The Challenge of Four


Bean is four.  Seems like a simple enough statement.  But that is really code for, “Bean is four and so he thinks he knows everything, he questions everything I know, and he is fairly certain that the entire world is one giant conspiracy working to keep him in the dark about everything.”


Bean was a super easy baby. He totally rebuked the “terrible two’s” by being relatively easy and logical throughout them. He even glided through three with relatively few hitches. Don’t get me wrong. He has his days, and he has his trigger points. But generally speaking, Bean’s an easy dude to please. He’s logical and if you can explain things to him, then 9 times out of 10, he’ll work with you.

And then he turned four and he now defines “logical” as “only if it makes sense to me and I’m going to need a LOT of proof of anything before it makes sense to me.” So, there’s that.

Which is as fun as a wet cat.


In addition to his newfound belief that the world is conspiring against him and he must, therefore, as 10,000 questions to clarify a simple statement such as, “Put your shoes on, so we can head to the grocery store,” (why are we going to the grocery store? I didn’t think we needed waffles? why should I wear shoes? where are my shoes? what did you do with my shoes?  Why are you hiding my shoes from me??? Are you trying to keep me from my food, woman?!?!?!  WHY DOES THE WORLD NOT WANT ME TO EAT?!?!?!?!?!) Bean is also taking on some new behaviors that are making it hard to co-exist with him at the moment.

One word: argue.

Argue, argue, argue. And then maybe he’ll argue some more. And then he’ll need to make closing remarks on his argument.

Dude is seriously forgetting that I am the law enforcement, judge, and jury around these parts (excuse me while I polish my gold sheriff’s star…). He has a comment or remark for EV.ER.Y.THING these days. And there is nothing more infuriating to me than a smart mouth. In my classes, I eat smart mouth kids for lunch on the first day of school. And then I spit them out for other students to marvel at and we all then have an understanding that Mrs. Brown doesn’t deal well with smart mouths. Trouble is, that’s how I am handling Bean, too. But Bean is four. And while that doesn’t excuse him, it does require that I keep my head from spinning completely around when he argues or backtalks. So far, I am failing at this miserably.

I think the part that is most infuriating to me about the arguing is that he is only doing it with me.  Which means by the time Chris gets home, I’ve heard 5,681 arguments that day and when Chris walks in the door at night, I’m usually at my snapping point.  But to Chris, it just appears to be one little remark Bean made and so I am overreacting.  What Chris doesn’t understand is that the arguments come ALL DAY LONG.  It is beyond frustrating to have you four-year-old argue with you all day, but then it is almost too much to have my husband look at me like I’m the one acting out of line.


Another thing I’m seeing with four that I haven’t seen since he was a wee toddler is the crying. Bean now cries more than I do when I watch “The Notebook.” He cries if the wind blows and he slightly brushes up against something. He cries if he drops his toy and he has to bend down and pick it up. He cries if someone looks at him funny. He cries if Gracie takes his toy. He cries if dinner is late or breakfast is early. He cries if his favorite shirt is in the dirty clothes because he’s already worn it three times this week. Oddly enough, though, when he is in trouble, there are no tears. There are only smirks.

Which brings me to my third annoying habit of four-year-old Bean: the smirk. Bean smirks at me when he is in trouble now. He needs to sit down and talk with his father about how mommy feels about smirking boys. I believe Chris is well aware of my feelings about a smirk. We don’t see them much around our house. But now, Bean is doing them, and I am having to fight every urge to send him to military school for kindergarten. This is the one that kills me: I’ll tell him not to do something, he’ll give me the smirk, and then do it again while saying, “Look, mom… I’m doing it again.”


We very seldom have had to use time out with Bean in the past year.  He usually redirects very easily with a simple, “Michael, do you need a time out?”  But lately, we are back in time out with Bean a lot.  Now, I’m sure it’s really no more than any other kid his age.  It is POSSIBLE, I suppose, that I might be exaggerating his behavior.  All of this is to say that Bean is definitely going through a phase here, and he is definitely winning this phase.  I’m just losing my cool.


The only saving grace is that Bean is as tired of me right now as I am of him, so we seem to have a nice little Mexican standoff going on right now. I don’t see it resolving itself until his fifth birthday. Or until Nana or Grandmomma rescues him. Or me.
Until then, Bean and I will be right here. Sitting in time out.


Please tell me, is this a four thing?  Is this because I allowed him to grow up?  And, if so, could someone please tell me how to stop the growing up thing right this very minute?  I’d like my sweet boy back.

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29 Thoughts to “The Challenge of Four”

  1. Amy

    Katie, I hear ya. Four was hard with both my kids (now 11 and 8). And I remember the ridiculous crying! My daughter came out of it pretty easily by the time she was 5. My son did too, but now at 8 it seems like he is going through another round of it. More testing of boundaries, I think. At this older age, I’m finding I have to let some little things slide if I want him to respond properly when I’m trying to correct the bigger things. I could correct him all day long (and I have), but then he kind of closes off and, I think, starts feeling like he can’t do anything right, so he might as well not. It’s difficult navigating the waters of parenthood! I’m open to suggestions! 🙂

  2. Ummm, I think it’s a 4 year plus thing. My son is almost 6 and the arguing. Oh. My. Gosh. I almost lose it 600/day. I say, “You’re arguing. Just stop talking.” And he responds, “But Mom I . . .” And we go back and forth for 15 or 20 min, and my blood begins to boil. I do think that both of us being off for summer might be part of it. We’ve had almost no breaks from one another and need one soon. But in the meantime if you find a solution, please share.

  3. Kelly H.

    That is the f****ing fours. Somebody told me that when my twins were small. They said two was a breeze, three not too bad and then… you hit the fours. So right. Five is marginally better. Around six they come out of it in time for the blissful 2-3 years before the pre-teens hit. Mine just turned 9 and the past two years have been pretty great.

  4. Amber

    It is definitely being four. My little girl will be 5 in January and I am hoping things get better. Everything is a battle. Makes me feel better that I am not alone. Hang in there!

  5. Here’s the thing: if parents actually revealed that parenting gets *harder* as kids age, not easier, then no one would procreate. You’re doing good, mama, and your boy has a bright, active mind. Nurture him as best you can and I’ll toast you with my wine glass at the end of each evening. xo

  6. Bonnie B.

    Mine did that at 3. I would stop myself in the middle of an argument and say out loud “I am arguing with a 3 year old!!!” Ha! But you already know that, just like all those other adorable phases, this will pass. In the meantime, don’t be so hard on yourself for losing it now and then. It’s okay for kids to see the line where mom or dad loses it completely, because that’s what their aiming for anyway. Congrats kid, you’ve reached the outer boundary. Now go sit in time out…

  7. Bonnie B.

    Argh! “they’re” not “their”

  8. My 5 and 7 year old are doing similar things right now. Arguing and talking back to everything I say!!! With a heavy amount of correcting me thrown in!!! My friend has a 5yr old girl and is dealing with it also. My boys were not easy toddlers. Hoping this is a short phase…

  9. Kristin B

    HA! My brother and sister-in-law called the 4’s the “F-ing 4’s.” Both my nephews were *awesome* (hear the sarcasm) at 4.

  10. Amanda

    Oh thank goodness it is not just me. I have been really feeling defeated lately. My 4 year old is driving me up the wall with all the questions but you are right about the smirk. There are many times a day where I have to take a deep breath, turn away and count to 10. Glad to hear from the comments that they come out of it, I’m hoping that mine snaps out of it closer to age 5 (his birthday is 17 days away) than 6 or I might just have to check myself into a mommy retreat for a really long weekend so his daddy can see why I’m at wits end.

  11. It’sa good thing he is so darn cute!
    My 13 year old step-son is also in the teenager version of arguing everything and it is driving me nuts! Between the arguing and talking back, I am considering shipping him to boarding school until he is in his 20’s. I may be exaggerating too but my god, it is frustrating. I feel your pain.

  12. Meagan

    I’m pretty sure you just wrote an article about my almost 5 year old son. Thanks for assuring me that it’s not only us, and I don’t have to kill my son…or lock him in his room.

  13. Meghan

    4 is about defiance, pushing limits, and trying to figure out when there are exceptions to rules….and I hate to say, but the back talking gets worse as they approach and are 5. Because they are realizing more and more that the words they say can affect other people…….I hate smart mouths, too, so my patience with all of this gets very low, too. Hang in there! The arguing, while frustrating, is a great sign of an intelligent, thoughtful kid who wants to know how and why the world works!

  14. Michelle

    Again, so glad you posted! Henry (age 4) is Bean’s internet mirror I’m pretty sure. Henry does a few of the same things: argues a point to death, lots of questions and VERY emotional all of a sudden. Henry’s new favorite trick is when I ask him to do something he will bust into tears (real, flowing tears) and grab his stomach and say “Oh MOMMY! OUCH!! MY TUMY HURTS” then with more tears. (Daisy, 2, has also picked up on this trick and now tells me “I don’t feel good” when I ask her to do something- great, right???). I feel you! I think it’s a 4 year old thing!

  15. It is a phase that will pass only to repeat itself as soon as things feel “settled down” again until the child leaves home. The good news is, Bean is very smart. The bad news is, in my opinion, you losing your cool may have something to do with the smirks. I’ve raised 3 boys and hate smirks at least as much as you do. But when mom loses her cool Bean is in control, and control is very desirable to 4 year olds, and well, everybody else.
    Be a still calm pond, which Bean cannot ruffle no matter how big a stone he throws, and I bet he will a) be reassured that although the world may be crazy, it will never thrown his mom for a loop, and b) Mom is obviously deeper than he at first thought. Pull the rug out from under him. This works on children of both sexes and at any age.
    You are great set of parents. Never doubt that you rule the world inside the walls of your home!

  16. Dawn

    Oh my word, I think you must have a window into my house because you just wrote about MY child! Mine will even argue about the fact that he’s not arguing. Makes my head spin. I know nothing, but he has all the answers. I won’t even attempt to give advice, it’s just nice to know I’m not alone in my frustration!

  17. I am so glad you shared this! It makes me feel normal!! You are not the only one… and neither is your 4 year old. I have a very similar one at my house sitting in time-out right this very second. Sigh. Just thought you should know. =)

  18. HeatherM

    My nephew does this a lot. It started around four, and he’s 10 now. It has gotten better, but hasn’t completely gone away. Of course my nephew is a spitting image of my husband, and my husband still does some of this at 31 ;). In all seriousness though, my nephew seems to do this more when he is craving structure. He does NOT like fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants days, and so he has always struggled with these behaviors during summer breaks. He wants to know THE SCHEDULE- ideally days in advance. And if you deviate from that schedule, God help you. But I think craving schedules and structure is really just feeling out of control and weary of the never-knowing-what-to-expect-next. One other thing I do when my niece & nephew start with the 20-questions game is to turn the questions on them. If they ask “why is the sky blue?” or “why can’t we do this now” etc, I say “why do you think?” When they guess correctly, they bask in the reward and confirmation that they were right. And sometimes it just prompts them to use their imaginations. My nephew also LOVES science and I think that ties in with the 20,000 questions thing. We do tons of experiments and building projects with him to encourage that inquiry in a healthy way.

  19. Aunt Joan

    All I can say is he must be kin to his cousin A……she who shall not be named 🙂

  20. ally

    4 is awful, and im learning that 5 is not much better! Hang in there, unfortunately it seems totally normal and age appropriate…

  21. Lindsey

    Holy moly this described my 4 year old daughter to a T. I am SO relieved that you wrote this because I honestly thought I had ruined her somehow with my poor parenting? I am not a poor parent but she has me questioning everything. She has always been a good kid so this defiance also has my head spinning. I could seriously spit fire half the day. Anyway, good to know I am not alone. I can’t wait for this phase to be through!

  22. Bec

    I honestly think it’s a summer thing! You are spending alot of time together and I think you will see things differently once you go back to work after the summer.

  23. Michelle

    I think momiss up there hit the nail on the head with the smirking being a result of you losing your cool. Four is totally an age of testing limits and pushing boundaries and you’ll find this phase pop up again and again throughout their childhood. Right now he’s learning that things are not always black and white and that there might be more to it than he previously knew, and that words do have power. Every time you lose your cool, you’re giving him a certain amount of power over you, hence the smirks of victory. It’s sooo frustrating, but I agree: keep your cool and you keep the power (this works on adults, too). Best of luck!

  24. Michelle

    Oh, and to add: the smart mouth is a tough challenge because in recent years, it has become a trait that is applauded and glorified more and more in kid’s shows. Even Disney falls prey to this from time to time. Smart mouths hold the spot light these days and get the laughs and applause- they’re shown as sort of heroes because they’ve usually outwitted some (dumb) adult. It’s a very difficult problem because even if they don’t consciously realize it, this has become the new standard to acheive.

  25. Oh, the smirk. I am not looking forward to that.
    Aaron knows better than to let me see a smirk but I already know this boy is going to be born with his daddy’s smirking gene. *shudder*

  26. Oh no. Is my one-year-old really FOUR? If so, I’ve REALLY been fooling myself about losing the baby weight. But your descriptions seem scarily apt.

  27. Nicole C.

    Kendall is 4 and she whines, All. The. Time. About everything. Jake is 8 and fits your description of Bean to a T.Talking back is a big issue right now, and he always feels he has to have the last word. And the arguing, oh the arguing! Everything is “so unfair” or if he isn’t allowed to play video games he just has “nothing else to doooooo”……eye rolling drives me batty…..oh! And I kinda lose it when I’m disciplining him and he stops looking and me and decides to turn his attention to the TV or whatever is going on around us. I think what scares me the most is, this is just the beginning…his teen years are not that far off and about that time Kendall will be at the age Jake is now. Pray for me.

  28. You must know my 4 yr old because you just wrote a post about him… The crying and being emotional, along with the arguing and smarty pants attitude- I’m going batty! I thought 4 was supposed to be easier?? You are so not alone and I want my sweet boy back too!

  29. I am pretty sure you are in my house watching the same exact thing, because I could have written this post myself. WHAT HAPPENED TO MY SWEET BOY? The arguing, the smirking, the time outs. We are BACK at it and Oh it makes me crazy. You aren’t alone!

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