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7 Essential Rules to Curb Your Ferocious Four Year Old

I’m starting to understand why it’s been called the Ferocious Fours. It’s a transitional time, as my son moves from being a largely dependent toddler to an independent little boy. And man, is the journey fraught with bumps, pot-holes, and road rage.

The latest (or should I say, persistent?) problems have to do with defiance and following rules. Felix knows that to hit someone is wrong. To interrupt a person by spitting and hissing like a cat is rude. To scream in a super high-pitched voice at the top of his lungs like he’s trying to break glass is at the very least annoying if not downright painful for anyone nearby. And yet the little guy can’t consistently control his temper.

What’s worse? Knowing that he’s lost control (in his words “being naughty”) adds to his fury. So if he whacks me and I say, “Stop hitting me,” he not only becomes upset that I’m telling him no, but he’ll add “You don’t have to tell me that!” Like, duh, dad, I know I’m not supposed to hit you. Gawd!

Same toddler game, all new level.

A few times this week I’ve had long — I mean excruciatingly slow and laborious — conversations with him about his behavior that have all followed the same pattern:

1. I try to say, “Felix, I need to tell you something important. Are you ready to listen to me?” but don’t get it all out because he interrupts me. “Ok! I know already! Ok! Fine! I won’t do it again!”

2. When I finally feel I have his attention, I deliver a short authoritative pronouncement, a rule by which he should model his behavior. For example, “Even when you’re angry, it’s—.”

3. Again, I can’t finish my sentence because he interrupts me.

4. So I try once more.

5. He interrupts me again.

6. I take a long, slow deep breath.

7. After about fifty tries, I finally succeed in saying the entire rule. (The only benefit to his interruptions is that by the time I spit it out, I’ve made the language clear and four-year-old friendly.)

8. At which point I ask if he has any questions about the rule. If he doesn’t, and he never seems to, then I tell him to say it back to me in his own words.

9. He freaks out again.

10. I repeat the rule about ten more times before he finally repeats it in some acceptable form.

This process builds character, that’s for sure. I only hope it’s beneficial for Felix too.

What I’ve wondered is: is this an effective form of disciplining the little guy? Or am I just torturing myself, and I guess him too? My wife doesn’t seem to know. She watches the whole thing a little bemusedly from the sidelines. When Felix tells her he doesn’t like our little talks, she just sighs and gives him a comforting pat. When I say “I will break him,” she does the same.

Thinking back to my time as a teacher, I’ve come up with the idea of writing these little rules down on chart paper so that there’s a repository, something for us to refer to, like a family Ten Commandments. I hereby share with you some of the rules we’ve developed for our four year old, and encourage you to share yours in the comments section!

  • Thou Shalt Not… 1 of 8
    first slide

    Click on to find 7 great rules for your ferocious four-year-old!

     Photo via Mel B. on Flickr

  • Use Your Words 2 of 8
    use words

    Whatever you're feeling — angry, confused, sad, disappointed, whatever — use your words and tell Mommy and Daddy. If you don't tell us, we don't know what's going on inside of you.

     Photo via Bethany L King on Flickr

  • Don’t Talk Back 3 of 8
    dont talk back

    When someone corrects your behavior — because you're being rude, or naughty, or putting your body in danger — don't talk back. Accept the correction graciously. Just say "Ok," or "I'm sorry," or "Thanks."

     Photo via Amy McTigue on Flickr

  • Be Polite 4 of 8
    be polite

    Say please when requesting something, and thank you when receiving something. Never command or boss (like, "Give me more milk") always ask nicely ("May I please have more milk, Mommy?")

     Photo via AngryJulieMonkey on Flickr

  • Tell the Truth 5 of 8
    tell truth

    It's wrong to lie. Always be honest when you're talking with someone. Honest, and polite.

     Photo via TimoStudios on Flickr

  • If You Know It, Show It 6 of 8
    know it show it

    If you know the rule, then show us that you know it by doing it.

     Photo via Daniel Hughes on Flickr

  • Never Hurt People 7 of 8
    never hurt

    Even when you're angry it's wrong to hit, whack, scratch, scream at, or pat with extreme force. Be nice to people, and treat them gently and kindly.

     Photo via mdanys on Flickr

  • Don’t Interrupt 8 of 8
    don't interrupt

    Wait until the other person has finished speaking before you respond to them. And never hiss, yell, or scream, talk with words.

    Photo via lovelornpoets on Flickr

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