If you have a four-year-old or are trying to prepare for life with a four-year-old, this post is for you. I was pretty unprepared for what to expect with my son’s development and especially how emotional four-year-olds are. There are times I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and times I’ve been shocked by his behavior. In searching the internet, I haven’t found much on how difficult four-year-olds can be. There are many articles on the terrible twos and even a lot on the threenager. But the fournado? Not much information. The internet pretty much expects that four-year-olds know how to behave like little adults. Maybe that’s true for some children, but it wasn’t the case for us.
I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as an age that is the hardest for every child. Each child is so unique and complex and will have challenges at different points throughout their childhood. Our son, Theo, was a doll at the age of 2. He was seriously so so good! Then, thinking that we had skipped the terrible twos and that it would be easy from then on out, three hit us in the face like a ton of bricks. And four? Four has probably had the most challenges so far.
Have a difficult three-year-old? <– Read this post.
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A Four-Year-Old Behavior Regression?
It’s time to turn the T.V. off and my twin two-year-olds and four-year-old all have a complete meltdown. My four-year-old is acting like my two-year-olds, what the what? It has to be a regression. It can’t be normal.
Oh, my friends. Not only is it normal, but it is also developmentally appropriate. I only know this from the many conversations I’ve had with moms who have gone before me in parenting a four-year-old. Here are a few things I’ve come to learn.
Four is the Age of Emotions
All. The. Emotions. When it’s time to turn off the television: crying. Hearing that we’re having chicken for dinner: screams of “No!” and crying. Not getting a hug from his sister: more crying.
It really feels like my four-year-old is regressing to the level of his two-year-old sisters.
How to Handle The Emotions of Your Four-Year-Old
I have a little formula that I follow when my four-year-old is melting down: acknowledge, empathize, correct, offer help, natural consequences.
Acknowledge their emotions: “I know you’re upset that it’s too cold to wear shorts today.”
It’s important to let your child know that you realize they’re upset.
Empathize: “It’s hard when you want to do something you can’t.”
Showing that you understand why they’re upset validates their feelings and helps them move on.
Correct: “It’s OK to be upset about that, but it’s not a choice to throw a fit about it.”
This might be the most important. Children need to learn that they can feel however they need to feel but they can’t act however they want to act.
Offer help: “I can give you a hug to help you calm down.”
Even if they’re upset about something that seems ridiculous to us, their emotions are valid. I always offer help with calming down.
Let the consequences be natural: “If you can’t calm down enough to get ready we won’t have time to go to the park after we run errands.”
There usually is a natural consequence when our children have tantrums. You sometimes just have to point it out to them. Theo hates being late for preschool because his class line leaves without him and he has to walk to his classroom with someone from the office. This is a great incentive to keep him on track in the morning getting ready for school.
It works really well to offer choices to Theo: “You can choose a pair of pants so you won’t be cold and we can get to school on time OR you can continue to throw a fit about not being able to wear shorts and you will be late.” Then I walk away.
Read more about How to Handle Your Emotional Preschooler<– in this article.
Not All Four-Year-Olds Are Emotional
From speaking to other moms, the emotional four-year-old doesn’t happen to every child. I would say it happens to most of them, but not all of them. So, if you’re now wondering why your four-year-old ISN’T emotional, don’t worry. They are still developmentally on track.
Why All the Emotions
If we understand the why behind our children’s behavior it’s easier to empathize and have patience. There are a lot of factors that go into why your four-year-old is so emotional.
Most four-year-olds are right in between needing a nap and not needing a nap. That sweet spot when if they take a nap, they will be up until midnight, but if they don’t take a nap they will be grumpy. I know that when I am tired I have trouble managing my emotions. I cry easier and I’m quick to snap. If Theo doesn’t take a nap, he’s tired and emotional. If he DOES take a nap, then he has trouble falling asleep at night and is tired and emotional the following day.
Oftentimes four-year-olds are just starting preschool, OR are being challenged academically in preschool this year. Preschool is a LOT for small children and it can be frustrating learning to follow different rules and consequences.
They’re Still Young Children
I think that 4-year-olds are capable of a LOT. They are smart and skilled and able to do many things, even things we think they can’t. However, they are still young children. They aren’t able to manage their emotions (at least 100% of the time!) and they still need our help in doing so. It’s an ongoing lesson.
If we give them the skills and help them work through these big feelings, they will soon have the ability to manage their emotions. I’m not saying that just because they can’t manage their emotions all the time that we shouldn’t expect it of them. Children will often rise to our expectations.
Four-Year-Olds Are Wonderful
Despite the challenge of the emotions, I love the age of four. Four-year-olds are also smart and have such wonderful qualities. It’s so fun to actually engage in conversation with them and hear their ideas. Hopefully, these tips will get you through the emotional outbursts so you can enjoy the silly and sweet moments with your 4-year-old.
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