It’s Not You, It’s Him. Of Course, YOU Still Have to Live With Him.

by | Oct 26, 2015 | Birthdays, Parenting | 42 comments

Cranky Frankie is four today.

He likes lots of things.

Cowboy boots:

His little sister:

His other little sister:

Confined spaces:

A good seat for his brother’s football game:

The communion of saints:

Chicken Frank the chicken (and Nana):

This exact set up of buddies. Every night. Exactly like this . . . Big Lotso, Little Lotso, Frankie, Little Olaf, Big Olaf, Thumper crammed in the upper left corner between the trundle and the wall:

“This dead guy in the floor at church.”

But there are also lots of thing he does NOT like. Those things are less predictable. They include, but are not limited to . . .

Going to bed, getting up, eating food, wearing clothes,
sitting in chairs, not making that sound, other people doing their
schoolwork, new stories, the existence of some types of animals, when good guys win
in movies, going places, leaving places, screen time restrictions, and pumpkin patches.

He’s a real piece of work, this one.

He’s gotten better . . . I think. Probably. I mean, he must have, right? But he still spends quite a bit of each day making trouble and getting busted for it.

I love him to pieces. But I sometimes lose my cool. I find his extraordinary contrariness a little charming. When it’s not completely infuriating.

But what Frankie really taught me is that kids are who they are. Parenting techniques are great. I couldn’t do this and keep my sanity without a method in the madness. But parenting techniques are for managing kids, not changing them.

Some kids are docile. Some kids are stinkers. Either way, that’s on them, not me.

My oldest was hard, maybe as hard as Frankie, I’m not sure. I was so sleep deprived I don’t really remember. (He is still kinda hard.) My next two are super easygoing in comparison. The next two are high spirited, but manageable. I was pretty sure my acquired parenting skills, forged over lo those many years had finally made me stinker-proof. I knew how to handle kids now. My oldest had to have been a fluke. The result of my inexperience.

Then came Frankie.

Parenting just   s  l  i  d  e  s   right off of him, like butter off a corn cob.

But I keep at it. He’s worth it, and my sanity and the (relative) peace of our home are worth fighting for.

I got a question in the comments of that behavior modification post a couple weeks back, that I wanted to share here . . .


Any ideas for what to do with a 4 year old boy who just can’t seem to help but choose bad things and never chooses the same bad things but comes up with new ones 24/7? For example, climbing the dressers, hanging off the bunk beds, cutting his own hair, sneaking food, coloring on walls, humming annoying songs, stealing siblings’ toys, or any other crazy idea that pops into his head. You’d think he’s doing this for attention except he’s a total introvert who loves playing alone….he just doesn’t make good choices when playing alone, lol! Actually, even when he’s with me he’s constantly trying to get into stuff. It’s like a compulsion, and he’s been like this pretty much since birth. At 10 months, before he could even walk, he had climbed on the dollhouse roof and was happily bouncing up and down on top of it….



Have you considered selling him to the circus? That’s about all that’s left in my bag of tricks for dealing with almost four year old Frankie. ;0)

I think some kids are just wired for mischief, ya know? And Frankie is an introvert, too. Sometimes I think he gets himself into trouble just to get sent to his room for some alone time. He also spends a lot of quality time outside with the chickens. (The “with the chickens” part is his choice.)

Mostly what I do is . . .

1. Not give up on him. In the face of such constant disobedience, it’s easy to be tempted to just give up on a kid and let him be a menace, but I don’t want to do that. We’re going to civilize him, some how. If I have to stop him from doing twenty different naughty things twenty times a day, so be it.

2. Not take it personally. I think it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not a bad mom if you have an especially naughty kid. And he’s not a bad person. He just doesn’t have a temperament that happens to care much what other people think. That can be very liberating. But it’s also something that he needs to learn how to compensate for. (Ask me how I know.)

3. Find the good in him. Frankie is exasperating and exhausting, but he’s also hilarious and spunky and lovable. I try to find things I can praise him for and things I can do with him that he likes. He’s still going to spend a significant percentage of his day in trouble, but at least there will have been SOME nice things too.

Also, I really recommend the book How to Really Love Your Angry Child . I don’t know why it’s called that, it should be called “Intense Child” or something, because I don’t think they have to be angry to be difficult. But it gives a great framework for understanding this kind of kid.

So, Happy Birthday to my Frankie!

And if you’ve got one of your own. Hang in there, mama.

Want MORE Frankie? Try these:

What Cranky Frankie Taught Me About God 

Cranky Frankie Went to the Fair

Living the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in the Home. . . with Frankie

And away he goes . . . Don’t worry. We caught him. We’re going to give four year old Frankie a try.
I learned a new trick in PicMonkey. SO fun.


  1. Amy Wiggin

    "But parenting techniques are for managing kids, not changing them…"

    This is great!! I was my own version of cranky franky as a child. The biggest gift my parents gave me was being present and consistent. They encouraged the good parts of my spunk and I can say now that my bold, passionate and occasionally defiant attitude is an asset.

  2. Curt Dose

    Happy birthday Frankie. I should tell you some stories about your mother! Love, Grandad

  3. Conrad Designs

    I love how you describe what he doesn't like. Sounds a lot like my 2 year old son (one of them, he's a twin). As the father of 3 boys we can definitely attest to the, "kids are who they are". With twin boys, you'd think if you raise them the same way in the same environment, they'll be somewhat similar…they aren't. Our twins could not be ANY more different. Although the author is not catholic, "Wild Things: the art of nurturing boys" was probably the best book I've read in relation to raising boys. I'd suggest it for any parent struggling to raise a boy. It was contrary to many of the things I assumed, and has really helped me be a better father (and helped my wife be a better mother) to our 3 little monsters.

  4. Ashley

    THANK YOU. Your stories about Frankie give me hope about my own Frankie (who is named Elizabeth). I really feel like God gave her to me to kick my pride down a few notches.

  5. Elizabeth

    And to make life even more interesting, I find four to be an incredibly mischievous and disobedient age. So that's a double whammy if your child is already naturally like that. I love four, but I always breath a sigh of relief when we hit five. Of course, my six-year-old son is still a sweet, funny trouble maker. It's just that he is a little easier to manage than when he was four.

    You probably already know this given your oldest son but, now that my difficult oldest son is almost 11, he is such a great kid (as is yours, I'm sure!). I love that he is not easily rattled. He makes friends easily and is always fairly popular, because you can't shake his confidence. And he's a natural leader. I just keep reminding myself that tough toddlers, preschoolers, and Kindergartners often make amazing older kids with the right guidance, direction, and grace from God. There are no guarantees even with Herculean efforts, but there is so much potential!

    • Kendra

      Yes, good point. I think getting to the age of reason (around seven) makes a big difference, because then they're able to decide to make good choices despite their inclinations. They don't always do it. But they CAN!

  6. Nanacamille

    Don't ever give up on them or you'll have a teenager doing these things and there could be much more serious consequences. They really need you to become the responsible adult that's growing inside of them. Nobody said it would be easy. Pray a lot and remember that Mary was the mother of a boy who might have given her trouble at four and he turned out to be our Lord and Savior.

  7. Lauren McAdams

    Oh my goodness Frankie and I share a birthday! I was a cranky kid too, Frankie. My mom said I got better when I was about 6…sorry Kendra! Some consolation, the teenage years went relatively smoothly. Hope you enjoy being four big guy! My oldest will be four in January. Keep praying that God will hear your prayers and send us a third child. Maybe a girl since you love your little sisters so much <3. Thanks cranky Frankie!

  8. Pamela

    Sometimes when you are correcting one child constantly and the others are behaving well and not getting into trouble, you kind of feel like you are picking on that child. I even get tired of my voice with "no! stop! this is your warning". I have a super loveable girl that is full of mischief! One day when she was holding up the whole family because she wouldn't put on appropriate clothes for a Easter Egg Hunt (give into one, there will be dissention among the ranks). I heard her tantruming upstairs and said I love you, even when I fuss at you, all the time, and we are going to miss you at the Egg Hunt. Then I left….broke my heart. But she hasn't been the same since!! It was a turning point, but she still hates to wear ANY types of shoes and loves to take the arms off of Barbie…..she is also 4!

  9. Nicole Lockhart

    Today is my Simon's birthday! He's three today, and he is our mischievous one as well. We have four kids six and under. He's third in the line up. I've never thought about him being an introvert. He's my most affectionate too. It's like he only feels in extremes. Happy Birthday Frankie!

  10. AnneMarie

    Happy birthday to Frankie! I totally agree with you on the temperaments thing-it is so helpful in all areas of life to know (or have a pretty good idea) of what temperament another person may be, so that we can remember that they are wired to react differently than us, and perhaps aren't purposefully trying to be crazy contrary all the time 😉

  11. Amanda Maynard

    I think I love Frankie too!!! All kids are different and all five of my babies have their own personalities and temperments. Some more challenging than others. God only gives us what we can handle and I'm thinking he finds that you can handle a lot! Happy Birthday Frankie!

  12. ktr

    Happy birthday Frankie!
    I love your posts about Frankie. They remind me so much of my almost 4 year old son. He is so outgoing and goofy but also very mischevious and strong willed. We've learned that we just have to be more stubborn than he is. Even when that means he goes on a 24 hour hunger strike because he isn't getting what he wants to eat.

  13. Katrina Rose

    I so needed to read this today! Ryan and Frankie sound identical, but he is my first so I'm constantly fretting about it his contrarian personality. And then Conor is passionate, easily frustrated and a linebacker on the playground so I'm really praying that Elise is when we get a bit of a breather. Happy Birthday, Frankie!!

    • Kendra

      My third one is the most easygoing of the bunch, and I've heard that from other people about their third, so I hope so!

      p.s. I love seeing your beautiful artwork in the corner of my blog!

  14. Brianna

    Watching my siblings as we grew up taught me this, and I'm so thankful! It makes parenting so much easier to embrace that different kids are, well, different. I was talking to one of my professors about this the other day, and he put it this way (which I thought was great): "when you become a parent, you're given a tree seed. You don't know what kind of tree it is though. So you plant it, you water it, you feed it. And as you go along, you find it's an oak or a maple or a pine. They all need the same amount, but perhaps different kinds, of nurturing. But as a parent, you can't change what kind of tree they are."

  15. Kathleen

    Oh Kendra, are you in my house? Do you have a hidden camera set up? Because you have accurately described my four year old identical twin boys. Imagine having two Frankies. Double the love, but…also, double the everything-we-don't-love. And to add to the mix, there is the…how did the pediatrician put it…"twin escalation syndrome". Which is doctor speak for: my kids tease, antagonize, and wind each other up and every minute of every day is a battle: sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, most times both. They are constantly wrestling. Yes, I know boys are physical. But with two, it's like they're tumbleweed rolling through my house. It's like having a pack of labrador puppies. they have 2 speeds: mach 10 or fast asleep. We need to take them to fields and have them run for at least 1 hour a day or they're even crazier than normal. My husband and I are so spent at the end of each day. They are amazing, lovable children, but, as their Montessori teacher put it, they're a "formidable pair when they're together." we need prayers, please! thank you 🙂

    • Kendra

      Whew. Two of them. I don't even know. I will definitely pray for you!

  16. Lindsay Boever

    He sounds like the Olympic-runner Louis Zamperini. As my aunt said, "They are very hard to raise, but make great adults."

  17. Debbie

    I also have an extremely irritable daughter. And then she started having anxiety issues on top of it. I took her to a holistic pediatrician who feels she may have some mineral deficiencies and EFA deficiency. It's possible Frankie's issues may be due to a real health issue. I would have him tested. There is no sense in him, and you, going through this every day if there is something you can do about it. Believe be, I know what it's like.

    • Kendra

      Thanks Debbie. I think we have to go with our mama gut on this type of thing, and my gut tells me it's just his temperament.

  18. Ginny

    Great advice, Kendra! I share the difficult oldest child and a naughty four year old. 🙂

  19. Munchie Mommy

    I have this kid. He's my oldest. I used to get those stares from other moms at the park …the stares that mean "boy, she must be a terrible mom to have a kid like that". Kid is now 8, and still is pretty intense. But, he also reads 2 grades levels above his actual grade, is liked by both peers and teachers at school, is becoming pretty handy with tools (experience gained from dismantling all his battery operated toys, ha ha) and totally dotes on his little brother.

    The thing that helped keep me from despairing during the hardest years (which lasted until he was about 6) was knowing, from family stories, that my dad was also this kid, and probably worse, and my dad grew up to become chair of Physics at an internationally renowned university. And, he is also the most self-disciplined person I know.

    • Kendra

      Yes, that's a good point. My oldest son is SO MUCH like my dad. My dad's stories of himself as a kid are pretty crazy, but he turned out to be quite a successful and upstanding citizen!

  20. Tim and Sarah

    We have one of these obstinate, contrary, yet wonderfully fun and lovable children. A little girl named Vivian (which means "full of life" and we are very careful with our name choices now). My sister, a teacher, recently suggested that she might have some kind of disorder that makes her constantly defiant. But I'd rather not put a name on it because that seems to give her an excuse to keep at her ways and me to stop disciplining and teaching self-control. Good to know we're not alone with these little stinkers. When people say, "Wow! You've got your hands full!" I want reply, "Yeah, just with this one…" But we love her and we'll never give up on her.

  21. Ali

    Happy Birthday Frankie!
    My son Isaac is cut from the same cloth. Whenever you post about Frankie I wonder what it would be like to get them together. Ike just turned 4 in October and he vacillates from sweet cuddles to obstinate, contrary, and losing his cool at the drop of a hat. I'm not sure if he's getting better, but we are getting better at recognizing some of the triggers (Grace at Meals, Holy Water & blessings during Holy Communion are my personal favorites.) He's also introverted and happy to play alone…not that it is safe to let him be alone for long.
    I pray that his independence and creativity will serve him well in the future. He has an incredibly loving and thoughtful side too.
    Love the advice you gave in the mailbox.
    My background is in applied behavior analysis, so I thought I would have "all the tricks." I don't. It is one day at a time. But, boy do I love that little guy!

  22. Jana

    Please write a book!!!! This is the best parenting advice for those of us who have little "stinkers," I've ever read! I have read a lot too! My now 6 year old has definitely challenged me to my core. He's a lot easier now than when he was 4 though so hang in there too!

  23. debbie england

    I am an older mom(I am 48) of 11…kids range in age from 1-26. My third one was just as you all describe. He was my "opposite guy"-challenged me to the core everyday. Up until that point, I thought I had mastered all the parenting tricks but he did not comply with anything that previously worked. Very humbling. All I can say is …stay with it…be consistent…tap into their sensitivities and get creative for what works and motivates him/her. He is now 21 and an officer on USAF graduating with many honors from college. He is an amazing young man, sensitive and deeply caring. He is a great leader and found himself in the discipline and structure of the military. He is a great leader with many friends, strong faith and I couldn't be more proud. He is one I am extremely proud of, because he was the most challenging for me as a mom. So much time and effort and testing of myself poured into him….keep up the good work young moms. Your love is enough along with a mighty prayer life. I read a book when he was ten -called the difficult child -which helped me immensely…but other than that it was pure determination and love that got us through the crazy years. I do believe things started to calm after puberty. So hang in there all! These little ones are the ones that will really earn you the badge of parenthood and give you the richest stories to tell!

    • Kendra

      Debbie, I am giving you a great big imaginary hug right now!

  24. Son Mom

    My #4, who is 3, is a female "Cranky Frankie" – I love your posts about him! Especially loved your list of his dislikes – my little girl has a very similar one! (Hers includes eating food, too.)

  25. Amanda

    I just came back to reread this, for a boost.

    But I feel a little bit like ALL my kids are like this, some days. (Today it's two of them!) They have some things that I just can't "manage" away. And these quirks (screaming, pouring water on things) are enough to make me !$&@93! ���������� But it's THEM. It's still not me. I hope.


  1. Touchy Subjects and Kids: how we talk about the stuff we'd rather not talk about - Catholic All Year - […] It’s Not You, It’s Him. Of Course, YOU Still Have to Live With Him. […]

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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