Ages Four to Six

Disobedience in a 4-year-old?

QUESTION:

What do I do? Our rule is that you stay sitting until your meal is done (unless you have to go to the bathroom, get a fork, etc.), but I leave to go to the bathroom, and my 4-year-old daughter is up from the table (for about the fifth time!) goofing off during lunch. What do I do about disobedience NOW? She is a sneak, and when I turn my back she is into SOMETHING, doing SOMETHING she shouldn’t…about 20 times a day!

Answer:

Honestly, my answers will be of limited help to you at this point because I don’t look at my 4-year-old and think in terms of obedience/disobedience. By having labeled your daughter disobedient, you have assigned a negative intent to her actions. I see what you are describing as a normal, active 4-year-old and simply don’t have a problem with it. I expect my 4-year-olds to be up and down from the table. As long as the food stays there, I don’t mind. I don’t sweat the small stuff and focus on the biggies. If you are micromanaging your daughter, you are setting her up for failure, because any childish choice she makes is going to be viewed by you as disobedience if you’ve told her not to do it.

Four-year-olds aren’t concerned about the things we are. No matter what we do, we won’t get them to embrace our values on all things, especially in regard to etiquette and formal behavior. They are children. In fact, in Biblical descriptions, they aren’t even children; they are babies!

When I find my 4-year-old doing something I’ve told him not to do, I see it as a teaching moment and remind him not to do it. If I have to physically stop him, I do it without bother. Because I expect my 4-year-old to push the envelope, I don’t take it personally. Four is a VERY challenging year. Five gets better, but is still a lot of work.

At home is where I have the least rigid rules. We have very strong “restaurant” rules. At other people’s homes, they sit until they’re done. But at home, unless it’s our formal family dinner and we’re all sitting there, it’s no big deal to be kids. When we construct our rules around understanding their needs at different ages, we have better luck at gaining their cooperation. They can’t choose obedience at this age, but we can be working on compliance. “Working on” is the key. We are in the process of shaping behavior at these young ages. It’s much too early to be feeling like a failure. And, yes, I would encourage you put out of her reach anything that your daughter can get into trouble with or use to do damage around the home. She’s too young to be expected to remember all the rules.

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