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You've Tried Everything. Now What?

Question

I have four kids, ages 5, 4, 3, and 2. My 4 year old is having terrible fits. He is also regressing in his potty training and wets his pants several times a day. The things that he throws fits about are random and can be things that are a big deal and things that are not, like me not cutting his sandwiches the right way. He plays that game where he wants something, he gets it and then he says no, wait, I want it, no, yes, no...and on and on. Sometimes he can pull it together and not melt down, but other times he just loses it. He usually does this at least 2-3 times a day. We have done time outs, losing privileges, losing fun activities, time in his room, it feels like I have tried everything. He does not throw fits at school, and does not have accidents there either. Unfortunately, since I have four under 5, it is very difficult to focus just on him. I just need a sure fire strategy to help me and him deal with these fits so that they can stop. Help me!

Answer

Thank you for your question. I do not blame you for wanting a "sure fire strategy" to handle your child's unwanted behavior - but that goal will only leave you more frustrated for sure. Many times parents can list things they have tried while missing the point that you cannot rely on a completion date. If you engage with your child during his tantrums and offer yourself as a willing participant than you feed the tantrum. For example, make him a sandwich as you do for everyone else and if he complains, do not engage with him. Instead, teach him that his behavior tells you he does not want a sandwich and move on to your next task. He will probably complain even more at first, but eventually he will learn that his behavior robs him of a good meal. The object is not for you to try different ways to address a tantrum. The goal is to stick with one consequence until the behavior is extinguished, no matter how long it takes. By trying so many things, you have taught your son that his will is stronger than your dedication to break it.

I suggest you also read "The Well Behaved Child" (if you have not already done so) as it will give you a new perspective on what it means to be a parent as well as how to address problems that appear to be unsolvable.

Gretchen Slover, Psy.D., LMFT
drgretchenslover@gmail.com

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