9 Moms Share How They Survived The Formidable Fours

I was warned about the "terrible twos," but my son's second year of life honestly wasn't that bad. Then came the "threenager threes," and I made my way through that phase relatively unscathed. So, crisis averted, right? Wrong. Now I'm knee-deep in what's known as the "formidable fours," (often called a much more, well, "colorful" term), and there's no end in sight. For better or worse, though, I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share how they survived the formidable fours and received not only some great advice, but some much-needed hope.

My son has only been 4-years-old for five months, and I'm already at the end of my proverbial rope. When I ask my son to do a thing, he ignores me and then spins in a circle until he gets dizzy. When I ask him to do a thing for the second time, he ignores me again and starts playing with his cars. He will finally acknowledge my third request, only to run away from me entirely. That's not all, folks. Sometimes, when I ask a question, my son proceeds to ask, “why?” until my very soul implodes. Apparently the tender age of 4 is when kids start to become more defiant. They push boundaries, try to get away with behaviors they know are wrong, and generally drive their parents up a wall. Yay.

There is hope, though. As with any other aspect of parenting, you're rarely, if ever, the only mom who is struggling to adjust to a new milestone. So with that in mind, and because we all need help from our village every now and then, here's how a few other moms survived the formidable fours. Godspeed, mom.

Miriam, 33

“[My son] was the sweetest 2-year-old in the whole world. Three’s were a bit tough, but nothing compared to this year. We still have our days, but he is definitely getting better. For a long time there I thought I had broken him forever. They definitely learn a lot from seeing how the parent deals with stressors, so I had to relearn and rethink three times how I was dealing with everyday stuff. Breathing techniques and lots of speaking in a low and calm voice helps. Not screaming is definitely hard for any parent I think, especially after spending hours non-stop with a crying, whining toddler. Time outs are needed with [my son]. He has to say why he was sorry every time. If he is being defiant, then I simply start taking toys away or he will loose play time with friends or no Wild Kratts for that day.”

Lindsay, 36

“Definitely pick your battles and give choices when appropriate. My kid would never let me dress him at that age, so I’d let him pick between two shirts and two pants, etc. His teachers probably thought I was blind because he wore said shirts to school backwards for a solid month, but they were clean shirts so I let him win the backwards battle.”

Sara, 35

“I need to read this for ideas with my 4-year-old. Lately it has been helping us to focus on finding mutually agreeable solutions when we are at odds over something. I will share my perspective and see if he can come up with solutions (‘I do not want you bring that bucket in the house because that will make the floor slippery. I see you want to play inside. What can we do to solve this problem?’) and lots of replaying issues after the fact to discuss how it went and what we could do differently next time. Age 4 is something!”

Kelly, 39

“I spend a lot of time asking my 4-year-old if she will help me with ‘x’ instead of telling her to do it or that I'm going to do it. For example, ‘Will you help me find your shoes so you can get them on?’ or ‘Will you help me clean the table by bringing your dish to the sink?’ or ‘Will you help me wash your hair by handing me the soap?’ I also almost always try to respond to her seemingly out-there requests with something like, ‘Wow! That's a really interesting idea.’ or ‘You have such a great brain to think of an idea like that!’ before shooting it down with at least four logical ‘mom’ reasons. No, I don't always shoot her ideas down... just 85 percent of the time right now.”

Nathalie, 33

“I put her in time out and after I ask her why she had to be on time out to make sure she understands.”

Penny, 30

“I found that really trying to see things things from their perspective helped me to help them a lot more. I understand the feeling of wanting to do things the way I want to do them, and could only imagine how frustrating it had to be to always be on someone else's schedule. I tried to always explain what we were doing and why. I gave lots of warning for things, like, ‘We have five more minutes of fun at the park and then we are going home to eat some yummy lunch!’ Which gave them a heads up, something to look forward to and prevented tantrums about leaving.

I tried to always give my kids something to do instead of only telling them what not to do, like, 'Can you please use your inside voice? Or you can go outside to play with your outside voice. When you are loud inside, it hurts my ears.’ Instead of, ‘Stop screaming!’ Which gave them more details. A reason why and what they could do about it. I tried to give them lots of options, where possible. They got to pick between two or three things, like what shirt to wear, what kind of tea to drink, or what kind of fruit they wanted for snack. And finally, whenever they were upset, I tried to validate their feelings but still explain why something was happening, like, ‘I know you are sad that we have to leave, but we have to go home so we can see Daddy now and we will see our friends again very soon!’"

Katie, 36

“[For me it’s] lots of coffee, mommy and daddy time, Bible time, time away from the house with the kids, movie time instead of nap time, 'school time', lunch choice and they get to make it with minimal mommy help, and bath time.”

Jamie, 35

“Both of mine — currently 6 and 4 — got way too clever around age 4. On top of that, they still have that baby-esque cuteness. So it’s basically like if Sherlock Holmes and an Instagram-famous Pomeranian got spliced: between their wiles and charm they could have anything they want, but it’s up to you to make sure they don’t lest they grow up to be an entitled garbage person.”

Matea, 30

“Here is what I have tried this far, with more or less success: I give my 4-year-old newly-became-brother, been-traveling-for-a-month child as much choice as I can. I try to keep in mind all the things he is dealing with, all the emotions he can’t yet deal with, and afford him some control over his life. Basically it looks like this: ‘Do you want to wear this ____ or that?’ He has to wear something, he can choose which one. Or: ‘Pick two toys to bring along.’ ‘What do you think baby needs (when baby cries)?’ He loves feeling useful, we even let him pay with his own money, put in coins for parking, pack his suitcase, etc.”