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LiLStar 05-30-2014 02:48 PM

I have no tools, no strategy, my 5yo is impossible. long.
When my daughter was 3, I really struggled. And even when I had such a hard time with her, I was cognitively aware "this is normal, age appropriate behavior, and she is probably even on the easy side of normal" I knew a lot of it was "its me, not her". I had ppd, which I sought help for. She turned 4, I noticed her behavior improving, and with it our relationship. She became delightful to be around again. By 5, absolute dream child! 5 is such a wonderful age! (We won't discuss some of the attitude that comes along around 6-7, but still, manageable! ;) lol)

when my son was just turning 3 and was difficult, I sighed, did my best, and reminded myself that 3 is a really tough age and he'll outgrow it, and I looked forward to 5 when everything would be perfect! As he neared 4, I thought, "wow, where do you draw the line between normal pain in the butt 3yo, and outside the range of normal issues?" I still held out hope for 5. On his 5th birthday, I cried. BEcause he has not improved. I have nothing. I've pretty much given up. I have no good ways of dealing with him when he gets out of control, which feels constant. I've tried to observe what triggers him and when he's at his best.

A major one is presence of siblings. He can sometimes play nice with one or the other, which is lovely, but when he has one on one time he's at his best. He's so calm. He'll play nicely with toys, or just talk to me. But the fact is, he has 2 siblings and in a couple months, there'll be a 3rd. Big sis goes to school, but the little one is weaning off naps so there's no guaranteed break time from him.

Whenever I try to google advice for dealing with a difficult child, a big thing mentioned is tantrums, as though tantrums is the only issue a child could have? Tantrums are no problem here. What I observe in him is that something starts small and it quickly escalates. Tell him to stop doing something and he'll seem so pleased that he's found a way to bother someone that he'll do it more, and ramp it up, and laugh. Holding the cat on the couch too tight and I can hear it crying, "the cat wants to go, you need to let him go" and when I go over to save the poor cat, he'll kick him off, yell that he hates him, blow a raspberry at me, the go find something else obnoxious to do. When he plays with his brother, its usually very rambunctiously. In and of itself, a little consensual rough housing as long as everyone is having fun is fine. I step in when I hear the little one saying "no" or fussing. Then he'll escalate, do whatever it is more (lay on him, hit, kick, whatever) and turn on me if I physically separate them. I now cringe when they start laughing maniacally and chasing eachother around because I know there's literally only seconds before the happy turns into screaming :( He's also prone to just attacking one sibling or another with no provocation whatsoever.Like walking around the grocery store as a family, both parents present, and just grabbing his sister's hair and yanking it really hard. wth? Or taking my exercise bal and chucking it right at his brother from a couple feet away and knocking him down like a bowling pin. And from the look on his face when he does things like this, he knows its wrong and he is pleased with himself for doing it.

In the car (and thank goodness we finally have a van instead of cramming them all in the same row) its really typical for him to deliberately do something to irritate one of his siblings. dd gives him very satisfying reactions that I need to work with her on, but a kid should be able to say in a normal voice "can you stop?" without that being the magic word that makes him explode into obnoxiousness (and then her reactions get bigger, and on and on) With the youngest, who he can't physically reach, he'll do something silly (hit himself in the head, make faces, whatever) because it makes his brother scream. he's not "technically" doing anything wrong, but he's doing it because of the reaction he gets.

I feel like I have no tools to deal with him. time outs "sort of" work. In that when he's in his escalating "i'm making it my life goal to run around like a tornado pushing every button i can find and tormenting my siblings" after a time out he might actually act normally for a few minutes before starting again. But omg getting him there in the first place! His room is upstairs, and he won't just go. If I'm at the end of my rope literally *screaming* not yelling, *losing my shit screaming* he might, this is a big maybe, MIGHT run crying to his room. But usually I have to drag him there. And he's getting bigger, stronger, and I'm getting, well, bigger and more pregnant and somewhat less strong! Meanwhile he's hitting, spitting, scratching, kicking, doing everything possible to make the process miserable. And often smiling about it. He will often calm down in there, but he seriously needs that alone time. I can tell he's a kid who needs his space. Its so much trouble to get him to time out that there's often times that I just ignore it even when he's being awful. Its just too much work. And I often avoid telling him to stop doing something, or giving a simple instruction, simply because no matter how I say it it just escalates him to make him worse, and, since I know he won't listen it just gives him an opportunity to disobey, and just further demonstrates how much power he has, and how little I have, and its so demoralizing I just can't bear it.

There are some things that may be in the range of normal, but are just one more obnoxious thing that he seems a little old for, or just seem sort of borderline in general. Like begging and freaking out to be carried. He knows I won't (can't!) so he won't bother with me, but when we're as a family he'll freak out of dh doesn't carry him, which is especially hard because sometimes the 2yo just really needs to be carried, and its hard for me. so he'll walk for me, but not his dad. I've tried telling dh to just stop, he'll throw a fit about it for awhile but eventually accept that he has to walk within a few weeks. It just seems like something that, developmentally, he'd outgrow by now. He's even freaked out over being carried just from the car to the house, so its not like he's tired. And bedtime, he still needs someone to lay with him till he's asleep. The boys share a room and it takes 2 parents to get them asleep, a parent in each bed. We really need to transition this to one parent, in a chair, but dh is just taking the "easy for right now" way. I can sit next to ds2's bed sometimes and he handles that better than ds1. Ugh. There's some things that point to sensory, but I really don't think he fits for full on SPD. he gets upset over loud noises, like fireworks and movie theaters (had to leave during previews once to walk across the street to the store for ear plugs) and really likes light gentle tickles, or being brushed with the therapressure brush. Another weird thing is it is he refuses to wear short sleeve shirts. most of his long sleeve ones are getting too small, and i've bought him some new short sleeve ones but he justs won't. We had 85* weather a couple weeks ago and I couldn't get him into a t shirt for anything. He also lies. Tons. His brother did it. Or the cat. Even when the evidence is airtight. Even when he's not in trouble at all and I'm not approaching him in any way that is expressing disapproval. Sometimes HE is the one to bring it up (something broken, whatever) while insisting he didn't do it.

I think he does have some anxiety too. He'll be excited for birthday parties and play dates, but when I come to pick him up, there's no "no, i want to stay longer!"..ever.. he runs out the door and grabs onto me. I arrived a little early while the party was winding down planning to just relax with him a little, but he just wanted to go. At another the mom said for the last little bit of the party he was asking for me. New fun places, like a trampoline place, he clings or wants me to jump with him, won't just let loose and PLAY and let me sit. (I don't think its necessarily overwhelmed by noises/crowds, because he's on cloud 9 at certain very noisy/crowded places that require constant parent contact)

He's fine at preschool. He's been going for 2 years so its a familiar place. His teacher has no concerns. There was some problems last Dec where mornings were really rough. I had to drag him from the car kicking and screaming, and the teachers had to hold him back when I left so he wouldn't chase me out the door. After a couple weeks of that (and knowing he was having fun at school) I did some soul searching and had to decide that I was okay with whatever choice he made. I talked to him and gave him the choice of whether he wanted to keep going to preschool or if he wanted to stop. He chose to keep going, and our drop off problems immediately stopped. There was one more incident recently, triggered by me insisting he washed his hands immediately upon arrival because he'd been eating something with peanuts in it in the car and there are a few allergic kids. And then I remembered that last Dec when he was doing the same thing, I also made him wash his hands for the same reason! Very strange trigger.

His absolute best behavior is at my sil's house. No idea what exactly it is, but its probably the one place we can go where he doesn't beg to go home. He's definitely comfortable there. When she babysits she never has any problems with his behavior, and I think finds it hard to believe that he's so horrible at home. He seems to fit all/most the criteria for ODD, but then wouldn't he demonstrate that at preschool, or with my sil?

Today was the last day of preschool. I'm so scared. There go all my breaks till Sept :( The only time i get any peace is if he's glued to a screen.

IdentityCrisisMama 06-03-2014 05:00 AM

Hi, Mama --

I didn't want to read and not respond but I also don't have the focus to thoroughly read right now.

My normal advice for 3 year olds is to "wait until 5". That's about the time that my first got easier for me. Is your son going to enter full-time school next year? That may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

One quick thought as I read about the long sleeved shirts - what about one of those snuggle nest swings? I read that they are nice for sensory stuff. We couldn't do one of the "real" ones but Ikea has one for under $35. They hang from a branch and the kids can get in and get all snuggled as they read or swing.

I also want to say that his behavior does sound really, really challenging. Sometimes I read about a behavior problem and I think, "Oh, I could probably suggest something to solve that problem." Here, I'm not having that feeling at all.

Have you read some of the books written specifically for children with trouble with behavior management - I think there is one that is "The Explosive Child".

I hope you find some solutions for you, him, and the family.

callahansmama 06-03-2014 08:26 AM

My son just turned 4 and has A LOT of the same qualities. He is pretty challenging for everyone equally though! Lol His dad works away 2/3 of the time so most of the pressure is on me day to day but my parents help out a lot.
I am hoping that he won't struggle too much in school but it will depend on he expectations of the teacher I think (a lot of sitting vs. moving around, hands on vs. paper pencil and whether she will take the time to listen to him...)
I am simultaneously reading The Explosive Child as well as Raising Your Spirited Child. So far,I would highly recommend both. Would love to keep in touch and maybe bounce ideas off each other since our kids sound so similar!
I know how tough it is and how isolating and upsetting it can be. After beginning these books and reading articles on aha I feel like I have a better understanding that he is not doing the behaviour "to me" and that he's got some areas that we need to work on so that he CAN do better and that right now he really doesn't have the skills to do so. Message me anytime:)

tadamsmar 06-04-2014 06:56 AM


Does your SIL just have him one-on-one or does she also not have problems when he is with either or both of the other 2 kids?

tadamsmar 06-04-2014 10:32 AM

There is some good news in your post. It's good news that he behaves well with your SIL and at preschool. That probably means that you just need to change things at home. Still could be ODD I guess, but ODD is just a list of symptoms, so it does not matter for DIY problem solving.

It’s also good news that he sometimes plays nice with one or the other. You can build on that by “catching him being good” and reinforcing wanted behavior with positive attention. Give him lots of experience with getting positive attention for doing things you want him to do, in particular the behaviors that are the positive opposite of the common unwanted behaviors.

When you give positive attention, give it as a immediate reaction to his good behavior, get close to him, touch him, be enthusiastic (lots of emotion), be specific (say what you saw), don’t caboose any criticism on the end – no “but…” – make it purely positive. Don’t take good or acceptable behavior for granted, encourage it by giving it this kind of positive attention.

For the unwanted behavior, ignore it if it is harmless (harmless in the short run). That way it will not be reinforced by parental attention. Don’t look at him, walk away or go about your business. Ignore raspberries, saying he hates the cat, other obnoxious but harmless behavior.

You can sometimes impose a kind of time-out without relocating him. When he mistreats the cat, immediately go over and pick up the cat and take it away. Don’t look at him, no face-time, no eye-contact, and don’t speak to him. Turn away and walk away. If you feel a need to monitor him, then stay in the same room and watch him out of the corner of your eye. Ignore all his harmless unwanted behavior.
You can teach time-outs by having him do pretend time-outs and give him positive attention or tangible rewards for executing a good pretend time-out. Then you can do the same for a real time-out. Time-outs work even if you reward a well-executed time-out.

You are right to avoid the battles of wills when he defies your attempts to relocate him for a time-out. That is all counter-productive.

You might also try same approach as with the cat when he mistreats his brother or sister. Take them away and leave him where he is ignored. But it might be better to take an even handed approach and send all involved for quiet time. The siblings might have a role in instigating his behavior. Also, encourage them to ignore him when he makes faces at them.

I use the methods in the book

LiLStar 06-04-2014 03:57 PM

SIL has him usually with one or more sibling, and with one or more of her own kids. Its not regularly or anything, just at random.

He'll be in half day kindergarten in the fall, which will be nice, but only a little nicer than preschool ;) Same length of time, but 4 days instead of 3, and free instead of hundreds per month, lol!! He seems a little anxious about the change though. I mean, I'm pretty sure he'll adapt within a few weeks and decide he likes it, but he's certainly not excited. dh actually is worried that public school in general will be a poor fit for him, and mentioned possibly looking into homeschooling him. Thats too overwhelming for me to consider without trying school first.

I'd heard about the book the explosive child and when I was looking at the amazon listing a few weeks ago I was getting the impression that it was for more extreme tantrummy type behavior? he doesn't often tantrum, when he's in his "explosive" mode he's all smiles. Then browsing more I found Transforming The Difficult Child, which looked like it might be a good one from the reviews. I tried to put it on hold at the library but I need to go in and pay some fines before I can even place the hold. Ugh! I finally found the book thats missing at least. The library isn't a pleasant place to bring my kids ;) So, its just a matter of thinking of it when dh is home and I have the opportunity to go alone.

I do try and make a point to praise specific good behavior. I'm sure I could find more opportunities to do so if I was actively thinking about watching for opportunities to do so.

And the siblings.. the 2.5yo is going to be a normal 2.5yo. Sometimes I can tell ds1 really wants some space to play something, like trains or whatever, and of course ds2 wants to be all up in his business so I try and distract him away. ds2 is less often the instigator (but not never) and more often "in the way" when he's already been triggered by something else, or the victim of a rough housing gone too far incident, when he's not respecting the "no"s or the "stop"s. dd triggers him a lot though. She's not 100% innocent, but a good many of the times she triggers him she's not technically doing anything wrong. We've also noted sometimes his behavior shifts as soon as she gets home even if she is behaving completely neutrally (sitting on the couch watching tv, not engaging him at all) One thing that really seems to trigger him is if he says something and she corrects him. any time the word "actually..." comes out of her mouth I cringe. I really need to have a not-in-the-heat-of-the-moment talk with her that she needs to just let him be wrong, and we can smile smugly to ourselves knowing that we know the real truth about such and such topic, but there's no point correcting him. And also maybe even a code word or hand signal for when I can see he's already been triggered by something or other to indicate to her to not speak to him or interact with him at all, or else it'll make him worse. She gives very satisfying reactions. That's his weird thing. He'll be normal and then something relatively minor will set him off, and he'll run with it. It could be a pleasant afternoon until "actually...." comes out of dd's mouth, or just any other very minor annoyance, then next thing he's shouting back. then, its just hard to describe exactly what he's like. Very impulsive, for sure. He just kinda "goes".

tadamsmar 06-04-2014 05:03 PM

Transforming the Difficult Child is good. Here's something on the approach:

It's overall similar to the "Kazdin Method" book I mentioned. I personally think the Kazdin Method book it better just because the author has more credentials, but I don't know which book will be better at helping *you* catch on to the process better and get results.

Transforming the Difficult Child is good at emphasizing putting a lot of emotion and enthusiasm into your reaction when you praise good behavior. You have to tailor the level to the kid, it can be too much for some kids. But I have a hunch that over the top emotion when giving positive attention/praise will work well for your 5 yo.

LiLStar 06-04-2014 05:36 PM

Well, the library is free (umm, at least it is when I return stuff on time rather than rack up fines) I'll check out both.

tadamsmar 06-05-2014 05:22 AM

Other ideas and tool...

Use a Kindness Chart

Use methods from the free online version of Power of Positive Parenting. The author raised a large family.

IdentityCrisisMama 06-05-2014 06:13 AM

A thought on praise at this age...

I wonder if part of the emotional work kids are doing at this age are about the conditions of approval, love, acceptance. I think that a lot of these praise/reward tools work well for a lot of kids -- and some not so much. I've read some pretty compelling books and articles against the case of using praise to influence behavior.

I would suggest paying close attention to that dynamic to see if you get really emotionally healthy responses as opposed to the type of behavior you want to see in the short term.

One_Girl 06-05-2014 11:36 AM

He may just need the firm and unemotional consistency babysitters and preschool teachers use for a while. As a mom and a teacher I've found it very helpful to channel my teacher self an put my irritation and worries aside and address the behavior the same way I would if dd was a student in my classroom. I also suggest teaching siblings to firmly demand a stop without being emotional, wishy washy request accompanied with whining are humorous to many children this age so teaching a firmer response will be a good life skill.

tadamsmar 06-05-2014 04:01 PM


Originally Posted by IdentityCrisisMama (Post 17659033)
A thought on praise at this age...

I wonder if part of the emotional work kids are doing at this age are about the conditions of approval, love, acceptance. I think that a lot of these praise/reward tools work well for a lot of kids -- and some not so much. I've read some pretty compelling books and articles against the case of using praise to influence behavior.

I would suggest paying close attention to that dynamic to see if you get really emotionally healthy responses as opposed to the type of behavior you want to see in the short term.

Alfie Kohn recommends a couple of alternatives to praise here:


* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement ("You put your shoes on by yourself" or even just "You did it") tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: "This mountain is huge!" "Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!"

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: "Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack." This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing

* Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking "What was the hardest part to draw?" or "How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?" is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying "Good job!", as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

If you want to heed the warnings from some quarters about praise, use these instead. Scientific research shows that they work better than the generic praise that Kohn recommends against.

LiLStar 06-05-2014 05:05 PM

Yes, my dd does give a VERY entertaining (to a 5yo who is looking for reactions) reaction to threats of attacks. Think cowering on the couch whimpering. I've struggled with how to help her with this. The idea of putting too much responsibility on HER to not be a victim leaves a bad taste in my mouth, since I don't want to plant any seeds that if someone hurts her, its her fault for not preventing it. There's a fine balance, for sure. dh has a tendency to say "just get away from him! go play in your room so he doesn't hurt you!" which I don't think is the best way to handle it (but I totally get the frustration that leads him to suggest that) I think, perhaps, having her practice standing up and firmly saying "STOP" (she is, of course, much bigger and taller than him) could be a little more empowering. But I can see how that can be hard if he's holding up a nice, heavy, solid wood train with his arm back ready to throw it. that would really hurt!

I've ready some of Alfie's stuff before, and I think I have a pretty good habit of using praise very specifically and not mindlessly, ("wow, you climbed all the way to the top! That is really tall!")

One_Girl 06-06-2014 10:58 AM

You might find some useful ideas to apply in The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. It helped me teach my dd alternative behaviors in a way that didn't put the blame on her. It isn't right to treat others badly ever but the reality is there are some behaviors that draw negative attention from peers and I personally felt like it was important to teach for both idealism ans reality. It took over a year to break the habit of whiny responses but the difference in how she felt about herself and how her peers treated her was incredible once she responded more effectively.

aslandess 06-10-2014 08:40 AM

First of all lots of hugs to you Mama!:HugI only have one DD and used to be a preschool teacher so I know how hard it is with lots more. It's harder though when your a Mama at home and your DH is at work, and you don't have anyone to help you! Just know your not alone and parenting is a constant work in progress, we all have our trying times!

So one thing I picked up from your story was that he seems like he wants more attention from you and your hubby. The hurting the other siblings (only when your there) for attention, behaved well at other places (preschool) when your not there, asking for you at the bday party and would rather spend time with you and not be at the party, the need to be carried (close to you), and doing well when he is having one on one time with you (has your attention or knows he doesn't have to compete with siblings for it.)

Maybe you could figure out sometime you could set aside to spend one on one with him? Like perhaps you or hubby could put the little one asleep first in their room, and the other parent could spend one on one time in the living room reading a story, playing a puzzle/card game, or brushing with therapressure brush (that's awesome that you do that, my DD loves it too, she becomes a limp noodle!)

How about a sticker chart with the reward being a special activity/outing with just mom or dad. When you see him interacting well with siblings etc, you can give him a sticker. I wouldn't recommend taking any away, because he has already shown that he'll do something for negative attention. Make sure you catch him being good! Also before a situation where it is often trying, like car rides, tell him what you would like him to do, like "Sing a song to your little brother," and remind him a sticker will be his if he does a good job.

Also try a calm down box, you can include a heavy aromatherapy neck pillow, sensory balloons, squishy balls, slinky, therapressure brush, soft toy to cuddle, etc. Bring the box to him when he's upset and let him choose something and participate with him in helping him calm down. My DD loves me to rock her in a bilibo when she's upset, and I've learned she listens so much better while I'm rocking her, then if I just sit down and talk to her.

Please tell us how it's going, and best of luck to you!

LiLStar 06-10-2014 01:30 PM

That book sounds great! I need to add that one to my to read list (gosh, I really wanted to have a nice pile of fluff-reading while recovering from my upcoming birth.. i better get these done before then! lol)

I think you're right, aslandess, about him really craving attention. Which is why I'm a bit scared to death of the baby on the way :( My attention will be spread a little bit thin particularly while adjusting to 4 kids. dh will be home so that will help. I have a friend who might be able to take my 2yo for a couple hours once in a while to free me up for some one on one time. her 3yo and my 2yo and best buds! I wonder how well a reward sticker chart will work for a kid who is terrible for delaying gratification? He has a history of getting frustrated when it comes to things he works on earning now, but actually gets later. We went to the library to get started on the summer reading program.. whew, was he ever mad that he couldn't just color in all the shapes right then and there and get a prize immediately!

We saw his ped friday for a wcv. I wasn't sure how to bring up all this right in front of him, but a brief mention that I had concerns and "i'm not sure how much i want to say with him right here" and at the end of the exam she had a nurse take both boys to another room with some coloring, whew :) So we got to talk alone for a bit. She gave me a list of psychologists to call, only one of whom was covered by my insurance and they weren't accepting new patients..argh! So then I was back to from scratch, called a practice that was covered, and that particular practice (its massive, its the children's hospital) requires a referral, so it was another call back to ask they write up a referral. So hopefully sometime this week we'll have an appt for that.

tadamsmar 06-11-2014 09:07 AM

You can turn attention-craving to your advantage. Give lots of attention to the wanted behaviors and he will engage in those behaviors in order to get attention. Instead of being frustrated by his attention-getting behavior, think in terms of your and DH's behavior-getting attention. Here's a blog with more info on how to use this strategy:

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