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Is it normal for a four year old to be so obsessive about his rules?

(17 Posts)
BertieBotts Sat 19-Jan-13 22:19:17

DS is always making up arbitrary rules about things and if they're not followed, it's SUCH a huge deal for him. He's always ending up throwing massive strops about it and I just can't get him to see that it's not that important.

For example, the other day he asked me to do a jigsaw with him. I said okay and sat down to do it with him. Every piece I tried to put in he would shout that it was the wrong piece, rip the piece out and throw it away, which was then impractical (aside from the possibility it might get lost) because it then meant that the connecting piece for the next one he wanted me to do was missing and so I couldn't put it in. After about three pieces being rejected I got fed up and told him his rules were too complicated and if he wanted to play with those rules, he'd have to do it on his own. Cue huge tears "No mummy come back do it with me pleeeeease" but flat out refusal to drop the "rules". He ended up getting silly and wrecking the jigsaw so I put it away completely which really upset him, but it wasn't working out and I didn't want him to wreck his new toy.

And then there's the complicated rules about walking around the house - I have to go first because he's scared, another time he has to go first down the stairs or whatever, but I haven't telepathically known this so I've already started walking down the stairs. He screams for me to wait for him, so I calmly say "Okay DS I'll wait, but you don't need to shout, just ask nicely." He then asks nicely for me to come back down the hall and wait on one particular spot of carpet until he's ready. I refuse and say I'll wait where I am as there's plenty of space for him to pass me and no reason for me to come back. Cue huge screaming crying end of the world tantrum. Also if I'm already halfway down the stairs or something, I'm not going to come back upstairs and wait for him to pass me just so he can go first. It's not safe for me to wait on the stairs, as they're narrow. But he gets so ridiculously upset it's like his whole world is caving in.

We bought a new jigsaw today and I suggested we did it, he said yeah, really enthusiastically, so I got the bag from the kitchen. He said "I'll go and get it!" and I said "No it's okay, I've already brought it in," and he refused to do it until I let him put it back in the bag, put it back in the kitchen and brought it through himself. I thought this was ridiculous and tried reasoning with him about why he needed to do it and all he could come up with was "because we can't play it if you get the bag, we can only play if if I get the bag, because it's mine" I was trying to calm him down and show him that it didn't matter but he was utterly distraught to the point that I thought oh, FFS, does it matter that much, let him take the bag back into the kitchen and bring it back through if it matters that much to him. At which point he decided it didn't matter, but he did have to make up another rule to make up for this which was that I wasn't allowed to put the first piece in since I'd carried the bag. And then we had a very lengthy discussion about how to do the jigsaw, whether to separate out the pieces or not, and how (colour or edge/middle) which involved a lot of managing on my part as he would go off on an impossibly complicated spiel of rules which is too hard for anybody else to remember. It was okay in the end and we had a nice time building the jigsaw, but it was hard work to manage that and all I could think was what a nightmare it would be if he had a sibling because his rules are so rigid and complicated and he gets so upset if someone breaks them.

(Why all my examples involve jigsaws I don't know apart from that he likes them - it happens with loads of other things too)

I was just wondering if it's normal, and how I can help him relax about things and not be so uptight?

BertieBotts Sat 19-Jan-13 22:22:47

After the first jigsaw incident, too, he actually had a nightmare/dream about it - we heard him crying out in the night and while waiting to see if he would go back to sleep or if he was actually awake or just dreaming DP observed that he was saying exactly the same phrases that he'd been saying to me during the jigsaw argument. He thought it was good that he was working it out but it worried me! Surely it isn't normal for them to feel SO strongly about things like this?

MegBusset Sat 19-Jan-13 22:24:32

This sounds very familiar to me. I have 3yo and 5yo DSes and their 'rules' are often conflicting <tears hair out>

rhetorician Sat 19-Jan-13 22:24:38

it's all about control! it's very annoying, and you can't always give in. With the jigsaw, let him make the rules and then say to him that you have to be sure you've got them right. You are trying to show him that 'it doesn't matter' (repeated several times in your OP), but to him it does - you need to try to understand his universe a bit more. DO you let him have choices in other areas? (limited ones). Maybe give him an hour where he gets to choose what you do together?

My dd is just 4 and can be like this - she likes to go downstairs first etc, but that picture is complicated by little sister as well

rhetorician Sat 19-Jan-13 22:25:45

my dd is not exactly laid back either, so will go off on one for something seemingly trivial and random. Knackering

newlark Sat 19-Jan-13 22:32:34

We get plenty of this too with ds (4) - often over food but in other areas too - complete meltdowns over me cutting the toast the wrong way or letting one type of food touch another or similar - I agree it is about control.

BertieBotts Sat 19-Jan-13 22:41:50

Oh YY about the toast being cut "wrong"!

I do let him have choices for lots of things, I have always tried to see his way and what's important to him - I think if he was younger I would have let him take the bag back into the kitchen, for example, without a second thought - in fact I would have suggested it!

Reading it back perhaps I'm expecting too much, I just felt that now he's getting older he should understand that it's unreasonable to expect me to make him a whole new slice of toast because I've cut it too many times (not that I would have ever done this anyway unless I happened to be making some for me too which I could swap - but it has almost always resulted in him refusing to eat it rather than give in, even if he's hungry!) or go all the way back upstairs when I'm already downstairs and trot obediently after him.

Maybe it's a good thing he's an only child then grin He's not like this at nursery, or with other children (unless I'm around).

rhetorician Sat 19-Jan-13 23:02:36

I think if the toast is 'wrong' then personally I wouldn't make more; DD1 went through a very irritating phase of asking for one thing for breakfast and then demanding the option she hadn't taken. I gave her a stern talking to about how wasting food was very bad and that we shouldn't. Sometimes I think they just want to understand the (to them) arbitrary rules that govern their universe; and if they don't, they make up rules that they do understand. I didn't mean to suggest that you don't try to understand him, just that for them their whole lives really are controlled by other people - when they get up, where they go, what they wear, what they eat, when and how. I'd be trying to wrest some control back too. I think the puzzle doesn't matter, but the toast does?

pinkpudding Sat 19-Jan-13 23:20:36

I have no advise to offer you op but we have the same issues with ds1 who is just turning 4. He has always been very high maintenance and the arrival of dd has been interesting to say the least.
Hope I can pick up some tips from other Posts here.

BertieBotts Sun 20-Jan-13 00:12:54

YY if he asks for food and then refuses it and it's not possible to simply put back in the packet or whatever, then he's not allowed anything else until the next mealtime unless he eats that. As long as I know he likes it etc, and it's never too long to wait (although it seems to be ages to him!) - this has stopped a lot of that but the cutting of the toast wrong still strikes occasionally and annoyingly it's often when he is hungry that he gets difficult, so not always helfpul either.

I let him choose his own clothes and often give him choice, input etc into what we do on certain days or what he has for tea or what plate/cup to use or what night he wants his bath etc. We're having a bit of a battle over pyjamas at the moment as he just wants to wear his clothes to bed and then again the next day (ew!) but I appear to have remedied that by asking what pyjamas he would like and then we went on ebay together and chose some to bid on, so he's hopefully got some new pyjamas on the way.

He's great at choices which exist in a predefined rule space, so he's happy to choose stories to read at night in the knowledge that it's a maximum of 3, he's happy to take a toy to bed knowing he's allowed one and choosing a place for any extras to go in his room overnight.

It makes sense that he perhaps sees the rules that adults set as being arbitrary and so he's trying to impose his own rules to make sense of things. Perhaps we can have a non-accusatory talk about rules making sense and see if it helps grin

MrsMushroom Sun 20-Jan-13 11:01:22

My 4 year old DD is the same. I indulge some things...such as her bedtime routine but when she starts insisting I have to walk in a certain way or take only HER designated route down the hall, I just ignore her and distract.

EbbNFlow Sun 20-Jan-13 11:06:18

I dont mind my children having choices and control in some areas, but ift starts to get silly and brattish, time to put your foot down, I say.

BikeRunSki Sun 20-Jan-13 11:10:38

Mine is exactly the same.
He has decided that today is a "no hat day". I told him that it was fine for him to go out without a hat, but DD (1) and I were wearing hats.

Massive tantrum.

Also, he insists on knowing if me or DH is going to pick him up from nursery, and whether by foot or car. I work irregular hours, and if I get a chance to get home, have a shower, cup.of tea in peace etc before nursery closes then I will, but I am not going to drive 200m just to pick the DC up either. I just don't know at 8 am if I will be driving past at 5.55 pm, or strolling leisurely at 4.30 pm. it drives him insane.

rhetorician Sun 20-Jan-13 16:53:09

bikerunski my dd likes to know who to expect as well. it's very wearing

newlark Sun 20-Jan-13 17:34:18

On the food issues I just say that is all there is, he doesn't have to eat it if he isn't hungry. I ignore him and leave the room if I can and often he will calm down and start eating it.

LapinDeBois Sun 20-Jan-13 23:08:26

DS1 (aged 5) was always like this. It does get better. He's still highly strung, and we do sometimes have tantrums over ridiculous things, but he's largely stopped all the 'rules' now.

NaturalBaby Sun 20-Jan-13 23:13:32

I'm reading playful parenting and there's a great example in there that sounds very similar. I think it was something to do with a fear of something happening, but the child doesn't know or feel able to express that fear so they sabotage the situation instead. You must read the book - it makes you see things from the child's point of view and it's like a light bulb moment.

Has anything happened in his past that may have upset him or that he may have struggled with?

I would just remind him and tell him that it's o.k and that you're there for him, it sounds like he needs some reassurance.

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