Written by Doctor G

4 year old Jekyll and Hyde

My 4 year old is normally a very sweet boy and has great manners. BUT, if he doesn’t get his way he turns into another child. He screams, throws things, hits, kicks or bites…The other day I saw him punch his brother (2 years old) in the face. I took away whatever it was they were fighting over, but I’m concerned. Is this normal? If not, what do you recommend I do?

Jennifer, in Front Royal, VA

A: Like so many of our kids’ behaviors, this is normal AND unacceptable. Normal means that most kids do this. But, of course, we don’t get to ignore it when they do.

I am glad that you took away the toy or whatever your boys were fighting over. That is a great solution when our children are bickering. In this way, you don’t say who was right or wrong or who had it first. If you didn’t see who had it first, you will drive yourself and your kids crazy trying to “get to the bottom of it.” That was a great reaction to the disagreement.

The hitting, however, is a separate offense. The hitting will only stop if your four year old understands that he may not ever punch his brother in the face. That, if he does do this (or anything like it) he will get in trouble. Every time.

Just because he throws a tantrum when he’s mad, doesn’t mean that he isn’t a sweet boy that can have great manners. Those are terrific skills you’ve taught him. What an accomplishment to learn, by the age of four, how to behave in front of strangers and how to ask for things nicely. Heck, when I’m getting a massage and someone is bringing me a lovely umbrella drink next to a pool, I’m the sweetest, most well-behaved person you’d ever want to meet!

The next skill he needs to learn is to control his behavior when things aren’t going his way. This is harder! It’s so important, though, because every day there will be things that don’t happen the way he wants them to.

First, please understand that his bad behavior isn’t a referendum on your parenting. When he hits or screams or throws, all that matters is what you do after that. Everyone knows (well, everyone except a few cranky and vocal women over the age of 60 who like to judge younger parents out loud) that four year olds throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. By the age of 6, though, most kids have learned that this isn’t acceptable.

How to make that sweet day come faster? You (and your partner if you have one) need to decide on the consequences for hurting someone else physically. Usually some form of isolation (sounds harsh, right?) like a time out or other removal from the situation for a few minutes is enough to make your point. Give loving sympathy to the victim of the attack, and then turn back to your elder son and remind him of the rule “No hitting.” Then he needs to apologize for the transgression to the person he hurt. Once you’ve decided on the plan, explain it to your kids. There won’t be any warnings, if someone hits or hurts in our family, this happens right away. If you see an argument escalating, remind him of the rule.

Tantrums that don’t involve assaulting someone else are also natural. These aren’t forbidden like hitting, but they are not fun. So don’t give it any reinforcement. You can start by saying “I’m sorry you’re angry. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.” Then walk away if you aren’t in public. Give him the space and time to have his emotions out loud, then when he starts to calm down, come back and reinforce the control he is showing by not hitting and by calming himself down. Then try to help him find a solution to his problem.
When these reactions happen in public, try to safely remove him from the situation. He will calm down better without an audience (kids this age do feel embarrassment) and you will be able to do your best parenting if you don’t have to wonder what other people are thinking.

He has real frustrations, and he needs to learn socially acceptable ways to express them. This is not any more intuitive to kids than learning to read. A few of them might figure it out on their own, but most need to be taught. Some days I have to remind myself to “use my words” when I am confronted with an especially entitled or useless employee at a health insurance company.

Remember that you can show your son empathy while holding him to standards of good behavior.

From Stress to Resilience In Five Minutes? YES!

Get the Dr. G’s Stress to Resilience kickstart guide and in five minutes discover how to transform stress into resilience. Weather it’s your business, your kids, or you, do stress better!

6 thoughts on “4 year old Jekyll and Hyde”

Comments are closed.


How Can I Help?

A Little Bit About Dr. G

A widely recognized media personality, Dr. G is your go-to expert on resilience. Countless broadcast outlets rely on her contagious humor and illuminating stories to tackle tough topics. She is regularly seen on TV, as well as interviewed for print and digital outlets. Here, she’s answering your questions. Search for the answers you need, or ask her your question now!
Scroll to Top

A Newsletter All About Resilience

Sign up below to join Dr. G’s newsletter and discover how to ‘Do Stress Better’ and tap into the resilience that already exists inside of you.

Ask Dr. G Your Question

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Book Dr. G

Let Dr. G know you’re interested in having her speak. If you’d like to send her a message click here.

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

After pressing submit your forms will be sent to Dr. G and her team. You can expect a response within 1 business day.

Media Inquiry Form

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Insights to Transform Your Stress Into Your Resilience​

Please let us know where to send the Stress to Resilience guide and we’ll send it quick!