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My 5-year-old can't seem to shake off the temper tantrums! Probably because while trying to "fix" it, I've unintentionally given him attention for it. I've gotten to the point of enough. I've done the whole giving him warnings, giving him 15 minutes to prepare for a transition from play to bed time, time outs, hugs, punishment, etc. I often send him to his room but I find that it becomes a battle of tug-a-war with the door. I'm down to taking privileges away, which in some way doesn't seem to phase him.

Last night was the worst and the very first time he ever threw things and hit me. It caught me off guard, so I did spank him on his butt out of shock that he raised his hands and hit me. At that point grandma stepped in and cuddled him until he calmed down, which I usually do but after he hit me I lost my ground and I just couldn't look at him - I had to walk away. I cried, he cried, it was just a mess. He's not a violent child at all, so I have no idea where he is getting this sudden outburst and disrespect from. His teachers even noticed, so this is a new issue and I want to nip it from now.

What do I do? I think last night I realized that he's as strong as I am and it scared me a bit. I'm a single mom, so this is really hurting and bothering me.

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    We are probably going to need a little more information. Do you know of anything that could be the cause of this? Divorce/splitting up could be something? Or anything else of course. It's worth trying to think what could be causing this. – Bugs Jun 9 '17 at 16:31
  • I didn't think about that in my answer, but @Bugs is right--it's definitely worth it to think about anything that might be bothering him, even if it seems small, or he seems to be dealing with it fine, or it happened a long time ago. Cognitive development is weird. That said, I know my daughter just came out like this, and it's the painful (for everybody) side of her incredible strength of character that I could only wish to have. – kmc Jun 9 '17 at 16:50
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In my experience this has been a very emotional age for my sons. I know that isn't what most moms seems to expect as I have been asked by other moms & I recall asking when my oldest hit 5 if crying this much is normal.

I think it's a HUGE age of emotions. So for us, meltdowns are something I try to walk them through. Adults get big ugly emotions sometimes too & we don't always know how to process them. Kids are less able than we are. The best gift I think a parent can give is to try to help a child sort how to handle themselves when life is overwhelming. I remind myself that my child is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time. You have to remind yourself it's not personal, it's not about you & it's just developmental.

I fully understand that hitting you is not appropriate. I get that & I address it when it's happened with my kids, but you cannot hit them back. That isn't going to be an answer. He will not always be 5. Do yourself a favor by not starting down a path you can't continue. Even those who do spank will openly admit you can't do that to a teen, right? So no sense starting now. What I find helps most is to repeat what I see "I see you are angry. It's hard when we can't do what we want to do. Do you want to talk to me about that?" And try to start in BEFORE it's over the top, when you first see the emotions bubbling up. I have kids, I've watched lots of kids, rarely does a tantrum start out of nowhere. It's normally a building up. The earlier you can tell them you care that they aren't happy, the more likely you are to avoid it. You do NOT have to change your stance. In fact, I rarely think you should. You can hear someone out without changing your mind. I do this with my spouse too. He can dislike anything I do at any time. I may not change what I am doing just because he doesn't like it, but I respect him enough to hear him out & acknowledge that I know he is unhappy with it. I get it that children shouldn't have the say so in your life a spouse does, but they are still people you love. If you want to build a long term relationship where your child wants to make you happy, they have to actually care if you are happy. They only care if you are happy if they believe you care when they are not.

Best wishes!

  • "I remind myself that my child is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time." Great to keep in mind. Welcome to the site. Like the name! :) – anongoodnurse Jun 11 '17 at 23:05
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I can only give suggestions based on my parenting preferences, so I understand if what I can say doesn't work for you. My response is long, so I'll just start by saying, it's hard, it's not going to just "go away" or get "fixed", but you're definitely not alone in having a kid like that, and when you have one, you know that they are very much their own person and you can't just make them be different.

My parenting style is very much in line with "positive parenting" techniques, and I understand that there's an extremely helpful and supportive group on Facebook called "Positive Parenting" (my mom is active in it and really likes it; I'm not very active on FB in general. She finds it useful and is a 3rd primary caregiver in our household besides me and my husband). There are lots of books and groups and resources around focused on positive parenting, and there may be some that you find more helpful than others. And, overall, we try to demonstrate real respect--for her as a person, for her emotions, and for our own well-being--and let her be as much in control of her own life and self as we can. She's the kind of kid (180 degrees opposite of me) that we learned very early on, if she starts playing with an electrical outlet, we'd better just go ahead and teach her about outlet and plug safety, because just telling her not to isn't good enough.

Some books that I've found useful are:

  • How to Talk So Your Child Will Listen, and Listen So Your Child Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich (this one is really great!)
  • Parenting with Love and Logic, by Jim Fay, whose site you can find here
  • Books on RIE parenting, which, if you're not familiar, you can read about here
  • The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene
  • The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine Aron

I know that last one will likely sound like it's some kind of New Age-y, "Crystal Children" kind of thing, but I swear it's not. It's been really enlightening for us. There's a theme here, though, of calm, composed, gentle reactions to your child, and I just want to say that I'm sure that probably sounds a little crazy, since the whole problem is the unpredictable, hugely-outsized reactions that logic and gentle talk can't penetrate. (And I say that with no assumptions about how much you may or may not parent with that perspective already.)

I just want to say that I, too, have a 5-year-old daughter who has tantrums like this--and I'm talking about multiple times a day, for almost no reason at all. I think I understand you, because it sounds like our kids might be similar. I use techniques from all these books in two main ways: to help me keep my presence of mind when it's all going on, and to give her words to describe and understand what's going with her. I think that, in those situations, as unexpected and unreasonable as it seems to you, it feels even more so to them. I think those big emotions are scary, and they can't always tell when they're going to have a big one versus a reasonable one.

As far as specifics, my daughter knows she's allowed to go shut herself away somewhere--she usually chooses either her room or the downstairs bathroom, but anywhere is fine. She isn't allowed to the lock the door for safety reasons, but she knows we won't burst in on her. She needs a little space to let the emotion play out. When she goes in, I'll go right outside the door and just say, softly, that I'll be there when she's ready to come out. If she's there for a long-ish time, I'll go back occasionally and just say, "Sweetheart, I just want you to know that I'm still here when you're ready." Usually, it'll blow over and then she'll have a good cry (probably the letdown from all the emotion-chemicals running their course), or occasionally she'll just start playing and by the time she comes out, all will be well.

The important rule we hold ourselves to, though, is that the feeling, the outburst, and the stuff she does and says during it don't actually have anything to do with us, so we don't need to take it personally or do anything about it (at least for her sake). We do firmly but gently correct her if she hits (not really a problem for her anyway), and if she stands there screaming at us, we'll say, "I don't like being screamed at, so I'm going to go in another room"--basically, just demonstrating self-care and self-respect. And if she says things to be hurtful, we treat it thoughtfully. It's hard, because she'll say things that are just weird to respond to, but, for instance, if she says, "Fine, you can't come to my birthday party!" we'll say, "Oh, that will make me sad," and just leave it at that. We basically try to validate what she's feeling by acting as though it's reasonable. Then, when it's over, we can talk about how she felt, what she said, how it makes her feel now, and whether she still feels that way.

Beyond that, I can tell you that I have had her evaluated by a child psychologist, because of her outbursts and some other things (sleep issues, genetic predispositions, &c.). I was concerned that she was showing signs of anxiety or a similar disorder. The results were interesting--nothing dire, no real diagnosis for now, but some indications in various areas, and a possible risk of a mood disorder. Mostly, she made suggestions for at-home and in-class, all stuff that's pretty easy to accommodate, and she strongly recommended therapy, particularly CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)--the way they do it, I guess, which she recommended, is ~20 minutes per week in the school setting, so the therapist just comes to the school, chats with them for a bit but not too long, and that's all. I'm eagerly looking for the right therapist, because I think it will help a lot.

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