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spendy's avatar

Reaction to a 5yr old who breaks their own toys when upset with others?

Asked by spendy (1446 points ) May 16th, 2008

When our daughter is frustrated or upset with us, she goes to her room and breaks one of her own toys. I’m usually pretty good at simplifying things and breaking down the situation to determine the cause (as well as a response), but this one had me a little stumped. How would you analyze this situation and respond?

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31 Answers

skfinkel's avatar

To be helpful to you, I think I would need to know more.

monsoon's avatar

Yeah that’s tough. These are the kind of questions that the asker really might want to take to a professional. I mean, I don’t doubt the collective or anything, I’m just saying. It could be tons of things.

wildflower's avatar

I really couldn’t say why she would do this, but I used to do that as a kid myself .
For me it was a kind of damage limitation or being self destructive.
I might be really upset and needing to let it out physically, but didn’t want to hurt others, so I took it out on inanimate(sp?) objects. Although sometimes it was the “look what you made me do” thing.

mcbealer's avatar

Sign her up for Karate, it will help her with self-control and self-discipline despite the anger she obviously feels sometimes.

edmartin101's avatar

We express our feelings in different ways when we lose control of our surroundings. Children are no different than adults on this one and the fact of the matter is that frustration runs high over things we feel impotent about. Everybody has a need to flush their anger. As adults we have learn that go for a walk will cool us down to act in a civilized manner. However, there are many people who seek an immediate release and whatever is infront of them they go at it. Your child feels more comfortable to show her anger in her own safe environment, that’s amazing she can control her anger before she gets to her bedroom.

mcbealer is right on the nail with that suggestion.

monsoon's avatar

Also, you might want to think about displacement. That’s pretty obviously what’s going on.

Babo's avatar

My brother did this when he was young. He didn’t know how to effectively deal with his feelings. He was told that boys don’t cry and when he got feelings, this is how he would cope with them. He was never given any help with this and now as an adult he has has anger issues and continues to lash out physically when he can’t deal with how he’s feeling. Sometimes he just breaks things but he also hits his wife and kids. This is just my story, your situation may be totally different, I don’t know. I just know that if I could go back in time, I would do everything in my power to see that he would be taken to a therapist so he could have learned how to deal with his feelings in a more productive manner.

spendy's avatar

@skfinkel, what other information would be helpful?

Basically, it’s typical kid stuff like “time to put the toy up for now and get ready for dinner” or “let’s pick out some pajamas for bedtime” that starts the frustration in motion. She spars a lot and tries to negotiate every situation that she’s unhappy about and gets extremely upset when her negotiations don’t give her the result she wants. It’s not every time she’s frustrated, though. So far, it’s been twice in the last few months (that we know of). The first time she grabbed her stack of Your Big Backyard magazines and ripped each one of them half way down the middle (almost as if she wasn’t entirely ready to rip them to pieces). I stood nearby during the “rip-fest” and told her that it’s okay to be upset and express her emotions but we don’t treat our things that way, and that each magazine she decided to rip would go to the trash. I didn’t try to stop her, though. The last time, yesterday, she cracked the picture screen of her mini magna-doodle. Her dad fielded this one and involved her in a ceremonial throwing-away-of-the-doodle-machine. She had to put it in the trash herself and was less than thrilled about it. We definitely don’t want to scold her for expressing herself, but need to figure out if we’re taking the right or wrong angle or if there’s something more to do. This behavior doesn’t scream “Take me to a therapist” yet, IMO. Interested in suggestions though.

@Babo, that’s really unfortunate. How old was your brother when this behavior started?

wildflower's avatar

It sounds similar to what I would do as a kid. I’d get angry over something that either of my siblings (both older and bigger) would do and instead of picking a fight with them I would tear my favorite poster or my favorite outfit for my barbie. I didn’t go to therapy for it, but the best I can make of it is that it was the displacement that monsoon mentioned, a way to give a physical shape to be angry at or a way of intensifying the effect what my siblings did to me (dramaqueen)
Btw, I don’t think it’s had any lasting effects on me. Today I’m well able to argue with people and don’t hit my husband.

marinelife's avatar

I think you are on the right track talking to her about the importance of expressing her anger.

Kids like choices. Perhaps ask her to suggest some ways she could get her feelings out without hurting anything else. You will probably have to prime the pump there: “When I get really mad, I sometimes hit my pillow on my bed like this (demonstrate). What could you do so that you can express your anger, but not hurt your toys?”

Another possible redirect would be to ask her to draw a picture of her anger. If you made a place on the door of her room to hang the pictures she could even draw other feelings and then she could change the drawings as her feelings changed.

Love making her throw the toy away. Hang firm on saying you want to help her express her anger a better way because you won’t be able to replace the toys she breaks.

Best of luck. She sounds wonderful really. If you think about it, she has been very ingenious dealing with her feelings.

Babo's avatar

@spendy: he was about 5, I think.

gimmedat's avatar

You have to think on a 5-year-old’s level: I’m upset now, this toy is here, I’m going to break it. Obviously this is not a constructive way to deal, but 5-year-olds are not known for exceptional impulse control. Also, some childhood development gurus argue that expressing frustration physically leads to more physical aggression, rather than relief. If I was looking to stop this behavior, I would remove one in-tact toy for each time a busted one shows up: natural consequences for not being able to treat property with respect. Assuming mental health is not a concern, I would look to stop the behavior.

monsoon's avatar

I think it would be more constructive to give them something more positive to do and then reward that behavior, rather than punishing the existing behavior. Perhaps allowing the kid some kind of controlled way to let out their frustration, on a certain (soft) toy, or being able to yell in a certain place. Or even finding out if writing out her feelings would make her feel better. And then praise for using this more acceptable behavior. This is classic behavioristic operant conditioning.

spendy's avatar

You guys all have some handy suggestions. I’ve recently suggested that she stomp around the backyard if she needs to vent. A friend of mine lets her 4yr old have little tantrums in her room as long as she keeps the door shut so no one else is bothered by it. Not sure how much I agree with that, but we have a baby so it’s not an option anyway. I just know that she’s incredibly bright, intuitive and manipulative (like most females)...so dealing with things effectively where her discipline is concerned is always a challenge. We’re talking about the same little girl who, last week, asked me, “Why do they put things on the front of the cereal box that aren’t in the cereal box? That’s not right,” she said. Last time she had one of these little fits, we did what seemed right. The immediate response was that she throw away the magazines she ripped. That worked the first time and curbed this behavior for a couple months. After this last episode, we talked about “giving her toys to charity for other little girls and boys who don’t have any”, since she’s been mistreating hers. She’s one clever little piece of work. She started bagging up her favorite things and said she would get her shoes on and wait in the car. WWhhhaaaa the #%*!?

edmartin101's avatar

You could start by explaining to your child both sides of the coin. On one hand expressing her anger by destroying her toys will only lead to having less toys to play with. Tell her that those toys will not be replaced by new ones. On the other hand you can give her a choice to vent her anger by giving her scrap paper she can tear anytime she feels angry. Or buy her a stuff animal like a bear or a doll she can throw against the wall, you can also buy her a small punching bag. She needs to have options to vent her anger, not just one way to do it all the time. It seems she is more intelligent than most kids. One good reward for her improved behavior would be to buy her “special toys” that will help her think more while she is playing. She needs toys that make think how to solve problems.

kawaii_ninja's avatar

I used to do tht when i was younger.
When i got angry, i either hit my little brother, or threw a toy at a brick wall. Then i cried.
Maybe it’s just pure frustration?

skfinkel's avatar

@spendy: You slipped in the line, “we have a baby.” You have a new baby? (new being under a year or two?) This could be a reason for some of her anger. And also, something to think about—are you suddenly not spending time with her that she was used to—since the baby now needs the time? If any of this is true, you might want to give her lots of extra, and exclusive time—from each parent, each day. Maybe one half hour each parent. “This is just mommy-you time” and “this is just daddy-you time.” Nothing interferes with that time—no phone calls, no baby, no anything but time with your five year old. It can be anything—book reading, a walk, a play with her stuffed animals, whatever she wants. I suspect that might help the anger problem and also make her a lot happier about the baby. In the long run, it will help their relationship as well.

marinelife's avatar

@skfinkel Good insight!

spendy's avatar

@skfinkel – we actually started doing exactly that when the baby was about 2 months old or so…about the time we came up for air from baby-somnia. :) She gets exclusive time from both of us, every day that we can manage it. We’re basically nut-jobs, dancing on eggshells. My husband does shift work (13 hour days, either 6–7 AM or PM)...so, when he’s at work or asleep, I’m pretty screwed (not to mention glued and tattooed). I’m also guessing that our insanely “shifty” household isn’t helping, but we can’t really fix that. I just do what I can on a daily basis to maintain normalcy. Not sure what other options we have where she’s concerned. We spend our time together when the baby’s sleeping, but she doesn’t always get time daily from Dad. Sheesh, none of us do.

skfinkel's avatar

Are you both working long hours? With two kids, that’s a lot in anyone’s book. But it sounds like you are doing what you can. The other thing I would encourage is just to talk with her, let her be angry or upset, explain how you understand that there is a lot going on and she isn’t getting what she needs all the time. And try and show her more constructive ways to express her fury: art? building blocks and knocking them down? ripping old newpapers? Most of all, show her that the way she has chosen to be angry is actually hurting herself. A pattern that you don’t want her to start—and it can take all kinds of other forms as she grows, none of which you want for her.

I think letting her know that she has a reason to be mad and you understand might help a bit.

spendy's avatar

My husband works (for a paycheck), but we both work long hours. ;) I “clock in” every morning when I wake up and “clock out” just before I slip under the covers. But, no, luckily I don’t work long hours outside the home. I’m fortunate in that regard.

It sounds like I’ve been doing everything you’ve mentioned. My concern is exactly what you stated – that she might adopt other, more destructive or harmful ways of expressing her aggression as she gets older. Don’t want that. My instinctual response each time she gets frustrated is, “It’s okay to be upset and frustrated,” followed by some type of suggestion for how she can solve the problem she’s created for herself or adjust to the rule she doesn’t like. If you think of any other creative “out-of-the-box” solutions, please let me know. She’s very persistent and consistent…more so than I was at her age.

edmartin101's avatar

It is always true children are always testing you on your rules at home, so if you let her express her anger the way she chooses then she feels she can take charge and make her own decisions. The way you describe her to be it seems to me she has an aggressive personality. In other words, she is the Lion in the jungle, she likes to have control of her surroundings although she is still too little to manipulate you. A lion is the king in the jungle and it won’t respect any other animal except another lion. That means, you have to be somehow a lion as well so she respects your rules. Of course you would need to be a compassionate lion sometimes, but there got to be rules for her to navigate in your home. Would you say she test you sometimes and check out if you follow through in your promises and warnings? Anger is just the last way for her to express her frustrations, her mode of behavior would mimic that of an aggressive behavior. Would you say she likes to know “what’s the bottom line?” What is gonna be this or that. She is asking for: are there any rules in this house or should I set them myself and is it worth it respecting those rules or do I always end up getting what I want anyways. She is obviously not getting everything she wants, but perhaps there was a time when you were letting her what she wanted, Now things have changed and she is in a process to accommodating to that new change. It would take some time for her to accept the new rules you and your husband set. You have to be consistent in your rules and promises so she will know for sure what is it gonna be.

It is also important you reward her for good behavior. You should know by now what turns her interests on, then reward her accordingly for self control. There are a number of ways you can implement to help her cope with her anger. Like skfinkel mentioned, art is a good way to help express her feelings.

One good way would be to put a huge notebook on the wall and she can use crayons and basically just make a big art mess with the colors she feels better. Tell her to go ahead and draw anything she wants, then tear the paper in pieces and throw it away. Tell her that by doing so, her anger will be on the drawing then when she tears that drawing, her anger will be no more and when she throws it on the trash, her anger will be gone. That will help her feel free from that anger. Tell her to say: “My anger is gone” bye bye anger or something like that. Another thing she could do is have a big notebook about angers. She can draw on this notebook only when she is angry, then keep it in a safe place nobody else knows where is it. This is her private anger notebook. You can probably come up with other better ideas.

If you are already doing all these things, just keep doing what you’re doing, you are in the right track. Things may drift a bit though, if they do you must be very careful to notice changes in her behavioral patterns and be flexible to enhance not deter her personalty traits.

marinelife's avatar

@edmartin101 I don’t think she is necessarily aggressive based on this evidence. I think she is clearly very intelligent. She waits until she gets to her room, she does not strike out at others randomly.

edmartin101's avatar

@Marina I don’t mean aggressive in the sense that she would just hit everybody. She can be aggressive in her own controlled way. Aggressive behavior doesn’t necessarily leads to violence. I also agree that she is extremely intelligent.

spendy's avatar

The anger notebook sounds like a great idea. I chuckled though, envisioning her saying “bye-bye anger” because it reminded me of when she was much smaller and with a more limited vocabulary. Right now her favorite phrases are “I don’t really think so,” “Well, actually…,” “I sometimes prefer to…,” and “For instance…” Did I mention she just turned 5 in April? I’m beginning to think I really have my work cut out for me. I just hope I’m able to keep a handle on things. That’s the scary part. I’ll definitely put all of your suggestions to good use…and may check back later for more! Wish me luck.

edmartin101's avatar

her favorite phrases are “I don’t really think so,” “Well, actually…,” “I sometimes prefer to…,” and “For instance…” ............these phrases are typical of a person who tends to want to have a good grip of her surroundings. She is not only a small lion, but she is extremely bright. You have to keep up with her, she will continue to test you and check you out what you are made of. The key is to keep her interest in different things and options. Only five years old and already at this stage using this kind of language…tough!
I wish you the best and keep in touch to see how things progress.

skfinkel's avatar

@spendy: It’s seems lucky she has you as a mother. You are aware of her issues and trying to do something about them. I think your approach of helping her use language to express her anger is also very good. Also, of course, children go through natural stages, are testing—and needing—limits, and developing a sense of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It sounds like you are working with her on all these fronts. Good luck!

spendy's avatar

Thank you all so much – I appreciate the support and encouragement. I’ll keep you posted. She starts summer school in about 1wk. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall. My husband (jokingly) tells me he thinks she’ll be home inside 3 hours. :)

MissAnthrope's avatar

I was a preschool teacher for a while and one thing I learned about kids is how frustrating it is for them to not be able to communicate their anger and frustration. Stretch your imagination a bit and try to imagine being surrounded by a group of people who are making fun of you and getting you all riled up, but you don’t speak their language. The desire to fight back and give them a tongue-lashing would build up into a full-body, quivering anger and you’d be ready to explode. I could imagine myself slamming my fist down on something in this situation. Kids really are no different, they just have less impulse control, so when they snap, they bite or act in a destructive manner.

It sounds like in terms of language, she’s a bit more advanced than average, so maybe this is not the case here. But if it were a kid in my class, I would work with them to build up their verbal expression. I’d talk to them about how it feels and use different phrases that express these feelings. I’d also maybe go outside and shout things like, “You make me so mad!” “I’m so mad right now!” “I don’t like that!”, showing there’s an alternate way to both express oneself and also to get some of the frustrated energy out.

jacksonRice's avatar

you could consider giving her a weekly allowance of, say, 25 cents a week, or something that might mean a lot to her but not a lot to you, & then every time she breaks a toy she has to pay for it.

gooch's avatar

She is trying to get attention.

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