Does my 4 yr old need help or do i need help parenting?(11 Posts)
This is a cry for help. I don't know what to do any more with my son's behaviour and I don't know if it is him or me that needs the help. He is a really smart and creative little boy and for most/half of each day he is lovely and funny and kind. But then a switch flips and it's like he just decides "That's enough of Mr Good Guy" and he then proceeds to do everything that we ask him not to, to disrupt everything that anyone is doing, fight with or convince his younger brother (2) to cause mayhem. There is nothing I can do to get him back out of that place until we have all lost control, we have all screamed the house down and we have had to threaten him with something totally drastic like cancelling his birthday (which is tomorrow). Up until this point he will not even listen to anything we say, he runs around laughing and nothing I say will stop him. If I say he will lose something he doesn't care, if I try to ask him why he is feeling/behaving that way he just says "I don't know" or makes up some ridiculous excuse like his brother taught him/told him to do it. It drives me completely crazy and he knows it does which just spurs him on to continue. I have tried talking softly, ignoring the behaviour, not talking to him, putting him in time out. Nothing seems to work. It is always at bedtime and as he and his brother share a room it just turns into a desperate situation because either he is rallying the little one to play along with him or he is disturbing him when he's trying to sleep. I try to remove him from the room when he's behaving like this but then he just ends up running around the house which makes things worse. The little one has been witness to such horrible shouting matches it is already rubbing off on him and he now screams when he doesn't get his way. I try to play with them and organise games to tire them out before bed. We then have quiet time with stories and attention for each one. Either he decides that is the time to start playing up or he plays along only to kick off as soon as we are done (he has worked out that if he is good, he gets his story and then he can do the usual afterwards). I really don't know what to do. Part of me thinks that maybe he is just really challenging and even that maybe he has some reason that he can't control his behaviour. But then I come back to how many times I have tried different approaches to his behaviour and failed, and how short my temper is and I think have I just screwed up monumentally and am now dealing with the consequences. He turns 5 tomorrow and I feel like we have been dealing with this since he was 2 Now I'm worried I will have two of them to contend with. Every day is a battle where we try really hard to have a nice time and play and sped time with him and then he throws it back in our face each evening knowing that the next day we will just do it all over again. On the eve of his birthday I really feel like he shouldn't be getting any presents or going out for the day tomorrow. I remember feeling exactly the same on Christmas Eve. But of course, how could I do that to him? He would be heartbroken and angry and we would be no further forward. I need help. Please.
You're not alone - everyone worries they've screwed their kids up by shouting at them and losing their temper. Everyone does it. Don't be too hard on yourself.
Tomorrow is a new day. You cannot cancel his birthday because of things that have already happened. You would never forgive yourself for that, you would break his heart and you would gain nothing from it in terms of improved behaviour. It would be pointless.
I think you need to rethink the whole bed time thing as you identify this as where he always kicks off. Four/turning 5 is still very young. It could well be he is over tired and over stimulated by bed time and that is why he kicks off.
Every child is different - some go to bed easily and unfortunately some don't.
Suggestions: Many children will behave very badly because they are hungry or over tired. Look at his diet and cut out all processed and sugary snacks for at least 3 hours before bed time. Some foods promote sleep others promote wakefulness. Make sure he has a good dinner in the evening like pasta which will keep him full. Then make sure he has supper 30 minutes before bed - toast, warm milk etc. This should help him sleep.
Bed time routine - make sure you have no TV or computer/iPad/electronic games for at least 1 hour before bed time, and longer if you think it is part of the problem. Turn the TV off - he doesn't have to be fully focussed on watching it for it to be stimulating his brain and keeping him awake. Put the younger one to bed first and - if you have the house room - in separate bedrooms (even if just for a short time to establish good bedtimes and if it means moving the youngest into your room). See if your eldest will be your helper for the younger ones bedtime - helping wash him, change him, tell him a story. If he has helped get him to sleep he will feel proud of himself and want him to stay asleep. It will take longer than bathing them separately but will pay off because hopefully you'll have a shorter bed time over all. Then have time with your eldest.
Have him change for bed before he gets supper. Make his supper together, sit down for a quiet chat together and remind him of all the things that he has done well/made your proud of that day. It will help you keep things in perspective and make him feel good about himself and your relationship which aids cooperation. Be clear that after supper it is bed time and story - do the story with him in bed, not out of it. Make sure everything else is done - toilet, drink of water by the bed etc to reduce his excuses for getting out. Once the story is done stay with him until he sleeps but tell him quietly and firmly you are not talking to him as it is sleeping time and if he gets out again you will leave the room. I lie on the bed with my 4 year old and either read or play on the ipad. I simply tell her I am done talking and it is bed time if she tries to start chatting and she has learned to lie peacefully and is asleep in about 10 minutes - if I leave her before she sleeps I know she will be out of bed in 2 minutes so this is easier, calmer and peaceful for us all. If he gets out of bed put him back and tell him he has to stay in bed now. If he persists in getting back out, put him back without saying anything. Follow up on promise to leave the room and keep putting him back to bed silently. You may have a long battle on your hands but you will win. You may have to put him back to bed 20-30 times, but you will eventually win and once the first night is done it gets easier. If you have a partner at home support each other in doing this - e.g by having him pour the wine for you or intercept the youngest if he is woken.
Praise him in the morning when he has had a good bed time. Have a sticker chart and agree a prize - day out to zoo, park etc - if he goes all week with a calm bed time. Have a clear routine in the evening where he can tick things off on a chart - teeth done, laundry in basket, helped brother go to bed, supper dishes in sink etc. Small tasks where he can see he has done things and bed time is approaching. Buy some new story books (or get a stock from the library) and have his choose his bed time book early on so he is eager to have it read. Make the story time his time - not a shared story with his younger brother. Start bedtime around 6pm and aim to have him in bed by 7:30 and asleep by 8pm. He should be going early as he is still very young and if you are leaving it till 8pm to start getting him into bed he will be over tired by then and many kids go metal when over tired.
Bed times are hugely stressful as we are all tired by the end of the day and you are not being any worse at it than the rest of us. Have a clear plan and stick to it. Explain to him how you are going to be doing bed times from now on because you hate it when he is so tired and upset and you are getting cross and shouting and this will be better. Enlist his cooperation by having him choose the end of week prize, stickers etc and having him suggest ways he can help get his brother and himself ready. Let him have his role as the big boy but also remind him he is still your baby and you want your snuggles and story too once his younger brother is in bed. This should motivate him to help and keep the noise down to keep the younger one asleep.
Everyone says calmness and consistency are the key, as if they are the easiest things in the world to achieve It is hard to be calm when you are tired and just want them in bed and asleep. It is hard to be consistent because you react to their bad behaviour or cut out things to hopefully shorten how long it takes. But really, really go for long term consistency. Work out a bed time routine and stick to it; not for a week, or a month but for as long as they need you to be putting them to bed. And good luck. It is very hard at times.
Oh op please be gentle with yourself too. It sounds like you're judging yourself harshly for finding something challenging. And it is soooo challenging. You've already got some sterling advice.
I would definitely sit with him at a time when he is usually happy and agreeable and work out a bedtime routine because at 4 he will enjoy feeling included in the decision process and you can explain calmly why we need to sleep. Good luck op and hope your lo has a lovely birthday.
and i don't think either of your behaviours are abnormal. i have a 2 year old and a four year old and i do far too much yelling. and they do a heck of a lot of misbehaving. you are not alone. my feeling is that as long as there are some consistent consequences for bad behavior then they will grow out of this phase none the worse for it.
Don't be harsh on yourself - your doing well to get to bedtime before all he'll breaks lose
I agree with adjusting bedtime routine. Perhaps stories in bed and then lights out. If he's learnt he needs to be good for stories he'll be good to the point of bedtime. Perhaps put the 2 yo down first with a story and settle him with something constructive saying if he manages to sit quietly whilst his brother goes to bed he can then have stories and bed himself.
You may find it get worst before better of you introduce something new but he'll get it in the end.
As you say he is good most of the time so he can do it. Perhaps they need some outside time before bed to expel the last of his energy?
We had this too with my 4-year old DD (not every bedtime but often). It took me a while to realise I was actually pushing her buttons - so for example misbehaving would lead me to use a threat, e.g. I will take a toy away, which got her to feel angry and act out even more because of that... resulting to her not listening and lashing out. I learned to recognise the point where it could start escalating and then generally used distraction techniques or let her have the little thing that she desperately had stuck on her head as a thing to do, e.g. needed to finish drawing or similar. Figured that 10mins later bedtime was ok as long everything was calm rather than the shouting matches that left both of us in tears and delayed the bedtime by an hour...
Have a look at The Explosive Child book. I have found it very helpful with a similar situation. My kids are older (8 and 4) but it should work with younger ones too.
Thank you so much for all the great advice. It all makes a lot of sense and will be trying some of these things to see if they work. I think the key is for me and my DH not to lose the plot when he starts acting up which is hard, especially for me as my fuse seems to be ever shortening. I am really trying and we actually had a really lovely day today for his birthday. There were a couple of moments (after dessert at lunch and at bedtime which was later than normal and fuelled by birthday cake... I do see a pattern). But his bedtime tonight was so much better than last night (even though they didn't go to sleep till 9.30!). The book recommendation sounds interesting too - I will look for it. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for your kind words.
Dd is a nightmare when tired. I have also learnt to pick my battles and walk away before I get shouty. Hell get to bed the same time whether you shout or ignore him, keep you're sanity occasionally and ignore. I agree about talking to him when he's calm, dd at that age was capable of knowing about good and bad choices and she enjoyed making decisions about her routine.
Oh my.... I could have written this post myself OP.
My 4 year old was the same. He is 5 and it is getting better. Hang in there!
"When Your Kids Push Your Buttons" was a good book for me. It won't tell you how to deal with situations but it will help you not explode and throw the "right" way to deal out of the window.
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