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4-Year-Old Not Listening, Refusing to Give Up Sippy Cup and Wetting Bed at Night

Question:

I need help in three areas with my 4-year-old son. First, we need a better way to communicate. My son will not listen to me and treats me like I am his slave. I have turned into a yeller, and I don’t even want to be around him when he isn’t listening to me and is testing me. Second, he will not give up his sippy cup despite my changing cups and reminding him of the rules. He wants his milk all the time. Third, he is still wetting the bed at night and has to wear a pull-up. I think this is related to the sippy cup he likes to take with him to bed.

Answer:

Much of parenting is trial and error. First, consult your pediatrician to determine if there are medical causes for any of your concerns. If it is behavioral, your pediatrician can inform you if it is age-appropriate or a reason for concern. Additionally, pediatricians have a wealth of experience, which makes them extremely useful referral sources.

All behaviors have some function. So determining what that is and what skill the child should learn will improve the situation. Your first issue is that your son will not listen to you. By not listening, he avoids doing what you are instructing and he is controlling you because he can make you lose your temper. Here are some useful tools for more effective communication with children of all ages:

  1. Talk face to face and look into each other’s eyes.
  2. Remove all distractions. Turn off electronic devices, put down toys and set aside the newspaper.
  3. Get on your child’s level.
  4. Use simple, clear words. Show and tell what you mean. Teach him good listening skills. At a neutral time, describe what you want him to do when someone talks to him. He needs to 1. Stop what he is doing and look at the person; 2. Stand or sit quietly; 3. Say “OK.” Give him a good “kid” reason for doing it that way. This reason will show him how listening benefits him. Have him practice by saying something in a normal tone while he pretends to be busy to see if he will stop, look at you and wait and say “OK” like you taught him. If he does, reinforce the behavior with a hug, high-five, etc.

Your second issue is the sippy cup. A pediatrician will likely recommend that milk only be given at meals that occur at a table. Introduce milk in a regular cup at the table for meals. In between meals, he can have water or diluted juice in a sippy cup. Drinking milk all the time is not good. It will fill him up so that he does not have room for healthy foods.

Your pediatrician can tell you the recommended amount of milk your son should consume. Begin immediately putting water in his sippy cup. This may curb his desire to have the cup all the time.

Your third issue is bed-wetting. Wearing a pull-up at age 4 is not unusual, especially for boys. They often sleep so soundly that they can’t wake up to use the bathroom. Decreasing his liquids after dinner will lessen the strain on his bladder. Give him a little drink of water prior to tucking him in at night. He does not need a drink in his room at night at this age.

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