My 4 year old has epic tantrums when transitioning or when he does not want to stop doing and activity

by Michele

My 4 year old has epic tantrums when transitioning or when he does not want to stop doing an activity. When he tantrums at home and in preschool and he is told what he needs to do and what will come next it takes him 15 - 20 minutes to process how he is behaving, what the consequence is, what is expected of him, and whether or not he has affected others with his disruptive behaviors. So he is getting there and will discuss his emotional state once out of the tantrum but they are epic when happening. So we, (his teachers, preschool, OT, and PT) are trying to find something, tangible and or a technique, for him to be able to self soothe and not be so crazy/violent when he is tantruming.

He chews on his sleeve and puts his hand in his mouth recently, (He had a pacifier until about the age of two.) He also likes being in the dark under blankets or under tables and likes the feel of swaying or rolling movement to be soothed, basically he tends toward the feel of the womb. Any input anyone has to help him self soothe and manage his behaviors.

Thank you.

Michele B.

Comments for My 4 year old has epic tantrums when transitioning or when he does not want to stop doing and activity

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Dec 23, 2014
Thanks for the great tips
by: Emilie

Thanks, Michele, for the response. It is encouraging to know that the 4th birthday may be somewhat of a turning point. Things got better this week but we are scheduled for a conference in January with a developmental specialist at school since we don't think this will just go away. We are also going to talk to the Sunday school staff at church since he has some trouble there listening and cooperating. He has hollered and kicked and acted out at times and we need to work with them there on some strategies too.

I ordered the book you suggested and I like your chart idea. Getting dressed and going potty are pretty huge holdups at home. He seems fine at school but doesn't want to cooperate here at home.

Our local intermediate unit has begun some workshops for parents on sensory processing issues and it is just nice for these challenges to get some attention and understanding around them.

Hang in there and enjoy the holidays!

Dec 19, 2014
My 4 year old has epic tantrums when transitioning or when he does not want to stop doing and activity
by: Michele B in Connecticut

I can totally identify with what you are saying. My son has been wheeled out of preschool in a wagon twice this week because he was so angry he didn't want to leave school. And I agree the hardest part is knowing when he needs firm discipline or less/ more stimulation. It is such a fine line. He has an older brother so we deal with that sibling rivalry issue as well. I can say that my son turned 4 in October and this summer was very difficult because he had no awareness of self, emotion, any sign of empathy, but in the last two months we have seen him start to understand himself more and try to manage his tantrums and his emotions. It just takes so long for it to click in his brain that their is a consequence or that he hurt someone. So hang in there and I think that him turning 4 will be a big turning point.

I think we will try the oral chew toy since so many have said it works well for their child.

Another thing that has helped us and his teachers manage his emotions is this book, "My Book Full of Feelings: How to Control and React to the Size of Your Emotions." We used it for my older son and now have been using it for my 4 year old. It is dry erase so you can ask the questions and try to work him down from the meltdown or you can just use the faces to have him point to which emotion he is feeling. That is how we first started using it and now it goes with us everywhere. His teachers love it.

We also use a chart at home to show what is coming in the day and he gets to turn them over as he completes the tasks calmly. So an example would be on the front is a picture of a boy getting dressed and on the back is the word DONE. Then he earns rewards like computer time, a treat, whatever suits the moment. It works a good part of the time.

It's just nice to know their are others out there who are going through the same thing for moral support.

Dec 18, 2014
I am in the same boat! Almost 4-year-old exploding over everything!
by: Anonymous

My son will be 4 years old in 3 months and he also has a very difficult time transitioning or stopping an activity he is enjoying. He has been that way for quite some time and we have employed all the basic tactics like telling him what is coming up, how much more time he has, etc. In the past it was more saying no and maybe a screaming reaction, but no worse. Recently (last month or so) he has become nearly impossible to handle. He gets angry and hits, kicks, head butts us, and says things like "i hate you" " I will spit on you" "I will hit you." Tonight he had a huge meltdown when we picked him up at school and tonight screamed, threw himself on the floor, kicked, knocked down a bin of toy cars and threw some of them. The worst thing is he won't talk about why he is upset. I got him to calm down temporarily by giving him paper to crumple! I sort of yelled at him like a coach "I want you to crumple 10 sheets of paper!" then we did "ONE" "TWO" etc. He did all 10 with gusto as if it were exactly what he needed. then he put them in a bag and stomped them down as flat as he could. So that worked for awhile but then he became difficult again shortly thereafter.

So I don't have answers; I just came on the blog to find some answers myself but immediately noted the similarity in your situation.

I think our biggest difficulty is knowing when to discipline him (e.g., take away TV) or when to give him an activity. It seems like he needs both. In addition, he has a younger brother (nearly 2 years old) he is constantly feeling jealous and as if we are unfair in our treatment of him versus his brother.

It sounds like you really know some tactics that work to soothe your son and that he is getting better at verbalizing, which seems very important to me. We have probably not done enough with a sensory diet at home or at school. Some things that works for us are just general roughhousing/wrestling, letting him jump on/off the bed, rolling him in a blanket and holding him tight, and now the paper crumpling thing! He has a chew necklace we bought online (from an autism website, I believe!) and that sometimes helps. We also continue to confront him to use his words!

It helps me to spend some time every day complimenting him on things he did well. This seems to help to slowly bring him out.

The holiday season is making it worse; he is hyperanxious about Santa Claus and impatient about getting presents/finding presents I may have hidden in the house.

Today his teacher at school made a comment that hinted he might be asked to leave school, so we are super upset! He has always been popular at school so I'm sure this is not valid, but it sure sounded that way. He has had the worst week ever this week.

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