What's the best way to get your kids to listen without an argument or scene?

Angry Boy

The question:

I have a 4 year old that is out of control. He doesn't listen and no matter what I do doesn't seem to help. He's causing so much stress in our family. We have a baby in the house now (he's 11 months) and sometimes I think he does this to get attention even though he overshadows the baby with his behavior. What's the best way to get him to listen without a argument or a scene? - Debra in Maryland

The Pediatrician Answers:

It sounds as though the 4-year-old is trying to get attention. He may also be an unusually demanding child or one who has difficulty with anger and/or impulse control.

Generally, using time-out disciplinary techniques for bad behaviors, combined with increased parental attention when the child is behaving, will help improve behavior. If this is not effective and the child is out of control despite reasonable parental efforts, a visit to a good pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist may be in order.

Some children who are "out of control" actually have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), CD (conduct disorder), or are children who are bipolar. These conditions can be helped with medication and psychotherapy.

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Comments on "How to understand and control your difficult child"

Brenda December 27, 2012 | 2:44 AM

My four year old grandson is also becoming a problem ..he has a new sister 4 months old. And his behaviour has become a real problem, he has gotten very aggressive, he hits, bites and punches his parents, and even his peers who now do not want to play with him, which seems to be making the problem even worse.....I am sure that it is jealousy but how do we handle this as his parents really do praise him and involve him in his sisters care and attention??? I would really appreciate some feedback on this as he is normally a delightful boy and VERY caring.

israa March 20, 2012 | 8:51 AM

i have a 2and a half years old girl every time we go to any kind of store she wants to handle all the stuff in side and keep on telling her not to but in vain i leave the store to punish her she cries when we get out and next time we go as nothing happened before besides that she wants to run all over the store and doesn't care if she goes away so she can't see me finaly when her father tells her to come give him a hug she runs away which makes him very sad as helives her very much

Natalie December 17, 2011 | 10:59 AM

I also have a 4 year old boy that is out of control, does not listen, is very defiant. It's like he gets his jollies pushing our buttons and getting us upset. He has a 2 year old brother that I know he is jealous of - and for good reason - the 2 year old is 99% angelic but starting to copy his big brother's behaviour. He rarely acts up where as the 4 year old is on constant trouble making missions. Trying to stay calm is next to impossible. I cry often feeling bad for getting so frustrated with him. Sure, maybe it is jealousy, but we have been praising him. We validate him as often as possible, we praise, we have a reward chart. We asked him to help when his brother was a baby, just like the comment above. It didn't work. He does seem to adore his little brother, but he seems to hate us.

Melissa November 28, 2011 | 9:40 AM

This advice is ridiculous. I would imagine the older child is feeling the baby is competition for his parent's attention - he sees the baby being awarded with attention when it yells and cries, so 4-year-old logic leads him to do the same, only he doesn't get mom's & dad's loving attention, he gets punished. Instead of giving him time-outs (which will send the message that he's not good enough and gets even further removed from the parental attention he's craving), why not stroke his ego a little? That always works with my (sometimes volatile & very emotional) son. Tell him what a good boy he is, how he's such a big boy, how proud you are he is able to talk to mommy & daddy in a big kid voice to let them know when he needs something and doesn't have to cry & yell like the little baby does. Brag on him about how awesome it is he can use the potty on his own and go to bed like a big boy at bedtime, etc. When he throws tantrums, refuse to respond to it. Remain cool & calm and state firmly (without shouting) your expectations ("I understand you are upset. However, if you want some ice cream you will need to ask in a polite voice." etc.) Also, involve him in caring for the baby so when the baby needs attention, it's not taking any spotlight off of himself. Have him help you feed and bathe the baby, hand you diapers & wipes at changing time, rock & play with the baby, pick out what pajamas the baby should wear at bedtime, etc. Teach him nursery rhymes, hand games and lullabies he can sing to the baby. Then praise him about what a magnificent helper he is and such a great big brother.

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