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And 4 Years Old May Just Be The Most Difficult Year, After All

Is 4 years old the most difficult age?Yesterday was my last day with a 4-year-old at home.

While a part of me is in mourning for yet another stage of childhood slipping into the void, maybe I should consider myself lucky? Because apparently there are plenty of parents counting the months and days until “The Fours” are behind them.

The F-ing Fours, to be precise. 

Oooooh, yes. Just when you think you’ve cleared the last challenging hurdle of early childhood — the Frightening First Year, the Terrible Twos, the Troublesome Threes — here comes another stage you didn’t know to dread: The F-ing Fours.

I have to be honest. When I first saw this catchy little phrase splashed throughout my Facebook News Feed (shared via the Web site Yummy Mummy Club), I almost rolled my eyes.

Oh here we go, again — another way to scare new parents. My 4-year-old boy is lovely! Just lovely! How could they ever label it the…

Hold up.

Once I actually read the article — which, by the way, includes some really smart and insightful tips on handling this challenging stage — I had to question: Was this the most difficult year yet?

Of course every child is different and each stage has its challenges and blah blah blah, but I had to admit to a distinct kind of change — a shift — at the four-year mark.

Frustrations, Melt-Downs, and Aggression

At first I blamed it on his superhero affection, or the rough-and-tumble nature of a boy, but apparently it’s quite common for life’s frustrations to manifest as aggression with 4-year-old kids. They have the language and the motor skills (they look like such big kids!), but they’re still babies — as far as their brain development and emotional maturity.

This past year has seen its share of feet stomping, toy slamming, and full-body meltdowns at the mention of, say, bath time. (And then when he’s in the bath and it’s time to get out, he argues for more time. Of course.)

Some days are more difficult than others, as any childhood phase. But, yes, it can be difficult to feel empathy with a 4-year-old kid melting down into heaving sobs. It can be difficult to remember just how little they still are.

Power Struggles 

We’ve heard a lot of NOs this year — some back talk, and even an, “I DON’T LIKE YOU ANYMORE!” outburst from time to time. In the past year, he’s un-invited me to his birthday party. He’s told me I’m the worst mom ever. During one especially heated moment, he pointed his finger at his father and I and shouted, “YOU FOOLS!” before stomping off to his bedroom — just as a Disney villain might yell.

So, yes, it can be difficult to have patience and maintain a sense of calmness with a 4-year-old. It can be difficult to not take things personally, to not have your heart shatter the first time they pull the “I hate you” card. (Weren’t we supposed to have another five years of infallibility?)

Power struggles with a 4-year-old are especially difficult because, as little as they are, they’re like bite-sized emotional ninjas.

New Parenting Requirements

And herein lies the heart of what makes the 4-year-old stage different. What started as pure love and nurturing has now evolved to a stage of hard choices and long-term parenting strategies. The parenting aspect of raising a child is turned up a notch, requiring consistency, firm boundary lines, and purposeful teaching.

I don’t want to make him upset or diminish his happiness in any way — he’s my child! My heart! But I also know that, in the name of learning and growing and becoming a decent member of society, it has to happen. He has to carry his backpack on his own, deal with play-date disagreements without me stepping in, clear his dish from the table each night.

The four-year stage has required conscious strategies and a deeper understanding of what this parenting gig really requires. And it’s not all hugs and kisses.

But then there’s the sunnier side of the 4-year-old…

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More Self-Sufficiency

He wakes up and quietly entertains himself — which has been a BRILLIANT development.

He can feed himself, go to the bathroom himself, dress himself, walk without any kind of backbreaking assistance…

Self-sufficiency is the most wonderful perk of having a 4-year-old.

 

Interesting Conversations and Teaching Moments

For every meltdown and power struggle there are 100 moments of lovey cuddles and kisses. While car drives used to be about fishing for toys and popping in pacifiers, we’re now having smart conversations, playing car games, and addressing philosophical questions.

I can teach him, and he can understand.

Even in the most trying moments — the moments that give the F-ing Fours its name — I can still reason with him, unlike a toddler. He can process, absorb, and apologize.

This has been the most developmentally awe-inspiring stage yet — where I can see not only his body growing, but also his mind and his heart.

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Deep Imagination and Better Play Time

His playtime dialogue has gotten more intricate and interesting, and we’ve been FINALLY engaging in more stimulating playtime activities — like sports and board games and video games. While baby puzzles and push toys are fine and well, the 4-year-old stage has brought more fun and laughs than ever before.

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So in some ways, yes, 4 years old has been a difficult year — mostly for me, as a parent, reigning in patience, finding empathy, and controlling this emotional grenade that is knowing my son is rapidly growing and changing.

However, it’s much less physically demanding than, say, the newborn months or even the toddler years. I can sleep through a full night. I can steal some quiet moments for myself. I can hand him the remote and watch him navigate Netflix without a hiccup.

All in all, I wouldn’t have skipped over the F-ing Fours for anything.

In fact, I wouldn’t mind one more year before the _(Fiery? Fearsome?)_ Fives.

Are you having a difficult time with The Fours? Check out these smart tips from Andrea Nair, a psychotherapist and parenting educator for Yummy Mummy Club.

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