My 5 year old's tantrums

HeidiHoHumFebruary 6, 2002

My 5 year old is in Kindergarten and loves everything about school. The problem begins the moment he gets in the car after school. All of a sudden his sweet voice changes into a horrible whine that never stops. He backtalks like crazy. He is rude and mean to his 3 year old sister. He throws a tantrum and cries/wails the minute he doesn't get his way. I have been feeling like a terrible Mom for not being able to see what caused this unwelcome change in him until his best friend's mother and I spoke today. Her son has been behaving EXACTLY the same.

Please, if anyone has any advice I would be soooo grateful! All our parenting and medical books don't tell us anything about this so we are counting on your experience.

Thanks so much,


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Often times the problem is that a child works *hard* at being good all during the school day. When your child finally gets with you he just sort of lets it all're his safety net and he knows he can let loose and you will still love him and care for him. He's sort of like a wound up rubber band during the school day and when it's all over with he lets out a sigh of relief and KABOING!
In most cases it's perfectly normal...just really frustrating for the parents...Good Luck! ~Pam

    Bookmark   February 6, 2002 at 10:09PM
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I absolutely agree with Pam. When my oldest, now 8, was in Kindergarten, he behaved the same way. He melted down the moment he got in the car. He had full day kindergarten, it was a lot. He was tired and stressed when he got out.

I started bringing a snack with me to pick him up, just some crackers and a drink. It didn't work to ask him about his day right away. It was better if I did the talking, told him something funny. At home, I let him veg for 30 mins before expecting anything from him. And unless absolutely critical, we did not run errands after school! He needed down time. After he had a chance to blow off some energy and unwind, he was fine. I just needed to help him control how he did it, not by unleashing on other people.My son has always been very dependent on routine and predictability, I tried to make everything as routine as possible after school.

The good news it, it got better with age. He is in 3rd grade now, but even by the end of K and into first grade there was a lot of improvement. I still don't make him do homework right after school and try to avoid running errands. I just let him have a little down time and he's much more coopertive.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2002 at 10:56PM
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School is, for children, similar to work for adults. They are in an organized setting and they are learning and developing. It's not just several hours of unstructured play time, and it does usually require some degree of sustained mental efforts.

Adults who are at the end of their workday usually need some 'decompression' time, or time to kind of reflect to themselves without too many demands placed on them or questions asked of them. Children sometimes need that too. It's not unusual early on in a child's school experience that conscientious parents do want to check up on how their child experiences school and find out what they are learning. It's normal to feel like a good time to ask about that is when the child is 'fresh' and just out of their school day. For some children though, that's about the worst time because they are busy making the transition from school routines to home and family routines and they're tired from the efforts at school.

If that kind of thing is going on, pay attention to his tones. Whining can occur when children are tired and near the end of their limits (as with adults for that matter). Sometimes it can help to kind of sigh out loud and say out loud that he sounds tired, could he use a break?... Try to sound sympathetic and let the question hang to see how he responds. It sounds like school was hard work today, could he use a break? You'll notice if these kinds of observations are correct because he'd probably relax some, and agree. If he doesn't you can try something else. If he sounds really upset, being quiet and offering a hug can sometimes work wonders (he'll talk when he's comfortable enough and relaxed enough... and those factors are internal to him and are not dependent on your parenting).

After that, sometimes food and/or water and/or a short nap can help people (even children) who are in need of 'rest.' Sometimes just some initial support given without questions for an initial 30 minutes maybe can help. Encourage self-reflection, and maybe ask questions when he's had some 'down' time or is looking and acting a little more perky.

it's probably more to do with him and his days and his temperament than with how he is parented; the trick, if there is one is to work with him and his temperament to figure out how to get everyone's needs met

P.S. Simple questions with yes/no answers can be easier on young children. Are you ok? might work better than What did you learn today? And it gives him practice thinking about whether he is ok, and you information about his basic state (notice his 'tone' if he has any at that time).

    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 6:56AM
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DD had more whiney days than I could count. Near as I can tell, even though they have a snack around 2:30, she is still hungry. So the poster who suggested crackers and juice is right on. I started bringing a small baggie of goldfish and a bottle of water or sippy cup of juice.

Gets the whine out!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 7:58AM
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Thank goodness I'm not the only one!! Your post could have been written by me, Heidi. My dd is 5 and also in K. Some days are ok but 90% of the time the whining starts as soon as the car door closes. Snacks don't always work but have been helpful. I haven't wanted to deal with her in the store etc so I have tried to avoid any extra stops. We just started swimming lessons this week and I was worried about how that would go. She still whines the minute she's in the car, and it continues until we are at the pool. She's ok during the 25 min lesson and pretty happy while showering. The moment we're in the car it starts AGAIN! I try to get her fed immediately. I've felt like I'm losing my mind these last couple of weeks. I've wondered if she is also going thru a growth period both emotionally and physically which could account for it. If this is what pms will be like for her, I'm moving out!!!!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 5:37PM
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Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! You have all definitely helped put my mind at ease about this. I spoke with his teacher today and she reaffirmed that he is an angel in class, at recess and at PE. She felt a lot like you all-he just saves it up for his family.

I am going to begin keeping snacks in the car for him. He does say I am trying to starve him LOL because I won't make dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon. He does get a snack at home, but maybe making him wait is just too much.

I have absolutely stopped running any errands with him because it is one of the most unpleasant things I could ever experience. Why add more anxiety to the situation by public outbursts?!

Thank you all again for your help and hopefully, as MaryF mentioned, this has helped others and their Kindergartners with breakdowns :)


    Bookmark   February 7, 2002 at 7:50PM
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Dr. Lendon smith encouraged a high protein snack to improve the mood--cheese, peanut butter on crackers or apple slices, even some meat--cold chicken, a mini burger, tuna fish, etc. It relly works after they have had about 20 minutes to digest it.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2002 at 4:35AM
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I think 5 is a generally whiny age. I have an 8 year old and he was pretty whiny when he was around 5. My current 5 year old is pretty whiny also. Like yours, his is pretty good in school (a little restless) but a whining machine as soon as I pick him up. If I recall correctly my oldest just grew out of it so there is help ahead.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2002 at 11:09AM
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If his behavior continues you just might want to speak to his teacher and see if she knows of any problem at Kindergarten that may be causing it the child's stress. (Another child bothering your son or aggravating him)
But I would wait and see how things work out. True the child has had to sit-amd participate in Kindergarten and he has to unwind some. Give him free time at home to play a video game, watch t.v. or play time outside, perhaps without the three year old around so much, when he first gets home. (The 3 year old just might get on his nerves after being at school all day)
There is also the possiblity that the teacher her/his-self is not giving the child the free time needed for play , drawing, playdough etc.
I have seen this.
But first I would think it would be that he needs to unwind after school.
There are many things that can cause stress for a child and sometimes it's hard to figure out just what the cause is.
Having grown children, teaching Preschool for years and K5 for a year-I have seen quite a bit.
But like everyone else I think it is possible that your child is just stressed out from being at school all day.
Good luck!!

    Bookmark   February 8, 2002 at 10:46PM
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