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At wit's end with 4yo son.

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  • At wit's end with 4yo son.

    Greetings all,

    My wife and I have put the effort into the AP lifestyle, but I fear we are losing ground in the discipline department. Just today my wife told our 4yo to stop and wait before leaving the car in a parking lot and he looked at her as if to acknowledge the statement then he darted out into traffic and brought cars to a screeching halt.

    His behavior has consistently been to look at us then do exactly what we tell him not to do. We are at a loss. Our younger son (22 months) listens, does as he's asked, etc. No problems with him (yet).

    We've gotten to the point where the frustration leads to times out. Occasionally we pull him close for a hug and to comfort, but he spends way too much time in time out as a result of hitting his brother, throwing toys at us, and generally being disobedient. Today at the dentist he flailed his arms and legs, hit us, threw himself off the exam chair, etc. Taking him aside to talk to him and explain things seems to fall on deaf ears. Part of my trouble is that I expect him to participate in a discussion as if he is an adult - I don't know that I talk to him with the understanding that he just turned four. Should I expect that he can understand a grown-up explanation of consequences and appropriate behavior?

    We don't know how to address the problem. Are we failing at AP discipline? Do we fully understand the principles?

    We're looking for help and support. Any advice you all have to offer would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks - Evan

  • #2
    Hi Evan,

    I wonder what other strategies you have tried besides what you mentioned--telling him what to do and not to do. I'm thinking of things like Playful Parenting, other forms of interacting with kids besides in an authoritarian manner. Have you tried any of these, and, if so, how did they work for you?



    • #3
      I would recommend a few of the "foundational" books regarding positive discipline...

      Kids Are Worth It, by Barbara Coloroso
      Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen
      Connection Parenting, by Pam Leo
      Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn

      At 4, you're right that he can't understand the explanation of consequences and appropriate behavior. With positive discipline, there is a lot more "doing" and a lot less "talking" with kids. By "doing", I don't mean issuing punishments and consequences, I mean things like:

      -setting up a situation for success
      -leading by example
      -one-on-one helping
      -asking questions
      -active listening
      -taking time to teach

      Remember that kids do better when they feel better. So a lot of positive discipline is nurturing your relationship with your child...making sure that they feel secure enough to make mistakes, and that you will use respect, empathy, kindness and firmness to help them learn appropriate behavior.

      Do you have an example of something that happened, and how everyone reacted and responded? It might help for you to get some specific ideas of PD approaches to various situations...


      • #4
        I have thought a lot about your message and would like to give some ideas that i use for obedience. It sounds like you have a very intelligent son who needs perhaps less explanation instead of more. Sometimes just saying 'We dont do that ' with a shocked look on your face then say 'but we can do this ' then directing him to something safe or more interesting works. Using the word 'we' instead of 'you' helps to keep you both feeling connected and reminds everyone that you are not a parent telling son what to do, then waiting for son to decide wether to behave or not. He doesnt have a choice in the matter 'we are good' 'We behave' and there isnt another option.
        You could try talking to his toys if he has a special one he takes about with him eg.
        'Hey teddy(or whatever the toys name is) We are going back to the car now. Look at all theses dangerous cars. We don t want you to get run over do we? So what do we do when we get back to the car? We stay next to mummy. We don t go on the road. (then you turn to your son and say) You tell him not to go on the road its dangerous. (get your son to repeat it to him ) Then when you get to the car you draw a line in the dirt next to you with your foot and you say to your son. 'tell teddy we have to stand there behind the line until mummy has put these things in the car ( or until we have counted to ten). Then if he behaves say wow teddy you were great! Well done. Hes a good teddy. Then you tell your son to tell him' good teddy'
        For the dentists you needed to do perhaps a lot of preparation work. eg a childrens book or something with a child going to the dentist.Then take the book with you and point out everything thats the same as in the book 'hey look at that light, its the same ' and wow this chair moves up and down just like in the book' etc;;
        If there is still kicking and screaming you can pick him up and say ' we don t do that in a dentists. lets just wait in the waiting room, have a cuddle, then when you are calm we can go back in and start again. Wont the dentist be happy to see your lovely smile instead of all that silly noise. Dentists love smiles you know' Then you go back in when hes calmer. You could even get back out the trusty teddy and tell him to get up on the chair with your son. Im sure the dentist will not mind pretending to look at teddys mouth for two seconds.
        Be prepared, explain what behaviour you expect in advance, make sure he obeys even if you have to force him (in a calm and firm and kind way using games or singing or whatever) Then praise whatever little thing he s done that has been good.
        At night time before turning the lights off we ask the question to everyone in the room one by one 'what has happened today that makes you happy?' When it gets to your turn , make sure you say something like' I was so pleased when we went to the shops and you and teddy stayed by the car'.or' Wasnt it fun at the dentist seeing the moving chair? Im so pleased that you sat on it and showed your lovely teeth to the dentist. etc etc; and you didnt run around or throw anything... that was good ( even if he did scream and cry) Screaming and crying wasnt good though. The dentist didn t like that; We ll work on the screaming and crying next time; We are all just learning how to behave, hey? tomorrow we'll have a good morning then we'll go to the park (or whatever);
        sorry was so long; they are perhaps not your style of parenting but i find it helps me to have examples. I left a message on this site asking for help and the examples i got from other people really helped me. I hope this is of use, Theres always a solution somewhere. good luck,

        lots of love,
        anna xx


        • #5
          Originally posted by evan_w View Post
          Part of my trouble is that I expect him to participate in a discussion as if he is an adult - I don't know that I talk to him with the understanding that he just turned four. Should I expect that he can understand a grown-up explanation of consequences and appropriate behavior?
          No, he probably can't understand a grown-up explanation. That doesn't mean he can't learn appropriate behavior. I've found 4 years old to be particularly trying, so you're not alone in this.

          For my 4 yo girl, I can tell that she sometimes acts out or disobeys or whatever you want to call it, when I'm distancing myself from her emotionally by taking a more stern approach. She then does the only thing she knows to get my full attention back - which is the exact opposite of whatever I just told her to do. I have MUCH better success using a gentler approach.

          I like some of the ideas you have received, in terms of prepping, role playing, etc. to set up your expectations for appropriate behavior. The things you are describing almost always have triggers that you can try to identify and remove from the situation or environment, or represent an unmet need in your son that he can't otherwise describe to you. Aggression towards a younger sibling is a totally normal response to the upheaval that the arrival of that sibling caused in his world. Shopping trips, especially while possibly tired or hungry, can result in the complete physical inability to cooperate or behave. The dentist - well, I'm sometimes so freaked out at the dentist office that I would flail and kick someone if I could. My point is, look beyond just the behavior that you are trying to address. Talking only about what he did or didn't do, and having time-outs for it, is like treating the symptoms, not the cause. It won't yield lasting results.