An Obstinate Four-Year-Old

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright 2004


I have been with my fiancé for the past two years.  He has a four-year-old son and I have an eleven-year-old son. The Kids get along fine, but my fiancé’s 4 yr. old doesn’t get along with me. He does everything in his power to do the exact opposite of what I say; I am at my whit’s end. My fiancé works night shift and practically every weekend, so I feel like we have taken in this child for "me" to parent.

I feel like I neglect my own child and I feel like being mean to the 4 yr. old by constantly having to disciplining him. I tried counseling but the therapist was a quack!! I don't know how to handle him without being the wicked stepmother.

His mother gave him up for her boyfriend who is under investigation right now for abuse. So I know he has been through a lot, and having a hard time, but things are not easy for me, and I know that I am an adult, but this child is so defiant, I go to bed crying just about every night. If you would have any suggestions for me I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you,

A Parent


Dear Parent,

There has to be an united front between you and your fiancé as to how both of the children are to be raised, especially his boy.  There has to be agreed upon the homes set of rules and with every rule there has to be a consequence for non-compliance.  The rules and their consequences are given to the children, by both of you together. 

In this way there is no Mr. Nice Guy (parent) and both of you know what to do when a rule has been broken.  You simply state that you are sad that he has chosen to go against the rule and calmly give out the consequence.  Afterwards show an abundance of love or he will deem you his enemy.  In this way there is no favoritism shown to one child or the other, which is where the “wicked step-mother” title stems from.

These steps are given in detail in the article below!

Taking Control of Your Family

Since there is such a disparity in age between the children, it is not unusual to use different consequences for each child, so it is adjusted for the age and to take advantage of each child's personal likes and dislikes.  The best punishment (consequence) fits the crime.  When there seems to be no clear-cut consequence to fit the crime, use privileges that the particular child values the most and would hate to lose.  For further information, see  the article below:

Allowing Rewards and Consequences for Children

You may find that time-out will still work well with the 4 year old.  See the article below:


To better ease into your blended family situation see the article below:

Helps For Blended Families

Token Economy

Whether you are talking about your pre-teen or the 4 year-old, Token Economy may be just the ticket to influence the children to do what they should do. 

In many parenting styles, the parents punish for bad behavior, but completely forget to give a pat on the back to their child when he follows through on what he is supposed to do or does a good job.  Many parents take this time to breath and are thankful that their child is not getting into trouble, yet again. 

Good parenting skill hold that just the opposite is true.  Try to ignore the little stuff and praise the behaviors that you want to reinforce.  This can be done through Token Economy and looking for good behavior to reinforce!

This is already being done in many school classrooms.  When class members stay on task a number of marbles are placed in a goldfish bowl.  When they are bad some are taken out.  When the marbles reach the top, the class has a pizza party.

Youths drug and alcohol rehabilitation homes and in behavior modification ranches and homes, Token Economy if often used.  Points are given for good behaviors and bad ones take away points.  At the end of the week (for youths) or the end of the day (for children), the points can be redeemed for things that they really want.  Sometimes these can be for special activities, clothing, or privileges.  At home this could even parlay into one-on-one special time with a parent.

Token Economy not only acknowledges bad behavior but rewards good behavior.  It may be something you will want to implement.

Best wishes,

Annette Nay, Ph.D.




Here are some great books at major book outlets for helping parents get through their child's 4th year.  Understanding the child is half the battle. You may want to invest in one or more of these.


Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Annette Nay Homepage

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