Four and Five-Year-Olds: Raising Godly Children in a Wicked World

Four and Five-Year-Olds

Wonder by Jeffrey W. Hamilton, Two Asian children gazing up in wonder and joy

Obedience Training

             Preschoolers (and kindergartners) can communicate in complex ways. They become an endless source of "Why?" It is no longer enough to know that something exists. They want a reason for it. They are not asking "Why?" to get a detailed explanation, but to see the logic and order in this world. Perhaps you will be asked, "Why is the sky blue?" You could give a detailed scientific explanation that would make your physics teacher proud. However, the child will probably be lost before the first sentence is completed. A better answer may be to say that when light shines through things, it sometimes picks up a color. Get a colored glass and shine a flashlight through it. Then say that air gives light a blue color when the sun shines through it. Is it absolutely accurate? No, but it is good enough for a four-year-old. "Why?" is a four-year-old's way of engaging in grownup talk with Mom and Dad. Sometimes they are not interested in the actual answer so much as to be able to say something and have Mom or Dad respond to them.

             Naturally, with all this questioning going on, you can expect your rules to be questioned. "Why can't I stay up late?" "Why do I have to go to bed?" "Why do I have to take a bath?" Give a simple, reasonable answer if you feel it is appropriate, but remember you don't have to justify your decisions. If your five-year-old doesn't like the answer, an "I'm sorry you don't agree, but that is the way it is in my house" is a good answer. Both children and parents want appreciation, so when a parent's authority is questioned we sometimes doubt ourselves -- even when the questions come from a preschooler. Remember who is the parent and who is the child. Children need to learn obedience even when they don't understand all the reasons. Isn't this what God expects of His children? Sometimes a "because God said so" has to be good enough. A child needs to learn that "because Mom said so" has to be good enough as well.

             As your child develops, he is building on things that he already knows. His movement improves, his speech improves, and his vocabulary improves. The growth around the ages of four and five is very noticeable. A lot of the change comes from the loss of baby fat as his activity increases. A child's memory also develops at this age. For many of us, our earliest recollections come from this period. With the memory comes a sense of time, which leads to a new set of woes. "Dad, when are we going to get there?!!!?"

             Just because you have established the limits, it doesn't follow that they are regularly followed. Children sometimes break rules through carelessness. They are easily distracted and forget to be careful with the rules. Sometimes a child just becomes plain lazy about doing what he is told; after all, there are many things that he would rather be doing that are more interesting. And then there is the dreaded rebellious child who doesn't like being told what to do.

             Parents need to concentrate on teaching obedience. Rules must be followed whether Mom or Dad is standing over the children or not. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul said that it is right for a child to obey his parents. In Colossians 3:20, Paul said that obedience is pleasing to God. When a child listens to his Dad and Mom, his obedience will make him look good (Proverbs 1:8-9). It is a sign of the decay of this age when men are disobedient to their parents (II Timothy 3:2).

             Obedience cannot occur unless the rules are enforced. The primary means of enforcement is spanking as we discussed in the previous chapter. For each misdeed, there must be a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2-3). Spanking should not be done because we are personally insulted by a child's disobedience, but to teach our children to honor authority. The best time to teach obedience is when you can control the environment. For example, your children need to know that they cannot play with some things. Don't wait until you are in a store to teach your children not to touch crystal on the shelf. When your child first begins to crawl and reaches for something he shouldn't have, our first instinct as a parent is to move the item out of his reach. A valuable opportunity for learning is lost when we do this. Instead, move the item within his reach and keep a small switch in your hand. When he starts to grab the object, tell him "No" in a quiet voice and move his hand away. When he reaches for the object again, tell him "No" again in a quiet voice and switch the back of his hand. It usually only takes a few times before the child decides there are better things to do with his time. Even better for the parent is that the training remains. You can tell a child that something is "No" and expect the item not to be touched. Of course, you have to be consistent. One slip of letting a child touch something after telling him "No" will defeat months' worth of training.

             You can also teach a child obedience by letting the consequences of his actions be the punishment. Christ learned obedience through His suffering (Hebrews 5:8). It is hard to think of the creator of this world learning obedience, yet it happened because God let Him suffer. Often, we are too protective of our children. We don't let them suffer the consequences of their actions. One gentleman told me that he was afraid that his children would fall into a nearby pond when his wife and he were not looking. When the children were just toddlers, he let them wonder over to the pond while he walked behind them. As children are wont to do, they eventually fell into the water. He let them thrash just long enough to realize they were in trouble, but not long enough to swallow the pond and he pulled them out. He said they never wandered near the pond again until he took them there to teach them to swim.

             Simply following the rules is not enough, we must also teach our children to gladly obey. God expects His children to follow him with all of their heart (Deuteronomy 26:16). We can't be pleasing to God if we drag our feet and say, "Aww, do we have too???" Most parents accidentally teach their children reluctant obedience. How many of us have grumbled about having to go to work or to church? Is it surprising then for a child to grumble about having to go to school? Parents also encourage their children to complain. When your child says he doesn't like what you fixed for dinner, do you make them something else? You just rewarded your child for complaining! I can't count the number of parents I have seen encourage their child to delay obedience. "Johnny, pick up that toy....Did you hear me, I said pick up that toy!...If you don't pick up that toy right NOW, I'm going to have to do something drastic!...That does it young man, I'm going to swat your little bottom." Usually, Johnny then quickly picks up the toy, smiles sweetly to his Mom, who forgets all about the threatened spanking. She pats herself on the back for making Johnny be obedient, but she doesn't realize what else she has taught him. Johnny has learned that he doesn't have to do what Mom says until she goes to get the switch. Not only that, but if he smiles sweetly, he can avoid the spanking. Invest the time to teach your children to obey you immediately. Delays should be answered with a quiet rebuke and a spanking, not threats.

             Some parents don't discourage their children from whining or talking back. Direct punishment will stop the outward disagreement, but sometimes we can do a bit more to insure that obedience is done willingly. Make sure that the consequences of whining are less favorable than quiet obedience. If they whine about leaving their game to come eat supper, send them to their room while the rest eat and allow them to have their meal after everyone else is done. I had one child who complained about having to eat a vegetable his Mom had prepared. Without saying a word, I doubled the portion on his plate. "You don't expect me to eat all of it, do you?!" I quietly added another spoonful. "Mom!" My wife just gave him a puzzled look and said, "Haven't you figured out that you are going to eat more for each complaint?" It took him a long time to finish dinner that night, but he ate every bite. His frequent complaints also stopped. Another option is if a child states they don't like dinner, give them the option of skipping dinner. Of course, there will not be anything else available to eat until breakfast. This is not a punishment, but their choice. Growing children quickly decide that any food is better than going hungry. If you have a child who continually is late for dinner, simply make it a rule that if they are not there, they don't get to eat until the next meal time.

             And then there is the "I didn't hear you" syndrome. Sometimes it is legitimate. Mom yells from the kitchen that dinner is ready and the kids are so engrossed in the latest action video downstairs that they did not notice her call. Make sure your children hear you. Don't teach them to tune you out at their convenience. When talking to them, place your hand on their shoulder. Make them look you in the eye as you talk to them. This way, you know you have their undivided attention. If what you are asking them to do is complex, have them repeat your instructions. If you call them from another room, require them to give a response to indicate they heard you. The old fashion "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am" is not just politeness, they give parents responses that the child was listening. If you don't get a response, don't yell again. Immediately go and correct the inattentiveness. Don't establish a habit in your child by saying things that they can safely ignore.

             Learning to listen is an important life skill. We should not let it slide by. Make your children wait for you to finish talking before they dash off to do what you say. "Sara, will you get my Bible? It's on the kitchen table." Meanwhile, Sara is already out the door by the time you said the word "get." Soon she returns and says "I can't find it." Don't go and get it yourself. Ask the child where you told her to find the Bible. You know she wasn't listening, but this makes her understand what the problem was. If you give in and get the Bible yourself, you teach the child that not paying attention means you can get out of a chore quickly.

             Children also need to learn not to color the things they hear with what they would like to hear. "Can I have a cookie?" "You can have one after dinner." You soon turn around and find a cookie in his hand. And his explanation? "You said I could have one." Or there is the multiplying cookie trick. "Can I have a cookie?" "Just one" and Junior walks off with one in each hand and one in his mouth. Children and grownups are often guilty of hearing what they want to hear instead of what is actually said. Make sure you teach them to listen attentively and accurately.

             Another common problem is the "I forgot" syndrome. You ask a child to pick up his toys and ten minutes later you find him outside on the tricycle. "Did you get all the toys picked up?" "Oh, I forgot," as he dashes back into the house. As Christians, God expects us to remember His laws by doing those laws (James 1:25). Children, too, can only learn the house rules by doing them. Initially, you will have to teach your child to remember by periodically checking on them. Too many parents tell a child to do something and then never check to see if it is done until it is too late. Do you tell a small child to get dressed for church and then get angry when you start to walk out the door and find they are still in their pajamas? Parents have to teach remembrance to their children by periodically checking on them. At first, you will have to look in on them every few minutes. If they are not following instructions, discipline them with a switch. As they learn to concentrate on the task at hand, start to stretch out the times you check on them. Your goal is for them to do something to completion without you having to stand over them.

             Be careful not to accidentally teach your children only to work when you are coming to check on them. Some children wait until they hear Mom's footsteps in the hall to "remember" to clean their room. A child like that will grow up to goof off at work when the boss isn't looking. Rebuke a child who takes far longer than is reasonable to accomplish a task. However, make sure your idea of a reasonable length of time is reasonable for the child's abilities.

             Somewhere along the line, every child tries yelling and screaming to get what he wants. If a parent gives in to the demands just once, they will be subject to repeated episodes. A tantrum should be an automatic denial of whatever the child is demanding. If they want a cookie, they should be calmly told that for their outburst they don't get any deserts for the rest of the day. If they are wanting attention, send them to their room after switching them for their misbehavior. Many modern psychologist claim that spanking a child who is having a tantrum does not help or causes some future problem. This is absolute nonsense. No child continues actions that result in their own discomfort -- especially when it is accompanied by a denial of their demands.

             Be careful not to reward a child's partial obedience. God expects His children to do all that He commands (Joshua 1:8). Suppose you tell Johnny to pick up his room before bedtime. Johnny manages to get two items put away while playing the next hour. Now what do you do? If you keep him up until he finishes picking up his room, he has learned that partial obedience lets you stay up late. If you tell him to finish it in the morning, he has learned that partial obedience lets you get out of a task, at least for the moment, giving you more time to play. Instead, a parent needs to give the child a reasonable amount of time to complete the task. Don't have them start to pick up their room five minutes before bedtime. There is no way they can complete the task and you will encourage them to only partially obey your instructions. If you forget to tell them in time, then it is your problem. Wait until the next morning when there is sufficient time. Don't make your forgetfulness a cause for teaching partial obedience. Check on their progress while there is a reasonable amount of time to correct their goofing off.

             Obedience training applies to our children's time in church. Now is the time to teach them to sit still in class and worship services. Sitting still is a part of a person's listening skills and it is needed for worship and school. Children need to be encouraged to participate in class and in worship. They can answer questions, bow their heads in prayer, and join with the brethren in singing praise to our God. Encourage your children to memorize simple verses or parts of verses each week. Teach them songs. Help them learn the books of the Bible.

So True

To educate a child in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.

Woodrow Wilson


Thoughts for Now and Later

Some day when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother, I will tell them:


              "I loved you enough to ask where you were going, with whom, and what time you would be home.

              I loved you enough to insist that you save your money and buy a bike for yourself even though we could afford to buy one for you.

              I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover that your new best friend was a creep.

              I loved you enough to make you take a Milky Way back to the drugstore (with a bite out of it) and tell the clerk, 'I stole this yesterday and want to pay for it.'

              I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your room, a job that would have taken me five minutes.

              I loved you enough to let you see anger, disappointment, and tears in my eyes. Children must learn that their parents are not perfect.

              I loved you enough to let you assume the responsibility for your actions even when the penalties were so harsh they almost broke my heart.

              But most of all, I loved you enough to say 'No' when I knew you would hate me for it. Those were the most difficult battles of all. I am glad I won them, because in the end, you won something too."


Age Appropriate Tasks

Below are some suggested tasks that would be appropriate to begin introducing you child to doing. Every child will not be able all these tasks at this age. Some judgment is required on your part as to when your child is mature enough to handle these particular chores.

  • Straighten bedroom well
  • Fully make own bed
  • Trim nails
  • Empty clothes hamper and take clothing to the laundry room
  • Put away underwear and socks
  • Clear off dishes from the table
  • Pick up yard trash
  • Beat area rugs to remove dust and dirt
  • Empty wastebaskets
  • Sweep porches, sidewalks and patios
  • Wipe dining room table and chairs
  • Help carry in groceries

Your Questions

Can too many toys hamper a child's play?

You might be surprised to learn that overindulging in "things", such as toys, can lead to boredom. See the article "Boredom" for more details.

My son was very rude and would not explain his behavior. I must mention that it has been over a month since the last time that I spanked him. At that time I gave him a bare-bottom spanking in front of everyone. It was every effective, so I used the same method this time. I hope that it doesn't hurt his feelings. Can it hurt his feelings?

Click here for ANSWER

I have a question. My youngest son is 4 years old. Yesterday he pushed me and said some bad words. I was upset and I asked him to apologize, but he didn't. Today his misbehavior returned. He did the same thing. I took him to his room, but he yelled, so I decided to spank him. Did I do the right thing?

There are several issues that I would like you to consider. When your son first pushed you and said bad words, you stated you had asked for an apology and did not receive one. First, a four year old child is a bit young to be asking for apology. Four-year-olds view the world in a more black and white way. Either something is right or it is wrong. Nor is a four-year-old equipped to make moral decisions. It is up to you as the parent to inform your child what behavior is or is not acceptable. Second, when you did not get the apology, you did not follow through with any consequence. You taught him that he can defy authority and sometimes win. Third, where is your son learning bad words and attempting to get his way by pushing? Four-year-olds are still at the age were they mimic those around them. If he is seeing others take similar actions and getting what they want, it is little wonder that he is applying this same "solution" at home. You need to figure out where it is coming from and halt the influence it has over your child.

In other words, the spanking is not the issue here. You need to address the issues that have lead up to your needing to use spanking to regain some measure of control over your child's behavior.

How do you present an attractive meal for a five year old child?

My first thought was why would a parent want to cater to the whims of a child? Is it for a special occasion? Or is the child ill and not eating well? Or are you as the adult trying to win points with a child? The latter is not appropriate. You are teaching the child that the world revolves around him, and it doesn't. Therefore, he will grow up with an inappropriate view of the world.

Fix good, nutritious meals for your child. If he is hungry, he will eat what is before him. If he is not, or if he is trying to control you by demanding what he will or will not eat, just shrug your shoulders and tell him that this is what was fixed for the current meal. There is nothing wrong with fixing a meal that you know is your child's favorite once in a while, just as you sometimes fix your favorite dishes or your spouse's favorite meal. However, meals should not be geared solely to the tastes of a small child.

How should I handle a child that badgers me all the time? I found an article and wanted to know what you think. The article said,

When a child resorts to badgering, the goal is to wear the parent down in order to change the no answer to a yes answer. It's amazing how many different ways a child can rephrase the same question, hoping that this time it will result in a different response. Badgering is very tiring for a parent and that's probably why it works sometimes.

Children who use badgering tend to be self-focused and can't see what their barrage of questions and comments is doing to relationships. Parents who experience this kind of tension may find it helpful to reflect their feelings in a gentle way, helping to develop the sensitivity that's desperately needed. "I'm feeling uncomfortable with your question because I think I already answered it." Or "I'm not sure how to respond here. I don't want to talk about this subject anymore but you keep bringing it up." Or, "I feel like you're running over me like a truck. Let's talk about something else before I get smashed to bits!"

ANSWER from a sister in Christ

These comments on badgering really resonated with me and made me think about how difficult our job as parents is. 

Two of my children are extremely strong willed and do badger quite a bit.  Of course I still love them dearly, but they have presented me with quite a lot of challenges as a parent.  Over the years, I have tried reading secular and semi-secular writings for parenting ideas, mainly because just putting my foot down often seemed to lead to too much to anger and frustration on my part and on the part of my children.  However, when I have tried to implement these ideas they usually seemed to work even less well and led to deteriorating relationships. The children came to show less and less understanding of my position of authority and more and more determination to find ways to argue and badger. 

It seems that saying something like, "I'm feeling uncomfortable with your question because I think I already answered it." Or especially "I feel like you're running over me like a truck. Let's talk about something else before I get smashed to bits!"  just leads to the children feeling more and more that they do have the power and can make head way with their agenda.  It leaves the child with the impression that the parent may not really be in control.  With my older two children, I am certain that these tactics would not work well, especially in the long run. 

My third child would be likely to respond well to these statements, at least in the short term. but she also responds very well to a simple form of biblical discipline.  Rather than look for creative ways to get to her, I can just say, "I have already answered you and you must stop badgering me." Period.  Or "I answered your first question and I want you to drop the subject now."  There may occasionally be times that she would continue on and do the wrong thing, but prompt discipline would correct that problem and she would easily understand that she had disobeyed and would repent. (Oh how I wish that understanding came easily to the other two!) 

Looking back, I can't help but think that my doubts about strict discipline, in the early days, were simply the result of the many avenues that Satan could work at my mind.  And I suspect that all of the "ideas" that I garnered from human writings were a path to bigger and bigger problems more often than they were helpful (even when they sometimes seemed helpful in the short-term).  I am more than just a little suspicious that our later problems were for the most part the result of allowing my doubt to deter me from just confronting the problems head-on with biblical discipline.  When I should have steeled my mind and my heart to be sure and discipline promptly and without showing a lot of anger, I failed and then I allowed my failure to add in to all of the other doubts and make me think that the biblical discipline I did sometimes use was not effective with these very difficult children, further compounding the problem.  Isn't it the most likely thing that if I had stuck with a simple statement, like "you are badgering me and you must stop" and then disciplined promptly each and every time (no matter how many times were needed) that they revisited the issue, they would have (eventually) learned to appreciate what I was saying and make the connections between that and the discipline and their own need to repent and obey?   

I also think that we have a very difficult time as parents in America today as compared with say 1930 or 1940, due to the fact that we (and our children) are surrounded by a society that does not value or understand the concepts of "right and wrong" and "authority" and many related concepts.  This may even exponentially increase the hardship on children who naturally have a hard time with these concepts (and on their parents).  Thankfully, some of us are combatting that to some extent through homeschooling.  Even as a child in the 1970s, I knew, at least at church, that if any adult saw me misbehaving, I would be in trouble.  Now days, most adults will do nothing to speak to a child who is misbehaving or to let the parents know (even at church).  In fact, nine times out of ten, they will react negatively to a parent who is disciplining properly, giving our children the idea that maybe their parents are wrong and everybody else is right,  (sometimes even at church). 

Well, these are just my thoughts on my own experiences.  I hope that they might be helpful to someone else who is facing similar difficulties.  I understand that the extreme frustrations experienced when a parent is dealing with a difficult child can result in many serious problems for the parent and the child.  I don't know if I can offer much else, but I'm always willing if anyone wants to request prayers. 


I do agree with the sister who wrote above. The "I feel ..." answers are simply information to a badgering child that they are making headway. A bit more work and they'll have mom or dad over the edge. Prompt discipline for each instance of  badgering (or nagging) works much better.

Over the years I've noticed a great reluctance in parents to discipline. The result is that they will hold off until they finally reach erruption. After things calm back down they are shocked that they acted with so much anger and they resolve to hold off any discipline as long as possible. Meanwhile things slowly build-up to melt-down point once again. It becomes a very vicious cycle.

What our ancestors realized and what the Bible teaches is that when discipline is promptly given, the situation stops and extreme emotional storms don't have time to build. "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Parents need to be more objective in their approach. Each wrongful behavior has a discipline associated with it, which is consistently and promptly given. It doesn't matter what kind of day you are having or if it was the fifth in two hours that the same thing happened. A consistent wrong is met with a consistent punishment followed by instructions in how to avoid the wrongful behavior in the future. It is amazing how much calmer the home becomes.

ANSWER from a sister in Christ

I also agree; parents are reluctant to discipline or are not consistent enough in discipline for it to have the necessary effect.  With my own boys, you can likely see the things we have done wrong and the things we have done right (and to this I point to my Father in Heaven and give Him the glory!).  When the boys were very young I put a sheet on the refrigerator to remind ME how to discipline.  When the boys got older I changed the sheet to reflect their age. This was a practical sheet, based upon the Scriptures.  I don't quote any Scriptures on the sheet, just actions and behaviors that are approved and unapproved for parents as well as children! Having it there helped me keep my focus over the years.