Are there terrible threes and fours, too?

Are there terrible threes and fours, too?
At this age, children tend to be less oppositional, but they still want to assert themselves.

At this age, children tend to be less oppositional, but they still want to assert themselves. They’re seeking more independence and are trying to understand why things are the way they are.

Around 4 years old, some children go through what seems like a teenage crisis. This developmental stage is not always discussed in psychology books, even though many parents talk about it. Among other things, they note that their children always want to negotiate, they say hurtful things and test limits.

Annie and Francis, parents to 4-year-old Charlie, are quite familiar with this stage. “Our daughter butts heads with us; she argues, pushes the limits, and, when she’s angry, slams her bedroom door like a teenager!”

At 3 and 4, your child still needs your help to learn how to assert himself, follow rules and manage his emotions.

Here are some guidelines to help you with your 3 or 4 year old.

He wants everything

Psychologist and psychotherapist Isabelle Filliozat explains that “I want” doesn’t necessarily mean that the child immediately wants the object in question. “Children use the verb “want” to express all kinds of other verbs such as “think,” “see” and “like.” And at this age, children still can’t situate themselves in time. When they say, “I want candy,” they may mean “I’m thinking about candy, I like candy, I see candy or I ate candy yesterday.” Instead of answering that he won’t get any candy, try saying things like: “Yes, you ate candy at grandma’s yesterday”; “I know you like candy”; or “You’re right, there’s candy near the cash.”

He wants to do everything by himself

Even if it takes longer, it’s important to guide your child rather than do things for him. Ask him questions to help him figure out how to do something, share the task with him, encourage his efforts and give him little responsibilities. A good rule of thumb is to leave yourself an extra 10 minutes for your morning and evening routines.

He doesn’t follow rules

Your child still has a hard time resisting impulses. He needs your supervision and your help to follow rules. It’s important to be consistent in their application. Your toddler will tend to disobey more if you slack off on the rules sometimes.

He’s driving me crazy!
It’s true that this period can be quite trying. However, screaming at your child or throwing things on the ground will only scare him. If you’re at the end of your rope, the best thing is to try to take a few deep breaths to calm down, listen to some music or do some exercise or any other activity that makes you feel good. You’ll be setting a good example for your child by showing him healthy ways to manage anger. It’s nevertheless important to make sure your toddler is safe by asking someone you trust to fill in while you take a break.

He negotiates

Your toddler acts this way to get what he wants, but also to understand better. “His logic is developing and he can pick up on contradictions and unfairness,” says early childhood education professor Nicole Malenfant. “For example, he may ask you why he has to wear a hat in the sun when you don’t.” In such cases, it’s always better to answer truthfully. For example, you can say: “My skin isn’t as sensitive as yours, but you’re right that I should better protect myself from the sun.” However, if your child negotiates to delay his bedtime or to have a third cookie, it’s better not to engage in a discussion. You can acknowledge his wish. Say: “I know you like cookies, but 2 is enough.” If he still continues to negotiate, you can simply tell him: “The discussion is over. I’m the parent and on this, I decide.”


  • 2-year-olds have a hard time controlling their actions, emotions and thoughts because their brain is still developing.
  • At 2 years old, your child becomes aware that he’s an individual person, separate from you. He needs to assert himself, make decisions for himself, make his preferences known and control his environment.
  • Giving your child choices helps reduce his opposition.