Q&A: why do 4-year-olds suck so much?

Melanie writes:

"Why do 4-year-olds suck so much? My daughter is like a mini-tyrant who throws a tantrum every time I say anything. A-ny-thing. I offer her food--she freaks out. I tell her I love her--she freaks out. It's making me feel like a crap mother. The only "good" thing is that all the other kids in her class are doing the same thing. All the moms hang around after dropoff and just complain about how mean our kids are now. Why? And how long is this going to last?"

So publishing this letter is completely self-serving. My own 4-year-old is also acting like this, to a certain extent. It's definitely some Jekyll and Hyde behavior, because he can be the funniest, sweetest, most loving little sprite, but then in an instant he just wigs out at some imagined or minor injury.

It's like living with one of the Real Housewives.

I remember when my older son was going through this. It was milder with him (because of his personality), but I absolutely noticed the moodiness and a sort of brittle quality to him and the other kids in his class.

The other thing I noticed (and the other parents noticed, too) that made me think about what was going on developmentally was how weird the kids got about social things. Birthday parties were crazy, because the kids would get all excited, and then at the last minute scream and cry that they didn't want to go. It seemed like they were becoming aware of themselves as social beings, and this was stressing them out.

So I wonder if this isn't part of it--the boundaries. In order to establish and enforce their own boundaries, which are confusing the heck out of them, they need something to push (flail wildly) against. And that's you.

Now, bear in mind that this is all just out of my head (ahem) based on observing two sets of kids go through this. But we'd all probably do well to get the Ames & Ilg book on 4-year-olds ("Wild and Wonderful") to see what they observed with hundreds of kids.

Now, what I do know is that this phase doesn't last forever. And it really has nothing to do with you--you just bear the brunt of it because you're the one your child feels most comfortable with. So if you can try to stay above it and know that it's something your kid is trying to work out, and not a battle that you have to emotionally invest in, you might be able to come out of it with less scarring.

Tales of 4-year-olds? Tales of run-ins with 4-year-olds? Assurance that 4-year-olds do grow up and become less prickly?