Why does my son complain so often?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Malika, Jul 14, 2011.

  1. Malika

    Malika Active Member

    I wanted to comment on something that seriously posted in another thread:

    "If possible, you want to stop the daily melt downs. They become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy after a while - both because of habit and because they are affecting the way his brain works. The more often he rages, the more likely it is that he will rage because that pattern is being reinforced in his developing brain. This is why it's important with young kids to try to intervene effectively and early."

    I am making a separate thread as I didn't want to hijack that one. I find this a very interesting point and something I have not considered before. My son does not "rage", exactly, but what he does is gripe, whine and complain a lot, often involving intense crying. I find it hard to understand "why" he does it since he is just making himself unhappy but I think it probable that that too is affecting his developing brain and creating a habit. Does anyone else identify with this phenomenon?

    Here's an example from today. We went to town where there was lots of special events and people selling various things in the market square and on the streets to attract the tourists (today is a public holiday - Bastille day - and the local town is very heavily visited by tourists in the summer). J saw a plastic gun that shoots bubbles that he began insisting he have. Before that he had been going on about wanting another particular toy called a toupi (don't ask :) ) It's a holiday, I had some money with me, so I told him, okay you can have the gun but you cannot have anything else today, no other toys or things bought for you, do you understand? He nods happily, yes he understands. For the next half hour or so he plays ecstatically with the new gun, racing round the market square shooting bubbles in the air and sometimes at people, who all laugh indulgently or with real pleasure at seeing a child in such full enjoyment - the sun is shining and it's a holiday... Then, of course, as all things end, the bubble mixture runs out. No more bubbles, he loses interest. And begins saying he wants a toupi. I tell him that he cannot have one, as he had agreed.
    The conversation then runs something like this:

    J: (Dramatically twisting his body about and crying intensely): "OH NO!! Oh no, it's not possible. I WANT A TOUPI! You're naughty, you're a bad mummy, you shut up!! A TOUPI, A TOUPI, OH NO!!"

    He then throws the gun on the floor (it survives, despite being manufactured in China) and runs off round the corner where he refuses to come, crying for the next five minutes. I go to the car, which is parked nearby and he eventually comes, crying and protesting.

    This kind of incident is basically repeated EVERY time J wants something he cannot have, or every time he hears about someone getting something he can't or doesn't have, or even when told about something grown ups are doing but which is not for children... In between, he laughs, plays, encounters the world with intense joie de vivre and energy until... the next complaint and "tantrum" (I call them tantrums but they are perhaps not as extreme as that - I mean bouts of crying or complaining).

    What is all this about? Why does he have to make himself so upset for no reason at all, often for things he doesn't actually want or care about in any way...? And the best way to deal with it, I wonder??
  2. CrazyinVA

    CrazyinVA Moderator

    "No" always caused a huge meltdown when my kids were young. At times it didn't matter what I said "no" to, the reaction was the same. I don't think they have much control over their initial reactions at times like that, it's like the lack of instant gratfication kicks something into high gear. In their brain it's very simple: I want that, I should have that, Mom should give it to me. When Mom says no, it throws a kink into their thought process... it seems so unFAIR to them, and downright illogical. Their brains can't handle it and a meltdown ensues.

    I think the best way to handle it is to not give in, and not be tempted to reason with them. Whenever I made an attempt to reason with my children as to *why* I was saying no, it did nothing but escalate their behavior. I think it gave them false hope because they thought that meant they could negotiate with me, so it frustrated them even more.
  3. Malika

    Malika Active Member

    Okay, Crazy (as bad as calling InsaneCdn Insane :) ), I take the point that they cannot "control" the reaction. At the age of four, though, is there really NO understanding that you cannot have what you want all the time, that the world doesn't work like that?? It seems to me other four years old do begin to understand this... It's all such passing fancy, too - 5 or 10 minutes later, J has forgotten all about it and is absorbed in something else. I have sometimes wondered if it is a "character flaw" rather than a specific disorder of some kind - but that is an old-fashioned notion, I realise.
  4. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Moderator Staff Member

    Malika, I think a ton of 4 year olds act this way. Especially 4 year old boys. Now to help this you do need to be very consistent with your reactions when he acts this way. Teach him how he is to behave in different situations. Such as its okay to act loud and boisterous in the playground but you have to be quiet and walk nicely in the grocery store or the library. Also tell him before you go into any store exactly what is going to happen. If he is expected to act a certain way...tell him. Say "J..we are going into the market now and I expect you to hold on to the cart. When we are done you may pick out a cookie." Or tell him he can get one toy if that is what you want to do. However, if he starts acting up...leave. Dont pass go, dont get the groceries. Just take him home immediately. He will learn.

    But 4 year olds are very up and down. They want one thing and then another. Even my very easy just turned 5 year old granddaughter will want everything she sees in a store. Walmart is her very favorite place in the world. I think it may have been her second word...lol. She is a shopaholic. Now she wont actually throw stuff down now but she will pout and go...uhhhh with a pouty face hoping it will sway a grandparents heart (and pocketbook)...lmao.
  5. asumama

    asumama New Member

    The one thing that seem to work with the <5 year old kids I have been around who "needed" something SOOO badly was to tell them "We'll see." This lets them keep the hope that they might get it, often avoiding the need for a tantrum, and many times they will forget about it.
  6. Malika

    Malika Active Member

    Oh, asumama, you don't know J! :) If he is given a "we'll see", he will NOT forget - and he will keep on and on and on about getting it. I prefer to be honest and direct, give the "no" (even if in not as many words) and get the five/ten minute tantrum over with.
    Janet, I do give advance directions and expectations, etc. Funnily enough, he is not so bad in shops - doesn't ask for everything or if he does and I say no, he quickly accepts and drops it. I do take the point that all kids are like this to some extent, but then your grand-daughter is not crying loudly and making a huge scene, but just pouting and asking :) I guess that's the difference. J gives every impression of being a spoilt brat in these moments but because he makes himself so pointlessly unhappy, so often, with his complaining and upset, that I feel more sorrow than anger for him...
  7. keista

    keista New Member

    Not necessarily. He understands in the moment, but not the full ramifications. After all, he's just 4. Take this one step further. Have him repeat the words "I will NOT get any other toys" I was having the same difficulties until I started doing that with DD1. As smart as she was, saying and nodding yes was not fully registering for her. I still do it when she hits "extreme boredom" and I indulge her with yet another new crafting kit or whatnot and she's 10 now.

    You can even take it one further by making it CLEAR he wanted a toupi (or whatever the next thing is) and if he gets this newer item then NO toupi. AND make him say the words out loud. Then when he melts down and you remind him of the 'deal' you struck, he will be more able to retrieve that memory. He still won't be happy about it, but if you keep it up, by age 5 he will have formed better decision making and coping skills (we hope)

    RE whining. DD1 did that too. We called her Princess Whines-a-lot. Every request was a whine. I would stop, and tell her yes you can have it if you ask properly. She tried, she failed. I would then tell her exactly how to ask me - tone, inflection, etc. She'd repeat me, and then her request was granted. Don't know exactly when it stopped, but eventually she stopped the constant whining about everything. :)

    Reality is, that he's just going to take a bit longer than other kids to learn these skills. If you make subtle changes in how you deal with them and stay consistent, he will learn.
  8. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Malika, you did exactly the right thing. Never forget that we cannot avoid all tantrums. The child learns too, in a tantrum. I remember having unreasonable tantrums when I was 8 years old and more. A situation would occur, I was angry, did not know how to react and so I got angry, often with people I should not have. I did not know how to be gracious and I was just not mature enough to learn at that stage.

    We had exactly your problem with J, with GFG3 when he was 8. We were on holidays and doing what tourists do - we'd go to this zoo or that museum and GFG3's favourite part would be the gift shop at the end. The things that fascinated him (besides puzzles) were water-filled paperweights (like snow globes). He wanted something from every place. I have a principle of buying a fridge magnet from every place we've been, so at home our fridge is a monument to our family adventures. I was finally able to get across to GFG3 that while we were on holidays I would buy him a small toy each day, only one. He could choose but once he had chosen for that day, that was it. We did have a few tantrums to begin with, when he had already chosen and bought his toy and then later saw something he would have liked more. A few times we actually went back a day later to buy the next toy, from something he had seen the day before and wanted the day before. The same rule applied - "The penguin paperweight is Wednesday's toy. Today is Wednesday. You now say you want the ring puzzle; if you choose it tomorrow, we can come back then." By the end of two weeks away, GFG3 was a lot better. We still had problems, but te daily lesson helped.

    Another thing that helped, was the "family shop". Interestingly, we had to bring this in with PC, she was very desperate to not miss out on a chance to buy a toy she wanted and would not be happy to leave a store until we had bought it. But she had a pocket money allowance and if she had overspent it, that was it. We had to have a rule. She was collecting Sylvanian Families (remember those?) and also decorating a dolls house. Every time we went shopping she would go to the toy store to see what they had. I remember the time there was a discount sale - it made sense to buy up stock at half price, but she did not have enough money. "When I get my next pocket money, the sale will be over!" she wailed. "Or someone else will buy that cute bear!"

    So we agreed to buy it for her but not for her to have until she could redeem it from the family shop. She would have to buy it first before she went to another shop and bought anything. She readily agreed, tantrum was over and we went home. She did ask for the toy; we said no, she had not yet paid for it. But she was still feeling less anxious because she knew it was not lost, it would be hers. There were times she tried to change her mind - I did say that if we could, we could take it back to the store for a refund. She had to think about that... but a commitment is a commitment. It was the earliest lesson in making business decisions.

    Sometime were had items in the family shop for a long time. The kids would also use this to buy expensive items; it was a sort of family lay-by system. And such a commitment once entered into had to become an obligation. If they begged for another toy while we were out, I would remind them - there was already an item in the queue and if they no longer wanted it, they had already made a commitment and it had to be honoured. I remember GFG1 once did a deal with a friend who bought an unwanted brand new item from us, GFG1 had to cover any financial shortfall in the cost of the item. GFG1 was a bit of a wheeler and dealer that way.

    Having a desperately wanted item in the family shop took some of the pressure off. Having us buy a toy a day while on holiday was also a valuable learning tool for GFG3 (even though the other kids were resentful because they felt he was getting given too much). A lot of what we bought were actually family property, not just for GFG3. Games and puzzles, for example. And we had to be a bit more generous with the other kids too, or it would have been even more unfair.

    Our kids react this way because they are very immediate. Especially when younger. They also feel a desperate need to have some level of control in their environment (not in any bad, machiavellian kind of way) and the perceived chaos in their world needs to be managed by having something they can rely on. That's why routine is often so helpful. Too helpful, if they become overly reliant on it (that way lies OCD).

    Malika, what you describe in J's behaviour, I personally have ascribed to the autism spectrum in our family. We learned to manage it in our own ways and now we cope a lot better. The boys are still acquisitive (within their own interest areas) but have had to learn to temper it with practicality. Although I want my living room back - it currently is the repository for GFG3's entire arsenal of Nerf weapons!

    Marg
  9. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Moderator Staff Member

    Oh but Malika..do remember I have 3...lmao! And I raised 3...so I have lots of references.

    I have dealt with the stopping dead in the tracks and falling flat on their faces kicking and screaming to get things. Doesnt much matter what it was. Didnt even matter if they had got something before really. It could be wanting an ice cream and us saying no..or whatever.

    And yes, Keyana can be a spoilt brat at times with us because we have spoiled her way too much at this point. She expects certain things out of us by now simply because she is THE Princess...lol. There are times I have to bring her down into reality and she doesnt like it one little bit. Major difference is she isnt a gfg and when she attempts to throw a tantrum I can stare at her in utter amazement and she starts to giggle in a minute or two...lol.
  10. exhausted

    exhausted Active Member

    Ok-just the other day I saw this psychiatrist (famous child Psych written several books) on TV. Might have been on Dr. Phil, can't remember. He told one of the parents there to have their child practice these tyraids (tantrums, lack of accepting no, complaint fests,whatever they are). He said to really praise them and encourage them to do even more. In his research, he found it was a great way to get these to stop. It is more than reverse psychology. I wonder how it may work for J? I'm going to find this info on the net as I would like to know his techniques. I'll share if I do.
  11. keista

    keista New Member

    Exhausted, I actually did that with my kids. Worked with son and DD2 but NOT DD1 - she's the most gfg of the three. IMO another tip that will work with PC's but not gfgs, but it probably won't hurt to try. We never know what will work for any particular child.
  12. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Exhausted, my mother did that to my older sister when she was little. She has never forgotten it - but now she is a very sensible and practical grandmother, still insists it was cruel and unhelpful. In sixty years, my sister has nursed her anger at the "dancing lesson" she was given.

    It may work for some kids, but not for others.

    I do think it is important to identify the underlying cause for the behaviour. Kids need boundaries, but often the GFGs have a lot of difficulty controlling their own behaviour; that is when lessons don't work, they only teach the child that they cannot comply even if they are motivated to do so.

    Marg
  13. Malika

    Malika Active Member

    I tried your suggestion this morning, exhausted. There was a budding tantrum (cause: the new gun was in the car a longish walk from our house, we weren't dressed yet and I had told him I would make new bubbles for it with washing up liquid...) and I tried praising and encouraging him for the crying. It made him angrier and cry even more intensely. So there you are... I think he would have been quick to read the "sarcasm" in it as he is always quick to read underlying emotions and intentions.
    In a way, I don't think J's protesting and complaining is about the external thing he supposedly wants. It seems to be about expressing something within him, some anger or fear or anxiety - I really don't know - and these things just become pretexts for that. This is why he doesn't really go ballistic in shops asking for this and that... I think. But it's all guesswork, isn't it? Anyway, thanks for the excellent suggestion and advice.
  14. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    I don't recommend having them practice tantrums. We had a tdoc who swore it worked on even the worst kid. Fool even did it in his office with Wiz. Previously he was pretty good about shopping and actually LOVED to shop - even for groceries. The practice tantrums literally gave him permission to have a tantrum. After all, the tdoc told him that was how he was supposed to behave when he didn't get his way. The tdoc was a post graduate student at the local children's hospital and was licensed but still supervised via some program. She could have gone out and set up her own practice. I bet she wished she had the appt after she did this with Wiz. I only learned of this method AFTER she had done it with him during the 20 min they spent w/o me in the room. I insisted that her boss be available when we came in for our appt and asked why on God's green earth they would teach a child to have tantrums????? What were they smoking to think it was good to tell a child that it was okay to do that when he didn't get what he wanted. It sure isn't a good coping tool in the real world. Her boss was stunned that anyone would try it, esp on a child who was violent (Wiz could be quite violent). Boss was able to understand that it might work with a child without major problems, one who had no problems in school, no social problems, etc.....

    I know you have some more pressure because things are so different in France regarding how kids are expected to behave, at least different than in the US. Living in a small community can also make the pressure more intense b/c these people likely do know you or someone that you know. There are some things I can think of that might help.

    First is to remember that even though he was born about 4 years ago, his emotional/social/real age is probably about 2/3 that age. That puts his age at about 32 months. Would it be so out of line for him to act the way he did when he was almost 3? It is HARD to remember this, but it is generally a good guideline for gfg maturity. One thing that may help in public is to tell people, "I am so sorry if he is bothering you. He has an invisible disability." if someone says something or is really staring, etc... Keeping this in your mind is a way to keep your expectations reasonable for what he is able to do. It is very frustrating and I found this was something I needed frequent reminders about.

    Do they evaluate for sensory integration disorder in France? Chances are that the fair, fun as it was, was rather difficult for him on a sensory level. Overstimulation can make it ahrd to keep your cool no matter how old you are. Of course it is harder as a kid. We almost had to totally stop going to fairs and things. It was super hard b/c in the city we lived in when Wiz was little there was a parish festival, complete with rides, junk food, etc almost every summer weekend. I am NOT joking. What is called a county fair where I live now was much of what these parish festivals are. County fairs have the livestock and canning, quilting, art, etc... competitions that the festivals don't have. The county fairs also don't have free flowing beer, gambling, bingo etc... that make many of the festivals really really rowdy. Wiz LOVED these festivals and we just simply couldn't take him. He got so revved up he was impossible to handle for days after. The first year we were in the city my dh took him to festivals every weekend for over month. Dh had never seen festivals like this. Wiz just went totally off the rails and by the fourth week there wasn't enough time between festivals for him to recover. By the time I realized that they were going to all of them (I worked on the weekends at the time), Wiz was dissolving into tears and tantrums if we even asked if he wanted cereal or eggs for breakfast.

    We did eventually learn some ways to make things like this more enjoyable for all of us. We chose lower key festivals and often ones where we were less likely to run into his friends. That kept him from wanting what each of them had and demanding to get to do what they got to do. It also let him focus on what we were doing and not on showing off or bragging to kids he knew. That was his main way of trying to fit in at that time. We learned protein was essential. It seems to help keep kids (well, adults too but it is more noticeable in kids) able to cope. We insisted that for any sweet treat he had to have something with substantial amounts of protein. I also pushed for protein that wasn't full of preservatives, colors, etc... Hot dogs were lower on the list of choices and I usually packed hard boiled eggs, salami rolled around cheese, cheese sticks, etc... because making him eat something with protein as he was just starting to melt down or get to the point wehre he couldn't cope would often work to stop the melt down.

    We had firm limits about what could be purchased. He had a budget for the event and it was to cover everything he chose to do and could buy what he wanted with it (by age four he was a skilled bargain hunter) as long as it wasn't something that was not age or family appropriate. There were some things that we bought, like admission/healthy food/something that we decided we wanted him to have or that Gma and Gpa had asked us to get for him. He also had to carry what he bought and nothing that was to be taken home could be purchased until he had walked around and seen all that there was to choose from. We did a walk through before we did rides, bought souvenirs, or spent money on anything but drinks (if we didn't bring drinks with us). He was actively involved in getting us ready to go to the event. If he refused to bring a drink or a snack then buying them came out of HIS budget. We were responsible for buying protein snacks and packing them, of course, but junk food was on him.

    By walking around and seeing everything before making a choice, Wiz could make an informed choice. I usually had a small notepad with me and we would write down what he wanted to ride, eat and buy so he wouldn't forget and then be upset b/c he forgot something. It sounds like a LOT of work, but it made it possible for us to go to events and really enjoy them. We did something like Marg's family store if there were few of something he really wanted. We bought the item and held onto it until our circuit was done. Wiz had to buy it from us before he did anything. If he didn't want it and we had already bought it, he had to ask if it could be returned (actually worked a couple of times b/c he was so little and cute and explained why he needed to return it - would NEVER have worked if he wasn't so young - under six or seven!). We did NOT ask them to return the item - he had to take that responsibility. If they wouldn't take a return, he often would hang around and offer to sell it to someone interested in it. As with Marg's family, he had to pay for any shortfall. Little scamp often made a profit - even standing near the booth with a clear price tag with the price he paid!!! Oddly, money oriented as he was he would not allow kids younger than him to pay more he paid for it. We didn't have to tell him to do that and I have NO idea why he came up with this rule on his own. Empathy was NOT his strong suit and he was a serious bargain hunter. We would have stopped him from taking advantage of another kid but we didn't have to.

    All of this worked pretty well to make it possible for us to go to renaissance festivals, county fairs, parish festivals, and other events wherever we lived.
  15. Malika

    Malika Active Member

    I think if J could have met Wiz when he was about four, they would have struck up an instant friendship :)
    Yes, thank you for this good suggestion, Susiestar. Planning and preparation is usually the key to a calm and manageable time with J as opposed to chaos. Unfortunately I am not the world's most organised person - so it is difficult for me to get there also...
    The point about development is a really good one. Although, as I think Insane Cdn pointed out in relation to ADHD, J's development is more uneven than uniformly "behind". People often make the comment about him that he seems very old for his age, and smart - because he has this enormous self-assurance and in a sense independence. It's all paradox, isn't it, because whereas he will blow a gasket if I take a different turning home than the one we usually take, he will quite comfortably take himself off in new places to explore and interact with people... ? I am usually left running behind shouting "J! J!" with mock authority as he does exactly what he wants... In some ways he reminds me of a cocky teenager. In others, he is as you say lagging behind in terms of maturity.
    I was really hoping the tantrums would trail off around the age of three or four like they are "supposed" to... I am just not looking forward to these continuing on.
  16. whatamess

    whatamess New Member

    Malika, you seem like a caring and introspective mother. It sounds like you are being proactive by foreshadowing the expectations. I think the important point here is not to expect his tantrums will end with a magic understanding or formula of reactions/interactions. He is four, he lacks some skills to express frustration in the way we adults see fit. He will learn, in time and with patience and consistency on your part, how to navigate this world. I think it is very promising that he can have his outburst/tantrum and be put back together within a relatively short amount of time. As I'm sure you do, you can give him words to describe what it appeared he was feeling, "you seemed so frustrated about not getting that toy". I do not believe acknowledging feelings is coddling/spoiling a child and I also do not believe it will lead to immediate "proper" behavior- I do believe this compassion lends itself to strengthening and preserving the relationship with the child, rather than creating battles of will which will likely end in anger and/or apathy in the misunderstood child.
  17. exhausted

    exhausted Active Member

    Malika,
    Of course J got madder-when you praise him as he is having a "real" meltdown, it is as if you are making fun of him. The idea was to practice-not in the heat of the moment.
    I found a link to this Dr. Kazdin.(also a video of his Dr, Phil appearance). He is from Yale, has research behind his methods and worth a look. As I've said before, I just believe in a bag of tricks. I also believe there is so much advise on parenting out there, noone has the single answer for any family, no matter who is in that family. I think we have to search for ideas and methods that fit our abilities, and our child's needs. So here is the link if you are interested. I ordered his book-I want to hear his ideas and see if any are usuable for me. http://www.alankazdin.com/index.htm I have not tried them so I have no testimonial-he just seems to have some good ideas.

    Knowing the underlying cause of behaviors is always a good thing to find out. Sometimes it is difficult to impossible for many reasons. It took us years to find out what was causing our child's PTSD. Believe me we tried to get to the bottom of it. In the mean time, we had to manage behaviors. I think we did a good job given the situation, though her mental illness continues to cause her problems, she has always told us we were good parents. We all do the best we can and sometimes the mountain is just sooo high. The one thing I do know, is that kids who stuggle with behavior recieve so much negative feedback from the world. If I recieved that much negative input day in and day out, I'd be a complaining grump as well! By the way, I am a complaining grump sometimes when I have to field this stuff for my child. We see the wonderfulness of them and the potential and often it is washed away by those who don't have this knowledge of our child. Yep, the hidden disability as Marg mentions. If my girl and your boy had a more physically obvious disability, there would be more compassion. I've seen it at school with my students for 25 years.
  18. MidwestMom

    MidwestMom Well-Known Member

    Malika, forgive me if I repeat as I didn't read all the posts, but it sounds like once he gets his mind on something it is hard for him to redirect his thinking. OMG, my son would whine about wanting something for HOURS when he was young. Even now, he can hold it in better (there is hope), but when he knows something good is going to happen or if he is going to get, say, a birthday present that he wants...he will talk about them too often as in, "Oh, I can't wait. Can I please get it early? Maybe?" But he's polite about it now...lol.

    I am trying to think back to what I did when he got obsessed and I think I tried the best I could to redirect his thinking so that his mind would switch gears (no easy trick). I do know that keeping his mind busy and on other things was what I tried to do. It has been years so I can not recall how successful I was...I guess that's good news for you because, if it is the same as with me, he will learn to better handle it when he gets something into his head that he feels is so necessary NOW! And he meant NOW...lol.

    For Sonic, trying to validate his feelings didn't work. That just souped him up as in, "If you know how I feel, then why won't you buy it for me?" (tears) *sigh* I know these kids are uber-tricky. Huggz.
  19. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Despite the social delays, I always felt my kid was on a strong career path to a law degree...

    Marg