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4 Year Old 'Crybaby'
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4 Year Old 'Crybaby'

My son is 4.5 years old.  Just after his 4th bday he began to cry excessively in frustrating situations when he is disappointed.  He has strong verbal communication skills esp. when it comes to talking about his emotions and he'll use these while crying.  When we talk to him about it later and using his words, etc he will say he is sad, mad, angry that he couldn't do X and that he tries not to cry but can't help it.  It happens at preschool as well as with us and his friends.  And this last group has started calling him a crybaby which only makes him cry again.  

We've tried to no avail (1) praising and then rewarding him for the times he handles a difficult situation without crying (2) removing him from the situation and having him go to his room or private place until he can stop crying (3) play-acting out other ways to handle trigger situations and (4) taking away certain toys and items and then he earns them back by not crying.  Nothing has worked.

I think he is becoming the neighborhood pariah as the kids are too busy to play with him these days and our doorbell used to ring constantly with requests to play.  I have an appointment with our pediatrician next week to discuss.  Any input would be greatly appreciated.
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While it may well be that your son is fine medically, it makes sense to have him checked because the sort or emotional fragility you describe certainly occurs when children are sick. The fact that the difficulty managing frustration has been occurring over a number of months makes it unlikely that illness is a factor, but nonetheless checking it out is a good idea. Regarding how to manage the situation, the first three options you describe are all excellent; keep on doing those things. I'd avoid a punitive response, since he's really not engaging in wrongdoing. At his age, children are learning how to manage the emotions (usually anger and sadness) they experience when they encounter frustration. They don't yet know how to shut the floodgates of emotion that sometimes occur and they thus become easily overwhelmed. As development proceeds, such children gradually learn that some situations can result in moderate vs extreme degrees of emotion and they are better able handle the feelings because they are less intense. Children vary greatly in the ease with which they manage frustraion, just as they vary greatly in all other developmental challenges. One of your son's strengths is his verbal abilities, and this is perhaps the single greatest asset children can have as they learn to manage their emotional responses. As you employ your several good options, make sure you are maintaining your own emotional equanimity - how you model handling emotions can help your son learn how to do it.
6 Comments
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Avatar_n_tn
Can you give an example?  My first impression is that doing the following: "(2) removing him from the situation and having him go to his room or private place until he can stop crying " is inadvertantly reinforcing the behavior and not addressing the antecedent of that behavior.  However, without an example, this is very difficult to answer.  Perhaps 2 different examples in different environments would be helpful.
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Avatar_n_tn
You could try what are called "social stories" you can draw pictures and make up a story and bring up certain scenarios in which he gets upset and how he should handle it. These can be read to him at night and then when something new happens just add to it.
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Avatar_n_tn
I work with children and we find that the 4-5 year olds are highly emotional, they are trying to separate their feelings as they all come at once and sometimes they are not sure why? We ask the child to use their words and tell them that it is difficult to understand what they are saying when they are crying at the same time. Wait for them to stop and ask them to say it again.  They then start a pattern of speech before crying and then usually stop crying.  We also tell them there isn't a need for crying for certain situations and explain the situations. Also if the kids are saying these things back to him, it is a taunting which can be stopped by teachers as it is the start of bullying.  We read stories to children about what is good behaviour and what is bad and explain that these situations happen to everyone at different times and it is okay to cry if you feel sad.  We explain that there may be bigger things to cry about in life and ask the children to think of things they cry about and you tell them things you cry about.  It helps them think before acting sometimes.  It is about teaching the children   consideration and telling an adult if the situation is unfair or unreasonable. The adult then listens to both their stories and makes a decision. teaching a child self esteem can be done with self portrets of themselves and a feeling chart at home and school. We having a well behaved caring environment in our little school the kids even ask the teachers how they are feeling.  It is not just about fine thanks. Anyway goodluck and I hope your son feels stronger soon.
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Avatar_n_tn
Thank you everyone for your input and advice.  His pediatrician reiterated what most of you have said and that the positive measures work more effectively than anything punitive.  She said if it escalates or begins to interfere with activities such as school then it is time to take it to the next step.
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Avatar_n_tn
Just curious, what did your pediatrican suggest?
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