out-of-control 3 year old - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 06:51 AM - Thread Starter
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Hi, all. This is my first post in this forum. I'm writing in desperation for advice on dealing with my almost 4-year-old daughter.


I don't know what happened to our sweet girl, but over the last few weeks she has become extremely disrespectful & aggressive toward teachers & classmates at her preschool, which she attends full-time (9-5). With teachers she has been hitting, kicking, & scratching when they try to discipline her (this mainly happens during nap time--she tries to get attention by making noise, moving around, & when they try to get her to quiet down, she lashes out). She has also started hitting & kicking classmates for no reason. She even threw a chair at the cubbies & dislodged the plexiglass in between the cubbies. A lot of these things happen when she hasn't napped, but that's no excuse. The teachers are trying various things at school, none of which seem to be working yet.


Yesterday when I went to pick her up, she had been on a rampage for the last 30 minutes. The books from the book rack in the "quiet space" where she was supposed to stay were strewn all over the floor. The wooden blocks and plastic utensils in another play area were all over the floor, where she had thrown them. The teachers, who combined have decades of experience, said that none of their strategies worked.


This was the worst behavior I have ever seen in her. When she has tantrums at home or out & about, they eventually pass and then she's fine. We've only had to remove her from a store or restaurant a handful of times. She was not having a tantrum yesterday. There was no crying or screaming or yelling. It was just pure, unbridled defiance. She refused to pick up the blocks or books. I eventually got her to pick up all the books and some of the blocks, but then she started throwing the blocks. I tried to make her stay on the couch for a time out (there's no separate room where they can go), but she kept getting off & I kept putting her back on & it became like a game, so I gave up. By the time all was said and done, I told her that the animals she sleeps with would be removed for 2 nights (the rule until this point has been that we take them away for 1 night on the days that she's been violent or disrespectful). I also told her she would get a time out when we got home--this got increased to 6 time-outs because she wasn't picking things up. She threw her jacket & I told her she could not wear it the next day. She refused to put her socks & shoes on until I told her I was leaving & started walking toward the door. When she threw a block at the wall & it came within a few feet of hitting her teacher, I just picked her up & left. I was livid. I felt like a complete failure as a parent. I felt like I'm raising a little sociopath.


She is often a handful at home & sometimes hits when she's upset & out of control--but nothing like what I saw yesterday. Meltdowns are frequent. Again, this usually happens during the week on the days that she doesn't nap, which is most days. When meltdowns occur, we immediately take her up to her room to settle down. But for the school incidents that occur when we're not there, we're not sure what to do about it on the home front. Yesterday was an exception in that I witnessed the behavior that these poor teachers have been dealing with.


Last week we started a jar with cotton balls. She gets one for getting through various routines (taking bath, getting dressed, getting ready for bed, etc.) without a meltdown, talking back, etc. She gets extra ones if she's respectful to us, teachers, & friends all day; they can also be taken away for being direspectful, hitting, etc. When the jar is full, we'll go get ice cream. It should have been beyond full by now, but it's maybe 1/4 full. It is not working at all. We have a coloring reward chart for another behavior (not waking us up at night) that has worked beautifully since we started it 4 nights ago. She said she would prefer to color as a reward for being respectful and nonviolent, so we're going to do that. Other things we're doing: We've stopped letting her play "teacher" with us (she's the teacher, we're the "kids"). (This was one of her favorite roles.) She can no longer call us by our first names (she did this when playing the teacher role). \


After she came out of her 18 minute time-out yesterday, she was calm & pleasant the rest of the evening. I told her that when she does throws, hits, kicks, etc. she is sending people the message that she wants to be alone. No one wants to be around or be friends with someone like that.


She knows these behaviors are wrong. She knows hitting/kicking hurts. She can tell you how someone feels when they get kicked/hit/scratched. (Until now she has always been very empathetic and nurturing toward others.) She can name 4 other things she can do instead (talk about it, walk away, draw an angry picture, go find a teacher). She is extremely articulate, so it's not an inability to express herself. We are just at our wits' end. She hasn't ever done this with kids at church or when she's playing with kids on the weekends.


There are no changes in any other aspect of our lives that may have brought this on. As far as I know, she doesn't have symptoms of ADHD--no problems with attention or overactivity. You know it's bad when experienced teachers have no idea what to do.


I'd appreciate any suggestions.

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#2 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 06:51 PM
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It sounds like she is quite a spitfire! I have a few resources to recommend. If you haven't looked into it already, a classic for the type of child you are raising is Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. This book is about temperament and dealing with children that are more intense, have a harder time with transitions, adaptability, etc. There is also a workbook. Second I would recommend looking into whether she has some sensory integration issues. Many bright spirited child have some kind of sensory processing challenge, OR they just benefit from certain sensory experiences to help them calm down. Third, her teachers need to look at her not as a problem to be fixed but as a puzzle to be figured out. They may be experienced but not necessarily with spirited children. Is there any independent consultant that could come in to do an observation and make recommendations? The following website and approach, are considered 'state of the art' for preschools these days, and the teachers might be able to find some good resources here. Some children respond very well to picture schedules or other visual reminders. Some children need social stories read to them (several on this website). Some other good resources are:


Hands are Not for Hitting

Teeth are not for Biting

(children's books).


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#3 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 06:53 PM
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Here is the CSEFEL website


There is a section for parents and one for teachers and caregivers. Loads of great ideas here.


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#4 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 07:35 PM
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I'm very short on time but my four year old can be like this at times. We've said in the past we feared we were raising a sociopath as well. I'm sure we are not and I'm sure you're not either.

I noticed you're doing a lot of punishments and rewards. It doesn't sound like they're working for her. When my son is that upset, that doesn't work for him either. We usually calmly tell him it looks like he's angry, frustrated, sad, whatever and if he's being physically aggressive will say "it looks like you need help settling down your body.". To which he will either say yes or he will scream and carry on. Normally settling his body consists of a nice tight long hug (deep pressure) which he likes and which many kids with sensory issues will respond positively to, or sitting down and blowing slllllllllow bubbles into a glass with a straw (deep breaths), or taking him on our lap, cuddling a bit, talking calmly and quietly about his feelings as well as our expectations for his behavior. This seems to short circuit the tantrum, whereas punishments and rewards do not. Sometimes he truly needs help to get back to a calm and rational state. I'd see what helps her calm down and try that first. Sometimes you really have to help them stop their aggressive behavior and help them have success with that rather than just threatening and enforcing punishments and taking away rewards which is undoubtedly going to spin a kid like mine or yours into a bigger rage where they have no chance of being successful at calming down and making a better choice. You're not losing or giving in by helping her settle down. You're teaching her a skill and from there you can discuss better behavior for the future and how she can handle strong emotions.
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#5 of 6 Old 09-17-2012, 12:47 PM
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I only know what you have posted, but to me she seems stressed and her behavior can become aggressive when so. Frequent peer interaction for young children can be stressful, and if it is all day, she may be having a hard time with it. Young children are just learning social skills from family.  A room full of three year olds cannot teach each other social skills, they can socialize but not teach one another the skills that an adult can guide (as to what is culturally appropriate). Lord of the Flies scenario can occur, even with a reponsive teacher who is trying to supervise interactions among young children may find it difficult to catch conflicts. Even a low ratio though say 6 or 8:1 adult still can make it difficult to watch over the class. A mom of sextuplet three year olds is going to have a difficult time of it, so a teacher with 8, 10, 12 has quite a challenge. If this is the issue and your daughter is stressed, there are ways to help though, the following article has some helpful reccomendation:




My other thought is, if you are not already, become informed on preschool bullying. Those who are being bullied whether by preschool students or, surprise, the teacher, may feel such anxiety that their behavior becomes aggressive, lashing out when and where they do not feel safe.

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#6 of 6 Old 09-17-2012, 08:48 PM
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Ditto to all of the above, also this behavior made me think maybe she has low blood sugar? I get enraged and start hitting myself and things around me (no joke!) when I am hypoglycemic. My daughter seems to also be "no good" when she's gone awhile without eating. It's bad because a snack while tantruming reinforces bad behavior but maybe the teachers know right about when it's going to happen and can give her something beforehand and see if it works? Worth a try. Also, I'm bad not just because I dont eat but if I eat a high starch/sugar meal and then rapidly drop bloodsugar afterwards (within an hour) I'll have the same result. I'll be like "But I just ate!!" but know it was because it was only pancakes or only Jelly crackers or something not balanced.

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