3.5yo's tantrums/meltdowns/defiance becoming worse

(18 Posts)
KatyD86 Sat 21-Nov-20 21:05:13

Hi Mums,

We're at a bit of a challenging stage with our 3yr 5mo daughter and hoping for some advice/ shared experiences.

She is a bright, chatty, happy, capable, loving little girl, who is developing within milestones etc. She also has had tantrums and meltdowns on occasions consistent with her age but has upped the ante with these recently and my husband and I have noticed this is having an increasing impact on life day to day. We've gone through phases where the tantrums peak, then improve, and it's possible we're just going through another tough persistent peak!

Meltdowns are being triggered multiple times a day by things like not wanting to brush teeth, not wanting to get dressed, not wanting a bath, not wanting to go to bed, wanting treat foods when not allowed, not wanting to eat dinner, not getting the snack she wants, not being able to wear what she wants etc. She can do many things for herself, such as dress herself, and if you ask and ask repeatedly and she messes around without getting knickers on (for example) and then try to intervene/ help to speech things up she gets annoyed and this can spark a tantrum. She'll cry, whinge, shout, scream, curl up and refuse to do what you ask, and sometimes role on the floor and kick. She's primarily just emotional but if you try to intervene, i.e. stand her up or help her get her clothes on, she sometimes then starts kicking and thrashing around (and hubby is always wary that I step back in case I get kicked being heavily pregnant).

You can very occasionally distract or reason, or encourage her out of it, but this is getting harder and more rare. The only thing that ever seems to work is leaving her to cool off, and then going back to her at which point she's really emotional, wants to be cuddled for ages and will eventually come round and just snap out of it. For a while I could make things into a game i.e. 'who can do their teeth first', which she responded well too, but now this rarely works. It's not nice seeing my daughter so distressed but primarily this is making it really hard to get out the house for nursery/ appointments/ anything! I'm sure I'm not alone but it's also incredibly exhausting having these battles over the basics required just to get out of the house or get to bed every morning.

We've tried to address the behaviour by;
- being patient and empathic (cuddles and validating feelings, i.e. I'm sorry you're disappointed/ this makes you sad)
- reassurance
- encouragement
- making tasks fun
- offering choices where we can
- consequences- i.e. you miss out on your treat if this carries on
- being firm and clear about expectations
- ignoring it
- leaving her alone to ride it out
- time out to calm down
- getting cross/ firmer approach
Nothing seems to work- if you have a good 30 mins she can come round from it or you can soothe her round usually but when this happens multiple times over the basic morning routine there just isn't time to do that if you want to get anywhere!

Of course I understand that tantrums/defiance are normal for this age but they seem to be getting worse and getting anywhere on time is getting tough. I'm heavily pregnant which doesn't help of course. I've worked as a SW in children's MH and like to think I have a good understanding of children's brain development and milestones etc (but nothing compares to doing it with your own child of course).

We've considered/ trouble shooted the following;
- her speech is of course still developing but is really good for her age. and when calm she can express herself really well
- routine- she has a consistent routine and has done since a baby, there is some deviation on nursery days (3 days a week) but she is used to that
- diet- generally good, varied and not too much sugar
- sleep- sleeping well, full night's sleep and at least an hour in the day (although skips this at nursery so bedtimes are harder those evenings)
- changes- has recently moved into big girl room ready for baby sibling to arrive next month. We've taken this slowly, made this fun and exciting, bought her a big sister book to help process feelings, chat with her lots about it, nursery also supporting with it and she talks loads (really positively) at nursery about her baby sibling

At nursery she is perfectly happy, compliant, polite, fits their routine perfectly, plays with other children beautifully- no issues at all! If we ever mention off the cuff that we've had a bit of an emotional morning/ challenging behaviour trying to get out the door the staff are shocked as that's not the child they see- which is of course reassuring, but equally I'm wondering where we're going wrong. I'm also a bit concerned how I'll ever get anywhere once I've had the baby.

We're just finding the days quite tough to get through currently and I guess I'm wondering how others got through this phase? Any similar experiences- is this normal?? Does it get better or have we got the worst to some? As it feels like things are harder than they were when she was younger and had less speech etc.

thanks in advance xxx

OP’s posts: |
BorahT Sat 21-Nov-20 22:04:44

I haven’t got much advice, only sympathy! My 3.5 year old is the same, reached a peak over the last few days and I just feel like I don’t know how to parent my way through this. I have been reading some articles this evening in the hopes of finding some answers as to why DS is being such a demon child, apparently children reach an equilibrium in their behaviour at whole ages eg 2,3,4 and disequilibrium at halves, 2.5, 3,5 etc, so you could just be experiencing this, it certainly feels like that for me! Also for you she is probably just extra sensitive as she knows change is afoot, made more real by the change in rooms. It sounds like you’re doing a great job at handling it, I fear that we might have to just ride the storm out in the same boat....!

KatyD86 Sat 21-Nov-20 22:40:22

Thank you so much for your reply BorahT- it's reassuring to know I'm not the only one and there are others riding the same boat! I take that as an indicator my approaches aren't totally failing & may be just part of the phase they all go through. Who knows eh! These kiddies are such a mystery. I'm definitely finding it harder to keep patience the more this goes on, feeling like groundhog day wondering what thing she will find to tantrum about before we try to leave the front door sad.

I think the fact that you are looking at articles, looking for ideas etc is an indicator you are managing it as a parent as it's one of those things there is just no manual for. There are obvious dos and don'ts, but there is so much middle ground. Most of the advice I've read is about sitting and soothing them through it to help them process the big feelings, but how does that translate to day to day life where you actually have to leave the house for nursery /school /work?! I'll keep fingers crossed for us both that this settles down soon!

OP’s posts: |
Jannt86 Sun 22-Nov-20 07:54:55

Just a thought; If she's pretty switched on as it sounds then does she maybe know that baby is coming and anxious about that? It could be something to think about and address. Does she get her own way when she tantrums? I think it's really imoortant that she doesn't. Sometimes you'll have facepalm moments when you wish you hadn't started a certain battle but I think you've got to say what you mean and mean what you say. It's tough but just keep going. Lots of love for her and talk to her about her feelings after the tantrums and they'll get better.xx

Onadifferentuniverse Sun 22-Nov-20 11:14:50

You’re not alone.
My almost 4 year old is horrendous at the moment.
Smacking, scratching, kicking and spitting at us when he doesn’t get his own way.

It’s absolutely horrendous.

KatyD86 Sun 22-Nov-20 11:53:05

Jannt86 thanks so much for your reply - it is a really good point about the new baby coming. It's possible there's a level of anxiety that she can't articulate. She usually quite open in telling us if something scares her, she doesn't like it, doesn't want it etc. We had a lot of 'I not like my new room, I miss my old room' after the excitement of her big girl princess room wore off and she saw her old toddler bed turn into a cot. She seems to have got past that now, but we'll keep that in mind & keep reassuring her & finding ways to help her process it all.
I totally agree - I don't think we give in to tantrums. I'm usually quite firm, daddy can be more of a soft touch but that's usually before a tantrum. We do sometimes rescue/prevent a tantrum from happening by giving her her own way, but that's with things that aren't an issue. I. E. If you start to put her toast in the toaster & she wanted to do it herself and she starts getting agitated on the fringes we'll say 'that's fine you come & help mummy, but I don't want to hear you shouting' and try to encourage her to ask us calmly in a big girl voice etc
Thank you so much smile once we're all calm we'll definitely do lots of talking about it xx

OP’s posts: |
KatyD86 Sun 22-Nov-20 11:55:13

Onadifferentuniverse- thanks also for your reply! Sorry to hear you're going through that bit thanks for the reassurance we're not alone sad. I feel your pain, keep muddling through it all & stay positive smile

OP’s posts: |
Rainallnight Sun 22-Nov-20 23:33:13

My DD, who is almost 4.5 is sometimes similar and it started when she was 3 (sorry!). We were recently advised to try 1,2,3 Magic and I do think we’re having some success with it. At the very least, I find it gives me a frameworks or method to deal with it.

However you’ll want to look at it yourself to see if you think it’s appropriate for a kid a whole year younger than mine. And we modify it by (a) having ‘time in’ rather than time out. I’m always nearby while she’s sitting on her cushion having some calm time and (b) I always have a chat with her later, when she’s calmer, about what’s happened, why I had to set a limit and how things could have gone differently.

It’s really tough. You have my sympathies.

KatyD86 Wed 25-Nov-20 19:23:44

Thanks for your reply Rainallnight & apologies for the late reply. I will definitely look into the 123magic - I've not heard of that one before. My husband and I actually decided tonight that we're going to start a reward system, of sorts, with her after (what feels like) a horrendous day. She has a little fairy house with stars and we've said she can earn a star for a good morning and good bedtime - hopefully she'll embrace it & understand!

She really played up in the morning, refusing to play any part in the getting ready /morning routine (despite using heaps of encouragement and every trick in the book). We got to 10 mins before we had to leave and I tried to take her through to her bedroom to move things on, cue a paddy. I carried her into her room, cue a tantrum. I told her as calmly and firmly as I could we had run out of time & needed to get ready now and started to try to dress her, cue uncontrollable crying, flailing arms and kicking. Just about managed to get her dressed & teeth done with help from hubby but the crying and paddy effectively continued until we were on route to nursery. Fine on drop off then the naughtiest she's ever been when i collected-refusing to put coat on & screaming when I tried to get her to, plus throwing her lunch bag on the floor - all in front of nursery staff and other parents. Now my husband is trying to maintain patience with constant whining and boundary pushing at bedtime, having to tread carefully as if you intervene she's on the edge of a meltdown.

I KNOW today is a bad day and I'm probably just hormonal but I've had enough, and getting little joy out of parenting at the moment. Mornings & bedtimes just feel like battles I'm beginning to dread. Rant over sad

OP’s posts: |
spape83 Wed 02-Dec-20 10:42:34

Gosh I'm really relieved but also have so much sympathy for this post... My DS is 3.5 and although loving, bright, independent and amusing can also be a demon monster sent to destroy all harmony on the planet...

My eldest DS who is 13.5 was an absolute treasure to parent at that age (making up for that now with teenage tantrums) but this one is whole new level of arghhh.

My patience wears thin so much during the day I'm pretty much eaten up with guilt over the amount of telling off I have to do. He just seems to have an inability to listen and engage with what I'm saying - which is fair enough but I don't seem like I'm making any progress with his behaviour.

It's so disheartening. He is really loving otherwise but then he will turn into a raging ball of violent fury and smash things, lash out, kick... Running out of ways to deal with it... So any ideas is greatly appreciated... 😊😎

Harrysmummy246 Wed 02-Dec-20 18:53:26

If DS is being awkward about getting dressed, I just tell him he will have to go in PJs or naked etc or that I'm going out to walk the dogs without him (I never would, obviously but it works) .... It really won't matter if teeth aren't done once. I'm not pregnant but he is too big and strong for me to manhandle now and I refuse to.

We've had some epic fusses about meals lately, we just ignore them, eat our dinner and cuddle when he's finished.

I do agree with PP though that it is partly likely to be the imminent arrival of a sibling

KatyD86 Wed 02-Dec-20 19:30:05

spape83- thanks so much for reaching out- you are totally not on your own I feel your pain haha. Sometimes you just can't help but think 'where am I going so wrong'. Re your eldest son it just shows how different they can all be, plus some easy at certain stages and not others etc. I know exactly what you mean about the lack of patience- if you'e anything like me you try hard for so long but tbh I can't keep mine for the morning lately with the struggle it is just to get out the door. But try not to let the guilt eat you up, you're only human.
Is it possible your DS is copying any behaviours shown by his older Brother (only cos you mentioned teenage tantrums but didn't say what they were like, how where etc)? In terms of advice I am obv at a bit of a loss with my DD so I can't say I have any brainwaves other than the usual things you try (all set out in my original msg) and with any luck this may just be a challenging phase (as I'm hoping it is!). Take are, you're not alone!

OP’s posts: |
KatyD86 Wed 02-Dec-20 19:38:56

Harrysmummy246- thanks so much for your reply. I have actually tried to do that with my daughter, leaving her to it and saying I'll go without her etc. She just seems to sit in her room and cry/whine, all the while we lose more precious time to get out the door! I guess I don't have the bottle (or time by that point) to sit it out. Leaving teeth...hmm my DD is so switched on if I missed them once she would think she can get out of it every day- I know just what she's like lol (although I totally agree that missing one day doesn't hurt).

Mealtimes defo sounds like the best strategy. Our daughter usually starts eating evenutally when she realises there will be no pudding.

I agree- perhaps the imminent arrival of new baby is affecting her in ways she can't put into words etc

OP’s posts: |
Harrysmummy246 Thu 03-Dec-20 09:56:21

Well take the toothbrush with you....

Olivebranch26 Thu 03-Dec-20 15:43:36

@KatyD86 I am going through the same thing with my daughter and I too am pregnant and dealing with horrific morning sickness. I have just had to quit my job to be at home more with her as she is struggling with tantrums daily. There has been comments that she could have ASD traits and I am an early years practitioner so could see why others would think this, I am not convinced but will pursue this if things don't improve for her. Your daughter sounds great socially at nursery so please don't worry about that for her. The ONLY thing that has worked for me and I've tried everything you have, is to give one warning of please listen to mummy, then if you do not listen you are going to sit in time out. She does sometimes listen but otherwise its timeout and uncontrollable screaming for however long. I simply stand there and say I can hear you screaming and I feel very sad for you but you have to listen to your mummy. This is the most strict I have been with her and she is now learning its my way or no way and dare I say it I think I am getting through to her. Before this started aged 2 I was the most loving mummy and never told her off just guider her to make good choices... I soon realised she absolutely needs the discipline or she looses control and doesn't even know why she is being so defiant. The times when you can persuade her try to do that but she has to learn when you are serious there will be consequences. As long as she has control over other things in her life and is free at times she should be willing to give up some control to you. Its a very hard time but please know you are not alone and doing everything right.

ducky21 Thu 03-Dec-20 21:49:01

I am glad to read other people with a 3.5 year old are experiencing what I am. I was really hoping it was a phase as I really dont know what to do. It is so out of character for my little one to be behaving like this. It has really shocked me.

Lifestooshort1542 Thu 03-Dec-20 23:24:40

I'm so glad I found this thread! I too have a DS who's is 3.5 and going through a real challenging stage of defiance, not doing as he's told and lashing out when he doesn't get his own way. It's so out of character as he's always such a good boy but it's good to know I'm not on my own with this as it seems a few of us are having similar issues at this age!
I posted a post in another thread I will copy and paste it:

DS is 3.5 and generally a really good well behaved polite and kind little boy.
I've noticed a difference in his confidence and behaviour since starting Pre school.
He has over the last few weeks started to hit and kick me and his daddy when he is cross or doesn't get his own way.
At first we just played it down and ignored it but this evening he hit me with his flute in a rage because he couldn't have what he wanted and we said no sit and eat your tea please first.
I'm struggling to know how exactly to deal with it, we ended up really shouting at him and even then he didn't really 'listen' he pulls this face when he lashes out like screws his nose up and looks at us to see what reaction he will get.
We took away his toy and said that's what will happen if he does it again but no idea if that's a good thing to do? Is that a good way to get them to listen?
It went on for quite a while this evening and after he finally calmed down he cuddled us both and said 'sorry mummy and daddy for hitting you I won't do it again' then I feel like a shit mum for shouting at him 😭 But then I know he needs to know right from wrong when it comes to kicking and hitting.
Has anyone any advice on how I can deal with this the right way please? Thank you 😊

loverofcats94 Fri 04-Dec-20 13:13:59

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in