I’ve done pretty well keeping cool with my kids up until now, but my 4 year old son literally acts like he does not hear me. It’s painful trying to get him to do anything from put on his shoes to, god forbid, pick up a toys. Lately, I’ve been getting so mad I’ve caught myself raising my voice to him. I don’t want to be that “screaming mom” but I want him to be responsive. I admit I need some help keeping my cool ALL DAY LONG! Advice?
Jackie C., Irvine, CA.
Although your 4 year old is pushing your temper, his actions, and more precisely his refusal to respond to your requests, are very typical for his age.
4 year old abandon the more balanced behaviors we observed when they were 3. Instead, they exhibit unexpected and radical behavior shifts which range from wildly active to shy and socially introverted. Your son probably pays little attention or ignores your requests because he is intensely immersed in fantasy play, as he should be, and his imagination has spiked. This creates difficulty for him to distinguish what is real and what is not.
You might have noticed that his play can also quickly deteriorate, turning silly and wild. Yet, his language is filled with “why” questions as he tries to make sense of everything. He is now aware that there are more choices than the ones you offer, and, almost certainly, your requests do not align with his preferences.
Try these five, non-reactive approaches:
1. Maintain consistent routines and schedules allowing him ample time to switch from his fantasy play so that he can dress, eat, and be ready for what is necessary. Expect him sometimes to remain in a fantasy role while he responds to your requests.
2. Give him at least a five-minute advance notice when he is expected to finish what he is doing.
3. Define what actions are OK and which are not. It doesn’t matter that you detailed these rules yesterday. You need to repeat them over and over and over again. Your son might have been a jet pilot when you told him yesterday, and today, he’s the firefighter or excavation operator so he’ll need to be “re-instructed.”
4. Redirect him before his positive play crumbles and be prepared with a variety of adventures.
5. Provide him with verbal rewards whenever he displays appropriate behaviors and responds to your requests, “I’m so pleased and proud of you when come to the table when I say breakfast is ready.