My four year old daughter has had this issue recently where if anything goes "wrong" she completely loses it. I put "wrong" in quotes because its the slightest thing and, in particular, its situations that she has the ability to obtain what she wants.

For example, if we put a hair band in her hair she will say I want a different one. Ok . . so we give her a different one and then she freaks out and says "thats not the one I want"..so I will suggest she picks one out from her collection. Instead of walking over to her hair band and picking out the one she wants as I suggest. . she completely loses it and gets hysterical and has a tantrum.

So, in these situations where she has complete ability and control to "solve her issue", and I reiterate that she can do the step to resolve her issues, I am trying to understand why, instead, she gets hysterical unnecessarily instead. Also, looking for any advice on how to deal with this and encourage her to think about what she wants to solve her "problem"

3 Answers 3


I completely relate - know that it gets better. When my little girl was four she went through a phase almost exactly like the one you describe - except instead of tantrums she dissolved into tears.

First, you should know that developmentally a lot of things are going on at four and they are growing in ways that are much more difficult to "see" than when they are just a bit younger. They begin to realize there can be different perceptions and different knowledge about things between people (a precursor in understanding required for integrating an understanding of "real" and "fiction", for the ability to lie in order to deceive, and in fully relating with others in imaginative and collaborative play). I'd imagine there is a certain amount of anxiety that comes with this as they start to understand they can't just trust every one they meet the way they once did. There is also a lot of growth in the frontal cortex which can make things confusing and stressful too. For more information on the toddler-preschool brain (the article talks about kids aged around 3) and how that plays a part in tantrums click here (parenting magazine).

They are also moving steadily toward more independence and they stop looking so "babyish" and start really looking like "kids." Without even realizing it, the adults around her start to expect a lot more of her (and she is mostly ready for those expectations). Many four-year-olds get a bit "clingy" or "needy" in various ways. Kids that a month ago had the ability to tie shoes for themselves will suddenly "forget" and want help, or (at the preschool) kids that previously had no difficulty when they got dropped off, will need a little extra reassurance that mom will come back at the end of the day (seriously, even those that have attended preschool since they were barely two and whose mothers never forgot to come get them). I figure it is one way to cope with all these realizations.

It is a bit like when little ones start walking. With some kids you know they can walk, but they aren't ready to believe it so they still cling and hold on until one day the temptation to grab something over-takes them and they forget to hold on.

It sounds to me as though that is where your daughter is at the moment. Knowing that, you might want to make a point of spending a little extra time with the story part of the bedtime routine, incorporate asking her how her day was, what she did and learned etc. at some regular time and event like over dinner or on the car-ride home from school. Really make sure you add some extra quality time - just as a preventative measure.

What worked really well for us, was to say to our daughter, "I see you are upset, but crying won't help solve the problem. When you are ready to talk about it, let me know" Then we'd give her a soothing pat, brief hug or kiss and give her a little time to "recover." (btw, recovery took place in her room, or in a "quiet" place away from us). When the drama part was over she could come to us and we would guide her through her decision. "I want to help you hon, but I don't understand which clip it is you wanted. You'll just have to show me."

If we were in a hurry, we would say something more like, "I understand you are upset, but if you can't just go get the clip you want quickly, there just isn't enough time for me to do anything about it and you'll have to wear this one." Then, we let her be upset about it. It was her decision to wallow in her disappointment or to buck up and move on quickly and there-by actually get what she wanted. Either way, we administered without much emotion other than those emotions that expressed sympathy.

My husband had a particularly difficult time with this and often he would try to reason with her to calm her down. The more he said or did to calm her, the more upset she got. Then, he would get frustrated and yell, "Oh stop crying about it" or vent his frustration with her lack of reason in some fashion. This, of course, made the tearfulness get 100 times worse. It didn't take long before he realized that one-two quick sentences of support followed by a "It is your decision how quickly you move on" kind of attitude was rewarded with the quickest path to daughter drama recovery.

I would also suggest taking a look at some of the questions already asked about tantrums such as This Question or this question. The first one covers tantrums with a two year old, but may still have some good information. In particular, in the second one, I would look at Christine Gorden's Answer and see if it applies to your situation.

It did take about a month to get through the bulk of the phase, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn't take very long before she skipped all the drama and just went straight to the "problem solving" part. She still gets dramatic sometimes - especially if she is overtired or overstimulated, but we were mostly past it by the time she turned five (until, that is, the hormones start kicking in I suspect).


Whether the "problem" is real or imagined is all but irrelevant. What's important is giving them the tools they need to communicate their emotions in a pro-active manner. Dealing with stressful situations is hard enough for adults so when kids don't know what to do they fall back to old faithful; screaming and crying. We tried a lot of different things before finding the sweet spot for our kid. Obviously your mileage may vary.

Step zero is getting him to take a deep breath. It's easier said than done but if we can get him to do that it opens up our ability to communicate with him. After that we focus on the language he needs. If he is having a hard time emotionally we focus on naming the emotion. We might suggest a phrase that he could use like "that makes me sad when you say that Daddy". If the upset is more of a material want situation then we focus on phrases that help him ask for things.

Like everything in parenting this is not a silver bullet. Sometimes it utterly fails with him screaming "I CAN'T TAKE A DEEP BREATH!!" but in the long term we have had tremendous success with our emphasis on language tools. It's to the point now where we can skip all of the above and go straight to "Why don't you try saying that in a different way." He will then take a deep breath and rephrase what he just said. Sometimes.


The core of a child's emotional and social development involves learning how to make sense of and handle feelings. When a child throws a tantrum it is a strong yet simple message that their ability has been exceeded and they are in need of help. A child in the throes of such emotional turmoil is not having any fun. It is scary to lose control, to be trounced by one's own mounting distress.

If we can shift our perspective and see the tantrum through the eyes of our child, we open ourselves up to understanding, and intervening in helpful ways. As the data indicates, tantrums have a preliminary build-up when children give both subtle and overt signs that things are heading toward meltdown. Reading and responding to those early cues – and getting to know what they are for your particular child – is essential in preventing a tantrum. If you can learn the early warning signs that your child is becoming overloaded, it may often be possible to provide the rest, change of scene, snack, focused attention, or distraction that your child needs before reaching the point of no return.

If the window of opportunity closes and your child has a tantrum, remember two key things: stay calm and stay present. Children tend to act their worst when they need us most. The sheer intensity of a tantrum is a window into the level of distress a child is experiencing. This can be a learning opportunity if handled right. If handled insensitively, it furthers a sense of isolation and shame.

Most parental interventions during tantrums have been found to actually be responses to a child's behavior, not actual interventions. In other words, most of what we do as parents is react. Instead of staying focused on our child's feelings and what we need to do, we tend to reflexively respond in typical ways. Hence, if our child is showering us with an ear-piercing yell, we walk away. If the behavior is hitting, we put them in a room and shut the door. Unfortunately, the more a parent is reactive, the more the tantrum tends to escalate and the longer it persists. Punishment is not helpful; neither is isolation. What calms a child – and teaches a valuable skill – is empathy and validation.

This website has a good article on tantrums and insights for dealing with them

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