they just need to know who is in charge. They are children after all, and adults are the ones who provide the boundaries.

We usually ask our 4yo to do something and then give her a time limit to do it. If she's messing about etc and we need her to get dressed, we have given her a countdown "I expect you to have started getting dressed by the time I count to five..." That works quite well.

wodalingpengwin Tue 19-Nov-13 14:18:10

I agree with verruca that trying to reason with a four year old is sometimes pointless. There need to be consequences for bad behaviour. This doesn't mean you being mean or shouting or anything like that. In our house persistent bad manners at the table means no dessert, untidy rooms on pocket money day means no pocket money, teeth not brushed after asking several times means no time for bedtime story and so on. The child is well warned of the consequences so it's not just a punishment landed on them with no warning.

I can see what you mean about wanting your child to something because it's right, but with moral development very young children sometimes have to be taught the behaviour by us 'from the outside' using rewards and negative consequences before they are actually capable of understanding why it's the 'right thing to do'. Behaviour change purely through reasoning comes later. Moral development is a process just like other forms of development.

As well as putting some consequences in place, also take any tiny opportunity when it presents itself to praise when praise is due and encourage any smidgen of good behaviour.

Finally, I think lots of kids behave worse at home than they do in public. They feel 'safe' to let off steam with us because they know we love them and will put up with an awful lot more than other people will. That's not an excuse for bad behaviour at home but perhaps one reason for it.

Middleagedmotheroftwo Tue 19-Nov-13 14:27:08

I think it's really mean not to give her a Proud Parent certificate. There must be something she does that you're proud of her for - getting dressed by herself, going to the toilet by herself, doind you a nice drawing... or something??

I also have no idea what unconditional parenting is, but it sounds like a recipe for disaster.
And I don't see what's wrong with bribery/reward for good behaviour - we get it in work in the form of annual bonuses, which are linked to personal performance. It's no different really.

I would start with a very small, short term goal such as "I will do xx if you help Mummy tidy your room". At that age the reward must be immediate though, something DD likes, and something you can build on (eg not a whole bar of choc to start with).

Ohmydays Tue 19-Nov-13 14:29:07

I don't have all the answers by any means, but have found that giving choices works pretty well with my dd. Eg she is having a tantrum. I will say 'it's OK to be angry but if you are going to be angry you go to your room, if you want to stop being angry you can stay here, what do you choose? The idea behind this is developing her character so she makes good choices rather than because she does things in order to get x or because she gets a punishment . Sometimes she won't choose so we take her up to her bedroom and make her stay there until she has calmed down although again I would tell her that this is what we are going to do unless she chooses so again you are giving her another choice. It is important to word it as a choice rather than a threat Counting down works well for us too - 5 seconds to make a choice.

Hope this makes sense...

titchy Tue 19-Nov-13 14:39:27

She's 4. She needs boundaries. Not wishy-washy 'we don't like reward charts or naughty steps' nonsense. You're treating her as if she can reason like an adult. She can't.

And yes, very mean not to let her have a Proud Parent Certificate. Poor kid is probably desperate for some sort of reward/treat/certificate/praise.

hereagain99 Tue 19-Nov-13 20:20:25

Thanks to all of you for your replies.

We do give DD "Proud Parents Certificates", just today after the tantrum she had before going to school it felt like she didn't deserve it (probably we were too angry). We are very proud of her. When she is having a good day, she will help with anything. She knows it is her job to set the table in the same way that it is our job to cook for us to have lunch and/or dinner. She has been doing it for the last year and it works.

We do find difficult to find things to use as a consequence to bad behaviour. DD doesn't watch TV so much and although we have use it lately it doesn't seem to modify any behaviour. We have also introduce a smiley face and a sad face with three of her pictures (they use this in school). At the beginning of the day her pictures are in the smiley face. If she behaves badly then she gets a counted warning for her to change her behaviour. If her behaviour doesn't change then a picture goes to the sad face. If at the end of the day the three pictures are in the sad face then she doesn't get a book before going to bed. She knows this and accepts it. The problem we see is that reading a book shouldn't be used as a reward as it is a good habit to have. Although we went down this route because she loves book time and we thought it may make her twice to think about her behaviour. Unfortunately it is not the case.

We do tell her when she does behave well that we like what she has just done and explain her why. So I guess it is kind of a praise.

We also give her choices but the usual answer will be "I don't know" which makes things even worse as the situation gets worse not better.

How do you use consequences? How do you give them immediately? We used to send DD to her room but it makes things worse as she doesn't stay there but bangs down the stairs again. We tried staying in her room with her but the screaming wouldn't stop.

titchy Tue 19-Nov-13 20:29:14

Naughty step. Bit old hat but works, if she strops off the step put her back on. Again and again with no eye contact and after telling her a couple of time why she has to stay on naughty step for a few minutes no furthe explanation. Or let her scream in her room - she'll calm down soon enough!

And agree rethink withdrawing bedtime stories - they shouldn't be regarded as a treat.

Maybe if she behaves well she can stay up an extra 15 mins?

3littlefrogs Tue 19-Nov-13 20:39:21

It sounds as if you are talking to her more in the way I would talk to a ten year old. She is 4. At 4 it really is better to just use age appropriate language and set firm, but simple boundaries.

A 4 yr old doesn't have the language, comprehension, reasoning and empathy to respond to your approach to discipline (IMO).

Your comment about the Proud Parent Certificate is really awful. sad

There is some very good advice on this thread. I hope you will try it and find something that works for you.

Jenny70 Tue 19-Nov-13 20:49:04

My Ds was like this when hungry... he had to eat at least every 2hrs or he was unable to function as a human. At school he almost coped if fed snack at lineup and the moment he walked out, followed by snack at home and tea.

He wouldn't recognise his hunger, but if not fed he became irrational over any thing. And once in meltdown he wouldn't eat, it had to come before... changed child once we cracked that.

FanjolinaJolie Wed 20-Nov-13 08:35:57

I would watch giving her too many choices. This can actually be stressful for a child.

Being given clear and consistent boundaries is reassuring for them.

At 4yo they have control over very little in their life, other than their own behaviour, sleeping, eating and toileting. One or more of these can then flare up into a huge flash point.

FanjolinaJolie Wed 20-Nov-13 08:44:29

Also a gentle approach would be to ignore the bad behaviour and praise the good. Rather than taking something away (reading the book) think of adding something special. I would say clearly "your behaviour is not acceptable because..." and turn my back and physically ignore her. Also 'love bombing' for good behaviour even if it felt over-the-top/unnecessary.

We used the naughty step, it may be out of favour now but by 4yo I think 'inclusive' time out is a load of crap. We call the behaviour naughty and not the child. Once the 'time' is done it is over, not referred to again and finished with. They have to stay on the step and if they get off they will be directed straight back and time starts again.

TBH I think taking bedtime story away is a bit mean, that is an important part of a calm, winding down evening routine.

moonbells Wed 20-Nov-13 08:49:17

We got a book called 1-2-3 magic for trying to get DS to behave. If we stick to it then it works. One of the things it says is never reason with a child as if they are a 'little adult' as they simply don't think the same way as an adult and it will be counter-productive. You just count to 3 and on 3 it's automatic timeout on naughty step. Sadly I tend to do little adult rather too often and then wonder why he's still playing up!

If you see it as 'she is treating you badly' then you perhaps need to remind yourselves and her that you are in charge here not her. Easy mistake to make! I get tempted every time I have to say no more books, lights out, because I want him to read and love reading, but him being tired means ghastly behaviour next day. Children need a good firm 'no'. <wanders off telling self this...>

BloominNora Wed 20-Nov-13 08:54:14

Is this relatively new behaviour and was she good before?

My angelic, impeccably behaved, if slightly mardy at times DD went through a similar phase just before her fourth birthday. Proper mini-teen, pmt type behaviour. It lasted about 6 weeks.

With DD it was definitely hormonal as it co-incided with her being dry at night.

It passed, but while we were in the middle of it we just kept firm boundaries - warning and punishment such as tv off or going to room or no sweets etc. We kept the consequences quite immediate and completely ignored tamtrums. We've never used the naughty step either.

wannabedomesticgoddess Wed 20-Nov-13 09:10:12

My 4 year old was the same since starting school and it was tiredness. She started taking naps again almost every day.

Things have levelled out now though as she is getting used to it more. She still has her moments, but they are less often.

Perhaps you could try reintroducing naps?

soupmaker Wed 20-Nov-13 09:56:14

Our DD1 was truly vile at times at 4, tantrums, yelling, foot stamping, refusing to do as asked, answering back.

Our strategies for this were:

Using 1-2-3
Ignoring, and refusing to engage when in full flight
Being very clear about unacceptable behaviour and very consistent
Not negotiating, always ended up in a disaster
Gave choices, but kept it very simple

It was very tempting to threaten taking away bed time story, but I took the view that this was so important to DD and it was a lovely calm time we could share after the whirlwind. Was also a good time to talk about how much we loved her but didn't like her behaviour.

There were of course times when I shouted and forgot to remain calm and collected, but actually sometimes it actually worked because she wasn't used to it. shock

cory Wed 20-Nov-13 13:26:57

I had a dd who was very similar to yours, except perhaps rather more violent.

What I found helpful was to focus on the Job being Done, not how it was done.

So if dd refused to put her coat on and I ended up putting her arms into the sleeves with mild force, that counted as Job Done- one-nil to me. If she refused to get out of the house and I walked her out of the house, that was Job Done- one-nil to me. (I still find this attitude helpful with teenagers, actually: if ds does the washing up whilst muttering about unfair parenting, that counts as Job Done. And as time goes on, he mutters less and less...)

Another thing that helped was the mantra Parenting Is Work In Progress.

I think many of us make ourselves feel less good about ourselves because we set up impossible timescales: we expect a piece of parenting to work straightaway so that the dc never behave that way again. And if this doesn't work we think we've failed. Sometimes we just need to hang in there. Dd is now 17. She has perfectly reasonable table manners, never bites or punches, and doesn't write on the carpet in marker pen. We got there in the end! But it wasn't the first 10 times that did it! Nor perhaps the first 100.

And finally, Detaching Emotionally. If you get too emotionally involved when things to wrong I find that detracts from your disciplinary effectiveness: partly because you seem less in control, partly because dc try to disengage to get away from emotional overload. I always found it helpful to try to imagine myself as a very experienced Headteacher, the kind who simply can't be thrown by any 4yo behaviour because she's seen it all. Twinset and pearls and sensible shoes.

PassTheSherry Wed 20-Nov-13 14:40:43

just today after the tantrum she had before going to school it felt like she didn't deserve it (probably we were too angry).

The things that occur to me here, is it's so early in the morning for tantrums - even in my dc's tantrumiest phases, they usually started off the day in OK moods - unless they were ill. Is she definitely getting enough sleep (about 11.5hrs for average 4yo)? Not coming down with a cold/cough?

Otherwise, if you're already quickly angered, at the beginning of the day too, it sounds like a bit of a rut that you all may have fallen into. What happened in the lead up to the tantrum? A specific incident?

Not sure I agree with the smiley/sad faces being equated with 'good' and 'bad' behaviour. Are they also 'learning', that it's only acceptable to be 'happy', and it's not OK to be 'sad'? However, as the school use it, I see why you might want to carry on the consistency at home.

I agree that you should stop making the book at bedtime, only depending on the smileys earned. It should be a foundation, part of the routine regardless - because the benefits of having quiet time with her parents, learning to read while having a snuggle, far outweigh the 'message' of denying it because she missed getting enough smileys.

It's great that you tell her when you see she does something you like, and why - keep doing that!

With the choices, I don't give my 4yo that many - limited choice at her age works best, not a whole vista of overwhelming decisions. So, it's A, B or (at a push) C. Not the whole alphabet! For instance, stuff like: "You can wear this skirt, or those trousers. Which do you prefer?", NOT [throws open wardrobe] "What would you like to wear today?" Then if she doesn't answer, or says "I don't know", tell her that you don't want her to be late for school, so if she doesn't choose by the time you've counted to will have to make the decision for her.

Or, you can even circumvent all that by sorting it out ready the night before - no faffing around in the morning if she only has one set laid out ready.

With the getting dressed - "Great, now let's see if you can get yourself dressed like, a big girl!" Set another time limit - "by the time the big hand on your clock moves to [x]" Or maybe something she can relate to "by the time it takes me to get myself dressed"

Make sure you praise her to the skies as soon as she meets any of your requests, because it all builds up into a feeling of independance, and increased confidence, and wanting to do things to please you because they like it.

FanjolinaJolie Wed 20-Nov-13 18:40:46

If you are in a pattern of offering choices and the answer is always 'I don't know', then YOU make the choice immediately and it is done.

If they then jump back in with the other option and reopen the negotiations do not accept this, this is controlling and manipulative behaviour.

(A genuine I don't know where you can see they are weighing up options and considering is different)

sesamechoc Wed 20-Nov-13 18:47:51


me and DP have been doing UP for about 6 years - ds17 ds2 3 1/2 - I'm just putting them to sleep now so don't have time to comment.....

but wanted to comment to say that when i have time I will come back and put ahaparenting link about worrying about UP not working - it is working - you are bringing up an emotionally healthy child and will also put in a link about why punishments and rewards don't work even when they seem to "work" in about 60% of children.

SteamWisher Wed 20-Nov-13 20:08:39

Well a lot of it sounds like she is a tired 4 year old.

My ds gets like this and can be crabby in the morning because he's tired/hungry/thirsty and we're trying to hurry him along.

Also he doesn't want me to go to work or to go to preschool because he wants to be at home with me. He's getting better at telling me he wants to be with me, but sometimes it comes out as a tantrum - he doesn't always know how to articulate his feelings.

Give her some boundaries - unconditional parenting isn't about saying yes all the time and letting her decide everything. You need to guide her and help her in her choices because she is only 4 and won't always know the answer. If she doesn't want to do something and kicks off, then just stay calm and say ok, how do you say it nicely? Remind her how to act. And don't over egg it, just say it a couple of times then if she carries on then so be it. She will get it quickly.

Also help her with her emotions - if she's angry then say "I know you're angry but you just need to tell me" etc etc. ds now tells me when he's exhausted or annoyed etc etc.

I don't use star charts and rarely use time out or sanctions but generally he's actually pretty well behaved if a bit spirited.

hereagain99 Thu 21-Nov-13 20:37:10

Hi thanks again for your replies, DD has just been 75 minutes screaming!!!! after getting in a dispute with her dad on the computer. This seems to be the main reason why we are having this problem at the moment. The day that she doesn't see him on the computer everything goes well and she is the lovely girl that we know.

SESAMECHOC: I look forward to your link. I also have his book about rewards and punishments. We are just not sure what is going wrong at the moment or what else to do. We know very well rewards or punishments don't work with DD but which other options do we have?

DD sleeps from 7:30pm to 7:15am so she is getting the 11 and a half hours that she needs. We know if she gets any less sleep she gets grumpy. Unconditional Parenting isn't about saying yes to everything. She has boundaries which she knows perfectly as well as behaviour rules which all of us have to follow. We have a big poster with the house rules that we made the three of us (we decided the rules together). Even though she doesn't know how to read, they have pictures explaining every rule so knows them by heart.

Telling DD that if she doesn't choose I will choose makes things even worse. We don't have such a problem with clothes as she is in school and she has to wear uniform, so not choice in this. But it is more about not wanting to do things when she is asked. We have tried to give her notice about when things are going to happen and it doesn't work, she shouts anyway.


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