5-year-old's "tantrums" don't sound typical

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 2, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hi
I have a 5yr old son who just started Kindergarten. He throws tantrums in the class which consist of hiding under the tables, kicking and crying and even hitting his head on the table and even sometimes he hits himself. He rarely does this at home. I have tried everything and I don't know what to. He is the only one in the class that acts this way. The principal is trying to come up with something because academically he is the top of his class...What should I do..?

From: Chell, Bakersfield, CA


Dear Chell,

These are not typical behaviors, and they are not the way a typical child expresses frustration so I hope one of the principal's suggestions is an evaluation. Just because he does well academically doesn't mean there couldn't be some other kind of problem. One of the tip-offs here, Chell, is that you say he "rarely" does this at home. In other words, this isn't happening for the first time, out of the blue, in the classroom. Don't delay getting help with this. Early intervention can make a difference.

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6 comments so far...
  1. Early Intervention (in our area anyway) only services up to 3 years old. But they can at least guide you where to turn. YOu should see your pediatrician and he can refer you (if one is needed) to a developmental pediatrician.

    Posted by jd November 2, 11 07:18 AM
  1. This may seem to be a off-the-wall response, but hear me out. It is possible that he isn't having a behavioral problem but a neurologic problem such as a migraine or a seizure. Either of those could cause an outbreak of behavior that would look like disobedience or temper. Please check for other symptoms, such as vomiting or nausea, headache and visual disturbance and talk to the pediatrician. In my case, migraines only finally diagnosed in adulthood, I have more behavioral symptoms, head pain and stomach upset. As a child I had behavioral symptoms and vomiting but no obvious headache. Just one banana (a big migraine trigger) sends me into outer space. What's very curious about this problem is that the poor little guy is having this reaction in just one (new) location and he may be getting different food for snack as well as being exposed to different noise levels and lighting and other migraine triggers. Believe me a good headache will make you feel like hitting your head on a desk. Just an idea. Hope that helps.

    Posted by Favorite Auntie November 2, 11 09:06 AM
  1. "Academically top of his class" is not an appropriate way to talk about a kindergartener. For one thing, there really aren't rankings or any difficult work. Reading early or late (one big difference in kindergarten has absolutely NO correlation to academic success. The business of K is to adapt socially to a school setting and it sounds like that is not happening here... Is he on the spectrum (aspergers?) If so, there may be something in the school environment that is triggering the meltdowns. Does the school have a psychologist? It sounds like an evaluation by a trained professional would be very helpful in this case.

    Posted by suburban mama November 2, 11 11:34 PM
  1. Consider evaluating him for sensory processing disorder. It could be that he is overwhelmed in that setting.

    Posted by Chris November 3, 11 06:09 AM
  1. Hello-I'm sorry to be late with this post, but I wanted to let you know my 5-year old daughter also has explosive tantrums. I've recently picked up a book that has helped me deal with these episodes. The book is, 'The Explosive Child' by Ross Greene. Basically, the book describes the problem as a neurological delay (this has nothing to do with IQ) where some children cannot easily adjust to a change in environment. Even the smallest change can trigger an emotional upset. For instance, asking your child to put away their artwork and wash their hands before lunch, or even having an acute reaction to the way their clothing feels. I'm half way through the book and cannot tell you how much it has helped our family. My daughter has had serious meltdowns where she hits, and is totally out of control. The book has given me helpful advice on approaching my daughter's disposition in a different light before "vapor lock" and meltdown occurs. For example, instead of telling her she has to get ready for school now, I usually ask her how many more minutes she wants to lie in bed before getting up. This warning gives her time to process the change. Such a great book, I totally recommend it!

    Posted by Jessica November 3, 11 09:22 AM
  1. Something is very off about this story. First, you can't be academically at the top of your class in kindergarden (I've found that people often use this phrase when their kids can read in kindergarden). Either something is happening in the classroom or the letter writer is not accurate in her assessment that this happens rarely at home. She says she has done everything...what is that if he rarely does this at home? To me this is a key discrepancy. I'm also not sure what would be taking the principal so long to come up with a solution. I don't think there is anything to do but get a professional evaulation.

    Posted by ash November 4, 11 08:54 AM
 
6 comments so far...
  1. Early Intervention (in our area anyway) only services up to 3 years old. But they can at least guide you where to turn. YOu should see your pediatrician and he can refer you (if one is needed) to a developmental pediatrician.

    Posted by jd November 2, 11 07:18 AM
  1. This may seem to be a off-the-wall response, but hear me out. It is possible that he isn't having a behavioral problem but a neurologic problem such as a migraine or a seizure. Either of those could cause an outbreak of behavior that would look like disobedience or temper. Please check for other symptoms, such as vomiting or nausea, headache and visual disturbance and talk to the pediatrician. In my case, migraines only finally diagnosed in adulthood, I have more behavioral symptoms, head pain and stomach upset. As a child I had behavioral symptoms and vomiting but no obvious headache. Just one banana (a big migraine trigger) sends me into outer space. What's very curious about this problem is that the poor little guy is having this reaction in just one (new) location and he may be getting different food for snack as well as being exposed to different noise levels and lighting and other migraine triggers. Believe me a good headache will make you feel like hitting your head on a desk. Just an idea. Hope that helps.

    Posted by Favorite Auntie November 2, 11 09:06 AM
  1. "Academically top of his class" is not an appropriate way to talk about a kindergartener. For one thing, there really aren't rankings or any difficult work. Reading early or late (one big difference in kindergarten has absolutely NO correlation to academic success. The business of K is to adapt socially to a school setting and it sounds like that is not happening here... Is he on the spectrum (aspergers?) If so, there may be something in the school environment that is triggering the meltdowns. Does the school have a psychologist? It sounds like an evaluation by a trained professional would be very helpful in this case.

    Posted by suburban mama November 2, 11 11:34 PM
  1. Consider evaluating him for sensory processing disorder. It could be that he is overwhelmed in that setting.

    Posted by Chris November 3, 11 06:09 AM
  1. Hello-I'm sorry to be late with this post, but I wanted to let you know my 5-year old daughter also has explosive tantrums. I've recently picked up a book that has helped me deal with these episodes. The book is, 'The Explosive Child' by Ross Greene. Basically, the book describes the problem as a neurological delay (this has nothing to do with IQ) where some children cannot easily adjust to a change in environment. Even the smallest change can trigger an emotional upset. For instance, asking your child to put away their artwork and wash their hands before lunch, or even having an acute reaction to the way their clothing feels. I'm half way through the book and cannot tell you how much it has helped our family. My daughter has had serious meltdowns where she hits, and is totally out of control. The book has given me helpful advice on approaching my daughter's disposition in a different light before "vapor lock" and meltdown occurs. For example, instead of telling her she has to get ready for school now, I usually ask her how many more minutes she wants to lie in bed before getting up. This warning gives her time to process the change. Such a great book, I totally recommend it!

    Posted by Jessica November 3, 11 09:22 AM
  1. Something is very off about this story. First, you can't be academically at the top of your class in kindergarden (I've found that people often use this phrase when their kids can read in kindergarden). Either something is happening in the classroom or the letter writer is not accurate in her assessment that this happens rarely at home. She says she has done everything...what is that if he rarely does this at home? To me this is a key discrepancy. I'm also not sure what would be taking the principal so long to come up with a solution. I don't think there is anything to do but get a professional evaulation.

    Posted by ash November 4, 11 08:54 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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