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Shouting, defying, horrible behaviour from a 3.5 years old. In desperate need of advice please. Sorry for a long post

(32 Posts)
hereagain99 Wed 20-Feb-13 13:53:43

DD is 3.5 years old. For the last 2 months her behaviour has gone worse by the day. For the last 3 weeks we are having screaming tantrums lasting between 45minutes to an hours an average of twice a day sometimes even three times. It can start from a simple request to go for a wee before going to sleep or by just getting NO as an answer for something that she has asked and it was not possible for her to have. We do pick our battles although at the moment everything seems to be a battle.

We have created a chart with the house rules which we have chosen together and she participated in decorating the chart. We hoped that maybe by seeing the house rule chart that she would follow them but it has not worked. We have been confiscating toys when being warned that her behaviour is not acceptable and she could only get them back when we have family meetings and if her behaviour has been good. We have explained her which behaviour is acceptable and which one isn't so she can understand what we are talking about. We have used putting her in her room and telling her that she can leave her room once she has calmed down but this hasn't worked. We have told her that we don't like the way she talks to us and that makes us feel sad and it hasn't worked either. We have created a feeling chart where she can tell us how she feels by sticking a emotion card inside a sun, this hasn't worked either. We have also given her warnings that if she didn't change her behaviour she wouldn't watch telly.

Her behaviour in pre-school is excellent, when she is in other people's care they always say that she behaves fantastically well so it seems that all this anger is in the house only and with us.

I am separated from her dad and we live with my DP. It also seems that her behaviour with her dad is excellent and never has any of these outbursts.

When we ask her why she is doing it she always shouts that she doesn't know which it would be expected because of her age. So now the question. Does any of you know how to deal with this please? We believe that we have tried averything we know and nothing has worked. At the moment she has been screaming, shouting and crying for the last 44 minutes. I have sat with her hugging her to see if she would calm down and she kept scratching me and pinching me but didn't try to get out. I was sitting on the floor and she was sitting on my lap and I was hugging her.

DP and I are desperate for new ideas of what to do with her. We are both very angry at the moment and we dob't feel like doing anything with her. Yesterday we went to an activity so we could spend some time together doing nice things and at the end we had to come back home because she started one of her outburts.

We are at the point of thinking that we may need professional help as we are completely unable to change the situation. Any ideas much welcome. Thanks

keely79 Wed 20-Feb-13 13:59:06

Oh dear - sounds dreadful. Perhaps she is doing it with you because she feels most secure and able to test her boundaries with you.

We don't have it so bad - my daughter is strong willed but not to that extent. However, the best result we have had is to ignore it. Just walk away and let her get on with it. Then over reward good behaviour (perhaps with a reward chart with stickers, with her earning something she really wants at the end of it) - e.g. every time she goes to bed without a tantrum, or gets ready for school, she gets a sticker.

megandraper Wed 20-Feb-13 14:04:36

My DSs both went through a stage of refusing to go to the loo when asked (and still do sometimes - they are 5 and 3.7) Partly they don't like being told to do something right now, so I tend to warn them - I'm going to ask you to go to the loo before lunch, okay? In ten minutes it's going to be time to go to the loo, etc. Quite often they'd run to the loo before the final 'now it's time to go' which I think makes them feel more in control.

Also, when my 3yo loses it, I take it as a feature of his age, and of being overwhelmed, and don't make a big thing of it. I'm quite matter of fact - if something's got to be done (like getting his coat on to go outside) I will get on and do it regardless, but as kindly as possible. If not, then I let him get on with the shouting and do other jobs around him, then give him a hug when he's finished and carry on with our day.

I don't know if any of that will help with your DD. I am sure the behaviour will pass, try not to take it personally. I have always believed that children often behave worst with the person they feel closest too (and that's often their mum) because they're not worried about you disapproving of them, as they are with people like teachers. It's because they feel secure with you.

hereagain99 Wed 20-Feb-13 14:05:54

We have tried walking away and she keeps following us and shouting and screaming. We have not tried a reward chart as we are not very sure about it. For what I have read they learn to stop the behaviour not because they believe it is the right thing to do but because they want to get something. Once reward charts stop usually the bad behaviours comes back because there isn't a reward any more. We may ne wrong and it may be time to start considering using it confused

keely79 Wed 20-Feb-13 14:26:35

If she follows you, just keep on behaving normally but ignoring her. It's hard, but she will eventually run out of steam without anything to fuel her rage.

The reward chart worked brilliantly for us with potty training - she really wanted a scooter and we said everytime she used the toilet successfully she would get a sticker - was quite a long chart and by the time it was full, she was fully toilet trained and happy to continue without any future reward.

Also, doesn't have to be a big reward - can be something which you would normally allow anyway - like going to a cafe with Mummy and having a small cake, or an hour of TV before dinner.

You may find the reward chart just helps her to learn to control her behaviour and that once she's learnt how, she'll be able to calm herself down.

Another thing that you could try which I learnt at a talk I went to about tantrums is heading off the tantrum before it gets to the screaming and shouting stage. Apparently once they're at the screaming stage they can't actually calm themselves down and you just have to ride it out. Think of it like a slope leading up to a cliff edge.

So if it starts to escalate, try to distract or deflect before she gets to the toxic stage.

hereagain99 Wed 20-Feb-13 14:39:56

With DD distraction techniques has never ever worked. She has always been very strong minded.

And with her tantrums there isn't a slope it goes straight to the cliff edge, screaming and shouting and stamping her feet straight away so difficult to do anything. The only thing that stops the tantrums escalating is to give her whatever she wanted before the tantrum started and we are not willing to do this as it would created a horrible selfish person uncapable of living in society

keely79 Wed 20-Feb-13 15:23:54

TBH, is same with my daughter. So it's back to trying ignoring/imposing a time out.

hereagain99 Wed 20-Feb-13 15:34:14

smile I am glad this is not an out of normal behaviour then. Does reward charts really work keely79? DP and I are considering having a go but we are still not 100% convinved. What is your experience?

hereagain99 Wed 20-Feb-13 19:16:23

Any more ideas please? grin

Kleinzeit Wed 20-Feb-13 20:53:17

When my DS was that age, I learned a gazillion ways to avoid saying “no” while still getting him to do what I wanted, and a million ways to avoid telling him what to do while still getting him to do it! He was a tantrum chucker too and they were like a red rag to a bull. So we had a lot of routine (so that I didn’t have to keep telling him what to do, it was just what we alwyas did); a lot of when-then “when you’ve had your wee then let's read a story” (so I didn’t have to say “go and have a wee”), a lot of “Yes, we can do that (or you can have that) tomorrow/at the weekend/when the rain stops/at teatime/in five minutes” or even "yes, let's have <something different from what he asked for>"; and a lot of “would you like the red T shirt or the blue T shirt” (giving him a choice but both options involve putting on a T shirt).

I also found Incredible Years helpful – it has a big range of strategies, including how to do effective praise and rewards and how to end or “fade” the reward so the good behaviour stays.

Kleinzeit Wed 20-Feb-13 21:08:24

PS the point of "Yes, you can do it later (etc)" was to avoid saying "No" or "Not now" because they were so provocative. I still didn't let DS do things he shouldn't and I wouldn't say he could do something tomorrow in the hope he'd forget, because he wouldn't forget. If necessary it might have to be "yes, for a treat on your birthday". It was really a question of always using the most positive possible wording! And it really did make a difference.

Kleinzeit Wed 20-Feb-13 21:14:38

PPS My experience of reward charts is that they are good as habit-formers. There are some things that are just not intrinsically rewarding, like eating with your mouth shut – why bother? But once you’ve practised taking small bites and keeping your mouth shut many times for a reward, it just becomes a habit, and it pretty much stays in place even after the reward has gone, with just the odd compliment as a reminder.

cloudhands Thu 21-Feb-13 05:37:39

Hi there, did you know that tantrums are actually a very healthy way that children express frustration? They are natural normal and totally fine.
I've noticed with my DD that if I listen while she cries, and offer her closeness, comfort, staying with her, and remaining calm that when she finishes crying she is in a much better mood. Toddlers get so frustrated sometimes, and tears actually contain the stress hormone cortisol, so if you can focus on your feelings, and try to remain calm and loving, when your child kicks off, this will have remarkable improvements on her behaviour.

I found out about these ideas through [[ Hand in Hand Parenting]

and I've just noticed that if you subscribe to their newsletter you get a free audio podcast, all about tantrums, the link is here,

tantrum help

Tortoiseonthehalfshell Thu 21-Feb-13 05:42:31

Oh, I know the answer to this one!

3.5 year olds are possessed by the devil.

Honestly. Well, not honestly. But it's a horrible age. My DD1 is an easy, compliant, delightful child, hardly ever tantrummed, terrible twos absolutely weren't, etc.

And then she hit 3.5 and nothing at all would make her behave. It was almost an out of body thing. My advice is: batten down the hatches, get through it, one day soon she'll be nearer four than 3.5 and it'll be okay again.

hereagain99 Thu 21-Feb-13 08:39:18

Thanks for all your replies. In a way I am glad to know that we are not the only ones and that my child isn't totally becoming something horrible sad

Cloudhands: I know that tantrums are good for them and that it makes them feel better but when we are having 3 tantrums a day like the ones we are having now it is difficult to remain calm all the time. Yesterday afternoon was a clear one. I asked her to go for a wee before going to bed for a nap. Straight away she began screaming that her wee wasn't coming out while hiding inside my bed and laughing. All this escalated to "mummy I need your help to go for a wee" and when I went to the toilet with her she carried on screaming that her wee wasn't coming, was all this a joke? She seemed to enjoyed it. So it really feels like she is looking for any reason to start screaming. Is this healthy and good? I am not sure anymore, not when I am sitting with her and hugging her while she is screaming and the only thing she is doing is trying to hurt me by pinching me and screatching

Thanks again to all of you

cloudhands Thu 21-Feb-13 08:52:08

Hi Hereagain99,

that does sound trying. One aspect of Hand in Hand parenting I like is that parents can exchange listening time together, to let off steam about the frustrating aspects of parenting. It's not about giving advice or finding answers from other parents, it's just about having time to say all the things that drive us crazy about parenting, so we don't take that anger and frustration out on our children. if you have a friend you can call or can set up a listening partnership through hand in hand (it's free,) then that helps enourmously)
I've found that this has given me a lot ore patience with my DD, I think when our children are crying or tantrumming, the best thing we can do is to wait it out. If we try and stop or distract then the upset behaviour will just come back at another time. So then we have wasted all that energy trying to stop them from shouting and screaming, and also have to deal with more bad behaviour in the future! But if we have the patience to listen and be there, calm and collectedly, then they'll get to the end of their tantrum and feel much better.
This is hard, which is why it's great to talk in private with another adult.
Lots of rough and tumble play can help channel the aggression in a more positive way, and in the moment of a tantrum, just physically stopping your daughter from hurting you, and trying to remain calm is the best way to deal with it.

There's a set of booklets I bought at the hand in hand store, (24 dollars) that really explains more about this approach in more detail, and can help you see how it works.

Iggly Thu 21-Feb-13 08:54:22

Ok now dont shoot me but you sound very negative in your treatment of your dd - things taken away, don't do something otherwise something gets taken away etc etc.

It becomes a vicious cycle - she will react negatively to your negativity, you react negatively to hers etc etc. does that make sense?

Try flipping your approach and being positive. Praise her - specific praise that is, not generic "good girl", praise her for the things she does well. So say thank you for going to the toilet, thank you for getting dressed, that's good dressing/tidying etc etc. and she will start to copy you. It's really hard to do but it pays off.

My 3.4 year old get likes this - when I'm tired or grumpy he really picks up on it even if I think I'm hiding it well.

Also try and break the tension. So today, ds looked at me with a cross face and demanded more milk for his cereal. I said "that's a cross face" and copied it then said "you look like a duck" and we both laughed. I then asked him how do you ask for something and he asked nicely. In fact that's the approach that works 9/10 times - asking him how to ask nicely for something and he does.

Our techniques came from talking to preschool for ideas. They suggested that we have time out (not a naughty step) - basically for him to cool off. He gets a warning (specific - so say if you do x again then you gag time out). Make sure he hears the warning. If he does it again, then we tell him he's having time out for 3 mins (use an egg timer) and tell him why. Then when it's done, ask him why he has had it. If he doesn't remember or won't say, then calmly tell him why and importantly tell him what he should do next time. However dont be tempted to use it for every transgression otherwise it loses it's meaning.

Do speak to your preschool for ideas though.

hereagain99 Thu 21-Feb-13 12:40:39

Thanks Iggly for the advice, and I will not shoot you for it grin

We both know that it is not very nice to take things away but we decided to have a go at it as a last resort as we are desperate. Time out hasn't work either so we don't have much left.

We have introduce Family Meetings where we talk about how we all feel and what her behaviour is doing to us but I think she is not understanding it very well. We habe always follow Alfie Kohn (Unconditional Parenting, Punished by Rewards, etc...) and we know that techniques as confiscating toys or punishing/rewards do not have a positive outcome.

We just wanted to see if it help to improve the situation which of course it hasn't sad

We are open to any other advice that works smile.

megandraper Thu 21-Feb-13 14:45:27

I had terrible tantrums when I was 3. Frustration mostly. They went away when I got a bit older.

Sorry, but I think you are perhaps being a bit too formal and legalistic about all this - family meetings with a 3 year old?

I think that perhaps you just need to weather the storm for a while, until she gets a bit older and able to handle things better, just Kleinzeit had good tips about avoiding confrontation. Doesn't mean give them whatever they want, just minimising conflict.

Iggly Thu 21-Feb-13 14:48:29

She might be too young for family meetings - any discussion has to be quick and simple and immediate.

I find taking things away doesn't work much. I find timeout only works if we explain why it's happening (as opposed to saying "right, time out!") keeping it brief of course.

Also is she tantrumming when tired/hungry etc?

drjohnsonscat Thu 21-Feb-13 15:05:52

I think sometimes their emotions just overwhelm them and you can't do anything about. You just make sure they are safe and carry on, sort of ignoring what they are doing. DD was never a trantrummer but has started having massive screaming fits at 6 - she just works herself up into an absolute rage of screaming and stomping and shrieking. My tactic is just not to engage. With DD because she's older she has to stay upstairs while she rants and raves - you might not do this because yours is younger and you need to know she's safe. But I think you just put her in the middle of the floor and go about your business. Don't hug. Don't interact. Just be present but not engaging. It could take an hour. But she will learn she gets nothing until the storm has passed. Last night's tantrum lasted over an hour but in the end she burnt herself out and was happy as larry this morning.

And yes, she does this because she knows she's safe with you. DD was shrieking last night that she was going to chop my head off and she hates me. When she finally calmed down and we had our cuddle I told her that I heard her saying that but I knew she loved me anyway and I loved her always. That bit made her cry - I think because she knows she's safe.

Also agree with the idea of rephrasing things "who wants to help mummy put her coat on?" type thing. DS (also 3.5) gets praised for doing thigns before he's done them ("look at my good boy going to the toilet") so he's already in a good place before it escalates into a stand-off. Also don't forget to use humour to defuse situations. You can do a massive exaggeration and say "wouldn't it be funny if you never went to the toilet and all the wee came out in the bed and then ran down the stairs and into the kitchen and all over mummy's feet and out into the street and down to the town and all over the world and all the people in France were wondering what it was". It's a sort of distraction but it also defuses the situation so as they are laughing they are forgetting to get into a rage.

mrswee Thu 21-Feb-13 22:29:26

I am having similar problems with DD of the same age. I have been reading a book called 'how to talk to kids so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk'

even though dd is only 3.5 the idea in the book are really working and I feel like our family is coming back together a bit!

cassell Thu 21-Feb-13 22:56:31

Ds1 had a horrible phase from about 3.5-3.7 of several melt down tantrums a day and nothing seemed to work. He is now 3.10 and although we haven't got rid of tantrums completely he now has only about 1 meltdown a fortnight which is loads better.

A few things that helped:

Earlier bedtime: the tantrums coincided with him dropping his afternoon nap and I think he was just exhausted. He now goes to bed by 6-6.30pm every night and wakes between 7.30-8.30am. He also has a 'quiet time' in his room for an hour or so after lunch where he can play with his toys but must stay in his room. That time on his own often helps him to recharge his batteries even though he's not sleeping.

Pre-empting hunger: I noticed that his tantrums would escalate badly if he was hungry so I now make sure I offer a (healthy) snack mid morning/mid afternoon especially if he starts getting a bit frustrated/seems tired/lacks patience as that's when it could escalate to a tantrum.

Praising specific good behaviour: eg 'well done for holding mummy's had without being asked', 'that was kind of you to help ds2' etc. Takes a while of being consistent but he often now praises me 'well done mummy for cutting my toast up' grin and points out to me when he's having good behaviour.

Ignoring bad behaviour: very difficult sometimes but if you're consistent it does work. I try to look as bored and uninterested in him as possible when he's having bad behaviour.

Using 123: saying you need to do X by the time I count to 3 otherwise I will do it for you/we won't go out/relevant consequence (and following through). I usually only have to follow through 1 in 20odd times now. Surprisingly successful.

Setting clear rules/boundaries and explaining routine: I've tried to make it clear to ds1 what is accepted or 'good' behaviour in a particular situation and what is not acceptable or 'bad' behaviour. I try to talk through in advance what we're going to do and what is expected - eg today we're going to go to friend A's house this morning, you need to play nicely with A, share his toys etc, if you don't or if you hit/push etc then we will stop playing and come home. After A's house we will come home and have lunch etc' that way he knows what to expect and the consequences (good & bad) of the way he behaves. It's helped him a lot as I think it gives him some control/knowledge over what will happen.

It's a tough age though and although he's generally better now if he's ill/tired/hungry then he reverts to tantrum territory.

Hope some of that helps.

LeChatRouge Thu 21-Feb-13 23:15:34

I think I would keep an eye on how much attention the tantrums are getting from you. My tendency would be to not entertain them at all, as soon as one starts, put her on the sofa, go in the kitchen and pull the door to and start hoovering or something.
For me, I wouldn't be having conversations about weeing or sitting with her pinching and scratching. Be firm, be confident. It's not about negotiations, it's teaching her what's acceptable behaviour for her age.

MrsLion Fri 22-Feb-13 07:49:56

My DD2 is 3.8 and we are going through the same thing. Very angry rages, full blown tantrums, defiance, extreme rudeness and disrespect. 
Luckily we seem to be getting through it now and it only really started improving when we got very tough and very consistent.

By tough, I definitely don't mean being angry or shouting ourselves. We just calmly imposed harsher consequences. And always, always following through.

E.g dh was getting ready to take dd1 and dd2 swimming, they were both very excited but dd2 started playing up and refusing to get in the car seat. Then started screaming and yelling when dh tried to buckle her in. 

After one warning, which was ignored dh, dh got hit in the face and he just very calmly got her out of the car and took dd1 swimming without her. I stayed behind.
She was devastated.  
Another time we were on the way to a birthday party and I turned the car back around and went back home.

It is very hard- but after a few similar incidences her behaviour is improving a lot.

We're actually all a lot happier and less stressed as all the negotiating, warnings, verbal battles are bring vastly reduced.

In terms of getting her to do things, like have a wee or eat her dinner. I just let them go. Or try some of the humor techniques that others have mentioned. Funnily enough since the zero tolerance on bad attitude was implemented, she has also responded better to requests.

Good luck op. It is very trying indeed and you are most definitely not alone. 

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