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Multiple tantrums a day in a 4 year old -- normal, or need help?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

I am writing because DS1 (4) has been over the top with tantrums lately, and I'm just not sure if it still falls within the range of normal. He has always been high on the intensity, persistence, and sensitivity scales (highly spirited as Mary Sheey Kurcinka would say). And, another factor is that he is in the middle of transitioning from 1 to no naps. He has been getting a nap about once or twice a week only for the last few weeks. So, I recognize that sleep may be an issue. Also, we have had a new care provider for the last two weeks or so, and he is having trouble warming up to her. I understand this may also be contributing.


But, here is an example. Yesterday, we were going to go to a favorite store that also happens to sell ice cream. He was excited, and said, "can I get ice cream??" I said, maybe he could have a hot dog first (some food/dinner/protein). He said, "no, I just want ice cream." I said before we could go, we had to finish putting things away. I said his job with his brother was to put away the cotton balls they had strewn all over the floor. He said, "no!!" I offered to help, said we would do it together, and emphasized that we had to finish cleaning up before we could go. All this time, DH and I were putting things away/cleaning up while talking about it. That's when the tantrum started. He did not want to help, he just wanted to go. He cried and was sad and angry. Then, his dad kindof made it worse by asking him to do something once he was already so upset, and of course he did not comply, and then dad yelled that we weren't going anywhere. Tantrum worsened. I tried a couple of times to go up to him and say, you seem very sad, to try to connect, but he was not reachable. DH did the yelling again. Then, DS2 (15 months) approached him, and he lashed out and apparently hit baby brother (I didn't see it, DH did). DH took him upstairs for an "automatic time out" for hitting. Crying continues. DH is in the room with him for the time out. By this time, he had worked himself up considerably, and was very, very upset. I give it about 4 minutes, ask to come in. I then take DS1 out of the room and rock him in a rocking chair, telling him it's okay. He did not want baby brother in the room. He drank some water, and finally calmed down. I'd say the whole episode must have gone on for about 25 minutes or so. We then talked about what happened, and I asked him how he felt when his dad yelled, and we talked about patience. Then, we talked about being helpful. He then stated calmly that he still wanted to go to the store, and I asked if he could think of something helpful to do that would convince his dad to go. He couldn't think of anything, so I suggested a job (cleaning up markers that baby brother had dropped all over the floor). He did that nicely and then told his dad. Then, we went to the store, he got a hot dog, and then ice cream.


That is just one example, but it is pretty typical. Huge tantrum over a very small thing. Tantrum over me saying he can't play games on my phone, over the babysitter picking him up from school, etc. Basically, we have at least one tantrum a day, varying in intensity. Sometimes there are multiple tantrums, in the morning, and in the afternoon (apparently he does well at school and with the babysitter, though the first week with the sitter he did a lot of whiny/snappy talking with her).


This has been going on for quite a while -- I believe it has been longer than since we got the new sitter and started dropping the nap, though I guess now that I think of it, they are pretty closely related. Is this just a rough patch that will work out, once he adjusts?


And, by the way, he really does not like the new sitter much, and keeps asking to stay late at school instead of having her pick him up. We can do this a couple of times a week, but not every day, because it gets expensive! In the past, I might have given in, though, and had him stay late at school -- if he really feels uncomfortable with the sitter, then maybe she's not a good fit. But, she's great with the baby, she is trained in early childhood development, and while I wouldn't probably pick her as a friend myself, she is a good, trustworthy person. So, DH feels strongly that he has to learn to deal with it, even if he doesn't like her all that much. Now that he's 4, I think he may be right.


Anyway, so is a tantrum a day normal in your household, particularly for highly sensitive/intense/persistent children?

post #2 of 11

sheesh, lady.

I could have written this post myself!!! Except for the sitter part- this is my life!!!

I wonder if everything is ok too. I fear mine has some sort of behavioral or emotional problem.

He seems whiny, manipulative, defiant, disruptive, explosive, volatile...

I hate using such words to describe my boy, my wonderful boy! There's so much goodness in him but it's hard to focus on that when it seems like we're having constant little battles throughout the day. It's exhausting. 

He frequently verbalizes to me that he is "sad" or "angry". We have a rhythm for our day but he seems uninterested in creative activities or anything that involves him taking some sort of direction (helping to set the table, for example) and I feel he's disruptive when he sees organized activity happening in the house (ex. baking). 

Sorry to hijack your post here. I'm hoping you get some answers! I am just crossing my fingers that he will respond positively to starting a preschool program in the fall. Good luck! and hugs!


post #3 of 11

From my understanding, it seems your oldest is going through the temper tantrum stage. This could be brought on by changing too many things too close to each other. In other words, the child (sorry, I do not understand DH, DS, or any other shorthand) may not be able to handle too many changes like a new babysitter and less naps. I went through this type of period as well. My daughter has been having temper tantrums and an attitude with me. So, I just tell her to go to her room until she has calmed down. Once she calms down she is allowed to come out of her room.


Her temper tantrums came about because of a change in her schedule and not getting enough sleep. She stopped going to preschool and to her grandmother's because I stopped working, and I stopped allowing her to watch a movie at bedtime to fall asleep. She is also getting cooped up in the house and does not have a way to exert her energy because it is too cold outside.


post #4 of 11

Yes, it's within the range of normal, but it sounds like you may need a plan of action.

It sounds to me like your son is having frustrations with a lack of control over his life - which is, of course, as it should be at 4 for the most part.

I had great success with behavior charts for my daughter at that age. For example - she was constantly whining and throwing fits about the limits I would set for video watching, Also, she had a very hard time "letting" me get things done around the house without constantly interrupting me. So I started giving her movie "tickets" for good behavior. I also tried to present things as choices when I could (would you like broccoli or spinach with dinner tonight?) and instead of saying "no, you can't have ice cream" saying "we can have ice cream tomorrow" or some other positive spin instead of just the hard "no". I still do this with her at 10 years old :)

It's hard to be kid!

I wouldn't recommend changing care providers right now just because he doesn't "like" her - it gives him too much power and I don't think that's what he ultimately wants...but try to get things sorted out in the other areas of his world and keep an eye on it, you can find someone else if it continues to be a problem.


Good luck!!

post #5 of 11

Have you tried talking through the feelings "It's tough to wait for ice cream!"

post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 

Yes, thanks, we have definitely tried talking, empathizing, etc. I have tried to say things like, "you really like ice cream, you want to have it now, you wish you could have it every day (this would be for the case of the answer is no ice cream)." He sees right through it. He knows it means no, and gets upset equally so as if I had simply said, "no, you can't have ice cream." We also do a ton of the two positive choices (and have gotten better at making them two equally attractive choices, rather than one empty choice).


I also like the idea of giving tickets for screen time, I think. Do you think that makes screen time even more desired, or that she gets her fill on it?


The more I think about it, the more I feel like he is just a bear because he is dead tired. Yesterday, it was meltdown after meltdown. I put him down for a nap at 3:30 pm and it did his behavior a lot of good (and the other day, he did take a 15 min nap (fell asleep while sitter putting down the baby), and even then was a doll afterwards). Problem is, this pushes bedtime to be way too late. He's also been doing the early waking at 5:30, so he is clearly over tired. I think I'm going to check out Sleepless in America again and see what I can do to improve things. It's so hard in the winter when going out first thing in the morning is not at all appealing.


Things are going better with the new sitter. He has put up less resistance, and I think he is more comfortable. I admit, I did resort to the activity of her decorating cupcakes with him, but it seems to have worked somewhat!


Thanks, everyone!!

post #7 of 11

I think it sounds normal.  If he's tired it's very normal.  


I still wouldn't have let him go out for ice cream until he cleaned up his mess.  I wouldn't have said "no" because of the tantrum, but I would have said "no" because he refused to clean up his mess.


Wanting ice cream instead of a hot dog also wouldn't have bothered me. 


I think that maybe you could ignore the tantrums for a while, and let him get used to napping less, and get used to a new provider... then I'd try to wrangle that problem in a few months.

post #8 of 11

it sounds like you are on the right track :)


my dd watched LESS tv/movies with the tickets and was more satisfied with a smaller amount - I think by virtue of her having some control over the process...it was really great.


good luck to you!

post #9 of 11

My daughter is going through the SAME THING. This is because we just had a baby, and she started pre school which was quite the ordeal for her. I find that less sugar helps a bit. For us, since most of it is because of the new baby, I find that spending more time alone with her once a week, really helps. She's getting out of them now. 

But my advice is to be patient, and don't let people make you think there is something wrong with your kid. Tantrums are normal!

post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

Just wanted to post a follow up (I always end up wondering what happened when people post their issues!). DS is doing MUCH better now, as we have re-instituted the nap. He now falls asleep (4-5 days a week) when his little brother goes down at 2 or 2:30. We wake him by 3:00 pm. So, it's just a little catnap for the most part, but it has done wonders for his behavior. It still pushes his bedtime later, but not quite as late as it was getting when he had a full 1.5+ nap (he would probably sleep for 2 hours or more if we let him). So, now he's usually asleep by about 8:30 pm. And, an added bonus (and maybe it was just this am, not sure), he is sleeping a bit later in the morning (6:30 am -- yeah, that's late for him! LOL!). So, in the end, it really was that he was very, very tired and not ready to give up the nap. I just hope when the time does come to give it up for good, he will be able to handle it!


Now, if I could just get the 16 month old to sleep past 5:30 am!!

post #11 of 11

and i think you are just coping brilliantly with his tantrums! i believe our job as parents is not necessarily to stop big emotions but to teach how to handle them. i think you did very good, he had his tantrum and you were there for him.


i think the tantrum phase itself will end, eventually.


my ds has severe tantrums over minor (for me) things, i am trying to be there for him and guide him through the storm. i wish i would be always as patient as you were



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