Does Your Kid Have an Attitude Problem?

Preschoolers: Moody & Mean

Your 4-year-old comes home from a long day at school in a crabby mood, sprawls out on the couch, and whines for ice cream. When you say "No dessert until after dinner," he looks you dead in the eye and yells: "You're stupid, Mommy! I hate you!"

Brat Buster: Your child's back talk may be more an expression of the frustration he feels as a small child in a big world rather than intentional rudeness. "We talk about the 'terrible twos,' but 4-year-olds are challenging too. They want to be independent but often feel incredibly helpless," says Sara Grunstein, a clinical social worker in Berkeley, California. It's best if you don't respond angrily when he calls you a name like "stupid"; instead, remind him that name-calling is mean -- and hurts people's feelings. Then ask him to rephrase what he wants to say in a nice way.

The Big Picture: Behaving all day at school is hard work. So it's no surprise that many kids wait until they get home to let it all hang out. Understanding that moodiness is a coping strategy can help you keep your cool. First, make sure your child has had a healthy snack and isn't exhausted. Conversely, he may have a lot of pent-up energy from sitting still all day that he needs to use up. If so, go on a bike ride or blast some music and dance around the living room. Later, when you're cuddling on the couch, remind him that there's a rule against using mean words in your house. "A great way to communicate the nuances of polite versus rude talk to 4-year-olds is by reading and telling stories about other children's sassy behavior," says Grunstein. "Your kid will absorb the lesson without even realizing it."

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