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What do you do with a 4 year old with persistent 'challenging behaviour?

(55 Posts)
LaTourEiffel Mon 23-May-11 22:23:17

I probably shouldn't even be starting this thread at this time of night, because I'm not sure I've got the energy to know where to start.

In a nutshell, DS1 is 4.5 and bright, articulate, funny, clever blah blah blah.

He's also an absolute menace that I'm really struggling with, his behaviour is outrageous.

I have a note from his teacher (school nursery) that he 'kicked another child in the ear'. That childs mother was there and said simply 'we don't do that' and he was taken inside by his teacher for 'a chat'. He then hit, scratched her and screamed in her face.

I'm not quite sure how they managed to calm him down...he attends a private nursery as well as the school and he was collected by his nursery worker.

I phoned at lunchtime to see how he was (suspected he might not be an angel as had bad weekend) and talked to his key worker. I asked her to try to keep him out of any more trouble this afternoon, and whilst he was a little stroppy, they did manage it.

He was bright, happy and chirpy when I picked him up, happily ate dinner, watched telly, played nicely with brother and daddy and had lovely cuddles with me at bedtime.

What am I supposed to do? These mega-meltdowns are happening more and more often and seem to be getting increasingly violent. One parent of a child in his class has complained about him to both nursery and school and they have to be kept apart now.

I've just got the end of a ridiculously long toilet training road....and now I've gone crashing into this.

If anyone talks to him 'in the wrong way', he will over-react, he's very sensitive about the tiniest of things. He screams, throws things, punches, kicks, bites, scratches, spits....

Where did my little boy go? I'm in tears writing this as I genuinely don't know what to do with him. I'm embarassed and feel like I'm failing him - and the people that look after him whilst I'm working.

I don't want him to be a bully, or the kid that no-one likes. How can I help him? Is it even possible to help?

We've tried sticker charts and they had been working really well...until today. I just don't know what to do.

Nursery did an assessment and have said that they believe that he isn't in control when he has these meltdowns, and that it isn't his fault. They have given me loads of forms to fill in about his behaviour that I don't even understand. They have said that if we don't sort this behaviour out now, then its going to cause lots of problems when he starts school in September.

I went to the GP, and the response there was pretty much 'kids have tantrums, deal with it'.

I've searched threads on MN, and whilst I have found lots that talk about testosterone surges at about this age, I can't find anything outside of MN to support this. I also haven't found anything that really helps on those threads as DS' behaviour is so much more extreme than what I've read about.

Tgger Mon 23-May-11 22:45:45

How long has he been like this? Have there been any changes/things that could trigger more erratic behaviour?

If it's at all reassuring, my 4.5 year old has similar meltdowns but reserves them for me and at home- which I guess is good but hard for me (!). He is certainly not in control when they happen and is normally tired (and or hungry). They seem to happen in the afternoon for us. He is not violent to me/anyone else but is certainly more aggressive than ever and I think in the throes of a testosterone surge.

It sounds like you need more support- have either setting suggested what to do- other than "sort it out!"? Are there times when he controls his emotions a lot better and doesn't lash out?

LeninGrad Mon 23-May-11 23:01:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LaTourEiffel Mon 23-May-11 23:06:22

The only thing that coincides with the start of this behaviour is the fact that he's stopped soiling himself. Given the choice I'd rather wash pooey pants than deal with this.

Nursery wrote a report on his behaviour and said that they thought the way to sort it out would be to involve him, to identify triggers and ask him what he wants us to do to stop them from being triggers.

I have identified that he's likely to have a tantrum when he's moving from one activity to another, so we've been giving him the opportunity to get three stickers per day, one for getting dressed nicely in the morning (with help), one for leaving nursery with me nicely (major melt down hot spot) and one for getting ready for bed nicely. To help with the leaving nursery, I stop on the way home and phone them and they let DS know I will be five minutes.

This has ben fab for two weeks but it send typo be wearing thing with him now.

Ds had been attending a nursery seeing since he was a baby and this has never been a problem before. He's never ben hat to leave in a hurry, there atte always parents who walk in and out and I'm still there, listening to ds tell me about his day etc.

His younger brother is 18 months old now and they are very affectionate together (when ds1 isn't in a bad mood) and can't see this being sibling related.

He did change nursery but that was in august last year, he's close to his key workers so don't think its that.

He does seem to be struggling with friendships a little, and was before these tantrums started...the children he's around now don't seem to have as developed language skills as ds and I wonder if that's a source of frustration, nursery have commented on him always seeking out adult attention, but to be honest, I thought that was fairly normal.

School read the report that nursery wrote about ds, and said they didn't recognise any elements off the described behaviour, although after today I'm guessing that's probably changed.

I'm tied and suspect that this rads very badly, I'm sorry, I'm really interested in anything you can suggest.

Thanks so much, Lte

mercibucket Mon 23-May-11 23:07:49

I thgink the testosterone surges theory is quite an old one that was discredited some time agoa but four year olds can be challenging enough without them!

I don't have lots of advice but what I would suggest is a parenting course - I'm most definitely not saying that his behaviour is your fault or anything like that! I've done a parenting course and it was really really useful and that's why I'm recommending it. You get to chat to a lot of other parents for a start which is good for offloading, and the theories and techniques you learn are genuinely interesting and useful. there are quite a few out there and the local sure start or your health visitor should know when the next ones are. I did the triple p programme I think.

my other pearl of wisdom is to remember that everything is 'just a stage'

LaTourEiffel Mon 23-May-11 23:11:01

Ahhhh sorry about all the typos, am in bed doing this on my phone, trying not to wake dh (or ds2 Leningrad, as he'll be after a breastfeed)!

Sigh-i know it will pass but I'm not coping with it, its very distressing, embarrassing, worrying, sad etc

LeninGrad Mon 23-May-11 23:12:18

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LeninGrad Mon 23-May-11 23:16:08

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

budgieshell Mon 23-May-11 23:29:33

Mums net is great because we hear about the problems other mums have and you realise your not on your own. Many of us have been through the same thing. Its a shame real life is not the same surrounded by perfect mums with their perfect children watching you trying to cope with a child kicking off big time. Well I'm sure teachers, nusery staff and mums netters would tell you, we've seen it all before it will sort it self out, hang in there you will make it through.

swallowedAfly Mon 23-May-11 23:40:34

Message withdrawn

BearBehavingBadly Tue 24-May-11 00:02:06

Might sound a bit strange but have you had his hearing tested?

If a child has problems with their hearing then they can be spending an awful lot of energy on trying to hear & make sense of situations.
Which is very exhausting & can result in children having total meltdowns & being very disruptive.

LaTourEiffel Tue 24-May-11 08:55:28

Morning all, thanks so much for your replies. I've just popped on quickly before 9 to let you know that I'm at work, not disinterested.

I tend to stew on stuff and try to work my way through it, then come on here and end up feeling better - I think budgieshell has really hit on something - in that hearing that there are others out there going through the same / similar is really helpful.

I'm not after a 'cure', I know there isn't one, just some support and reassurance.

But don't be too nice - I'll cry and that would just be embarassing coz I'm in an office full of blokes!

Will pop on a bit later - BBB, will have a think about that too actually, he's always been oversensitive about his hearing, complaining about things being too loud - but he's actually been asking us to turn things up a lot recently...and yesterday he said that when he yawned he could hear better in his left ear. I hadn't connected any of these things - wouldn't do any harm to get it looked into would it.

Right, I've got timesheets to prepare so that everyone gets paid.

If anyone else wants to share there stories with me, in a support thread style, that would be really welcome?

LeninGrad Tue 24-May-11 09:56:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Tgger Tue 24-May-11 11:50:08

Hope you are feeling less alone in this- there are a lot of tricky 4 year olds out there, you are not alone!

Just wondered- how long are we talking, since no soiling and more bad behaviour? I would be inclined to look at the behaviour as a phase unless it's been going on months and months. If it has only just recently happened at school rather than nursery (where he spends more time?) then it suggests he has been able to behave himself well generally within the boundaries of school and it's just recently that it's all gone pear shaped (only guessing, sorry if wrong tack).

Have you told him in a very straightforward way that this sort of behaviour is just not acceptable at school? To use his words to talk about his feelings, to go to the teachers if he is upset/talk to you?

It's hard- my son kickedI off big time when he got back from school (nursery) yesterday afternoon. He screamed for 10/15 minutes over a completely inconsequential thing. I see it as a response to a very stimulating day in all ways, probably with some emotional/friendship stuff that he can't quite deal with yet/feels a bit upset about sometimes but can't verbalise so it kicks off in this way. Or... he could just have been very tired and a bit hungry- I don't know. It's horrible behaviour but a bit like when they're toddlers (2) I see it as being the only way they know at that moment- they need to develop other ways of expressing their feelings so they don't explode like that.
Perhaps your son is dog tired at the moment/managed to stop soiling but is still quite stressed about this whole issue. Haven't had this issue with DS but actually even now if he needs a no. 2 and hasn't made the connection and gone then he can be really awful in his behaviour! THis was worse a year ago.

Also, re the triggers in changing activity etc, this sounds very familiar indeed to me- I also did the stickers for coming home from school nicely/getting ready in the morning etc. He's much better these days but can still be difficult.

Sorry a bit long and waffly. Hope things settle soon and you get some more support.

LaTourEiffel Tue 24-May-11 14:55:17

Not waffly at all - tgger, really helpful to read actually.

I'd say a phase, but nursery would say behaviour as its quite full-on there. They've been a bit naughty because they led me to believe he'd stopped 'misbehaving' (kicking, spitting, shouting in peoples faces etc). Then they pulled me into talk about him and said this had been going on all along, I asked why they hadn't told me and they said that 'they didn't want me to stress about it when it was so long after the event'.


I don't know. I like to analyse and fix and make things better. I'm not that good at just hoping things will improve.

DS is always tired. He still uses the pushchair quite a lot although is getting better recently. He naps at weekends given the right circumstances (car, sofa+blanket+film). We had his blood tested and they said his fbc was fine but that he was low in ferritin? The paediatrician said to give him nuts to help this.

He doesn't like nuts. I've tried, he's tried. He doesn't like them. He does however love peas, broccoli, cabbage, ham etc and drinks orange juice which helps with the absorption.

We've switched him to lactose free milk, as he had constant runs which we thought was causing the inability to toilet train. Since changing his milk he's a) stopped drinking milk altogether b) having solid poos c) toilet trained. I believe excessive milk can inhibit iron absorption so now he's stopped that, he should be improving.

The paediatrician referral was due to the hv's not having any ideas left of how to toilet train him. She was totally useless and suggested we use sticker charts. If sticker charts were going to help him, they would have done in the two years we were having accidents.

Anyway, all sorted now on the toilet front.

His day is: up at about 7am although we don't wake him (better that way) before 7.30, if he's up before then he's woken himself. Dropped at nursery between 7.55 and 8.15 (depending on how late and chaotic we are). Nursery take him to school for 8.55 and collect him again at 11.45. Then I get him from nursery at about 5.40. He generally just wants to watch telly in the evening, which I let him do as I think he has a very long day. DH and I don't do anything other than feed them, play with them and put them to bed. After they've gone to bed we do our jobs.

Don't slate me for not disclosing everything in the first post, I just needed to start the dialogue going.....

We've also been doing an alternative therapy called 'Rhythmic Movement Therapy'. Its low impact rhythmic exercises to help him with his co-ordination and reflexes. When the lady (a FT OHT working for NHS, doing this as an aside) she discovered lots of things he simply can't do....balancing, co-ordination etc. We've been doing exercises to help with this, although he's now refusing to do them so don't know if that's part of it.

The bad behaviour started before the RMT and improved significantly in the first couple of weeks that we started doing it, but has gradually gone back down hill.

I've got to pick him up in 2.5 hrs and I'm dreading it already :-(

I love DS very much, but I don't like spending time with him at the moment at all. I can't believe I just typed that sad

Time for a brew

LaTourEiffel Tue 24-May-11 14:57:08

Is that a marijuana leaf on the brew mug icon? shock

LeninGrad Tue 24-May-11 15:08:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

stealthsquiggle Tue 24-May-11 15:09:24

Hearing definitely one to check, I would think - if he is struggling in any way, then environments with noisy/different background noise (like school, playground) could exasperate it.

Otherwise, keep going the way you're going - it seems to me that nursery are doing all the right things, and so are you, to try and identify the root cause and address it.

specialmagiclady Tue 24-May-11 20:01:12

Just want to say, you're not alone in loving-but-not-loving-being-with child(ren) at the moment.

Skimty Tue 24-May-11 20:07:35

Definitely get hearing checked.

DS was prone to this and after grommets a few months ago we haven't had a single incident.

Amaretti Tue 24-May-11 20:14:34

I think people in special needs might b e able to help with behaviour management?

Tgger Tue 24-May-11 20:43:36

Would you consider switching from nursery to a childminder? What are you planning for when he starts reception in September- can he start that routine a bit earlier pehaps?

Maybe being with lots of children for so many hours no longer suits him? I know children often adjust to whatever their routine is but I can see how some personalities just need time out, time more by themselves than with lots of children- is there much physical space at the nursery? and are there many children his age or are they mostly younger? Not judging- just trying to understand his behaviour.

I would think that his routine is incredibly tiring, and probably has got more so as he's got older and is aware of more stuff. Is it possible to talk to him (at a calm moment) about some of these things, in a straightforward way. I would make an appointment at nursery to talk in detail about what's going on- have you done this already? Sorry if so.

Can completely understand the need to fix the behaviour. Although hard when you are knackered from dealing with it try to support your son, tell him how much you dislike his behaviour how it needs to change but that you love him however he behaves (this went down well with my son smile.

Hope some others will have more practical tips. I guess you could go down the route of referal to various agencies/getting an assesment on his behaviour etc and this might be the way you want to go? The therapy thing sounds good. The things he couldn't do, was this normal for his age- or is it a sign he could have dyspraxia/some other special need?

LaTourEiffel Tue 24-May-11 21:15:08

I would consider switching from nursery to childminder in principal. Its all very convenient at the moment as nursery and the school he's going to in September are one road away (but in different directions, IYSWIM). Also, the nursery does childcare to age 14 (!) so we'd be sorted for a long time.

However, issues that you've identified that I've questioned are;

space, the nursery he's at now (as opposed to the one he was at from 9mths to 4) was bigger. The one he's at now is a little claustrophic.

age groups - he does seem to be quite a bit brighter than the other children that are of a similar age and there's not many of them. In the 'pre-school' class that he's in most of the children are younger and I struggle to understand them. I know its normal to understand your child more, but some of them are barely comprehensible by the carers, nevermind DS.

Have told him over and over that we both love him very much, just not the behaviour.

The therapy does seem to be helping, he doesn't seem to display the typical symptoms of dyspraxia but if you look at this site then many of the symptoms listed are what he displays (particular those listed under un-integrated Moro and Fear Paralysis reflexes, which is why we decided to give it a go.

He's had a really good day at school and nursery today. Left with me really well, got home and tesco were waiting on the drive, they were early. He bounced out of the car and into the house very happily (always good when food arrives!). He carried his bag into the house (voluntarily) and ran to open the kitchen door, and then just randomly started shouting and throwing things around. I tried to ignore, then he started throwing things around in the next room (threw handbag onto floor, tipped stool over but it was too heavy for hiim to throw (thank goodness)).

I left him to it whilst i brought the shopping in, then went and tried to have a chat. He calmed down but wouldn't talk. He asked for telly so I put it on and let him chill for a bit. He's gone to bed quite happily, no battles at all.

I do wonder if I'm over-analysing it all.

Tgger Tue 24-May-11 21:33:06

Excellent! Glad he had a good day smile.

Perhaps you are over-analysing a little, but I think you have real concerns and they do not change overnight, it's just whether to act on them or not. Is a chat with nursery and DS going to do it or does he need a fundamental change such as childminder rather than nursery etc/someone to assess his behaviour and make a referall etc.

Just wondered, is a chat/visit with the health visitor possible? Do you have one you respect/get on with? Someone outside yourself and nursery/school with some expertise who could come and see the family and chat/support could be really helpful.

Perhaps the nursery environment is not suiting him- I would want to asses this better- it's quite important if you're thinking of changing. Any way you can take a couple of hours off work and observe him there? If you chat to the nursery and suggest this you will see for yourself how he is there and what the other children are really like. Perhaps a childminder who cares for a slightly older boy say a 6/7 year old might suit. Just thinking of how nicely nephew who is 7 plays with DS now- not too old to play mad 4 year old games but a bit more mature so doesn't come to blows.

Excuse the waffle again. Hope he has a good day again tomorrow and the rest of the week and you start to feel better about how things are.

domesticslattern Tue 24-May-11 21:43:23

We're experimenting with this book in the slattern household- "How to calm a challenging child". DD is 3 years old but the book is written with slightly older children in mind too.
It's a reasonably good book IMHO, explaining how if they go beyond the point of no return in their tantrum, you can't do anything but wait for them to come back. Nothing is it is rocket science mind. DH likes it as he was feeling like we had to do something.
The tiredness thing is a classic as well- after reading the book, we have started putting DD to bed an hour earlier and her behaviour has dramatically improved. Still bloody difficult though. I often feel at my wits end- almost scared of her as she is so fierce. Little people, big feelings. Have brew on me.

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