Dear Kid Whisperer,
How do you handle an almost 4-year-old who wants to control everything? He had a friend over and I was outside with the friend’s parents. It started to rain, so we said we were going inside, and my son stood in front of the door with his arms stretched and said, “No we aren’t!” When we got inside, he took toys from his friend. I took him aside and said he needed to play kindly or we would ask our friends to leave. Then they went upstairs and played for awhile. My son and his friend moved every piece of furniture in front of his door including his mattress, bedding, books, clothes, and hangers. He said they did it because they wanted to stay together. I had him clean up the mess and said next time you won’t be able to play upstairs alone together. I just feel embarrassed that my son was such a bossy terror. Do you have advice?
-Jessica, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
You are giving your kid too much room in which to investigate the effects of his negative behaviors. As it stands now, he is doing lots of experiments through which he’s trying to answer questions about the world: Exactly what might happen when I am a belligerent jerk? What might happen if I take my friend’s toy? What might happen if my friend and I barricade ourselves in my room? The possible answers are exciting to a nearly four-year-old: My mom might get upset or angry or frustrated. I might get lectured or yelled at! The big group of adults might look at me and give me attention while my mom changes colors! Having a kid in your home who is trying to do these types of investigations is dysfunctional, annoying, and completely unsustainable.
It has to stop, and it has to stop right about now. Kids who are still using aggression by the age of four often never stop doing so, leading to a not-so-good life. This is a big deal. He does not yet fully understand who is in charge of the home. This is how I would show him if I were you. I’ll pick it up from the moment you (I) approached the door.
Kid: YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!! ALL SHALL REMAIN AND FROLIC IN THE GENTLE JUNE RAIN!!!
Kid Whisperer (calmly, with a smile): Oh dear. (Kid Whisperer safely and firmly picks up Kid, placing him out of the way of the adults as they step inside).
Kid: How dare you, peasant?!??! This is my house and you are merely a guest!!!!!
Kid Whisperer: (calmly, with a smile): Oh dear. (turning to the friend’s parents) I am so sorry that this may be inconvenient, but my son apparently needs to learn a bunch of lessons before he can have friends over. I am so sorry, but I am going to ask one of you to take your son home. He’s been great, and I don’t think it’s fair for him to be subjected to my son’s behavior. If one of you could stay that would be great, but I understand if you both need to go.
Kid: I HATE YOU SO MUCH!!!
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear.
If you have a kid who is trying to physically stop adults from doing things, you have a kid who does not know his proper place at the bottom of the social hierarchy of your household. If you allow that action by not having a consequence, you will spend tremendous time and energy “putting out fires” because he is doing the aforementioned investigating in a search for limits. He probably shouldn’t have friends over for several months as he masters the positive behaviors necessary for successfully hosting child visitors in the house.
In order to test them, your kid is going to get very angry when you set these new limits.
Better for him to get angry now than for him to do this with every authority figure he meets for the rest of his life.