How to Discipline a Defiant 4 Year Old?


Being a parent dealing with your own kids can be hard sometimes, especially when you have a stubborn and defiant 4-year-old.

Defiance is something that’s increasing in children today due to several factors affecting their social life.

If your 4-year-old has the same problem, this is probably the best time to address this issue as kids learn the most at this age.

But along with understanding how big of an issue defiance is in children.

It’s important that you make sure that your kid is actually defiant.

It’s completely possible that just once when your kid showed resistance towards you, you became overprotective and thought of him as a defiant child.

So before moving forward let’s have a look at what Defiance among kids looks like.

Symptoms of Defiance in Your 4 Year Old Child

Following are some of the most common symptoms of defiance in a child;

Resistance to follow rules

If your kid often shows rebelliousness towards the rules of your home, he’s perhaps being defiant.

For example, you’ve decided that no kid will play outside after 7 in the evening.

And if your kid comes home late almost always, he’s being resistant towards your rules which ultimately mean defiance.

Pointless Arguing with Parents

Your child might have the habit of having long arguments with you over meaningless things.

Don’t get this wrong. Disagreements are normal and there is nothing wrong with them.

Defiant 4 year old arguing over a pointless thing by screaming.

But you can detect this type of behavior in your kid because at times he would have counter-argument for every single thing you say.

You may also look at his tone while arguing. If it seems disrespectful, he’s doing it on purpose to get you hyped.

Unexpected Anger Outbursts

Sudden anger outbursts are one of the most common practices of defiance.

If your child gets angry over small and useless matters, it’s a clear sign that he’s defiant.

For example, if your kid gets angry by asking him to finish his lunch or when you remind him of his homework, defiance is the problem here.

Rude Behavior for No Reason

Defiant kids are often rude in their behavior. Talking to them you might not feel like a positive vibe.

This usually involves being disrespectful especially towards elders.

For example; if your teacher complains that your kid never listens to what she says, it’s a symptom of his defiance.

Not Accepting Own Mistakes

Defiant children almost never accept their mistakes and would always find someone to blame.

That’s why you won’t find them being apologetic over any matter.

They usually have a high ego and just don’t like the idea of surrendering against someone (not even their parents).

For example, if you investigate how they broke the glass, they would reply; “You were the one who put it there”.

Why is Your 4 Year Old Kid Defiant?

Just like anything else, Your 4 Year Old Kid is Defiant because of “something”.

There has to be a cause behind his inappropriate behavior and you as a parent might also be responsible for this.

Recall the toddler years of your child and correlate the following points to find the answer;

Reinforcement to bad behavior

A 4-year-old can be defiant because he didn’t have the right environment in his toddler period.

You need to find if you’ve been reinforcing negative behavior in your kid since his birth. This is a common problem in so many kids today.

Father with his shouting toddler on his shoulders.

Parents would accept their kid’s undisciplined behavior out of cuteness and love in their toddler years and it would affect their personality badly later.

For example, have you been calling your kid cute when he yells?

If so you’ve been doing it wrong because kids keep doing something which they feel reinforced or not prohibited from.

Not paying attention to their habits

Raising your kid through the toddler years, you should pay attention to your child’s behavior.

Have you been tracking how he spends his time? What are his habits, what he does right and what he does wrong?

The initial years of your child would be the foundation of his life.

For example, he could’ve been using abusive language in the early years and you never checked on it.

The probability of these kinds of bad habits sticking around his personality is higher if he learned them around the age of 3-4.

Result of Neglectful Parenting

Or one simple big thing can be Neglectful Parenting.

When Parents neglect their children in certain ways, it’s called Uninvolved or Neglectful parenting.

Maybe in the first 4 years of his life, he didn’t have the attention he deserved. Or it played out in an indirect manner.

For example; your neglectful parenting towards your child made you unexcited to investigate who your kid is playing with.

And because of that he as a child spent time with undisciplined kids from the neighborhood which contributed to his defiance.

RELEVANT: Uninvolved Parenting – Everything You Need to Know.

How to Guide Your 4 Year Old Defiant Kid?

We’ve looked into the cause of the problem; let’s now jump to its solution.

How can you discipline your 4-year-old defiant kid?

Here’s the deal; your kid had this defiant and disrespectful behavior for a long time.

So cutting it to normal won’t be quick. You’d have to do it in multiple steps at a steady pace.

1. Be at their Level beforehandA dad giving a high five to his young child

Before you start addressing this problem, understand it at the level of your kid.

Try to feel the way your kid feels and find out what makes him do it.

When you think of their behavior as a grown-up adult, nothing would make sense to you. Thus you have to equalize your level with him to better understand the situation.

For example, imagine how you would have felt in certain situations that your kid faces every day.

Maybe at times, your reaction won’t be much different from his.

This would give you a better perspective on understanding your child’s phycology.

2. Observe their behavior to find weak points

The second step is to observe your child. Look how they do things, how they react and what triggers them into defiance.

If you analyze their behavior you’d easily find weak points that set them off to disruptive behavior.

For example, you find out that your child argues for meaningless things and when you yell being angry, he gets hyper and yells too.

Then the next time you can use those points to normalize his behavior.

Let’s say he argues over which cap he wears, just say; “Wear whichever you want; it doesn’t really matter as long as there’s a cap on your head to protect you from the Sun”.

Also, make your point in a calm way so he never gets the chance of bringing the anger out.

This way you are cutting both the argument and the anger by taking control of the situation.

3. Sit and Talk with them (Be Logical)

Now comes the most significant yet the toughest part.

You have to sit and talk to your 4-year-old defiant kid and make him realize his mistakes and ignorant behavior.

Nothing works better than talking directly to your subject and letting him confront the truth.

But this may not be as simple as talking to an adult.

A mother keeping an eye on her children while they draw something

You have to be logical with your kid while talking to him. Tell him how his defiant behavior is bad for him as well.

For example, you can tell him that his rude behavior at school will never make him any friends.

While everybody would be with their friends, you’d sit alone, etc. Your session would be as effective as strong your logic would be.

4. Offer him choices

This is kind of a short tactic that could be really helpful in the journey.

It’s simple; whenever you want him to obey any of your orders, leave him with some choices.

For example; if you want him to do his homework on time, you can tell him; “You can eat your ice cream as soon as you finish your homework, now it’s up to you how fast you get it”.

This way you are putting a cost on his procrastination thus he’d be motivated to finish his homework as soon as possible.

Or let’s say you are going somewhere and you know your kid won’t be happy about it.

You can say to him; “We have to go now, do you want me to put on your shoes for you or you want to do it yourself?”

This would leave him with only two options for putting up his shoes, while he’d see the need for ‘leaving’ as something that’s fixed.

4. Avoid Direct Commands

Dealing with a defiant 4-year-old, you need to take decisions sensitively.

And to do so, you should always avoid direct commands put on them aggressively.

For example; instead of saying “I want a glass of water right now!” you can approach him by saying; “I am thirsty, can you please get me a glass of water?”

This way your sentence would look more of an appeal than order and the kid would be happy to help.

Using harsh direct commands can make your kid feel he’s being challenged and he might try to show resistance towards it.

5. Help them have control over anger

Anger is one of the most common and most problematic aspects of defiance.

Thus you need to help your kids controlling the anger.

You can do plenty of things to do so;

  • Teach him controlling his breath in certain situations.
  • Use music/dance (if he’s into) to get the frustration out.
  • Tell him to draw on paper what he’s angry about and rip it off.
  • Ask him to count 1 to 10 backward whenever he’s angry until he calms down.

A defiant child screaming due to an anger outburst.

Anger is what drives the rebelliousness of your child.

You won’t achieve any progress unless you teach your kid how to be calm and eliminate unnecessary anger from him.

6. Distract and Draw Away

Sometimes there are emotions, places, and things that trigger defiance and rebelliousness in your kid.

At times you’d need to drive your kid away from anything that could add to his defiance.

While you are working on disciplining him, if anything which can trigger his undisciplined behavior came across, it’ll disrupt the whole process.

For example, you’re in a shopping mall and you saw a toy shop which your kid would force to visit if he has a glance at it.

Just drive him to some other place, e.g.; “Let’s go and see that beautiful fountain”.

Spacing your defiant 4-year-old from things or places like that in this process would keep his focus on developing a disciplined personality.

ALSO READ: What if Your Toddler Throws Toys Instead of Playing? 

7. Console them regularly for the right behavior

Every process has margins of errors in it.

In the same manner, this whole process of turning your defiant child into normal would have some friction generated at times.

No matter how sincerely and dedicatedly you follow each step; there would always be a time when your kid just won’t listen.

Defiant kid being consoled by mother trying to advise him

So you need to console him regularly to make sure the right behavior instills in him deeply.

For example, if you’ve taught your kid not to be disrespectful to teachers and he has started doing better.

Still, there’d be times when you’d see the exact disrespectful behavior by your 4 years old defiant at school.

At that time you as parents need to understand that he just needs to be consoled, instead of being angry, and he’ll continue the normal behavior again.

8. Be Consistent and Patient

The last step is to understand that changing your kid would require consistent effort and patience.

This means that you preach him everything in the right way and expect change over the course of some months.

Don’t get crippled if it takes him longer to understand things and acquire the appropriate behavior.

Expecting your defiant and disrespectful 4-year-old to be flawless and perfect with just 1 time given instructions is impractical and certainly not possible.

Your child has developed this behavior over the course of years and it can’t be undone without consistent attempting.

Important things to Understand

Keep your ego aside while you tend to discipline your child. Just ask yourself, if your child is really being defiant or you are being insecure?

For example; if your kid wants to wear ripped jeans when you want him to wear fancy jeans, does it really matter?

You don’t need to exaggerate matters which cannot determine if he’s being disrespectful or not.

Don’t go too hard on the process. Putting hard instructions on your child forcefully will not be a good idea.

Just share what you expect of him and do have some room to accept his requests and point of view as well.

For example, if you two argue over something, you don’t need to shatter his ‘confidence’ by scolding him.

Simply disagree and prove how his point of view is wrong with a firm logic.

READ MORE: 100 Best Words of Encouragement for Kids 


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