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Four Year Old Daycare Tantrums

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Dr. Susan Turben

My son who has just turned four has started a new day care school. He was fine the first two days, but, on the third day he woke up and did not want to go to school. When he got there he had a major tantrum which lasted for 45 miutes after my husband left. He was so hysterical he accidentally hit two teachers and had to be held down so he wouldn’t hurt himself. Needless to say I am very upset by this. I spoke to the teacher about 2-1/2 hours later and they said he was fine and was playing in the playgroup. How do you suggest I handle this. In his previous day care he did not behave this way. Yet we did not keep him their because they did not run their day care properly.



Dear Eileen:

I’ll tell you about how four year-olds think and offer some help. But of course, I do not know your son’s personality and adaptive “style,” so you will understand if this is generic in nature.

Children 48 months old do not like change, and they need lots of reassurance and comfort when they are “forced” into a new setting, or compelled to change their routines and habits. Tantrums last longer because the child is aware of his feelings of loss and pain, and he can’t be as easily distracted by new toys, food or comfort objects

No child should ever be held down during a tantrum. He can be cuddled and comforted, set carefully on the floor between a caring teacher’s legs or in a comfortable chair, rocked and talked to. Any restraints are unacceptable, and you need to tell that to the school. Four year-olds should be with a family person for a period of time during the day, as a way to ease the transition – either 20 minutes at the start, or dropping in at noon, or early pick-up!

Talk to a four year-old constantly about his new wonderful school. Tell him where he can stand and wait to see your car, telling him its only three hours until you pick him up, etc. Make the “reality” of the change easier for him to handle by doing these practical things. Children four years-old are literal, concrete, “here and now” thinkers, so you need to give him things to look for, to do to see while he’s sad and getting used to the new setting.

Let him take any comfort objects he likes to school, even if it’s more than one “thing.” Four year-olds like to handle several objects at once, so let him put a picture of you in his pocket, take a photo or a blanket or an animal, etc. Let him take snacks or food. Make special efforts to make him feel special when he is home. Reward him constantly with encouragement, not bribery or threats. He’ll be fine in a few weeks. Talk to the school on your cell phone everyday and let your son talk to you, too.

Thanks again,

Dr. Susan Turben

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