My 4 (and 4 months) year old son (i'm going to call him John here) started school in september, a couple of months ago. (he's in what is called 'Reception' in England - it might be called pre-school in the USA). In the last few weeks he has started showing some very troubling behaviour, characterised by:

  • "doom and gloom" - "Nobody loves me"/"Nobody likes me" etc.
  • sadness about friends: "I'm going to be my own best friend", "I don't want any friends"
  • insulting me and my wife: "You're not good at anything, are you", "None of your jokes are funny."
  • insulting his 2 yr old sister: telling her she is stupid etc.
  • arguing with anything - "Ooh look at that huge crane, isn't that cool." "No it isn't! Shut up!"
  • saying really dark stuff like "When someone says they love you, that means that they hate you" and "If you say you hate me, that will make me happy.". This is perhaps the most troubling.

I think that this might stem from him not having any good friends at school. He kind of makes things hard for himself in this regard - I've seen other kids say hello to him and he just ignores them. He's lacking in social skills really. At a cinema screening at the school a couple of weeks ago he kept on turning to the other kids and shouting "Did you see that!" at them. They ended up moving away from him, and I don't really blame them, even though it made me want to cry.

I think he has an idea that he needs to have a "best friend", and he feels like he doesn't have one. He sees other kids playing and sort of stands on the sidelines vicariously playing with them, but not really with them if you know what I mean.

It's very difficult for me and my wife to deal with, because when we try to talk to him about it he gets really angry, leading to conversations like

"Nobody loves me" "John, me and mummy love you very very much." "NO YOU DON'T!! SHUT UP! You're just an idiot."

My wife has spoken to his teacher and she says she hasn't really seen anything worrying happening in the classroom, but obviously she can't be everywhere at once.

If he was 13 and behaving like this I might write it off as moody teenager behaviour, and not worry so much. But to have a four year old say "When someone says they love you, that means that they hate you" is quite frankly terrifying me and my wife.

Can anyone advise? Is this normal? Should we speak to a child psychologist?

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    "because when we try to talk to him about it he gets really angry" How do you go about it? Do you ask questions narrowing it down (e. g. whether he found friends) or do you ask broader, more open-ended question (e. g. how was it, how does he feel)? To me it seems that the answer in your example ("Nobody loves me") is pretty specific, as if it resulted from a rather guided discussion. Sometimes, if a question is too narrow, an answer to it doesn't really cover the actual problem (you'd need to guess it correctly beforehand). A broad question may allow people to directly name it. – Anne Daunted Dec 4 at 15:17
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    Does he have a rich emotional vocabulary? You may want to check out some of anongoodnurse's answers about this topic. It may help him articulate his feelings and name problems. It may also help him around peers. – Anne Daunted Dec 4 at 15:20
  • Thanks Anne. The "Nobody loves me" stuff is usually unprompted, ie not an answer to a question. Often it's totally out of the blue. As to how we discuss it, various ways I guess but most commonly we would say "We love you" or something along those lines. I will look at that link, thanks. – Max Williams Dec 4 at 15:58
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    When he says these things, do you rush to reassure him with lots of attention and affection? That is the obvious response, and certainly not the wrong one, but it can make these kinds of statements and attitudes very self-reinforcing. Perhaps showering him with extravagant amount of love and attention when he isn't making upsetting statements, and be rather more matter of fact, "I think you know that's untrue" and change the subject, when he's using hyperbolic negative statements? – Meg Dec 5 at 21:58
  • Thanks @Meg. We do both to be honest - showering with affection or just saying "No it isn't" or something. We have been trying what you suggested, which is to try extra hard to make him feel loved in the times when he's not "moody". I think he might have improved a bit. – Max Williams Dec 6 at 9:17

The first time my son declared "I hate you!", I told him, "I know, I love you too." He never said it agein. Insulting you and your wife is one thing. You are both adults and know he doesn't really mean it. Insulting his little sister isn't healthy for her.

Sudden behavior changes in a young child could indicate something has happened that he does not know how to process or deal with. The verbal mantra of anger and hatred might be a reflection his frustration over a situation that makes him feel powerless. Instead of trying to distract him, try to get him to open up to you. If he says something out of line, ask him, "Hey, who do you know that talks like that?" "Where did you hear that from?" "Who told you that?" If he won't open up verbally, sit him down with crayons and paper and ask him to draw you a picture about how he feels. Examine the pictures carefully, what do they depict? Did he use bright, happy colors, or dark colors? Are there people in the drawings, do you know who those people are? Helping him find a way to communicate what's going on could be the best thing for your family at this stage.

  • thank you, I will try these suggestions. – Max Williams Dec 6 at 9:18

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