I have a 4-year-old son who although can be very kind, thoughtful and lovely to be around, exhibits difficult behavior at home and at school which I think are related to power struggles and control.

When asked to do something he does not want to do, such as tidy up, get ready for school, wait in line at the park etc., he runs away and gets very angry.

He'll go an find something to hide behind or under and he'll shout at us, things like, "You're not coming to my birthday party.", "I'm going to throw your laptop in the bin then!", or "I don't care!". He'll pull the most angry faces and get himself really worked up.

Trying to gently coax him out of the situation only agitates him more. Obviously, shouting at him to stop is not and has never been an option. Ignoring him does work, but it can take a while. When he's ready he'll snap out of it and come crying to you.

The problem is worse at school or when out shopping or at a restaurant, because ignoring him is not really an option when the environment is not safe to leave him. For example, at school he may not want to come in from playtime, so when told to do so he will run away, hide, get angry and shout at the teacher. The teacher then really struggles to get him out of the situation and therefore it is worse.

Here's an example of something that happened this morning. It was cold outside, so he asked to wear his gloves, which I got for him. When we arrived at school he said he wanted to leave his gloves on, not put them in his bag. I said, no you can't leave your gloves on, you can put them in your bag and wear them at playtime. That was a trigger for him "Well I'm not going to school then. I'm keeping them on! I hate everybody! I don't want any friends! No one's coming to my birthday party!" - he promptly ran off and hid behind a wall, cue ten minutes of me following him round trying my best to keep my temper and coax him back. In the end I had to leave him and go to work hoping the teacher would be able to get him inside.

He's not tantrumming, he's not even crying. He's simply running away, shouting and angry.

When left alone to stew, it will eventually lead to tears and after that he'll be more manageable until the next time.

It seems to me it's all about power with him. Today he wasn't keen on going back to school after the holidays. He had also made a deal with himself that he would go if he could wear his gloves, so he had created the terms to which he would control the situation.

When challenged he exhibits this behavior. He does similar things when challenged by other children. For example if he is playing on his own and another child comes over to him, he will happily play as long as it's his game, on his term. The second the other child changes the rule, he gets angry and runs away and we're in this situation again.

I need to know how to manage these little episodes to firstly manage them effectively so there is a positive outcome, and secondly work my way towards stopping them from happening in the first place.

  • Have you tried giving him two choices that are actually the same? For example, "you can choose to either go inside and take off your gloves, or you can take your gloves off and go inside"? This style of choice worked for my niece Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 14:08
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    Frankly I would just let him wear his gloves! I wouldn't worry too much about trying to civilize him just now. The main goal is to keep him out of the emergency room. Everything else is icing on the cake! I suggest you make an appointment to observe an hour of school, in the middle (not right after it starts, and not right before it ends). It could be helpful to find out if school is a stressor for him. Bottom line, pick your battles, try not to draw a line in the sand if at all possible. Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 2:16

2 Answers 2


Wow, my son (almost 4) does the EXACT same thing, including the verbal outbursts (almost word for word!). It is tough. One thing that really works for me is to give him the illusion of control, usually by making things appear to be a race/game. If he doesn't want to go upstairs to take a bath I'll say that "I'm racing you up the stairs and you are about to lose!" By the time he gets up the stairs he is usually in "bath mode" and doesn't fight it. Or "better pick up your toys, I'm picking them up faster than you!"

As for the verbal outbursts, I put soap in his mouth ONCE after he said things like wanting to hit me and make me cry. Now just the mention of it stops him from continuing with verbal threats. Not sure how you view this physical form of punishment but it worked fairly well with my son.


I know four year olds can be difficult. I raised four children of my own, and now have a four year old grandson that I live with full time and watch for my daughter after pre Kindergarden. He does the same thing your child does. But, only to my daughter. He does it to kids and teacher's aides at school, but not to the teacher.

My thoughts as to why... Consistency in your expectations of your child. His perception of your confidence in his abilities as a "big boy", and his emotional development as it pertains to his understanding of different levels of emotions. Feelings and his ability to recognize and express frustration. It wasn't until my fourth child that I realized teaching your children that there are many more emotions beyond happy, sad, and angry. Four year olds are often frustrated.

We often think our children do not have a care in the world... Not true. At this age, the world around them starts becoming very large. It is new and frightening and exciting and they are small and curious and apprehensive. And you want them to be a big kid and stay a baby. See where I am going with that? Do you allow your child to get himself dressed? I don't mean pick his wardrobe, but button buttons and zip zippers. Or decide which vegetable to serve with dinner? Do you allow him to help prepare? Set the table?

Do you and your family have a daily routine? This is actually very important. I believe your child is showing this behavior as a means of gaining control. Not necessarily trying to control you, probably not about you, since he acts this way to others. Maybe he feels anxiety, and has less confidence in himself than he should.

Please, avoid bribery. That is not getting what you wan through effective parenting. You do not want to have to bribe a 15 year old not to sneak out, or drink. Everything you do now, will affect your lives in the future. Good habits now, less problems later. This is not a power struggle. Your child is asking for validation of his abilities. Avoid using terms like "good boy or bad boy" "you are naughty" etc. Try instead to get him to see that the outcome he desires can be achieved only through his ability to make a positive choice or a negative choice. Understanding natural consequence, will help you instill the ability for him to understand it as well.

If you are always rushing through getting dressed, having breakfast, getting to daycare or school, and doing everything for him, in an attempt to save time, hassle, and your sanity in the morning, you are not helping him achieve the independence he needs to feel in control of his own person.

Remember, the behaviors you describe are symptoms of a deeper need, and getting answers to the symptoms may work today. And I'm sure there will be many posts addressing your symptoms. Mine is trying to address the underlying cognitive development of your tiny human. His needs. His future. For when you have to let him fly away from home, and he has to get along with others that most certainly were raised differently than he was.


Consider the above free course in child family and community. I hope I have given you useful information. You are a good mother. You asked for help. That's a good mother. Parenting can be difficult. It's ok.

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