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I am at the end of my rope with my 3.5yo (who turns 4 in August). He's been a "difficult" child since birth but lately I feel like I've just reached my limit with what I can handle. He is very intense and sensitive. Everything he does is "more"; his moods and behavior are always at one extreme or the other. He's energetic and LOUD (his normal voice is more like a shout). He gets his feelings hurt easily, is easily annoyed, and is very whiny. I know that 3 is a typically challenging age but please believe me when I say that this seems to be beyond the range of normal.

I can't seem to do anything right with him. I can't make him happy. He screams all the time and is defiant seemingly just for the sake of being defiant. If something rubs him the wrong way he will either immediately burst into screams or just shut down. He won't look at me, won't speak, won't shake his head yes or no, won't give me any indication of what the issue is. He will just grunt angrily and slap his legs. This takes up a *huge* chunk of our day. I think I've read just about every parenting book there is and *nothing* seems to work with him because he will not let anyone through that barrier he puts up. Most of the time I don't even know what's wrong.

Parenting him is exhausting. I feel like I'm always walking on eggshells because I'm dreading the next tantrum. I wake up to him screaming most mornings and I put him to bed at night amidst more screaming. I've been having issues with depression. My 5.5yo has begun repressing his anger because he "doesn't want to be like J". My 1.5yo is imitating the grunting and leg-slapping behavior. Neither child is getting the attention they need because I'm busy "putting out fires" with my 3yo all day. DH has a hard time dealing with the behavior and is harsher with ds than I think is appropriate, which creates issues between us. The neighbors have called the landlord to complain about the noise (screaming and stomping). When he really gets going I'm afraid someone in the neighborhood is going to call CPS because of the way he carries on. It's like everything revolves around ds's behavior.

I try to ensure that ds gets enough sleep each night and I encourage daytime naps when they seem to be needed. (Things are much worse when he hasn't had enough sleep.) I've tracked his diet and I've tried eliminating things to see whether I could identify anything that had an effect on his behavior. We limit screen time, he gets plenty of outside "active" time and sensory play. I don't know what else to do. We're all miserable. He only acts this way with us - he's cheerful and cooperative with others and I feel like I can't talk about this with people because they won't believe me or think I'm exaggerating. And above all, I feel so bad for this child. I can't imagine what it must be like to be always on the verge of blowing up. He can be so incredibly sweet and loving and it just breaks my heart to see him so unhappy this often.

Has anyone else had a child like this? How do you deal with it? How do you help your other children deal with it? I am so incredibly drained and I feel like such a failure as a parent. I am a very calm, go-with-the-flow, patient person but this has gotten to be more than I can handle and something needs to change.
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You mentioned an elimination diet but I just wondered if you have talked to his doctor about a possible non-dietary allergy or something like that which might be causing him some stress?

It might be a situation where a little time without him, where you could focus on your other two children, could help everyone, especially if he is calm when he is with others. Alternatively if he is calm when you are out together maybe you could try a preschool or music program with just him, so the two of you could spend time enjoying each other when he is in a calmer state.

I find 3 to be a trying age, for everyone. But their little brains are just itty bitty, it's hard to remember that. The other day my son told me that he loves his vacuum (he thinks the shop vac belongs to him) and that his vacuum loves him too... when you live in a world where shop vacs have feelings well, you just don't quite see things the way the rest of us do.
 

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I have this child too!! I'm afraid I don't really have any advice or solutions, but wanted to post to let you know you're not alone.

I saw the book "The Explosive Child" recommended on this board and am in the middle of trying to read it right now, but I think it's geared at kids who are older (or at least more emotionally developed) than my DD1. I'm having a hard time getting my head around all the concepts in the book because the only time I have for reading is just before bed - at which point I'm falling asleep!

It suggests a plan B - a collaborative problem solving approach with your child. Which is all well and good when your child is able to comprehend the problem and state what they want out of a situation so you can work together to come up with ideas. But when your child is screaming and throwing themselves on the ground 'because I want to be naughty', no amount of trying to interpret their actions gets you anywhere and the kid themselves doesn't seem to want to come up with any solutions that would make the situation better - well, I don't know, but I haven't been able to make it work for us.

It does help me understand DD1 a little better though - as a 'chronically inflexible child'. She has discovered how to plan ahead, and now spends quite a lot of time imagining and planning the future. Of course, life regularly throws spanners in the works, but she hasn't learned to deal with that yet. So, if she has imagined a future where we go to the park and ride bikes, but then it starts pouring down and I say it's too wet to go out - she's just not able to cope with that and huge tantrums will ensue. (And for those of you tempted to suggest that I should take her anyway, rain or not - I did once, despite the fact that I also have a small baby who I don't like to get wet, but it resulted in even bigger tantrums because she had imagined riding her bike and being warm and comfortable at the same time, not being wet and miserable, so the reality really clashed with her plans)

I also know things that are likely to trigger her - transitions are her big bug-bear. But considering most of the day is taken up with transitions and the ensuing melt-downs, it's hard to stay sane through it all. She'll frequently wake up shouting and screaming at me (I find this particularly hard to deal with since I'm not a morning person) for something like "My bedclothes are the wrong colour" (despite the fact that they're the ones she picked out and helped me put on a couple of days beforehand) or "You said it would be sunny today" ( I said no such thing, and in fact it is quite sunny, so not sure what she's talking about there) to just randomly being upset about nothing that she can articulate or that I can guess at.

But poor DD2 hardly gets a look-in because I'm so busy trying to manage DD1 and her tantrums. We go out far less often than I would like because it's just sooo difficult - and really hard for me to cope when she gets like that out in public where I can't contain her. I feel like a failure every single day - despite the fact that I work so much harder at parenting her than any of the other mums I see have to work with their kids. She's exhausting and I don't know what to do.

But I know what having 'that kid' is like.
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I'm interested to see what responses you get and waiting to take notes.
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You just described my dd(6). I'm saying this very gently, but have you considered your ds may have special needs? He definitely sounds highly sensitive, explosive, and possibly spirited, also like my dd, and I know my dd has all this in addition to special needs, but not all kids are like her in that respect obviously. We have found cutting out gluten, switching to raw dairy, and just recently going on the scd diet has helped tremendously. As far as discipline issues time-in, stay listening, nvc, and strict boundaries are what works here.

We're going to look into magnesium supplements, to help with the anger issues here, you may want to look into it as well.
 

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The thing that sticks in your post to me, is that he only acts this way around you. That tells me he's in control of that behavior, whether he realizes it or not. Is it possible he acts out in such a way in order to get a reaction from you? What if you just ignore his tantrums (both the screaming and the shutting down) this week? Have no reaction to them other than tell him --once-- that you'll be happy to listen to him when he speaks to you calmly. In a calm moment, can you tell him it's important that everyone speak nicely to each other and that you can't hear him when he yells and throws tantrums. Also, explain some house rules-- with consequences?

Also, you mention that you can't make him happy. Personally, I don't think it's your job to make him happy. You don't mention a specific instance for this statement, but I also have 3 children, and the fact is, someone has to compromise-- sometimes not everyone will be happy with a situation. If he doesn't like the choices you've given him, if it's appropriate, tell him he can find something else to do on his own-- but that he's not allowed to scream about it.

"He screams all the time and is defiant seemingly just for the sake of being defiant. If something rubs him the wrong way he will either immediately burst into screams or just shut down." In this instance, I would get down at his level, hold his hands and tell him he can use words to explain himself, but that it's not OK to scream. My kids are 9, 9 & 5, so we don't have tantrums anymore, but back in the day, I would tell them screaming hurts other people's ears, so they can't do it around other people, so they could go to their room until they were ready to talk in a calm voice. It was essentially a time out because they didn't have a choice if they were screaming. But it also truly helped them calm down. As for the shutting down-- I would ignore it. One of my boys did this and still acts mopey sometimes when he doesn't get his way. I've pointed out to him that it's a form of tantrum designed to get his way, which he agrees with. I tell him it's OK to be disappointed and we'll talk about that, but it's not ok to give people the silent treatment. Of course he's 9, so in your case you might just say, "I can see you're unhappy and 'd be happy to talk to you about this when you're ready to talk," and then ignore the behavior.

Hope things improve for you. Keep us posted!
 
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