"I don't like these pants," says four-year-old Malcolm bitterly, tugging on a tool loop sewn into the side of his jeans. "I hate this thing."
"Ok. Let's find you a different pair of pants, then."
"I doooon't like these pants," he wails.
"Ok. I hear that: you don't like the pants. Let's try on another pair."
"We need to get rid of those pants. We need to give them to good-will."
"Look, if you don't like the pants, you don't have to wear them. Let's just find some--"
"We need to give them away to goodwill now!"
"We need to get dressed to go to school now, and we're running out of time. Let's get--"
"I haaaate these pants. We need to give them to goodwill."
"Tell you what? Let's burn them. Cut them into little strips and soak them in lighter fluid and burn the damn things. Now would you please shut up about the pants?"
(Beat.) "I don't like those pants."
What's going on here? If the problem was what he was going to wear today, you'd think that he would have just accepted a different pair of pants. But that's not what he wanted to do. What he really wanted to do was complain about the pants. There was no real intent on solving a problem; he wanted he problem so he could complain about it.
It seems silly and non-sensical when a four-year-old does it. But how many adults do you know who spend all their time complaining about something instead of doing something to resolve the issue?
I know this is not the point you wanted to make, but those moments are a test of your mindfulness. If the dialogue really went more or less as you described it, then you did what I always do, which is allow yourself to get pulled into the 4-year-old complaint life.
Imagine the conversation like this, just to suggest one alternative.
"Malcolm, do you hate the pants?"
"Do you really, really hate those pants?"
"How much do you hate the pants?"
"Let's say it together, louder. I'll count to three, and we will both shout, I hate the pants. 1, 2, 3..."
"I HATE THE PANTS!"
"Now, you take off these terrible horrible awful pants, and put on these wonderful perfect pants, and then we'll go do that for Mommy, OK?"
At this point, he isn't complaining. You're having fun together.