help with out-of-control 3-year-old - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 08:22 AM - Thread Starter
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(Cross-posted in toddlers forum.)


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, 08:52 AM
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I'm so sorry you are dealing with this.  I think it might be a good idea to get a full developmental evaluation.  If she is acting out because of sensory issues that are starting to stress her out more, or another developmental issue going on, there is help.

A, jammin.gif mama to a boy (2005) and a girl (2009)
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#3 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 02:32 PM
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The change in behavior warrants looking into abuse of some kind, especially sexual.  I'd probably either take her to a therapist for an evaluation or, at minimum, bringing up touching at some appropriate time (bathing, for example) and calmly asking her during the discussion.  Probably nothing is going on--but it is worth investigating.

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#4 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 03:28 PM
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I think you're really on the right track with the rewards system, but at her age she needs faster gratification for it to work well. Can you figure something out she would like that you can do in the evening after a good day? And then maybe after a week with at least 5 good days she can have something bigger (ice cream, a movie).
It does sound like she's angry about something but it could be she just figured out she *can* do this and she wants the attention. I would recommend trying your best to be as non-reactive about it as you can muster, though I know you must be really upset. Hugs, Mama.
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#5 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 07:27 PM
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I agree with the previous posters who are suggesting you look further to find causes for her behavior. Does she have to go to preschool? For such a long day? Can you try another preschool with a shorter day? Or take her out altogether? Something is not working for her, and it is especially concerning that she used to be "sweet." Behavioral changes that are this extreme just don't come out of the blue.  

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#6 of 6 Old 09-14-2012, 08:49 PM
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just a thought, if she enjoys playing teacher and you are the student: play it with her and tell her that this time, you are going to be a student who is acting very very mad, and do or pretend to do some of the things she does, and ask her to act out how a teacher reacts. see what happens. maybe you can glean some insight into the situation through what she shows you through play. 

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