Challenging 4 year old

Anna - posted on 01/15/2014 ( 8 moms have responded )

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Hello. I'm new to this forum. My soon to be 4 year old daughter is smart and witty. Since about 18 months old, she's been having angry tantrums. If we took something away, she'd get this look in her eyes that sometimes scared me. While I've seen a big difference in the last couple of months, there is an issue that I just can't solve. She's been in preschool since September: 2 times a week for 2.5 hrs. Since then I can only count 2 times that she left there without hesitation. She never wants to go home. It's a bit of a struggle for me as I have a 1 year old as well. Yesterday, she refused to leave. I had to put lo in the car and leave him alone and go back and carry her out screaming and kicking. All I get from the teachers/aids is this pity look. They used to help me try to convince her to leave. I'm so lost with her. Pediatrician called her strong- willed (understatement). I feel like we've done everything right: redirecting, time-outs for hitting, kicking, biting and talking, looking for solutions together. We stopped time-outs because they just made her angrier and pointless. She doesn't care about consequences. If I take something away, she'll care for a few minutes and doesn't even ask about it later. I could go on and on. I can deal with her tantrums at home and they're getting less frequent. I want to tackle the preschool exit. I should say, she doesn't like to leave anywhere: play yard, grandparents, aunts, stores, etc houses unless she's ready to do so. Thank you for any input.

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Most schools will address this sort of thing only as it pertains to classroom success, diagnosis or not. Their concern is how the problems affect the child's academic progress. They have their own evaluation system to determine if the child's "issues" warrant an IEP or 504 plan. For example, my 3 year old just transitioned from our state's Early Intervention program where he received speech therapy, developmental therapy, occupational therapy, and social work services, into our public school district's "at risk" preschool program where he is getting only OT for a half hour a week (the preschool classroom setting itself is considered developmental therapy). In our school a number of factors are looked at before a child is accepted into preschool, things like low income, single parent homes, developmental delays, and social emotional difficulties, just to name a few. So it's not just kids who have special needs, but also who may be considered "at risk" if they don't get a little head start before kindergarten. But most kids are screened to begin with the school year in August, whereas my son was put directly in after his 3rd birthday mid-school year because he qualified for services based on their evaluations to continue with the occupational therapy process EI was doing with him. He was evaluated for speech, gross and fine motor skills, cognitive skills, social emotional development, and adaptive skills (self-help) and how those things would affect his success in starting school. They did also take into consideration all of his reports from EI and his diagnosis from Easter Seals, but those were more just for background information to help with their evaluations. They told me they almost always pick up kids with his diagnosis, but that not all school districts do. Some rely completely on their own evaluation results and whether or not they feel the child needs special services. I'm speaking purely from the view of having JUST gone through the process of transitioning into preschool with an IEP a couple weeks ago, so the experience may be much different for a child who has already been in the school system, especially if the teachers are saying they don't see a problem. But it certainly doesn't hurt to ask the school about having her evaluated for an IEP if she's having trouble already in preschool. A diagnosis might just help to open their eyes if there's a real need for extra accommodations. If she has any sort of delays at all to qualify for an IEP, I would imagine a diagnosis might not be necessary. However, if she doesn't qualify for an IEP, she may need a 504 plan, which could be harder to achieve without a formal outside evaluation/diagnosis. That was the main reason I sought out the medical diagnostic for my son...because I was so afraid we'd spend the next 15 years fighting with the school district to acknowledge and understand his needs! Especially with disorders like these that often appear on the surface to just be bad behavior or bad parenting. That's where a diagnosis can back you up big time.

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This does not sound like just "tantrums" to me. Granted, I don't know how consistent you are in your discipline style or whether you generally give up and give in when the fit gets out of control...that could be a factor. But if you have been very firm and consistent in your discipline and, as you say, consequences don't make a difference, then there could be something going on. There is a very real difference between a "tantrum" and a "meltdown". A child having a tantrum is throwing a fit with the "get my way" goal. They have learned from day one that they can control others around them by kicking, screaming, crying, threatening, refusing to comply, etc., to achieve a desired outcome. However, some children actually have conditions with which come frequent MELTDOWNS. These fits are beyond their control and as such, SHOULD NOT BE PUNISHED, but rather managed while treating the underlying problems. The child goes into a state of complete disregulation, meaning their body, emotions, reasoning skills are all just "off", and they truly don't know how to handle it. The fit is their flight-or-fight response to the internal chaos they are feeling, which is why it is extremely common for meltdowns to occur during transitions from one activity in the routine to another (like leaving preschool!) and/or in places of high visual, auditory, or physical stimulation (...again, like leaving preschool!) One way to decipher between a tantrum and a meltdown is to observe whether the child stops the fit if they get what the they wanted. If not, it could be a meltdown that they truly cannot control. I have dealt with these kinds of meltdowns a LOT with my 3 year old who has Sensory Processing Disorder, and much less (but still somewhat) with my 4 year old who also has some strong sensory difficulties as well as anxiety. The age old advice of just simply "show her who's boss!" just doesn't cut it, nor do rewards because the child is not looking for a reward, they are just out of balance and can't help it. These kinds of meltdowns are a very common characteristic in many different conditions, including ADHD, anxiety disorders, Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism spectrum disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and others. Now, please don't think I'm saying your daughter has any of these disorders!!!! What I AM saying is that if you feel you are very firm and consistent in discipline and these "tantrums" are out of control and no solution is working, it'd be a good idea to start looking further and thinking about her overall behavior and approach in life. Disregulation also very often can be a symptom of food allergies or intolerances (i.e. gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, artificial dyes) that don't necessarily come out as rashes, hives, or vomiting like other food allergies. The only example you really gave is the preschool situation, but you did mention that she's been having fits like that from a very young age, so I'd be very curious to know more details. Such as, does she stop when she gets her way? Do these fits always happen during transitions like leaving preschool? Does she have other odd or inhibiting behaviors as well that affect her ability to function appropriately? These are all questions to ask yourself to see if you just need more consistency and to stick to your guns, or if you need to start seeking out formal evaluations from professionals.

Also-- Look into creating some picture schedules for her! These are great tools for kids who struggle with transitioning to have a visual of the event from beginning to end before the event takes place. Social stories are also good to prepare her for how an event is going to play out from beginning to end. Just google "social stories" and "picture schedules" and you'll get lots of ideas to start with. And if you have a Pinterest account...start pinning those ideas! :)

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Joselynn - posted on 02/06/2014

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Hi I'm joselynn my four year old daughter had the same evaluation at her head start and they told me she needed a more in depth evaluation. My daughter is an only child so for the most part of her life I basically spoiled her that's my fault but now as she's getting older I think its interfering with her learning. She doesn't seem to stay focus on anything in school but when she is at home she remembers and repeats everything and only seen it once so I really was confused and concerned by there response. But your post eased some of that concern maybe if they knew her back ground they would understand why she acts the way she does and maybe me and them together can help her.... Thank you very helpful:-)

Anna - posted on 02/05/2014

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Thank you for the kind words and understanding. This is very emotionally draining and your words help a lot. I'll look for the fb groups.
I love the people who have no idea what is going on and come in with their "help". I had an issue at target where my dd lost it completely. She was screaming at me so I walked away a few steps and let her calm down as sometimes that works. One lady was looking at us/her and my dd yelled don't look at me! Inside I was a bit happy she did that. Anyways, a target employee took it upon herself to tell my daughter that I will buy her something if she quiets down. I thought I was going to lose it!

Can I get any assistance from the school district of I don't have a diagnosis?
I'll ask my therapist about parent groups.

Thank you again.

[deleted account]

I completely understand the frustration and the loneliness. I get so tired of hearing comments like "I would never let MY kid act like that" (You think I ALLOW this behavior?? It's out of my control!) or simple advice that may work with most kids but not kids who cannot control those emotions, such as "Kids today have *behavioral disorders* (usually said sarcastically) because parents today are against spanking." Sorry, but even spanking doesn't work with my boys, what would you have me do...beat them until they're physically unable to misbehave?? Come on! Or being out in public and your kid has a meltdown and people around you don't even pretend to ignore it but are blatantly staring, rolling their eyes, making passive aggressive yet loud remarks about your parenting, etc. It's very hard when you feel like no one sees what's really going on but you. And sometimes the child is best behaved at school BECAUSE of the predictable routine and high form of structure, and the fact that they have a sense socially that they HAVE to hold it together for that time. Then they come home, where they are comfortable and uninhibited and are no longer able to keep in all of the stress and tension they've been holding in all day, so they're little monsters at home and no one else seems to see why you have such a problem controlling them because they can be little angels elsewhere. Haha. If this is also the case with your daughter, don't feel bad, my son's occupational therapist has told me a million times it's not bad parenting, it is NORMAL for these kids.

I totally understand not wanting to stick a label on her. I felt that way at first, because I didn't want my sons to be looked at as developmentally or cognitively disabled, which is what a lot of people immediately think of when they hear ANY diagnosis. Like your daughter, my sons are both extremely smart. Several therapists have said they feel my older son may be gifted, and one OT even insisted that she really thinks he may be genius level (I don't know about that...) But I have read that there is actually a very high rate of giftedness among children with ADHD, SPD, and ODD. It's like they begin from infancy to cognitively organize their little world impeccably to make up for the disorganization they feel physically or emotionally. So it's hard to swallow when people refer to them as "special needs" because of the common view in society that "special" means mentally underdeveloped. But I've learned over the past year after finding out about my son's SPD that having a firm diagnosis in place is a blessing. People who refuse to see the child's struggles as legitimate won't understand it no matter what. And it will always be heartbreaking for you as the parent to see your child encounter those kinds of people. BUT, for some of your friends and family, that diagnosis will be an eye opener and encourage them to educate themselves about it at least a little, which results in more understanding for your child from loved ones, which is what you want and what the child needs. I've realized that if that "label" causes anyone in my sons' lives to adapt their way of treating my sons and responding to them, it's a wonderful thing! I don't have to go around introducing him as "This is ------ and he has SPD." :) But when people question his behavior or any of my non-traditional parenting methods, I CAN say "Well we have to deal with things a little differently because he has a sensory disorder." Same with ADHD and ODD. My older son may also have ODD, so I get your difficulties with that too! Sometimes it feels like there's nothing you can do...they even laugh at punishment. And no advice is helpful from anyone who hasn't dealt with it. Sorry for the long responses, I just know where you're coming from saying you feel alone in this, so I wanted to let you know you're not! Not sure if you've looked yet, but there may be a group on here for parents of kids with ODD. I know there are for ADHD and SPD. You can also find groups like that on FB, I'm in several for SPD support and parent education as well as one for ODD. So I know they're out there. And you can also private message me any time you want if you just need to vent! Hang in there! :)

Anna - posted on 02/04/2014

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Thank you so much! This is just one of the situations that we're dealing with. Yes, I do feel like she can't handle the melt downs. She sometimes tells me "mommy, I can't calm down". Meanwhile everyone around us tells me she's perfectly normal toddler (including the preschool teachers). I started to seek help with a therapist for myself because I really starred to doubt myself as a mother and parent. She had me fill out a couple of questionnaires and on paper it seems like she might have adhd and odd. We have an appointment this weekend for her to meet my dd.
I feel like she gets over stimulated with lots of people. Whenever anyone comes over, she goes overly happy. She jumps, screams, runs around. This can go on for 10 minutes. This happens with people she sees all the time like family or strangers. She doesn't care about rewards. We've tried stickers, goodie bag (worked once). She doesn't seem to care. I mean at almost 4 years of age, wouldn't a child care about getting a toy for good behavior?
I really don't want to put a label on her. I'm looking for tools to help me help her. It's my responsibility to do all possible to help my child develop into a great human being. She is so smart, and is really loving to others.

I had to pull her out of preschool because I'm going back to work. The daycare provider I found has a son (11) that has had similar meltdown and she's had lots of practice with this type of behaviors. Tomorrow is the first day.

Thank you for your input. You're the first person tell me what I feel is going on with my daughter. I feel so alone as none of my friends have any issues with their kids. By the way, my husband also feels like there's something else going on other than just tantrums.

Anneke - posted on 02/04/2014

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Anna- First of all by no means leave your other baby in the car unattended to go and pick the little from her class. It's a Big no no because of possible endangerment to child. It's also against the law and you my love even though i know where you are coming from, can be charged. Anything can happen to the baby in an unattended car. In regards to the the little cherub. Her will, will be done as the saying goes. Consistency is the key. Explain to her that when school is over that you will pick her up and take her home.Also explain to her if she is good that there will be a treat for her in the car. The treat can be in the form of a cookie or juice what ever works. She will no doubt perform that's a given. Even if you have to put baby in a pram take you daughter by the hand, get her to say goodbye to the teacher and see you tomorrow and guide her
kicking and screaming out the door. At no stage do you loose your temper, But just keep walking. Explain to her the treat is in the car. If she is still carrying on then explain to her that there will be no treat for the behavior. This will not be an overnight success. Every day you must explain what is expected when you go to pick her up from school or anywhere for that matter and what she is going to get
for good behavior. At no stage stop taking her to school it means to her if this is what I do then I don't have to go to school.You are retraining her behavior pattern. She does what she does because she can, and gets away with it. They are not anger tantrums they are just that. Tantrums. When she does what has been asked reward her. start a chart. Things that give her reward stars. At the end of the week count the starts up and nominate a certain number of stars to get to get something special. Also try and I know its hard with another baby but spend Q time with her. just you and her. Dad can watch bub, even if its for half an hour. Either read with her , play watch favorite movie together. Time out doesn't work for a lot of children. It's a case of so what. Don't pull your hair out just yet. Hope this helps.

Anneke

Jodi - posted on 01/15/2014

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I'd stop taking her anywhere for a while, and let her know that she doesn't get to go to these places anymore until she can show that she can behave when it is time to leave. Warn her first. So next time she is at kindergarten, and refuses to leave, or makes it difficult, let her know that she can't come back next time if this is how she is going to behave. And then follow through. Don't take her for a couple of weeks and then, ask her if she thinks she is ready to go back to kindergarten? Does she think she can do the right thing when it is time to leave? Because if she can't then we will have to stop going again.

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