4 yo - not listening, taking forever to do things! — The Bump

4 yo - not listening, taking forever to do things!

I need help/advice with my DD, who is 4 1/2.  Sorry this is going to be long…

My most recent example is last night; it took 45 minutes to do things that should normally take 15 minutes after her bath. Between getting jammies on, doing meds (she’s on a couple for asthma), brushing teeth (oh, and then she decided she needed a snack), she was in bed over 30 minutes past bedtime.  Then she needs to get ice in her water, turn on her lamp, be covered up, say prayers, etc.  I love doing these things with her, but at what point do I draw the line between doing these things as bedtime routine, and her dilly-dallying to stretch it out over a 45 minute period?  I’ve tried starting these things earlier in the night, but even in doing that, they shouldn’t take nearly as long as they are taking.

The biggest struggle is it's just taking her FOREVER to do things that shouldn't take that long.  I ask her to go get her jammies picked out, that takes 5 minutes.  When it's time for meds, she's doing the "hold on mom, I need to tell you something before we do them" just to buy more time.  Or she needs to get her blanket first.  It’s always something. 

This morning my husband couldn't get her to take her meds because she didn't want to do them in the living room, she wanted to do them in the kitchen.  This was as he’s already kneeling on the floor ready to give them to her, she starts pouting that she doesn’t’ want to do them there…So it's like do we get up and follow her to the kitchen just to get them done, or tell her this is where we are, we’re ready to do meds, and we're going to do them here and now?

In the mornings, I’ve learned she likes to pick the color of her bowl, okay, I can deal with that, so every morning at breakfast I’ve just learned to let her pick it…but…if I mess up and accidentally grab the bowl for her, she gets very upset with me, refuses to eat from it, and then I don’t know what to do…do I get her the bowl she wants, or put my foot down and say “I’m sorry, I forgot you wanted to pick your bowl, but this one already has cereal in it, so will you please eat from it?” which I’ve tried and hasn’t worked.

On top of these things, we're also having troubles lately with her just not listening.  It’s like I have to ask her to do something 5+ times before it’s done.  I’ll ask her to brush her teeth.  She’ll stand there with her toothbrush in hand, not brushing, she might be singing, talking to us, going to get her blanket or animal she says she needs, doing anything except for brushing.  I ask again…and again...and again.  We’ve tried time outs for her not listening for various things and they don’t really work, if anything they make her so upset it takes us 20 minutes to calm her down.  Plus I struggle with what to punish, and to what point?  Like her meds, she has to take them, but I feel like I shouldn’t punish her for not wanting to take them…but I also struggle with not wanting to have to ask her 5 times before she finally does.

I understand she's strong-willed and wants to do things HER way, and I’m really trying to pick my battles with her and be more aware that she wants to do everything herself lately, but I feel like I’m losing control over situations lately.  I need help.  Thanks.

Re: 4 yo - not listening, taking forever to do things!

  • We have some of these same issues (I think they are common) and I don't necessarily have answers for you. Curious about what others say. But, I do think you are letting it escalate and need to draw a harder line. In the case of the bowl, I think you do need to say, "Oops, sorry, you can pick the color next time. Today you get blue because it already has cereal in it." And let her throw a giant fit and not eat if she's not going to. We had a couple GIANT fits over that same issue, but it quickly got better after a couple times as she learned we weren't going to switch bowls. Second, it sounds like she is not responding to "asking," so I think you need to do more "telling" and then do it with her right away. I.e. "Okay, now we're going to brush your teeth," and then do it together. The more she gets away with not responding to requests, the more she thinks she can push it.

    The med thing is tough b/c she can't just skip the meds if she doesn't cooperate. i would do the time out thing and I am not sure exactly what you're doing and why it's not working. We do timeouts if DD is willfully refusing something. I warn her, and then if she doesn't change her behaviour, then she goes in her room for about 5 minutes until I come back. If she screams, cries, kicks, whatever, we just ignore it. When I go back, we talk about why she had the time out and USUALLY she is more cooperative. If your DD is so crazy upset, I think it's b/c she's still playing you. If she can't calm down, have you tried just calmly saying, "Oh, looks like you aren't ready to come out yet. When you calm down, then let's talk. I'll check on you again in a few minutes," and closing the door again? It might take a LONG TIME the first time or two but I bet she will eventually get it and stop throwing as many big tantrums.

    Lastly, I have never tried this, but you could make a bedtime chart where she marks off each thing she does, and if she does it all and meets the goal of being in bed by a certain time, she gets an extra story or something. And if she doesn't meet the goal, she does NOT get the extra story (or sticker, or whatever) no matter how much she carries on. Good luck!!!!!
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  • PS One more thing--I have learned that at least at my house, bedtime DOES take much longer than I think it should. I think it just TAKES long with little kids, too. So, I'm sure that she's pushing it right now to be longer than it should, but also make sure you are leaving plenty of time. I never leave enough time and the kids get to bed too late, but that's my fault and I am slowly learning to start earlier!
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  • One thing that has sometimes works with my dd is to say "if you don't hurry up and get your pajamas on, we won't have time for stories" Sometimes that gets her moving faster.

    BFP 11/09 - DD 7/10 - BFP 8/11 - M/C 9/11 - BFP 6/12 - DD - 2/13

  • I deal with some of the same things. I think it's very normal. I often wonder if she is buying time, or if it really does just take her longer to do things. I think she has a lot on her mind and is easily distracted just because of her age and new things going on with school, etc. She asks me the same questions multiple times, so either she forgets or just doesn't understand the first answer. Or, maybe she just likes to talk about certain subjects and that's the only way she knows of to do it. That could be similar to not listening or not getting things done. They just have different priorities than us.

    So, I don't think it's a lot of actual defiance or trying to bend the rules. I think they just have short attention spans and want to do things in the way they want. They probably don't understand why it's important for them to get to bed on time, or to school on time, etc. 

    I'm a big believer in natural consequences as a discipline tactic, but in this case the natural consequences don't necessarily work (or don't affect them - like they really don't care if they are late for school or an appointment, whatever). If she drags in the morning, you could try waking her up earlier. She probably won't like that, so you can explain that if she followed directions more you won't have to do that. 

    I do think there are some rules you could implement that might help a little (slowly, one at a time) - like no snacks after dinner. If she can tell time, you could say no snacks after a certain time at night. And, just before that time ask if she needs a snack and show her the clock so she knows that in 5 minutes, she can't have one. 

    As far as the not listening, I have used counting to 3, and at 3 I pretty much force her to do what she wasn't going (not physical force). For example, if she won't get dressed, when I get to 3 I pick out her outfit for her and dress her, which she doesn't like b/c she likes to pick out her own outfits and dress herself. I also compromise a lot in this area, especially when the consequences affect me. So, if she won't come to the bathroom to get her hair and teeth brushed, I just brush her hair and teeth wherever she is. Some people may disagree with that, but to me it's effective b/c I get the job done and I don't have to struggle (and we get out the door on time!). 

    You could give her some kind of reward when you get in the car to go somewhere if she cooperates (or take away a reward if she doesn't).Maybe give her a special snack or let her read a special book when she gets in the car if she leaves on time. That way, the reward is immediate.

    And lastly, you could try making a game out of things she won't do. I should note that I'm not very good at this, but I have seen other people do it very effectively and when I've tried it, it has worked. For example, create a race at bed time, and give her a reward for finishing the race (a sticker on a chart or something). Or, set a timer and encourage her to get 2 or 3 things done before the buzzer goes off.


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  • My DD is younger than yours, so perhaps I know nothing :)  But we have dealt with some of the same issues and to me the key is: CHOICES & TIMER

    With DD her choice is to pick out her PJs or we will pick them out.  If she doesn't make a choice by the time I count to 10 in my head not out loud, I get to choose.  If she's dilly dallying about picking out her PJs we set a timer for 2 minutes (we use the LeapFrog dog Violet), so it plays music for a set time.  If she doesn't have that done then we pick.  Then the choice becomes you can wear what I picked out or go to bed without PJs.  

    I would do the same with teeth brushing, set the timer if she doesn't do it in 2 minutes you get to do it.

    The meds are a little tougher and I must admit that's not one we have had to do.  I would probably find some kind of reward in that case.  DD loves her LeapPad, but doesn't get to play it that often, maybe a few times a week.  So I would probably say something like, "Would you like to do your meds while playing the LeapPad or not playing the LeapPad?"  Is there something you could do like that, make it more fun?  

    As far as the bowl example, I probably would get her the bowl she wanted even if that meant washing two.  I make smoothies for DD every morning and she picks out her straw, one morning I forgot to let her pick.  She of course wanted to, so I threw that straw in the trash and let her pick.   Routine is so important to all kids at this age and she counts on getting to pick one out every morning.  Now if she picked out one straw used it then changed her mind and wanted another, that wouldn't be happening.  If you don't want to do that then maybe say something like, "It's mama's turn to pick out the bowl, tomorrow you can take a turn." 

    And I think your instincts are correct that time-outs are not really appropriate for this, besides what if she gets the point where she realizes that buys her even more time.  Then you are really in for it!
  • I agree with choices and time limits.  One last thing that helps with my DD is what the Positive Discipline books call "Action Without Words."  Sometimes I feel like mornings and evenings become a steady stream of do-this, do-that and it is annoying to me, so I can imagine it's more annoying to DD.  Sometimes it helps if I just shut up and hand her her toothbrush, for instance, and walk away.  She knows what to do, and sometimes not having the invitation to discuss and debate it makes the process go a lot more smoothly.
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  • i have 2 four yr olds so I feel your pain for sure. After a year of fighting over bedtime since they've been out of cribs & whatnot, I have lightened up a bit...they're pushing their limits, trying to take control of the situation,etc. I don't tend to be all 'this time will pass so quickly, enjoy it!' b/c I hate when other ppl say it to me but I have sort of taken that approach with bedtime and since I work f/t, that is my best quality time with them so I listen to their stories and might sing them an extra song or listen to a song quietly on the CD player or whatever but have certain rules/limits we stick to, like I will only read them the couple of books we pick to read together & after that they have to read on their own, and I will only tuck DD in one time (vs the 5 times she would ask me to if we didn't have that rule), we call it the 'final tuck in' but if she doesnt want me to do it right away I will come back in like 30 min and do it, and they can't be out roaming around, though DS tends to wander downstairs and if we give another quick hug & kiss he'll usually go back to his room and stay there. I just got sick of fighting with them all the time & trying every trick in the book for some easy quick bedtime fix. Probably not the most popular advice and some days I really get frustrated but while they are still napping at daycare & therefore really not very tired at 8pm, I am just sucking it up & dealing with it. Hoping it'll get better when they stop napping (it tends to be better on weekends when they skip naps).
  • Wow reading all this sounds so familiar. Three things to add:

    • One word requests: ex. "Pajamas". vs the long spiel.

    • We have a clock that turns blue at bedtime and DD knows that when it turns blue we stop story time so if she wants stories she has to hurry up. 
    • To stay in bed I started telling her if she doesn't stay in bed there are no songs tomorrow night. a few nights of threats and she got the message. 

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  • It IS a phase but do remember that you are parent not friend and it is our job to teach. their future boss wont give them a choice about when to come to work, to decide to work or not and their future teacher wont give them an option to participate in class or not.

    I know many of you will disagree with my thoughts but there they are.
    We follow the "Parenting With Love and Logic" approach which is all about choices.  The whole basis for this technique is allowing them to make mistakes while they are young and the stakes are low, so that hopefully by the time they become adults they will understand that in the real world there are consequences to your actions and often times there will be no warning.  

    The reality is when they do begin school and work they will have choices.  Is anyone being forced to go to work?  No.  Your choice is to go to work and keep your job/income.  Or stop going to work and lose your job/income.  Does anyone force you to stop at stop signs and obey the traffic laws?  No.  Your choice is to obey the laws and you get to keep your driver's license.  Or not follow the laws and risk getting a ticket or losing your license.  

    So when I say to DD, "Your choice is to put your shoes on and come to the grocery store or not put your shoes on and stay home with Papa."  I am preparing her for work and school.  She can either make a choice to put on her shoes and go to the grocery store (something she enjoys).  Or not put on her shoes and stay home (something she does not want to do).  How is that any different than waking up every morning going to work (something you don't want to do), but then returning with a paycheck (something you do want).  
  • My DD turns 4 soon and has recently started acting the same way. Things like picking the color of her bowl, I usually let her do it, but if I forget or just want to get it done quickly I tell her that her choice is to eat out of the green bowl or not eat breakfast. My DD is all about food so she always picks to eat out of the "wrong" color.

    Re: what room to do things in, I don't follow them around. They need to come to where I am and where  it's convenient to get things done. If they run around the house and don't come when called, I start counting to 3. My oldest knows that this means business and will hightail it over. My middle is starting to learn to respond quickly when I start counting.

    I give them choices on some things, other things are not negotiable. Like if they don't want to wear pj's to bed, I don't care, but they have to brush their teeth no matter what. It's not perfect in my house and bedtime can be quite frustrating for me and DH, but I think it's important to give them some control over things that won't affect anyone negatively. It makes them happier, and more willing to listen when we dictate things that are not negotiable. It is a tough phase, especially for the hopelessly impatient, like me and my DH, but we just take deep breaths and get through it.



  • aglenn said:
    I agree with choices and time limits.  One last thing that helps with my DD is what the Positive Discipline books call "Action Without Words."  Sometimes I feel like mornings and evenings become a steady stream of do-this, do-that and it is annoying to me, so I can imagine it's more annoying to DD.  Sometimes it helps if I just shut up and hand her her toothbrush, for instance, and walk away.  She knows what to do, and sometimes not having the invitation to discuss and debate it makes the process go a lot more smoothly.
    Oooh, thanks for the suggestion!  This sounds like it will work for DS, who is apparently be the male version of OP's child. :)
    DS born 8/8/09 and DD born 6/12/12.
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