Annette Nay, PhD

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Four Year Olds Distance Themselves from Parents
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Copyright 1999

Dear Annette,

My little girl is four years old. She is bright, beautiful, independent, fun, and acts older than her age since her other sibling are reaching their early twenties.

I have noticed since she has been four (for eight months now) she has been so much harder to please, whiny, a complainer, and always mad or grouchy. At first, I tried to be patient, and my friend with a four year old tells me it's just the age, but I am so concerned.

I have a baby that is seven months old, and I have thought that it was the transition of a new baby and all the attention he gets. Whenever my four year old is with just me, she is really good. I try to plan "dates" with just mom and then just with dad. But lots of one on one time is not practical. I can't always find someone to watch my baby.

I have also noticed how she is not as affectionate as she used to be, so I make sure to snuggle more and a hug/kiss before preschool etc. She is very cute with the baby and loves to hug her etc.

As I observe other parents with their four year olds. I feel different because she wants nothing to do with me most of the time. She only wants the cooler one to do her hair (like an older sister) or the friend of my daughter to drive her to school. I never make a fuss over it, I roll with the choices, but sometimes I feel I have a problem.

I try to plan way fun activities with her friends over, or for just the three of us. (Which always requires a sacrifice of some sort) For example, the three of us went to the library the day before yesterday (baby, my 4 year old, & me) and read books and checked out books. When her friend came over I made a snack and pulled out some old toy furniture so they could play school. The next week I took her and a friend to the park. When I am making dinner, I get out special ingredients so she can make her own special "dish." At night I sit down with her alone and play a Barbie board game about three or four times. I always read her books at night before bed. I try to give her the same lotion rub after bath time as the baby gets. I take her with me to drive the young women to an activity or for a YW meeting because she wants to be big with mom.

This isn't to sound boastful, it's to give you an idea of the typical things we do weekly. She is so negative and mean in her speech towards me. I send her to a time out spot when she acts in such a manner, or I tell her she cannot have a friend over the next day or I don't let her go to school etc.

Sorry for this being so long. How can I express in words all the little things that make me feel so "disliked" by my own daughter? I know she loves me, but likes me is another story. Do you have any suggestions?


Dear Mom,

Your daughter may well be going through the normal emotional developmental stage of a four year old. However, no matter how you try, there will naturally be some ambivalence towards the younger sibling for dethroning her and in unusual cases perhaps towards the mother for bring in an intruder into the home. Usually the child begins to via for mother's attention. That is unless the child is a four year old who is testing the world and themselves to find the boundaries and themselves in the world. She needs to distance herself from you to define the difference of when you end and she begins.

Characteristics of A Four Year Old

Emotional Development - Seems sure of himself, out-of bounds behavior, often negative, may be defiant, seems to be testing herself out, needs controlled freedom.

Social Development - Cooperative play, enjoys other children's company, highly social, may play loosely organized group games - tag, duck-duck-goose, talkative, versatile.

Physical Development - Skips on one foot, draws "Man", cuts with scissors (not well), can wash and dry face, dress self except ties, standing broad jump, throws ball overhand, high motor drive.

Intellectual Development - Uses complete sentences, 1540 words, asks endless questions, learning to generalize, highly imaginative, dramatic, can draw recognizable simple objects.

I think that your daughter will begin to show signs that she does love and like you as she moves into the emotional developmental stages of a sweet, adjusted five year old. At this point she has defined who mother is, who she is, where the boundaries are and who she is in the world.

Characteristics of A Five Year Old

Emotional Development - Self-assured, stable, well-adjusted, home-centered, likes to associate with mother, capable, of some self-criticism, enjoys responsibility. Likes to follow the rules.

Physical Development - Hops and skips, dresses without help, good balance and smoother muscle action, skates, rides wagon and scooter, prints simple letters, handedness established, ties shoes, girls small muscle development about 1 year ahead of boys.

Social Development - Highly cooperative play, has special "friends", highly organized, enjoys simple table games requiring turns and observing rules, "school", feels pride clothes and accomplishments, eager to carry out some responsibility.

Intellectual Development - 2,072 words, tells long tales, carries out direction well, reads own name, counts to 10, asks meaning of words, knows colors, beginning to know difference between fact and fiction-lying, interested in environment, city, stores, etc.

It is never okay for a child at any age to use demeaning, mean language with anyone, especially with family. You are right to use time-out with her. Just remember that time-out should never be longer than the age of the child in minutes. The child should know why she is being sent there.

We are always quick to tell our children what they should not do. When it is time to come out of time-out, take to discuss what could be done or what behavior is appropriate in the situation that just took place. Children need to know what is acceptable or they will continue to push the borders of behavior until we have the situations we have today where there is little or no respect of authority and where physical, mental, and emotional abuse is common place.

At age four, a child has her first opportunity to push those borders. Please define and hold the borders for your child. She needs to know where acceptable is!

If your child is still ugly when she is firmly into her fifth year, then there is probably a problem. Some children come with a temperament that is hard to handle, but with your child, this doesn't seem to be the case.

How To Get Your Child To Do What You Ask How To Get Your Child To Do What You Ask
by Annette Nay, PhD

Dr Nay's eBook is an informative parenting tool every parent should have to make the job of parenting easier and more effective.
Click the image for more information.


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