Babysitting advice for bratty 4 year old

I’m doing a favor for a friend, babysitting twice a week because of scheduling conflicts with her classes this semester. I babysit her 4 1/2 year old son and 11 month old daughter. I’ve regularly babysat the boy from about age 1 and the girl practically from birth.

The girl is easy. She’s a little fussy because she’s teething, but that’s cured with teething rings and baby Tylenol.

The boy is a different story.

He has always been a rather difficult child. Whether because of genetics (his father has ADD) or because of his excessive TV watching, he can be a monster. He can’t amuse himself for more than 5 minutes with his toys, will destroy anything he can get his hands on, regularly ignores me, and is generally a total brat.

He’s gotten worse lately, because both his mother and father recently remarried (other people) and had a baby within months of each other, so now he has an 11 month old sister and 1 month old brother who “steal” some of his parents affection whether he’s at mom’s or dad’s. He’s extremely jealous of his sister (and his brother too, I’d imagine) and will pretend to cry or hang onto my legs when I’m dealing with a fussy baby.

But worst, he is incredibly defiant. He’ll continue to hit me, take the baby’s pacifier, get into things he shouldn’t, and won’t listen when I tell him to stop. He laughs when I lose my temper (although he screams and cries in time out).

Bedtime is also a problem. He goes to bed at 8. About 7:15 tonight I let him know it would be bedtime soon, and put a movie on for him. About 7:30, I helped him into his pajamas and let him know it would be bedtime soon. 3 minutes before 8, I told him it was bedtime, turned off his TV, and closed the door. Screaming and banging ensued, for a full 10 minutes. And he can scream.

But yesterday I babysat too, with my boyfriend here for company. I asked my BF to put him to bed, and he did exactly what I did. “OK, time for bed.” Turn off TV. Close door. The response? “OK.” Roll over. No screaming.

It’s driving me nuts. When I got here today, the baby started fussing as soon as her mother left, so I was trying to deal with her while he’s climbing all over the couch, almost kicking his sister in the face, climbing onto my back. He followed me around the entire time the baby was awake, fake crying or “trying to hug me,” which really means grabbing my legs and almost tripping me.

I know some of his behaviors are normal for his age, I’ve been babysitting for relatives or as an afterschool job since I was 11, but I’ve never seen such a hellion before. I put him in time out for one reason or another a few months ago, and he crapped his pants to spite me (his mom warned me he does that sometimes).

The biggest problem is that he can’t amuse himself. He has a ton of toys, but can’t just hang out and play with blocks or dolls like my niece did at his age. If he doesn’t have a movie on to sedate him, or if it’s a movie that he’s bored with, he’ll either get into trouble or follow me and the baby around trying to get my attention.

What the hell do I do? When it was just him, it was irritating, but now that there’s an infant to deal with too, it’s just too much. I haven’t had to babysit the two of them very often, because usually when my friend needs a babysitter it’s on the weekend when the boy’s at his dad’s house. I don’t know if I can deal with it.

This is the key to the whole thing. Here go my two WAGs:

-He lost respect for you. For whatever reasons valid to this little mind, you are now labeled as someone not to pay attention to. Good luck recovering from that.

-He just doesn’t want the competition. Because your BF was caring just for him, he felt no need to be defiant and he just happily complied.

My 3yo is a bit like that (in a non-hair-pulling way). By himself he is the easiest kid to watch. When his sister is around, he is a bit of an attention hog (as in “daddy, I love you so much” in the middle of changing her diapers).

At any rate, talk to the parents. Let them know what is going on. They can either tip you on what to do, or decide to split the kids or leave them with someone else, or whatever.

I second that you’ve lost alpha dog status with him.

He’s four. That makes him just smart enough to make him dangerous. Can you ‘include’ him in the care of the younger sister? Ask him to be your little helper, because you know, he’s such a big boy, and babies are SOOOO uninteresting and boring? Tell him when he IS doing something right? Sometimes when kids are acting up this badly, the only way to get through to them is to do what they don’t expect you to do, like put down the baby and hug him until he stops tantruming. Then you can ask him to help you calm the baby once he’s calm.

Also: sugar affects different kids in different ways. Giving my No. 3 soda is like giving him speed, he’ll be babbling and climbing the walls, and he’s 7. We’ve cut down substantially on juice (or cut it with water), refined flour, and anything with enough dye to change their poop colors. It’s helped.

You might get some ideas from catching a few episodes of those Nanny reality programs on TV (if they’re still on). I actually thought the one with the English Nanny, Jo, had some very good advice for kids have similar behavior problems.

Can you offer choices? It doesn’t work for every kid, but some kids like the sense of control they get when you allow them to make up their minds about things. Of course, you have to craft the choices so that either decision is okay. For example, does he want to put on his pajamas first, or brush teeth first? His choice.

A timer can help–it puts the clock in charge. It’s not you who is saying the 10 minutes before bed is up–it’s the timer. It can also help kids with transitions, because they have some warning and can see for themselves how time is passing.

Although the TV is useful for you and seems to soothe him, I wonder if it doesn’t contribute to the problem–especially so close to bedtime. However, that may be a bigger problem than you want to tackle as a babysitter.

When my brother was being particularly bratty about not taking a bath, the babysitter simply put him in the bath with his clothes on. He was good as gold with her after that.

I’ve run across similar behavior as a single guy who dated single moms. It sounds to me like this kid is longing for a father figure. He may see his mother as being responsible for his father’s abscense and act out toward women as a result. Your BF’s ease in dealing w/ him reinforces my theory. Does he gravitate toward your BF when he’s present? Children perceive thing’s on a very basic, simplistic level and react accordingly.
There’s also the father’s new child, that he may see as replacing him. I’ll bet the the father doesn’t spend much time w/ him and/or if he goes to the father’s new home for visits, he has to contend w/ the new baby for the father’s attention.
My assessment shouldn’t be difficult to test out. You could make a huge difference in this kids life if you find the key to his behavior. He’s doing this for a reason. If I’m off then there’s some other thing behind the behavior.

Rather than trying to get him to amuse himself, get out the toys and start playing with them yourself. Then ask him to help you make something. He may just be looking for some company.

If he starts doing anything unacceptable while you’re playing with him, stop right there. Say “I can’t play with you if you don’t follow my rules.” If he does it again, take the toy and put it away.

Above all, tell him he is not to hurt anyone. Ask him if he likes getting hurt and tell him that other people don’t like it either. If he does hurt you, say in a soft voice “I told you not to hurt people,” and put him in a time out. Tell him he has to sit quietly for five minutes. If he screams, remind him he has to sit quietly for five minutes. Keep an eye on him the whole time.

Fang is now that age. One thing that has helped to keep him in line was to not issue warnings. The first time he acts up, or does something he knows he’s not supposed to do, then turn off the TV for the rest of the day. You’ve got to clearly communicate why the TV is going off in such a way to make it clear that it was his actions that caused this. “You took your sister’s passie, so the TV’s gonna have to be off for the rest of the day.”

Each time he does something he’s not supposed to, remove his access to a favorite activity. But this will not work if you do not explain to him why he is losing access. And remember: it is he who is losing the access, you are not taking it away. Four is old enough to understand that actions have consequences.

Yes, the first couple of times the TV is turned off, he will scream and possibly throw a tantrum[1]. You need to tough it out, and stay calm. If you get mad and yell at him he’s won. If you back down, he’s won. If you’re calm and consistent, he will improve quickly. But the first time you relent or back down, you will end up right where you’d started. It can be exhausting, but in the long run, it’s worth it.

[1] Fang has a “tantrum room”, our guest room. He can throw all the tantrums he wants as long as it’s in there. No tantrums are allowed outside the tantrum room.

Holy crap! My sympathies to you!! He sounds like a very sad child.

Here’s what I think – and I’m not saying “you should” do this or that, because I sure don’t know. But I have b/g twins who will be 4 in a few months and I’m a SAHM (which really doesn’t suit my temperament) so it’s all a matter of deliberate strategies for me and I do a lot of research.

IMHO, what this kid needs is a bunch of positive reinforcement. Rig the situation so that he has good choices, and praise him for being good.

When he wants attention, just go ahead and give it to him. He’s anxious for a good reason and desperate for a connection. Once he feels that connection (and it make take a week or two), he’ll calm down. I think. At least, that’s how it works with mine.

Second, do some messy fun stuff. Dig in the dirt. Jump on the recycling boxes. Let him bounce on the couch (hell, I encourage it). Pile up all the pillows and blankets and let him jump into them.

Also, wrestle with him. On the floor. Kids need lots of physical contact. Have tickle fights and pillow fights.

Silly games are ideal, silly voices, silly puppets, any kind of joking.

Make sure he’s eating. No sugar, no soda, no juice, watch the white bread. Peanut butter on whole wheat is ideal. Bananas are sleepy food.

Pick your fights carefully, and don’t worry about losing some. Build a friendship with him and that will be stronger than his will (eventually).

Also, don’t assume that because he can’t amuse himself he’s “misbehaving”. Kids just have different temperaments. Some of them play quietly on their own, yes, but plenty of others don’t. We often think that the first example we meet is “normal”, but it’s not necessarily true.

I was thinking, too, re: his sister – you could teach him how to make her laugh. He probably has no idea how to go about playing with her. I don’t think I’d encourage anything that involves physical contact, but you could teach him how to clown around and act silly for her entertainment.

Does he help out? Mine LOVE to be “helpers”, which usually means a task takes twice as long BUT it’s good for them. Have him wash fruit and veggies, water plants, fold towels, mop the floor, wash the bathroom sink. You have to do it with him at first, but eventually he’ll do those things on his own (I think). When he’s more mature, he could even learn to help out with his sister, dressing her and such.

First off, no more television. NONE! Like any activity or substance, some people can handle it and others turn it into a full blown addiction. I have one charge like yours - and television is his drug of choice. He’s not content to watch one show - he’s always begging for another and will not do a single thing I say or switch to another activity after he’s started watching TV. In my case, I’ve simply laid down the law that there’s no television until the afternoon, after nap time (which is when I use Sesame Street as a babysitter while I get dinner started.) But I had to cut him off completely for nearly a month before he’d accept even that.

Why would you think putting on a movie for 15 minutes will motivate the kid to go to bed without a fight? Of course he’s going to fight you - his show isn’t over yet!

I’d go two weeks cold turkey with no television, video games or computers. You’d be amazed at how many cases of “ADD” that cures. That electronic stimulation actually changes brain wave patterns and metabolism, and not always for the better.

Next, keep him busy. Write out a schedule like you’re a preschool teacher. Allow no more than 20-25 minutes for every activity, and then move onto something else. Yes, this is a lot of work for you, but trust me, you’ll all have more fun. Here’s some ideas to get you started:

8:00 - breakfast
8:20 - clean up, wash dishes together or have him help you load the dishwasher
8:30 - gym time. By gym, I mean large muscle groups. The playground, running around chasing a ball outside, talking a walk, etc. If you can’t get outside, play “Gym class” - show him how to do jumping jacks, run in place, sit ups, etc. Bring a whistle and get bossy in fun. Then let him be the Gym Teacher and boss you around.
8:55 - put away anything you’ve played with.
9:00 - small toys time. Blocks, lego, etc.
9:20 - clean up toys/diaper changes/trip to the potty.
9:30 - art - painting, markers, gluing random shapes onto construction paper/threading beads on shoestrings, etc. Plan 1 thing for the kid to make, and make a model of it the night before. “Help” the babies make their own.
9:55 - clean up art supplies/diaper changes/trip to the potty.
10:00 - snack. Have him help you make something nutritious - you cut up apples while he spoons peanut butter, for example.
10:25 - clean up snack.
10:30 - reading time
10:55 - clean up and put away books/diaper changes/trip to the potty.
11:00 - small toys again.
11:20 - clean up toys/diaper changes/trip to the potty.
11:30 - gym time again.
11: 55 - clean up again.
12:00 - lunch.
12:20 - clean up lunch.
12:30 - books again.
12:55 - clean up again.
1:00 - nap/music time. No one in my house is required to sleep. But we are all required to stay in our respective rooms quietly while we listen to some soothing classical music. We may get up when our CD is over (by which time most of them are sleeping!) Even if he doesn’t need a nap anymore, YOU need a break and are entitled to it! And those babies still need a nap, I’m sure.
2:00 - snack
2:20 - clean up. There’s lots of clean ups, huh? But you’re teaching them to clean up as they go, which is great, there won’t be a huge mess for you or their parents at the end of the day, and there’s two times an hour to conveniently change those babies’ diapers without interrupting your time with him - so he doesn’t feel like they’re more important than he is. Even a stinky baby can sit in stink for 20 minutes without ill effects.
2:30 - band practice! Get out the drums and the flutes and have a marching band through the house. Great for chasing the post-nap doldrums away.
2:50 - clean up.
3:00 - book time again. This will calm things down after band practice
3:20 - clean up.
3:30 - free time. If you’re lucky, this is when he’ll be both energized and a little worn out, but pretty focused. This is when he gets to play with his stuff without you. It might only be 5 minutes at first, but gradually lengthen the time. He does need to learn to keep himself occupied. And since you’ve been paying so much attention to him all day, he knows you’re not ignoring him.
3:50 - clean up
4:00 - snack. I know three snacks sounds like a lot, but this will really help the pre-dinner meltdown. And when I say “snack”, I mean something small - half an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter, 1/4 cup of goldfish or a small box of raisins type snacks. Small meals often for small tummies. And if they don’t want to eat, well, fine! Don’t force it, there will be more food coming soon enough.
4:20 - clean up.
4:30 - kid’s choice. What does he want to do? Chances are good he had a favorite activity today that he’d like to do again. This lets him practice his decision making skills without the pressure (or power) of dictating your whole day.
4:50 - clean up.
5:00 - cook dinner. Find ways to include him - carrying carrots or carefully, with your help, stirring the cold soup before it goes into the microwave.
5:20 - set the table. Teach him how and where things go, even if you’re only using plastic ware and paper plates.
5:30 - eat.
5:50 - clean up.
6:00 - small toys. We’re gearing down now, so nothing too stimulating.
6:20 - clean up.
6:30 - in the bath. Even if you don’t have to bathe him, the bath is a good way to kill another 20 minutes.
6:50 - clean up the bathtub toys.
7:00 - into pajamas
7:05 - bedtime snack.
7:20 - clean up/take vitamin/brush teeth.
7:30 - books. Read in bed.
8:00 - lights out. You don’t have to chase him into bed, 'cause he’s already there.

Even my problem kid works well with this sort of schedule, although I vary it to include different activities, the snacks and general rhythm of the day need to stay consistent for his sake. I carry a timer with me, and when it beeps, on to the next thing on the list. I even stole an idea from playgroup and made cards with pictures on them and stuck them to a Velcro board. Each card is one section of activity, so he gets to see that there’s a plan in place. When we’re done with Gym Time, we take the Gym Time card off the board and stick it into an envelope. This means that I’m not the bossy one - the board is. It’s the schedule, man! I wish we could keep playing Gym Time too, but the board says it’s time for toys! OOh! Wait, what’s this I see here? We get more Gym Time later! Yipee!

Always end the activity while he’s still enjoying it. Just like a long-lived sitcom - go out while you’re still strong, because then he’ll remember liking it, not remember it as boring and stupid.

I think there’s a couple of things going on here. One, this is a little boy who’s had his family ripped apart by parents who have gone onto new relationships and new babies. He’s trying to exert control in the only way he knows how, by being defiant.

Second, he longs for a father figure, hence his submission to your BF’s authority.

I think you need to keep him extra busy, for as long as you can, and get the boy’s father more involved with his life.

When you bring up this behavior with his parents, what do they say?

I also note he’s got a “ton” of toys. Try putting about 90% of them away so he’s not overwhelmed…and I second no TV.

Remember, you have the power. Firmly and calmly tell him what to do…if you lose your temper, he’s gotten the reaction he wants…your attention.

I feel a bit sorry for him. A lot of people see a spoiled little brat. I see a little boy who lost his family.

Good luck.

WhyNot knows her (his?) poop. Good advice there.

This kid has had alot of changes in his life: new baby. divorce. probably some preschool and potty training.

It’s alot for a little person. An adult would either go postal or lay in a fetal position under his desk.
He acts out with crappy behavior ( perceived and real) because his verbal skills are still growing. They understand far more than they can communicate. Keeping your patience while he is off on a tirade is crucial. Anger and frustration feed anger and frustration. Instead of screaming/yellling/wanna-strangle-the-little-shit " GO TO YOUR ROOM!" a calm reasonable sentance (always the same sentance whatever you pick) " When you are so angry, no one can understand you. YOu need to go to your room for some quiet time to calm yourself down, Come back when you are back to yourself." ( that’s a bit wordy. but you get the idea.)
Or you can say, “* Hey, would you like to see what you look like when you are throwing a tantrum?” and then go into a full scale over the top No-I-Won’t-Come-Out-of-My-Trailer Elizabeth Taylor* tantrum. I bet you a bajillion dollars that this child will look at you like you have grown a second head. Good times.

If kids can’t get positive attention, they get negative attention. ( Joey, don’t do this. Joey, don’t do that. and then a pattern is started. The flip side of that is the constant praise of a child is also equally harming and helps turn children creatures that cannot handle REAL LIFE criticism.)
Play with him. Read with him. Read out loud his favorite book. Color, draw, make some play dough ( no kid can resist playdough.) Turn off the TV and put on music. Lay on the floor and play candyland by yourself and talk aloud about your day and the poopyheads at your office and their awful behavior and how you couldn’t wait to come here and play CANDYLAND with him.
It is your opportunity to be the FUN part of his week. Engage yourself and there will only be winners.

Years of doing it *badly *is a good teacher, my friend! My personal…uh…growing edge :wink: as a caregiver was/is simply not knowing what the heck to DO with these little people all day. It’s one thing to get great ideas for specific activities from magazines and other people, but what I couldn’t do for years was make the flow happen. I’d be unfocused (or focused on the wrong things, like reading my own book, gabbing on the phone to my friends or, uh, certain internet message boards) and expect the kid to keep him/herselves entertained. Since I was an only child myself, it seems to me like I always knew how to play on my own, so why didn’t they? It was quite frustrating.

Then I realized why most preschools are structured - 'cause it makes everyone happy and it *teaches *them how to play - sooner or later, it even teaches them how to play on their own, if you do it right. That’s why after some time, I include a couple daily sessions of Kid’s Choice. I think there’s such a thing as overscheduling, too. They do need to learn to play alone, but they need to be taught how to do that.

Sure, you have the freedom and flexibility at home of throwing out the schedule if you want, but it’s much easier - for me, anyway - to make a strict schedule and then CHOOSE not to follow it, rather than to not have any idea what the hell you’re going to fill the next 12 hours with.

Not having a schedule means we figure out what to do as we go along, and when people get miserable and start throwing things, we figure out something else. It’s so much easier to figure it out one time and repeat it daily, and to have “something else” already planned and implemented before we get to the miserable stage.

And yes, I’m a she. I’ve got a few years of nannying under my belt, about 15 years of mothering and have been back to in-my-home daycare for the last 3 years or so.

My son was also like that as a four-year-old, but not quite to the same extent.

Kids will generally live up or down to the expectations adults have of them. If you expect bad behavior, that is what you’ll get. If you expect good behavior, and you make it clear exactly what you expect, that’s what you’ll get. As others have posted upthread, he’s probably not getting a lot of attention from the adults in his life and acts out with you because he knows he can get away with it.

What also helps is to figure out what non-TV things he likes to do that can be done together. Many boys that age like toys that they can manipulate according to their rules. Cars, tinkertoys and other building toys like Legos or Lincoln Logs, and that sort of thing will work. When it’s time to clean up, you can make a game out of it. Another fun “together” activity is a big project that the two of you can do over time, like one of those velvet posters you color in yourself with markers. Let him guide you on what colors go where, even if they violate all the rules of aesthetics. You can work on this for maybe 30 minutes when you come over, and that becomes special time that he will look forward to. When you do these activities, turn off the TV and music and give him your undivided attention.

I think it’s okay to have the occasional special “movie night” as long as you watch with him. Whatever you do, don’t use it as a babysitter.

Above all, if he wants to talk, listen. He’s got a lot of feelings he wants to express and it seems there’s no one who is willing to be receptive.


Don’t babysit for them. Your friend has created a monster, and its her monster. If you can’t deal with it, don’t, it isn’t your responsibility. You can’t teach a kid manners in the few hours you spend with him. You can remove sugar and TV while you are there, but if he’s hyped up when you get there because Mom doesn’t, it isn’t going to do YOU any good.

Tell Mom “no - I can’t unless his behavior is much better.” If his Mom wants some advice, removing or severly limiting TV and sugar and enforcing consistant behavior is a good start. But you aren’t his mother.

First, my bona fides: I’m a day care teacher of 7 years, and have a little bro at home.

Anyway, I like using negative reinforcement. When he’s misbehaving, you take something good away. Make it TV or candy. Also, some people hate rewarding kids for being good, but I wouldn’t do what my boss wants me to do if she didn’t give me a paycheck every two weeks. It’s not wierd to expect a reward for doing something you don’t want to do. Keep it reasonable.

When you need to punish him, you need to convince him that it’s right and fitting to do so. The conversation I usually use w/ my kids is “You hit him, right?” “And we can’t hit, right?” “When you break a rule, you need to go to time-out, right?” “Ok, so this is fair then, isn’t it?” “You can get up in 5 minutes if you behave”. That seems to work. Also, a lot of times, resistance is seen as ‘bargaining’ for them. You need to enter ultimatum mode at those times with clarity. My mother always used the count-down method. “You have 5 seconds to do it before I make you. 5,4,3…” That lets them know that bargaining is over and there’s a limit to your willingness to argue. Also, try “Did you not hear me, or are you just not listening?” when they ignore you. It’s like saying “Do I need to do it again, or do you want punished.” That also takes away that bargaining strategy they think they have.

As others have said, some kids just can’t do this at that age. My son is 5 1/2 and has just started to be able to play by himself for a while. He just needed interaction all the time. I played his games some of the time, but most of the time he just ‘helped’ me with whatever it was I was doing.

Also, my kid would never in a million years go to bed by himself. Do you know what his usual routine is? I always snuggle with the kids until they go to sleep. Change from routine can be hard on the little guys.