Emotional Meltdowns

Claudia - posted on 07/11/2011 ( 3 moms have responded )

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what causes a 4 1/2 year old to suddenly become so overly emotional about EVERYTHING including garbage/food or whatever. He has NEVER done this before started about a week ago. Don't know what to do about it or how to fix it. It's scaring me because he starts school in a couple of months. HELP PLEASE!

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Sarah - posted on 07/12/2011

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My son just went through the same thing. It's a fairly normal stage, though not every child goes through it at exactly the same time or in the same way. The first thing you want to do is evaluate any significant changes that have happened in the last few weeks before his meltdowns began. Have their been arguments in the home? Has he lost a babysitter or friend to a move or anything? Does he know he will be starting school? Could he be anxious about that change? Even dietary changes can affect behavior. Has he recently had anything added, removed, or adjusted in his diet?

If nothing significant comes to mind, then he's likely experiencing normal power struggle within his own mind. At this age, he not only knows your standard rules, but can determine on his own right from wrong to some extent. He is ALSO beginning to develop much more concrete opinions and desires. While he wants to do what's right, he also wants what he wants! It's hard at this age to say "I really wanted pizza, but Mom said we're having meatloaf for dinner." and be okay with that. He is also starting to experience more 'mature' emotions; that is, emotions that are true expressions of his personality rather than inability to control his moods.

I know it's hard to do, but as with everything else with children, patience and consistency here are essential. You want to help him learn to express his feelings appropriately, without making a scene or falling apart about simple things. When he begins to fall apart, get down to his level and say calmly and quietly enough that he can hear you, but must lower his own voice to do so, "I want to understand how you feel, but I can't do that while you're making such a fuss. I need you to calm down and talk to me." If he doesn't calm down, say "I'm going to continue to serve dinner. When you are calm enough to talk to me, feel free to do so." If he still continues, or gets aggressive, place him in a safe room and explain you are doing so because he won't behave nicely. Again state that you want to listen to what he has to say, but can't until he will calm down.

It can take what feels like a very long time the first few times you implement this, but as long as you stay calm and keep your frustrations to yourself (try not to vocalize feelings such as "he's driving me crazy!" or "I don't know what to do!") he will quickly learn that fits are NOT the way to communicate. My son is coming to the end of his meltdowns; he still has them, but they last 3 minutes rather than thirty, and he is able to calm himself rather than need me to remind him to chill out.

We also use another technique called "Chill Out or Time Out." Out of my three, only the four year old uses his regularly, but it works wonders! Each family member has their own "Chill Out" tag, which is a door hanger they decorated. When someone begins to feel frustrated or out-of-control, they are allowed to take their tag and hang it on the doorknob of their bedroom. This allots them ten minutes to chill out and calm down. They may do this however helps them, with two conditions; no harming anyone's property, and any loud screaming must be done into a pillow. After their ten minutes are over, they can talk about their frustrations or simply go back to what they were doing, no questions asked. This allows the kids to take a break without feeling like they're in trouble, and helps teach them how to calm themselves down. IF they chose not to use their tags (I will remind them to use them if I see a meltdown coming) then they know a forced time out on MY terms is likely to follow. Nine times out of ten, they choose the chill out tag. I recently added a "toy saver" box by the tags, in which they can place any toys that they don't want in the chill out room but want when they return to play. Once their time is up, though, and they come back out, the toys must be collected or returned to the shelf. It can't be used as a toy-hoarding box! :)

I hope something here helps. I know it's tough to see your child suddenly behave differently, especially in a negative way, but remember; patience, consistency, and understanding!

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Lisa - posted on 05/24/2013

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I have a 3 year old girl who about 1 month ago started having some of the same things but her main thing is that the cars we own are leaving by themselves. She also hates when people leave and leave the garage door open . she has started to get mean when we try to calm her down.She will kick scream,bite and hit. Talk to your doctor he will check out your child and let you know the best way to handle it.

Claudia - posted on 08/18/2011

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Thank you so much for your reply. The only thing I could think of was that the pediatrician put him on a laxative since he's been constipated from the age of 4 months. I'm having a very difficult time potty training him...well to poop in the potty anyway, and have had to put him back on pull ups. he DOES start school in Sept; and I keep telling him that no one will want to play with him if he has a stinky bum and that the teachers wont change him. NOW I'm wandering if I may be the cause of him over emotional state.

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