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My once-loving son has turned into the Incredible Hulk. For the past couple of months. he freaks out, screaming, hitting, kicking — even spitting. These meltdowns occur daily and are almost predictable. Whenever it's time to change activities, he flips out.

Example 1. It's time to get dressed for school. His response? Flailing, scratching, screaming. It's impossible to pull a shirt over his head.  

Example 2. It's time to get off the computer. He throws himself on the floor, kicking and thrashing.

Example 3. It's time for bed. Shouting, hitting, crying.

I'm at my wit's end. This boy is sullen, grumpy and mad. Not all the time, just when it's time for a change in whatever he's doing. According to the all-wise Internet, it's probably completely normal. He doesn't show any of the red flags, such as self-harm, tantrums lasting more than 30 minutes or the inability to calm himself after the tantrum. He's a just strong-willed kid, and he wants to do things on his time. He gets himself out of bed in the morning, no problem. He will go willingly to do something fun. But God forbid you tell him it's time to stop doing something he enjoys — it's like his world is coming to an end.

It's all about his perception of control, I'm sure. He wants to be the one to make the decisions. He wants to control what happens in his own world. I get that. But he's 5, not 2. He's perfectly calm and rational when he's involved in a task he enjoys. From what I read on the web, his prefrontal cortex, which controls emotion, isn't developed enough for him to deal rationally with frustration.

Tantrum triggers include fatigue, hunger, overstimulation and frustration. Check, check and check. We can't get him to bed early enough and he's been refusing to eat. Toss in some Power Rangers and a session of Angry Birds and you have a perfect storm.

Sigh. I don't remember my daughter having these kinds of tantrums at this age. Sure, she had a fit or two when she was younger, and we still get the occasional slammed door and "I hate you." But that's impending teenager-hood, and they don't last.

So what's your advice, oh wise readers? We've been trying to move his bedtime back a little bit at a time, but he just refuses to sleep. We can't get him to eat breakfast and his dinners aren't much better. I might try a "no TV/computer" night once a week and see if that makes a difference, but I'll probably just get another tantrum when he doesn't get to watch TV or play on the computer.

When does a tantrum signal something more serious than growing pains?

1 Comment

Hey Bonnie,

You've probably tried this, but here goes...give him a 10 minute heads up on change, and/or the control when possible. Example: "Its time to get ready for bed, do you want to get off the computer now, or would you like 10 more minutes?" If he throws the tantrum at the 10 minute mark, I would tell him "I will give you another chance to do that differently tomorrow, but if you throw another tantrum like that, you will lose computer the next day."

I LOVE the no computer/TV one night a week - maybe sit down as a family and look at your calendar each week and let them have input, decide, or take turns deciding which night of the week that happens. That night may change week to week due to changing schedules, that's why I would set this week to week.

When Zach was little, he had a VERY hard time with transition - tantrums at each transition - so we came up with lots of ways to give him the heads up on transition. We even made him a picture calendar - showing him with pictures how the day would unfold. It changed our lives. :)

You're such a good mom, understanding that a lot of this is developmental, researching, and asking for some help, loving him through the tough stuff, and being the steady in his chaos. Good job.