Hi Annie. My child is driving me crazy. My four year old daughter’s behaviour is very trying. She hits an awful lot, and although it is playful it is also hurtful. She has a 15-month-old brother with whom she is very rough, and he enjoys the rough-housing but of course occasionally he gets hurt. Worse, he has now started hitting and we believe it is due in large part to his sister’s example. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. She is forever running around, yelling/screaming/singing at the top of her lungs and yes I know this is typical of the age but there is no end to it. Even when we give her clear direction it doesn’t work!
Even if I say, “get dressed NOW” she is singing, throwing the clothes around, and if we are not there to repeat our request many times, it just won’t get done.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. She is forever running around, yelling/screaming/singing at the top of her lungs and yes I know this is typical of the age, but there is no end to it. Even when we give her clear direction such as, “get dressed NOW” she starts singing and throwing the clothes around. If we are not there to repeat our request many times, it just won’t get done. Even her cousins who are still children themselves (7 and 10) deem her behaviour, “crazy”.
We spend a lot of time with our children and have not had one date night in the last year. We are very involved in her schooling, and we love them both very much. We use timeouts with moderate success, but have resorted to spanking on occasion, especially when there is safety involved such as when she playfully threw her brother into the bookcase.
She has had a lot of changes in her life in the last little while. Our son was born 15 months ago, then we moved 4 months ago to a new city, so she had to leave her old preschool. Now have a nanny living with us (started 6 weeks ago). She started Kindergarten this past September, but her classes are only Monday, Wednesday, and every other Friday, which we believe does not provide enough routine for her.
She has not taken to our nanny well (although our son certainly has), and we are wondering if she would be better off at a Montessori-type school. In our opinion, such a school would provide more routine (i.e. 5 days a week), and will emphasizes discipline. We cannot afford to have both a nanny and send her to Montessori, however. Such a change would mean we would not have a nanny, and instead our son would go to Montessori once he reaches the age of 18 months. This would be more work for us, but we are wondering if it would be better for her (and also for our son). We want the best for our children, and we would love to see the return of our sweet girl. Thank you for taking the time to read our letter. Here’s hoping you have some answers. Best Regards. Maggie
Your obvious love for your children comes shining through in your letter and that’s wonderful to see. Having said that, your daughter has seen quite a lot of change in the last little while but I really don’t feel that those changes adequately explain her behaviour. I also have to say that running around screaming constantly or hitting at 4 years of age is not typical. I know there are experts out there that will tell you it is, but I think in the long run they would not be doing you any favours. In fact I’d very much encourage anyone with problems, such as yours to access my behaviour intervention service as it must be very stressful living like this and these things are easily solvable with the right advice while she is still young.
Your daughter is sending you a message
Your daughter is showing by her behaviour that something is not right. The question is ‘what?’ Taking in to account that I only have your letter to go on, here are my feelings on how you should handle things.
You mentioned that a nanny has recently joined your family but you didn’t mention if that was because you’ve started work, or that you’ve simply got more help at home? You did say that you spend a lot of time with your family, so I’m going to presume that you have her around to help you out. The first question is are you and your nanny on the same page? If yes, terrific. If not, you need to see to it that you are by coming up with a plan of action away from both children.
Offer clear expectations and stick to them
Four year olds or indeed any other age group for that matter, should not be hitting anybody. Hitting is never playful and believing it is will prevent you from taking action to deal with it. I also don’t think people push other people in to bookcases playfully. Every time she hits you or anyone else she should put her in time out depriving her of the attention that comes with behaving badly. Don’t give her a warning, just make clear up front that hitting will not be tolerated and stick with it. (You can give warnings for other behaviour that is not violent.) If you have to take her to the time out area over and over again while she resists, that is ok. By staying calm and sticking with the plan you will be sending a powerful message as to who’s in charge.
Here’s what I think maybe contributing to your problem. There has been a lot of change in your family recently. Children are extremely intuitive and unless you have been very careful, some of your discomfort with both your daughter’s behaviour and what to do next may have been inadvertently transmitted to her. When adults look like they are floundering, children ramp up her behaviour to get their parents to make a stand. If you want to end this behaviour, you need to make that stand. Not putting up with behaviour such as hitting is all part of that. Your daughter needs to know that every time she crosses the line both you, your partner and your nanny will respond in a like manner. Once she knows that, her behaviour will stop because she will feel comfortable knowing where the limits are and knowing that they will not change. Just remember praise is also a powerful motivator so at the same time as not putting up with bad behaviour, try very hard to notice when she does things right.
In all this as in everything to do with children, consistency is key. That means it’s vital to act the same way when you’re all tired just before supper, as it is earlier in the day. Next, look at your children’s routine. Preschool aside, is she getting enough exercise, at least two physical activity periods a day? Is her day predictable? When I say that I don’t mean you have to do the same thing everyday but simply that the progression of activities is the same. Kids thrive on predictability.
In terms of the Montessori option, I really wouldn’t go there until you’ve got her behaviour under control. In order to get that control you really need to be around. The less change you can have for the time being the better until your daughter is behaving the way the way you’d like. I also don’t think preschool is appropriate for a child as young as 18 months. They are simply not yet developed enough to be able to take advantage of a preschool setting.
I’ve no doubt that your daughter’s sweet nature is just obscured right now and as soon as she knows the bounds are in place and you’re prepared to stick with them, it’ll return. In the meantime, make sure you get down on her level to talk to her, getting her to look at you when you speak. Be clear, concise and make sure you’re expectations are in line with what a four year old can do and yes, getting dressed is one of them. If your requests are not heeded, provide a fair consequence and be prepared to follow through.
One more piece of advice, while I’m at it. Please take a night off here and there. Motherhood/Parenthood is tough at the best of times and you will not have the energy to deal with these behaviour issues if you don’t ever take time for both you and your partner. For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.
Hope this helps,
All the best,