It seems no matter what you say, your children hear something different. If you tell them to stop misbehaving, they hear you saying that they are being bad. If you tell them act like big girls, they hear you calling them babies. If you tell them to quiet down, they hear, “shut up” or worse, “you’re not important.”
Why? They’ve got good self-esteems, they’re active and spirited and happy. Why the perceived insults and sensitivity? Why the mixed, and potentially harmful messages?
Everything is about the ego at this stage. Even though the kids have passed the age of not seeing anything beyond their noses, they still relate everything back to themselves, and in the most intense way possible. So that each message you send gets internalized.
This is important in that this is the stage where you can actually cause behavior change, but you must be careful not to do so at the expense of your child’s positive sense of self.
So, when your kids hear things you didn’t say, what do you do? Particularly if you’re still disciplining them for the original offense?
Make a definite effort to separate the two issues. Issue one is that your kid did something you didn’t approve of and needs to be told about it. She also needs to understand exactly what the reprimand is for, so use your words well, and make sure she understands that it is not her, but the deed that is getting talked to. She will still misunderstand and make it about her. Correct her.
After you’ve gone through the initial reprimand, hug her and talk to her about words meaning certain things. Re-explain that your discipline had nothing to do with her as a person, simply her actions. Reassure her of your love, etc.
Don’t stop there.
Make another pit-stop at, but you shouldn’t do this, that or the other thing, please, because whatever reason you have at the moment to stop them from being ridiculous.
A lot of people skip that step (the last two steps really, but even people who are good at overexplaining their discipline as action-not-person based sometimes miss this last part).
If you follow up with the original complaint and its resolution, you provide closure for your child, and put the emphasis back where it should have been in the first place, had you not been dealing with a four year old.