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logicaldog1, Doctor
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 3
Experience:  Licensed psychotherapist and former Executive Director of four mental health organizations.
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My daughter is almost 4 and just recently - in the last few

Customer Question

My daughter is almost 4 and just recently - in the last few months has started throwing really terrible tantrums. Its usually around bedtime. Tonight for example we had the usual delay tactics going to bed then when we finally got up there I was reading her stories (we have to stay with her till she falls asleep) she started messing getting in and out of bed, I told her to stop, the whole thing escaltated to her kicking, hitting and screaming and pulling her bedroom apart i.e. stripping bed throwing clothes out of wardrobe etc. This is pretty typical of her bedtime behavior at the moment. Have tried reward charts and denying treats but at the time she just doesn't care! Would appeciate any advice you could offer. Thanks
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue.

This might seem to not make a great deal of sense but I'm interested in having you review exactly what you did when you refer to using reward charts, time outs, denying treats. By definition, a 'reward chart' may only be rewarding in the eyes of the teacher or parent who assumes it is for a given child, for example, so this is what I want to know about. Theoretically speaking, you are on the right line of thought about how to be managing this behavior but when the practice of the theory isn't working, we want to look at the 'practice' specifically to find out what is going wrong.

Now, I also want to know exactly what happens when she starts tearing her room apart, what your response is; I'm looking for anything that might possibly be actually reinforcing this behavior, since you indicate that it seems to be escalating (?).

What do you think?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

For the reward chart if she has been good all evening she gets a sticker on the chart before she goes up to bed - this is with the promise that she will be good going to bed. If she isn't she loses the sticker. When she gets 10 stickers she gets a 'prize'. This eve she started pulling off her sheet and throwing pillow/duvet on the ground. I told her to stop and started putting it back she kept pulling it off so I said ok no more stories if you are not going to lie down and I'm going downstairs... thats when she really kicked off.... screaming, kicking etc. I walked away and came downstairs my husband went up and she was throwing clothes on the ground and taken matress off her bed.

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Relist: Other.
Dr asked for more info which i gave but he is now off-line
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
I've posted the opt out so other experts can take your question. I was answering the question of another customer and it did appear I was away, but was not actually offline. Nevertheless, you asked for the question to be relisted and it has been at this time. If you want to continue, let me know.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.


could i please continue? I apologise for relisting the question - it was my first time to use the site and also it was close to midnight here so was heading off to bed. Also could i give some additional info that may be of use.... she is the oldest child of 3. There is a baby 3.5 months. The behavior started when he was about 6 weeks. She is very good with him and shows no real signs of jealously but there could be a link. Also she was using a pacifier which we stopped not long before the change in her behaviour. prior to this she was really very good. Many thanks and again sorry!

Expert:  logicaldog1 replied 5 years ago.
Certainly what you describe is indicative of conscious or unconscious and normal resentment of being the oldest child and feeling like the emphasis is on other siblings. I would try to take the focus off bedtime, in other words, it isn't a big deal at this time. Do not take part in behavior modification techniques (like time outs and rewards) that have promen to not only be ineffective (they don't work on dogs) but reward external locus of control decisions (because "my mom told me to do it") you want her to get sleepy naturally (maybe more physical activity before bedtime) and give her the message that its fine if she stays up a little longer but there will be no emphasis or attention to it. You will simply give her positive attention before bedtime (the story is a good idea, especially if she chooses it) and then move on to another activity.
logicaldog1, Doctor
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 3
Experience: Licensed psychotherapist and former Executive Director of four mental health organizations.
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Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
Unfortunately, the prior respondent logicality is simply inaccurate here. Of course positive reinforcement works! I used it all the time to raise my kids and they are of course, exceptional stellar adults! Withhold reinforcement and behavior tends to stop i.e., stop paying experts on this website for answering questions and most would surely leave to do something else with their time. (In fact, most I know who have left have done so because too many customers don't hit the Accept button and reinforce their effort with a payment following their effort)I Anyway, I constantly use positive reinforcement in my everyday work---last week I decided to increase the general level of student commentary in one of my undergraduate classes because the same students were answering all of the questions. Answer? Use positive reinforcement. I simply announced that I would provide one exam point of extra credit of reward (reinforcement) each week to students who offered to answer questions. Five minutes later? The number of raised hands to answer questions increased 80% and remains high to this day. And of course it works with dogs--EVERY competent dog training program uses the same principles of food reward, clickers conditioned or paired with reward, petting, verbal cues--initially -tied to reward. I work alongside the world's leading expert on training of parrots and pet birds and she uses nothing but reinforcement. So of course this stuff works. (Check out the American Humane Society for instance:

I think you have figured out that there may be a link to your younger child being present in the home now and your daughter's refusal to go to bed. You didn't provide enough detail for me to comment about the approaches you are using so far. But obviously, the sticker system is not in fact, reinforcing to her. For example, there is almost surely a problem with the proportion of stickers she has to earn for each 'prize', and the prize may be of no value to her. So I suspect that nothing you are doing is in fact, reinforcing the actions of going to bed, as you think they are. I deal with this stuff with my grandson who has a chaotic homelife and when he is visitng for a full week, we find it helps to get him on a structured schedule to get him to bed on time---if we don't, he is miserable the next day because he simply stays up until 1 a.m. or so, and we have to get to bed because we do have to work the next day!. We cannot stay up until he decides he wants to go to bed. He is of course, allowed to lay in bed and stay away as long as he wants but has to stay in bed. I'm wondering what role your daughter plays in caretaking your younger son. For example, a good approach to toilet training as you know, is to have the child who is learning to go to the bathroom help teach a drinking-wetting-doll to go to the toilet, and receive verbal praise and a 'treat' initially, to reward the behavior. There are training toilets that provide a rewarding, interesting sound when water/urine hits the bottom of the toilet that helps here as well. But the point is that it might help to have your daughter participate and actually guide the bedtime ritual of her younger brother---helping him get ready for bed, helping give him his bedtime story (she can read to him with you), and she would then receive lots of compliments and praise (rewards) for doing so. You are reinforcing through active modeling behavior the 'going to bed' sequence of behaviors, which increases the likelihood she will engage in the same behavior. It may be that your daughter is resisting going to bed if she has the belief that her brother gets to stay up, or if he fusses about going to bed after she is in bed, he gets extra, reinforcing attention for this because he gets to stay up a bit longer.

After she participates in the brother-going-to-bed routine and gets hugs with him as he prepares for bedtime, she gets her pjs on---followed by lots of praise and hugs. She gets into bed in preparation for her storytime. The story is read to her only when she is in bed. She is then given instructions that you will check up on her and sing a verse of song if she can lie quietly in bed and not fuss, for say, 3 minutes. So you do check back on her and compliment her for her success in staying quietly in bed, every few minutes. After several nights, you do what is called you increase the time intervals between visits, shaping her behavior. I'm outlining principles of behavior here, not necessarily the details of it. Next morning, you can show her a success chart with stars on it and she can receive an additional reward for having a successful, prior evening.

Now, I don't know how you handled the tantruming behavior but I would advise ignoring it. Let her tear up her room but of course, the next day, she has to work alongside you doing most of the tidying up after school before she gets to play or watch TV or video games or whatever she does for fun. (Play is allowed to only follow the work, reinforcing it). If you pay a lot of attention to her immediately after she tantrums, you are reinforcing her for carrying out the tantrum. What you can do is simply ignore the episode, wait for a period of 5 mintues of peace and calm and then go to her room, as her if she is ready to get prepared to go to bed, stay with her while she goes through the ritual (brushing teeth, PJs, climbing into bed, preparing for her story or bedtime song). It is the CHAINING or sequencing of these behaviors, with use of positive reinforcement at each step of the chain that gradually builds a behavioral 'habit'---one cue leads to the next. I will pause her and solicit your feedback. The principles of behavior are certainly correct but getting the steps, sequences, proper reinforcement just right is the problem here.
Expert:  logicaldog1 replied 5 years ago.
Try to explain at a time when it isn't rushed or busy where you can sit down, one on one (with eye contact if possible), that bedtime is a hectic time and you will be looking for help getting everyone settled. Then when it is time for bed allow her to get sleepy then ask (casually) if she would like to go to sleep. I would allow her to fall asleep wherever she falls for a while too. It just isn't important for now and pick and choose battles. You don't want to engage in a power struggle over this one. You can ever talk about how it is sometimes hard for adults to fall asleep and talk about suggestions that she has. Try this for at least a couple of weeks. I would NEVER use behavior modification on a human being, it doesn't work, it is harmful and disrespectful and any positive results are short lived. DO not use it.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Hi, Dr Michael many thanks for your detailed response. I think you are right - her brother is still downstairs when she goes to bed so i intend to change the routine so that he goes up before her and will also try getting her more involved in his bedtime routine. Logicaldog I appreciate the points you are making and have no desire to treat my kids like dogs rewarding them with treats but I have to agree with Dr Michael that positive reinforcement has to work at least to some degree even if its just lots of praise for being good as opposed to actual treats. Also, i take your point that its not a big deal and should just let her fall asleep wherever and in theory this sounds like a nice and peacefull solution BUT the reality is we have 3 kids under 4 - its a busy and hectic house and our only downtime is after they all go to sleep so for our sanity its important to keep a good bedtime routine. She is up early and needs the sleep too. Also, I think being that free and easy with the bedtime now would only make it more difficult to get a routine going again in the future. Many thanks again to you both.
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 5 years ago.
Best of luck to you. Let me know if I can be of further help. Please hit the green Accept button at the bottom of the screen if you have not done so already. I have 3 kids and truly empathize with balancing schedules, work, and making sure everyone could get to bed for a decent nights sleep!