If you can’t beat them, join them

A look at 4 year olds

My principal has always talked about these “Your ___ Year Old” books and I decided to check them out. My neighbor gave me the 2 year old one and I purchased the 3 and 4 year old ones. I just started the “Your Four-Year-Old” (affiliate link) and while some of the information is a bit dated, I have found it to be rather helpful. Of course, not all of the information applies to my 4 year old — which the book recognizes — but there are certain characteristics of each age the doctors/authors have found from studying thousands of kids.

It’s important to note, which the book does, that the age norms presented are averages. “Every child has his own timetable. Do not expect that your own child will always perform right on our schedule.” This book is not meant to make you feel that your child is ahead or behind. Rather, it can be useful tool to learn about typical child behavior, at a given age, which develops in a patterned way.

Fours can be wild

The books states that four can be filled with:

  • profanity
  • name calling
  • boasting
  • super silly way of talking
  • exaggeration
  • violence
  • references to garbage

The most helpful piece of information I have read so far suggests two ways to handle the often wild four year old:

1. Ignore them

The first way to help calm the wild four year old down is to ignore them. Much of the behavior listed above is meant to elicit a reaction from the adult. While we don’t wan’t to condone such language or behavior, we also want to be mindful about our reaction. Like any age, our reaction, or lack there of, plays a huge part in encouraging or discouraging our children from continuing that behavior in the future. If they are looking for attention and get it, they are likely going to engage in the behavior again.

By ignoring this type of behavior, the child often realizes that it isn’t that thrilling after all. If they don’t get a rise out of you and that was their goal, the behavior is likely to diminish rather quickly. This takes patience on our part. However, I’ve tried both ways and getting upset almost always makes this silly, out of bounds behavior last longer.

I should note that ignoring this type of behavior — in the moment — may actually cause an increase. He wants me to hear that I am a “stinky poo poo head” so he is more apt to repeat this over and over. However, by ignoring it, I have noticed a major decrease in the occurrence of the behavior in the future.

This has been a good reminder for me that Keener (4) is actively learning, whether school is open or not. He is trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. What gets him attention and what gets a rise out of me. While it is easy to take him literally or interpret his “insults” as rude, it’s also helpful to take them for what they are — experimentation. His understanding of language is taking off in new ways, which is powerful and wonderful. It also means he is going to step out of bounds often. And by ignoring him when he does, he learns, “Mom wasn’t so impressed with that. She didn’t even pay attention when I said that absurd thing!”

2. Join Them

Of course, it depends on the behavior/language that was used, but I’ve tried this strategy and found it to work. When Keener engages in some of the more “trash talking” type behavior (and I literally mean garbage — “I’m going to put trash in your mouth!”), I’ve used this strategy. Instead of trying to impose my wisdom of why this is gross and not very kind, I’ve tried saying things like, “I’m going to put marshmallows in your nose!” He then might come back with, “I’m going to put put you in the dumpster!” to which I say, “I’m going to put a banana peel in your hair!”

Then, the conversation typically shifts gears to next thing we are doing. The “trash talk” then feels like a nonevent. And most importantly, I don’t feel angry or upset. Joining him in the silly, ridiculous language allows me to enjoy him, not get annoyed by him.

Will this work every time? Absolutely not. Some of the things that have been flying out of his mouth need a hard stop. Which reminds me of my new favorite line, “A kid’s job is to push boundaries, a parent’s job is to hold them.” Which makes being a parent so difficult! As with everything else in life, moderation is key.

Any way you slice it, finding a way to react instead of respond helps you stay level headed, which directly benefits your child. Of course, staying level headed is beyond challenging. See the post above for ideas.

Other characteristics of 4 year olds

As I stated above, the book simply gives averages and is only meant to give an estimate of behavior at each age. Below are some of the other characteristics of 4 that have stood out to me:

  • emotions tend to be extreme
  • loves things that are new
  • has a lively mind
  • high drive combined with a fluid imagination
  • super speedy
  • loves parties
  • likes and respects boundaries and limits
  • high motor drive
  • tends to go “out of bounds” often — physically, verbally and emotionally
  • prayers are welcomed and helpful for fears
  • develop strong friendships
  • love adventures
  • love praise and compliments

The book gives lots of other ideas for techniques on how to handle fours which I plan to try out and share in a follow up post.


  1. Hi Jenny, Four was always the most challenging age for me and your post reminded me of why. There is so much to enjoy about the age but a lot that absolutely got my goat. Nevertheless, one of my favorite child-rearing stories is from when my middle child was four. He was telling me about a playdate on the way home. He mentioned the father of the family, using that man’s first name. I corrected him, “You mean Mr Smith, right?” His immediate reply was “Mom, you live your life and I’ll live mine.” It is lucky that I didn’t get in an accident, I was so shocked. But, you have to laugh (inside) and I didn’t react. Interestingly, having said that, I don’t think he ever again used an adult’s first name with me. This had been a hard and fast rule with us. I SO enjoy reading you blog and am definitely using your wise advice with my grandchildren.

    • That is so funny! I can totally hear Keener responding that same way! Sometimes I am absolutely cracking up on the inside with some of the responses he gives me. I’m so glad you are enjoying it 🙂

  2. Given how obsessed P is with garbage already I can’t really fathom what an increase will look like!

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