Now, my son is five and a week ago we were in a store and he walked alongside the cart. He did not pick up every little thing he saw, nor did he run away from me. He listened when I said he could pick out one thing to buy, and when his 2 year old sister was screeching her head off in a complete tantrum, he offered to help me load the items onto the belt to pay for them. Wow. Never saw this maturity coming so quickly after the tumultuous twos, threes and fours! I'll take it!
I wrote about those tough Terrible Twos here:
And the Tumultuous and Thriving Threes here:
So, now with the Fours. We've just gotten through those now that my son is five. I'm calling these the Fearless and Fun Fours. It's all about doing what they want, when they want, however they want. They were all about the rules at age three, you HAD to follow rules. Or else. But then age four comes along and is all like "what rules? I MAKE my own rules." It's kind of cute. Except for when they are doing what they want and it's not super cute anymore.
Overall though, four wasn't that bad. It was FUN. It was all about learning and seeing what my son knew. He surprised us so much the past year with learning new things. We were past the terrible hitting phase. Past the potty training, even to the point where he'd just tell us he had to go and go himself. What?! We were past the "he got another time out at school today" phase. We'd pick him up and it was like "great day, all is well, perfect guy here!" What?!
Things just seemed to settle in a bit more. The first half of four was still like the threes, kind of all over the place with great moments and challenging behavior. However, the second half of four was full of watching him grow into this little man who now is the Big Five. Pretty cool.
I asked moms in the Mommy Stories Facebook group what they recall from age four. I LOVE what these moms said:
"4 is a great year! Very independent. I feel it is the age that sets apart the 'toddler'-ness to the 'little kid'-ness. So very bitter sweet. They are very independent, inquisitive, and take more initiative." - Jessica
"Needing praise. Jealous of sibling so one on one activities helped. I find moody when bored so pull out arts and crafts often, they want to learn and play a lot."-Cassie
Here are a few tips for getting through and even enjoying the Fearless and Fun Fours:
- Remind them of the rules. They like to be in charge at age four. They are fearless, after all, they can do what they want. So remind them of rules when you're going places. Set the expectations out there clearly. We play a game when we're going into the doctor's office, church, grocery store, library, etc. where I'd say "OK what type of behavior do I want to see in here today? Do I want to see yelling and running around? Should we just take whatever food we want off the shelves in the store or wait patiently and ask for things we might like? Do we use a big loud voice like this or a quiet voice like this?" It's a game, they laugh. My son always gets the answers right. It's helped tremendously when we go into stores or other locations. Just a quick reminder as I'm parking the car helped.
- Give them opportunities to be in charge. I let my son do more chores around the house the second half of age four, because he loves helping out. Kids at age 4 want to be appreciated, to feel like they are the boss, like they contribute. So my son washes our chairs and table, he sets the table at night and puts his dishes away in the sink. He unloads the dishwasher silverware. I also ask him questions I already know answers to like where could we put the milk in the fridge? He picks out his clothes. I don't care which shoes he wears outside. If you give them chances to be the boss, like 4 year olds SO desperately want, they are more likely to cooperate with you on times when you can't have them making the decisions.
- Be careful what you say. They hear , see, observe and take in EVERYTHING when they want to or if it sounds exciting. No more are the days where you can talk in front of them about gifts or other things. They understand it all now.
- They may look bigger, but they still need you. This is a tricky one, since four year olds just want to have a chance to do it all themselves, act like they are fine without you… but inside their growing taller bodies is still a little kid. They can't do it all themselves. Help to make their world more accessible to them by putting things at their level and allowing them choices when you can. Still remember they will have big emotions sometimes and appear to be like a little toddler again when crying, they need their mama at this point. Make sure you leave plenty of time to go places, do things, get ready, etc. They want to do it all themselves, which means you'll need extra time to help them do things independently so that you both don't get frustrated or lose patience.
- Where are your ears?! I swear I've said my son's ears fell off a zillion times in the year of four. It's like he cannot hear me. We even had our son's ears checked in the beginning of the fourth year because I swore he was not hearing anything we were asking him to do. I realized later this is just how fearless four year olds act. They are in charge, not you. They have a mission, an agenda, a big plan. You can't get in the way of that. Plus, they've heard all you've had to say the last few years, they get it now, leave them alone. :) What helped me here was to stop nagging, to stop saying things a zillion times when in another room. Go to the room they are in, get on their level and make sure they are looking at you, even ask them to look at you for a second, then say what you need to say. Talking from downstairs when they are upstairs, threatening to take away a toy or something isn't going to work. It's out of sight, out of mind for them. You need to put a little more effort into what you say so that you only have to say it once or twice instead of seven times ineffectively.
- Create learning opportunities. Four year olds soak it all up. They are intrigued by everything, how it works, why it ended up like that, what it means. They ask a lot of questions, really cute questions! They want to know how everything works together. It's awesome observing this level of curiosity. So create opportunities for them to learn. Keep lots of artwork out - my son was obsessed with scissors, cutting paper, stamps, staplers, glue, paint, markers, etc. at this age. He LOVES creating. We put all of those supplies on his level so he could get them at any time he wanted to. He'd be playing trucks or looking at a book and it would make him think up some creative art project to work on. Take them to see new things - museums, aquariums, new playgrounds, etc. Give them lots of dress up costumes to try out new versions of themselves. Four is SO much fun with creative play. Make sure they have a lot at their fingertips to dive right in.
- All about learning. They love learning their numbers, how to spell, write their name, etc. So make sure you are thinking about these things and giving them chances to practice. It's all about doing things themselves, too, so teaching them to use the potty alone without assistance, get their drink from the fridge, put their plates in the sink after lunch, put shoes and clothes on themselves, etc. These are good things to practice before heading to Kindergarten anyway so it's good to remember to give them chances to do that this fourth year. Keep lots of books around for them to flip through. Their brains are huge sponges at this time, it's pretty neat to see.
- Be consistent. Mean what you say, say what you mean. They are taking stock of what you said yesterday and the day before, whereas before this age four, they didn't really remember, NOW they do remember what you said. If you say you're taking something away or rewarding them, then do it. Incentives, positive reinforcement and sticker charts helped us a lot whenever we did have some negative behaviors happening.
- Story telling. Our son learned the art of telling stories and even lying sometimes in the fourth year. It was not the type of lying to avoid getting in trouble each time, but rather wild imagination type story telling about things that sound cool but didn't actually happen. It's a good time to talk about telling the truth, why the truth is important and how lying is hurtful. It's also very normal and developmentally appropriate for four year olds to tell stories, so don't discipline it harshly, but rather teach them to learn from the situation.
- Nightmares. The world becomes more real to four year olds. Hearing things on the news or watching scary things in movies - even things you don't see as being that scary to them - can stay in their brains and cause nightmares later on. Our son was up for two weeks straight multiple times in the night this past year due to being terrified of something. We couldn't quite figure it out, but we added night lights and Christmas lights to his room, slept on his floor a few times to help him fall asleep, put his music on repeat a few times, etc. It's very frustrating to have that lack of sleep but more importantly to not be sure what is causing the nightmares. I've read that it's quite common in four year olds to experience nightmares because of their wild imaginations but also because they are really learning new things in the world, which sometimes is not a fun thing. Make sure you know what your child is watching on TV and watch what people are talking about around him.
- Help them learn to problem solve. Four year olds are trying to get it all worked out in their busy minds. They can't often get it though, they need help in figuring things out. They want to do things really fast, too, which frustrates them when they can't figure things out as fast as their minds are wanting to go. When they get frustrated, get on their level, stay calm yourself, look in their eyes, and try to reassure them that you're there to help, ask them to talk slowly to explain what they are asking for. I have a big thing in our house that we say, when the kids say "I can't do it," which my four year old was saying often since he was trying to do things so quickly and couldn't figure it out. I always say "We don't say 'I can't,' we say 'I need…." and they always fill it in with what I'm looking for, "I need help." Teaching our kids to ask for help is a good life skill. They also ask why a lot… so it's a good idea to add in the answer why, the logical reasons for what you are requesting of them, as you state your request.
- Hey, where'd you learn to do that?! Surprises all the time with what they learn to do in year 4. It's awesome. My son was playing with Legos for the first time at a friend's house last month and he built these amazing cars and buildings. I was shocked he even knew where to begin making those things. He knows how to spell his whole name now, and count to 20 and beyond. He remembers everything. It's really cool watching your once toddler who could barely say a few words turn into this talking-working-planning-problem solving machine who is almost ready for school. This is the best part about four.
- Getting OUT there. Being four is all about staying busy, active and moving those feet. It's an awesome age for things like soccer or swim lessons. Our son did both of those lessons at age 3 1/2 and it was hard for him to listen, pay attention, stay focused on what the coach was asking, and to do an activity for a long time. Fast forward to the next summer, age 4 1/2, and he was one of the best kids on the team! It was a HUGE difference in how much he could focus and stay in the game. Age four is great for learning new things, being part of a team, and starting to realize the rules of the world, like pay attention while the coach is talking and wait your turn. Sharing the ball and being a good friend - great things to learn, that come from being part of something like a soccer team or preschool. Whether you are home with your child or not, send him out there to some group sports or lessons or even preschool. Four year olds are social butterflies, they like to get out and learn from their peers.
- Peer relationships are forming. I found with age four that my son was talking more and more to me about his peers at preschool - what they said, did, who got in timeout, who didn't listen to the teacher, his thoughts on their Halloween costume or the show n' tell toy they brought in that he really wants for Christmas, etc. Every day when I picked him up at age 3 from preschool it was one-word answers to tell me about his day, he couldn't remember what he ate for lunch or any activities. Then age 4 1/2 he was all about telling me every detail. As a school counselor who knows teenagers later in their childhood are against talking to parents because they say their parents won't listen or will freak out over things… I encourage you all to really listen to your children, and for me I've found it truly started at age 4. My son would get very upset about a friend who wouldn't play with him on the slides that day or about a friend who had time out and how he thinks time out is really bad and why is his friend acting up like that? Listen to this, offer solutions and coach him. "Well, next time that boy throws something at you, what can you do? That's right, ask him to stop and if he doesn't, then you go tell the teacher." This is where you set the groundwork for when he's in public school and encountering more situations with peers.
Resources about four year olds:
Overall, four is full of fearless activities and exploring. It's mostly fun, less challenging than the toddler years.
The hardest part about four for us was keeping up with our son's demands - he wanted to do and see and be everything! Also the hardest part was the not listening. It's very frustrating and you lose patience sometimes with having to ask something five times. What helped me was getting on his level, not be talking to him from a room away. Also what helped was not saying "I've asked you again to put your shoes on before we leave the house," but instead simply saying, "Owen, shoes." 1-2 words makes them less apt to tune you out with a long drawn-out lecture. Also, we had to practice the "one thing at a time" rule. I found I was asking him to do multiple things at once, which is a good thing for them to learn at this age in preparation for school… but take it slowly, tell them one thing at a time, then add another thing once you know he's listened to you.
Here are some resources for teaching your kids to listen more:
HAVE FUN! Next up is the BIG FIVE.
Wow, where did time go?! :)