Why is my four year old so mean to me?

Q: My soon to be 4 year old daughter is very mean....to me. She doesn't listen to anything I say, she yells at me, hits me, kicks me....you name it. She is the same way to my 2 year old son, and now he is starting to treat me the same way she does. I can try to put her in the corner, she won't stand up and she just walks right out of it like she was never there....time outs don't work. Nothing works. It's a different story when dad is around.

A: Dear sarah_brett:

You sound like you are at the end of your rope here. The description of the problem is clear--a very angry nearly 4 year old who is often out of control physically as well as emotionally with both you and with her brother. What is not clear yet is the cause of the problem.

Trying to punish your daughter into behaving differently will not work, as you have found out. What will help is finding out what is making her feel so angry inside and so mean, and to fix the underlying cause so that your daughter feels less angry and less like hurting people. It would be good to discover ways to interact with her that protect you from being hit or kicked, without adding to the frustration that you both seem to be experiencing.

I suggest that you and Dad find someone who can get to know the problems at home and can give you some advice based upon this understanding. You might start with your family doctor or pediatrician, or perhaps a member of the clergy who is familiar with small children. A wise old teacher or older friend or family member might have some suggestions if you cannot locate a professional person such as this.

In the meantime, trying to keep your cool and to provide an atmosphere of friendliness, kindness, and respect for your daughter's feelings would be a good beginning. Your daughter is no doubt feeling very frightened, sad, and lonely as well as angry and mean. She needs your love and support even when she appears to be pushing you away--in fact, especially at those times.

Elizabeth Berger MD

Child Psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character

Answered by Dr. Elizabeth Berger

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