4yo with persistent, severe tantrums/terrors––total chaos. Wisdom, please? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 04-16-2012, 10:10 AM - Thread Starter
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Hello all.


It's been a very long time since I have posted.  I am having a very unsettling situation with my daughter, four years old this month, and I am finding myself at a loss.  I'm hoping very much that someone might have some ideas, experience, or wisdom to share.  I have gotten such wonderful advice here in years past.


My dd has had maybe four massive, epic tantrums in the past six weeks or so.  Once it was in the night (on that occasion, I finally helped her back to sleep, and then she woke up again for round two about 45 minutes later), and the other times have been in the day or evening.  They have been triggered by either nothing discernible (like the nighttime one) or else something very minor ("I can't find my shoe!").  What it looks like is her being incredibly angry, screaming bloody murder, and going extremely rigid in her body.  She will make one demand after the next ("I need fridge milk!  I need [insert choice of song]!  I need to go downstairs!"), but has seemingly no ability to process my unchanging responses ("Yes, as soon as you are calmer, we can do that").  Sometimes she will yell that I am hurting her, when my body is actually being very gentle.  She will lob all sorts of blame and insults, I suppose in an attempt to externalize the distress she feels.  I don't doubt that she feels some kind of pain––physical and emotional, both––but it's very hard to put a finger on what it's really about or to figure out how to show her the way out.


These episodes have lasted what feels like a really long time.  It happened just last night, and I had a chance to glance at the clock and note that it went on for about an hour.  


I have responded by trying to stay really calm and present, but not tolerating any physical abuse.  I have tried insisting on her taking space and calming herself when it feels like my presence is only making it worse, but this seems to me to be a failed approach.  She acts as if she's genuinely completely lost it and is overtaken by chaos, body and mind both.  As much as the nonstop screaming pushes my limits, I feel like she needs the safe presence of a parent to anchor her in whatever way possible.  I have tried helping her to cut it off and being very assertive in having her change gears, breathe, notice something in the room, etc.  I have also tried letting her have it out and get to a natural end.  I guess the latter feels a little better to me, but it's a long haul and it's really intense.  I have lost my temper and yelled at times, unfortunately.  I don't feel certain about what she needs, or how to summon the resources to give it to her.  To endure such endless screaming is incredibly difficult for me.


The first time or two, I felt like it was just a blip.  I know she is working on some stuff right now, and I know she feels things very deeply in general, so I let it go.  But last night I felt worried, and it started to feel like a pattern.  


This is a kid who is exceptionally strong-willed and persistent, even compared to her very intense older sister.  She lets nothing go, ever!  So for her to become unhinged and then have extreme difficulty letting go of her upset and moving on is not totally out of character.  But here's the thing: I am used to having pretty intense kids, and even by these standards, this is really extreme.  She acts almost... possessed?


A bit of background: going on two years ago, her papa and I separated.  She was a wee nursling at the time, and didn't react much at first.  A few months after the split, she started having episodes very similar to these in the night.  I surmised that it was related to all the changes/grief, and rode it out with her as best I could.  It passed, and she has seemed basically very well-adjusted, strong, happy, and healthy since then.  


Lately I am sensing that there is another wave of grief/adjustment happening for her, now that she is at a different stage in her ability to understand it all.  My gut tells me that these tangled-up feelings are likely at the bottom of what is happening for her.  I've been talking to her teachers (wonderful Montessorians), reading books about divorce with her, and trying to provide her with more language and narrative about it all.  


But I don't know (a) how to be helping/supporting her better in general or (b) how to best mother her through these nightmarish episodes, when they happen.  Do we need outside help?  If so, what sort?


Any help greatly appreciated.  I'm worried about my lovely girl.

Meg, BFARing mama to two spirited daughters, born at home June 05 and April 08.
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#2 of 9 Old 04-16-2012, 11:56 AM
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that sounds really hard. hugs to you. I think you do need out side help. I am not sure how to advise because every family dynamic always has so many layers so it is hard to know what is really going on. I would first get her checked out for a physical ailment. Perhaps she is dealing with pain? If you get her checked out and she is fine, then you can know it is something else. Then yes, find a chlild psychologist/ family psychologist.  they have ways to help children express what it is that is actually bothering them, and to look at your situation from an outside perspective ans perhaps show you things about her or you that you can't see from being so close. I would do it soon- just get as much help and info as you can. good luck to you.

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#3 of 9 Old 04-17-2012, 12:28 PM
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That does sound hard.


Four massive tantrums in 6 weeks doesn't sound out of the ordinary at all.  I think that's a good number actually.


But, even to you, the tantrums seem out of proportion.  So, I'm guessing it is.  Without being involved in it, there's no way we can get the idea like you are.   I had someone try to explain to me once that she thought her baby was having seizures, but to me, it sounded like he was just stretching.  Once i saw it, she was right, it wasn't stretching.... so, they actually had to catch it on video tape before the doctors would believe that it wasn't just a sleepy baby stretching.


Maybe you could document a tantrum for a few moments on video tape to show someone you trust?  


I don't have any advice, but I didn't want to read and post nothing.  I hope you get some good answers or links.  

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#4 of 9 Old 04-17-2012, 12:52 PM
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Otherwise, if this is just a normal heavy duty tantrum..... Honestly, I just ignore them.    Some kids want help, some kids want to be left alone.  It depends on your child.  I think forcing yourself on an angry child is just as bad as leaving them alone in a bedroom to have a fit.  Be there, but you might not need to touch her... if she's hurting you, leave.  If she's endangering herself, obviously, you HAVE to hold her.  But, if it's just a good old rolling, screaming, shrieking tantrum, let her be.


I realize if she's waking up and having a tantrum, you can't just let that go... there's some reason for that.  Maybe she's uncomfortable, or had a nightmare...but, you need to help her through that.


Being angry for no apparent reason is not unusual at three or four.  Little things can set them off.  Sometimes it's just uncomfortable socks or pants, but they don't really KNOW what's wrong, so eventually they just have a meltdown.  Have you ever been itchy, or your pants are too tight?  If you can't really figure out what's wrong, it makes you really cranky....but, then you go change your clothes, or buy a different soap, and you can handle it.  Kids can't always handle it.

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#5 of 9 Old 04-19-2012, 07:29 PM
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Only you can judge the intensity, but I wanted to chime in to say my almost 4yr old has been having some wild ANGRY tantrums lately too.  His demands are often impossible, and or change through the tantrum.  screaming, thrashing, moaning, bizarre strained movements ... the whole bit.  hope he moves on to a new stage soon!

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#6 of 9 Old 04-28-2012, 06:56 AM
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I would trust your gut that she is working on things related to your family situation.  


I would try not to be too concerned.   But if you feel she might need a neutral outlet, take her in for a couple of sessions of play therapy with someone you trust.  It's basically a safe modality for "letting it out" with a caring, trained adult.  I am not saying your daughter is unusual or pathological.  It's just an option people don't tend to consider.  We had issues with our six year old and did a couple of sessions.  A lot her complaints and unhappiness went away afterwards once it was taken seriously.  I don't know about such a little one, but my dd appreciated that I took her problems seriously enough to get her some extra help.

Kids. I got two of 'em.
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#7 of 9 Old 04-28-2012, 10:09 AM
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My daughter started having extremely intense tantrums starting after she turned 3.  Sometimes she have several in one day and often they would last for up to an hour.  She would also hit and bite herself etc.  It was really disturbing and nothing seemed to help. She was also becoming very oppositional.  Basically EVERY thing became a battle.  Something as simple as going outside to play could cause a tantrum because she wouldn't put shoes on, or we couldn't find X jacket.  She was also very sensitive to how things felt on her body which caused many melt downs.  It was an extremely hard time.


Finally I just couldn't take it anymore.  She started junior kindergarten in September and a couple days I just couldn't get her there.  Finally I called up a centre that specializes in children (psychologist, occupational therapy, speech therapy etc.)  We ended up seeing a wonderful psychologist and she gave us some tools but mostly confidence to take charge of the situation.  My daughter is just more intense then the average child... she doesn't have any official diagnosis.


The first thing we were asked to do was to spend 20 mins a day of "Everly time".  We would play with her one on one and do whatever she wanted.  During this 20 mins she was supposed to feel like the most amazing kid.  We were told to narrate what we saw her doing "Wow you are making a big tower... look how tall it is..." etc..


We did that for a couple of weeks.


Then we were given a book "The Incredible Years" parenting program.  I really enjoyed this book and worried it would not jive with AP... but was great.  It is all about creating a strong bond as the foundation and then limit setting etc.


My daughter had a big turn around when we got stricter with rules and consequences.  Nothing radical we were just more clear about what was allowed and what wasn't.  For example my daughter would run out of the house without waiting for me.  I started saying "if you don't wait for me then we won't go outside", after a couple times of not going outside she started waiting nicely.  


I read a lot about consensual parenting and always tried to be as consensual as I could.  As it turned out my daughter needs the security of clear boundaries and natural/ logical consequences.  She is SO much happier and balanced now.


My daughter will always be intense but with the help of the psychologist and using some tips from the book she has really done a 180.  It is amazing really and life is so much more pleasant.


My only regret is not going and getting some help earlier.  I was always reading parenting books but seeing the psychologist gave me clarity as to what my daughter/ family needed to do specifically and it also gave me a lot more confidence with limit setting.


If you can afford it or if you have coverage I would highly recommend seeing someone.  It might just take a few sessions but for us it was a life saver!


Good luck!

Me: Shannon (33) mom to DD Everly born May 9, 2007 and Maisie born May 26
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#8 of 9 Old 04-28-2012, 01:10 PM
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My older daughter was like this and had really intense tantrums until she was around 5, so bad that a nurse suggested I document them to see if they were actually seizures. But they did go away and, while she is still very emotionally intense and probably always will be, she no longer has tantrums, at 10, and hasn't for a long long long time.

I do think it can be normal, and four in six weeks seems normal to me, personally.
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#9 of 9 Old 04-29-2012, 09:51 AM
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you have already received some very good advice.


all i want to say is that through this time the first priority is YOU. what do u do to take care of yourself. nothing is not an option. you HAVE to do it. along with intensity comes sensitivity. and many times esp. at that age kids pick up on what mom is feeling. 


between 4 and 5 it was really hard for us because we had family illness happening. i had to make time to take care of myself - which sometimes just meant sitting down for a minute and enjoying my cold glass of water.


the key here as a mom is to be able to empathise with your child. and do what your child wants. does she want you to stay with her or does she want some space. honestly i do feel this is hormonal coz of the intensity of emotion. 


you have to ride this one.


however if you feel this is way out of the normal you might check with your ped and get an eval done. no one can tell you what is normal. 


at that age i had to figure out what my dd wanted. she'd say she wants some space from me but then she'd want me to come back to her before she'd ask and she'd lose it if i didnt come back at a good time. 


for me at that age it was v. helpful to focus on my dd. realise that SHE is going through a hard time and doesnt quite know what to do. that helped me be present with her (either next to her or in the room next to her) with a compassionate heart. just that sense of confidence where you feel compassion for your child and you kinda feel you are doing the right thing. and boy did she know how my heart was every single time. which is why it was important to me to voice my emotional state at times. mama is tired and angry (not when she is having her tantrum) so be careful. it really helped me being that open. 


another thing - when they are in the middle of the tantrum let them be. dont try ANYTHING (unless it was dangerous). my dd would lose all sight of reason while in a tantrum. sometimes she had to let it out. sometimes she needed me next to her calmly talking to her. "i am sorry it hurts. i wish i could make things better for you. i am sorry you feel i dont understand how you feel....." i also took care of myself so her words did not affect me. this is when her 'i hate you' started. i didnt take it personally, but just as a symptom of how deeply she is feeling whatever she is feeling. 


 know that really age is the magic pill. very few people can believe that my 9 year old used to be that 3 or 4 or 5 year old. 


now what does ur gut say. if ur gut is confused - ride it out. if your gut v. strongly says something is up - then go check it out. 

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