I can’t get my 4 year old to do anything I ask unless I get cross. What can I do?
Dr Angharad Rudkin is a Chartered Clinical Child Psychologist with over 10 years of experience working with children and families. She has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Oxford and provides therapy within the NHS and privately.
Dr Rudkin specialties include adolescent anxiety, and depression, stemming from bereavement, divorce and other life events.
Q. How can I encourage my child to behave well?
The 3 basic principles of good behaviour management are consistency, clarity and confidence.
When children know what is expected of them and what the consequences are of different behaviours they are more likely to behave in the way we would like. So be consistent with your child – let them know what the boundaries are and keep these at the same place. If one day you order your child to bed and the next day you let them stay up until 2 am then that child is going to be confused about what you want, and therefore less likely to behave the way you want them to.
Be clear about what you want your child to do – don’t give them generalised messages like “be a good boy”. Instead be clear about what you want them to do “Play nicely”, “Don’t hit others”, and “Keep your hands to yourself in the shop”.
Be confident when setting boundaries for your children – say what you mean and mean what you say. Children are very good at picking up on our feelings, and if you are not confident about asking them to do something then they’re not going to be confident about doing it.
Q. How do you discipline a child when they’re badly behaved in public?
It can often feel like children deliberately have tantrums in the most public of places, and this may well be true because of all the things that are going on around them and because parents tend to feel more tense about their child’s behaviour when they feel others are watching. Try negotiating with your child, offer them choices and consequences (e.g. saying “if you calm down we can stay in this shop but if you carry on screaming we will have to leave the shop immediately. It’s your choice”), remain calm and try not to let yourself worry about what others are thinking. Most of the people passing will have been or will be in a similar situation at some point in their lives. If your child is having a full-on tantrum then try and get them and yourself safely out of that situation and keep them safe until they calm down.
Q. I can’t get my 4 year old to do anything I ask unless I get cross. What can I do?
Your child is pushing the boundaries to see at what point you will set clear expectations. If you only tend to do this when you are feeling cross and frustrated then it is more likely that your child will push you to this point next time. Try setting boundaries clearly and confidently when you are not cross, then if the child starts pushing remain as calm as possible (e.g. take deep breaths, imagine a relaxing place, tell yourself this won’t go on for ever). Your child will keep trying to press your ‘angry buttons’ until they learn that there’s no point. So, if you can remain calm throughout their provocation then you will be teaching them a valuable lesson (you can’t get what you want by making people cross) and yourself a valuable lesson (I can be a more effective parent by staying calm).