Whole Parenting Family

What Discipline for a Squirrelly Four Year Old Looks Like in Our House

four year old discipline

I recently took stock in all that I’ve written on the blog over the past 3.5 years to see if there was good material for a book. I mean, the very original idea that a mommy blogger who’s a crunchy Catholic could schmoosh her posts into a book. Well, 170 pages of posts that generally fall under “parenting” had me convinced I am the next behavioral expert.

Until I started re-reading it all. Yes, there are a few gems in there, but . . .

big boy battles,

2 under 2,

3 under 5,

taming your toddler’s tantrums,

feeling powerless with your preschooler,

power parenting: why force & fear don’t work, 

helping emotional boy find his voice & ears,

clearly I’m just another mom with limited knowledge, time, energy, and yet unlimited opinions. Book may have to take a different form.

But I digress. Right now we’re dealing with the fine line between threats and explained consequences with our budding four year old boy. Mr. SuperPants SuperBoy. He’s so sweet until he’s terrible. He loves to take directions until he doesn’t. He is never cross until he’s crossed. You know how it is.

I’ve found a few things work and don’t work with his temperament. His sister’s already shaping up to be a completely different person (shocker!) with acute needs of her own. I share not because I’m an expert but because maybe your child is similarly situated and what is working for us might work for you.

Or might not. Apologies in advance.

1) Don’t nag; don’t threaten.

I hate nagging. I always hated being nagged as a child. I try not to nag my husband, but of course you’d have to ask him how that’s going.

I do not want to nag my children. If they don’t listen after two chances, there’s consequence. I don’t threaten; I simply state what their consequence will be if they don’t listen.

SweetPea? She’s only two and a half. She only half gets it. She’s a different post for a different day.

But SuperBoy gets it. I remind him to get dressed in the morning and to make his bed. If he needs help, I’m happy to help (even when I’m NOT happy about it because I’d rather sit and nurse the baby instead of nurse & wrangle his bed comforter). But he gets to pick out undershirt, shirt, underwear, pants, and socks. He loves being in charge of his wardrobe. He also is the one to put them away in the dresser when laundry is clean so he’s amply familiar with where everything is.

He’s a squirmy boy! He wants to run around the room naked. He wants to throw his pjs off the bed and try to blind his sister with them. He doesn’t want to do the task in front of him.

I remind him once, and say I’m not going to remind him again. I inform him that if he chooses not to listen, he won’t be able to dole out the kids’ gummy vitamins and minerals downstairs before breakfast.

Then I follow through. I don’t get angry–I don’t get mad. I just follow through. See #3.

2) Stick to few requests.

No child (or adult for that matter) likes to be bombarded with multiple orders barked at them from multiple vantage points. So when I mentally want to tell him to do and not do about 40 different things, I take a breath. Remember he is almost four and a half. And then cut my orders down to a quarter of the original stack.

Why? Because he shouldn’t feel like I’m constantly haranguing him. He should feel in charge of himself, somewhat. He should feel in charge of his destiny, or at least underwear selection.

Case in point: I need to get out to the door with all three kids. Before that can be achieved, and it is an achievement, the bigs need to use the toilet, the little needs a diaper check/change, the diaper bag needs to be packed, and then outer layers need to be put on. And shoes.

I ask him to go to the bathroom, then come back and put his shoes and vest on. And then to stand on the back step while I get the car out of the garage.

I don’t ask him to make sure his sister’s shoes are where she can find them, or to run up and get an extra burp cloth for his brother, or rummage through the kids’ drawer to find snack containers and their ever elusive lids.

Then I repeat my request about shoes & vest & back step when he comes back from the bathroom. But he knows what’s coming. It’s all been laid out for him mentally. He likes to know what’s coming. One repeat–that’s it. See #1.

3) Follow through.

Never ever ever has it worked for me to bend my own consequences!! It sets me back like 10,000 years in the reliability department with the kids. And I know this. But sometimes I really want to be able to do something myself (go visit Daddy during the day) or (FaceTime with my sister and her kids). So I back peddle and despite him not listening or obeying, I let us do what I explained we wouldn’t be allowed to do.

Guess what? Ha! It’s a terrible thing. I’ve learned: follow through, follow through.

This means to not negotiate with activities or items I really want to do. Make it something inconsequential to me, something immediate.

Example: the kids are coloring. They’re squabbling over the colors because God knows a box with 52 colors is not enough for two children. I tell SuperBoy, please share with your sister and if she’s not being kind, let me know. I do not want you to shout again because the baby is nursing and almost asleep. If you do shout, you will not be allowed to help me pour drinks for lunch.

Well, you can guess what ensued. Screamplaying. Thus he was not allowed to help pour the milk for lunch. Not a huge deal, but for him, almost a life breaker.

He was super upset and bummed out, but he also told me later that he didn’t want to not be able to pour milk at lunch. He would share with his sister and not shout.

#Mamawin? I can only hope so.



  1. Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany on October 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    I love your discipline/parenting posts. Please write a book!

    • Natural Mama Nell on October 15, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      Hahah you are SO SWEET!

  2. Laurel on October 18, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Clicked through some of your older posts on disciplining…you’ve got some golden nuggets in there! I’m really appreciating your 12 Survival Tips for 2 kids and under. We’re there right now and I’m with you on ALL of those.

  3. Amanda on October 20, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Love your opinions because it’s obvious you always try to respond with as much virtue as possible in turn fostering virtue! It’s a gift of a perspective and desire to have! Going to click on the other little gems you shared. 🙂

    • Natural Mama Nell on October 23, 2014 at 10:13 pm

      Thank you, Amanda! It’s so hard somedays to not treat him like an adult and just snap at him!!!! And sometimes I do. But it helps me to remember he will act how I act!