Posted by: PA | 2009/08/25

3-year-old cries and hurts herself

She spends the whole day with me and her brother. Around 5, her mother joins us and we go to the playground. Everything is normal until dinner time. As soon as she enters the house, she starts to cry. She refuses to wash her hands, doesn' t want to sit at the table, pushes her plate away from her, spits all food out when forced to eat, constantly bumps her chair against the wall as if it were a swing and even hurts herself with her nails, speaks in an innacticulate way with her tongue hanging or even masturbates to get out attention. She seems to be out of herself, almost as if she was mentally disabled really. But every time her parents are away and she has dinner with me and her brother, she doesn' t do this. I guess because I never gave her any attention whenever she tried things like that with me and always compensate her by paying attention when she does good things. Well, today her mom tried to console her without success and then put her in her room and let her cry alone but her father didn' t have the heart to hear her cry anymore and took her in his arms. But then she stopped crying right away. I still think her mom was right though. It seems to me she' s trying to take advantage of her father' s " pity"  to get what she wants. Anyway, now it' s a neverending cycle. How do we stop this?

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Our expert says:
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Don't force her to eat, as this encourages her resistance. When she is hungry, she is likely to eat, if suitable food is available. Your pattern of ignoring the diferent methods of misbehaviour, and paying rewarding attention to the episodes of good behavbiour, obviously works when you are in charge of the situation. Can you discuss this with the others, and persuade them tom use the same tactic ? Kids get confused when they move through different households or caregivers with diferent rules and rewards. Get the adults coordinated.
And Purple outlines the usually effective routine for handling such performances.

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Our users say:
Posted by: G+ | 2009/08/26

I also have a three year old that sometimes act out late afternoon. I got to two reasons that is really worth looking in to. Low blood sugar, a sugary snack in the afternoon or no snack at all can be the problem. Solve it with a fruit or a yogurt the moment the behaviour starts. Or she is just plain tired, You don' t mention whether she still naps in the afternoon, if she doesn' t that might be the problem. Kids do act out more if their parents are present, dont know why but maybe they feel that their mom or dad must fix all the bad feelings the feel.

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Posted by: Purple | 2009/08/25

It is strange that after a full day of attention and care that a child would still act up for attention. That said, my son who gets loads of positive attention used to pretend to fall off his black bike every time I made a phone call - we had crocodile tears and the works every time. It was distressing for the person I was talking to, but I used to leave him to do his little act.

I think that you and her mother are handling this correctly. When she behaves this way, remove her from the situation and put her in her bedroom or the bathroom or ona chair nearby for 3 minutes (one minute for each year of age). Set a kitchen timer to ring when the time has elapsed. If she gets off the chair or comes out of the room, without saying anything, you just put her back in. (when she has a concept of time at around 5 you can tell her you will extend the time, but at 3 she has no idea what that means).
When the time is up, go to her, tell her that she was given time out because she wasn' t behaving.
You can also start a star chart and she can get a star each time she eats her supper nicely.

Forcing her to eat is not going to work and will just turn meals into a battle ground. Put her food out for ten minutes and insist she is at the table for that time. If she hans' t eaten it, remove it. If she says she is hungry later, tell her that it' s too bad, because she has had her chance to eat supper. She will not starve or become malnourished because she misses the odd meal in this way and feels a few hunger pangs. I only had to do this with my son two nights in a row and the problem was solved - and my son is very stubborn. Don' t insist that everything on the plate is eaten, one mouthful of each food group is sufficient. If she' s hungry later, a sandwhich or fruit can fill the gap.
Try making the food interesting - fruit on toothpicks to dip in yogurt, flowers and faces made out of the food etc. I do this about once a week for fun, it takes a few seconds to arrange the food in this way.

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