Advice on professional help for 3.5 year old extreme tantrums

My middle son is 3.5 years old and has been having frequent and prolonged tantrums daily for the last 2 weeks. He's always been tantrum-prone, but this is...extreme. His older and younger siblings are largely ignored because we're generally trying to figure things out with him. I am looking for professional consultation but I don't even know what to look for. A therapist? Psychologist? Our pediatrician gave us a list of groups past patients have used, but it's all over the place in terms of what each group specializes in. Anyone have any tips? Gone through the same thing?

We're trying all the commonly employed techniques: approaching with empathy, providing clear guidelines and routine, etc. Since virtually everything is a trigger in all environments, I think we need professional help!

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I am so sorry that you are going through this. If this came on suddenly, have you examined his diet? For example, did he start eating Halloween candy early? Some kids have a sensitivity to red dye that makes them act out physically. A friend of mine discovered this with her son when her son took some red colored Tylenol, ran around in circles, and then fell down. This dye is in a lot of foods, not just candy, and not just in red foods, you can google it. Another person I know realized through elimination that her son was sensitive to dairy, and that the tantrums were possibly triggered by a constant belly ache. I'm not saying this will solve the issue, but while you are looking into specialists, it wouldn't hurt to check what your son is eating. And also I would eliminate screen time altogether, it used to scramble my son's brain when he was that age. Some kids can watch a lot of TV with no side effects, but my son couldn't. Good luck!

We have had extreme tantrums in my extended family and now with most of the kids approaching the 8-12 year range I can offer what seemed to help over the years.  It sounds like you are on the right track and over time empathy, clear guidelines and routine are all going to serve him in the long run.  The kids in our family who had them the worst ended up either having high IQs or as was the case with my daughter a really strong will that needed things to be fair.  With the high IQ kids making sure they didn't get overly stimulated was a game changer and with the strong will it came down to noticing when things were about to turn and quickly redirecting, changing environments, ect.. I found telling my daughter her big feelings were energy moving through her like a wave in the ocean and it would pass and we could all handle it helped her as it seemed she would be overwhelmed when it was happening.  Diet also played a role, making sure blood sugars didn't drop and for my daughter food additives and some foods could be a trigger. Sending my best, try and go barefoot on the grass after to restore the nervous system.  Things settled for all of them over time, they can still get overwhelmed but it is way less frequent and less intense.  

One of our children used to be 'spirited' in this way. We cut out food dyes and gluten, and honestly, it's a whole new world now. It took about a week to notice changes; but the proof is in the long-term. We mark a calendar to note any melt-downs: usually related to getting a 'treat' at school.

Consider a very early bedtime -- like 7 pm.  My youngest aged out of naps at preschool, even though he desperately needed one.  So my biggest focus at 5 pm was getting dinner into him, bath, story, and bed.  It helped a lot with his regulation.  The older kids didn't get much of my focussed attention between 5 & 7 pm, but then they had me at 7 pm.

Perhaps you could also get a referral from your child's pediatrician to get a Neuropsych Evaluation.  It could show if he is mildly on the autistic spectrum and could help tremendously with treatment at this early age.  Sometimes ASD is the clear explanation for behaviors that demonstrate that your child is overwhelmed.  Be ready to fight your insurance company for a neuropsych eval.  You do have the right to have it done, it's just that you may have to file a simple appeal to get it to happen.  ASD is not at all a "death sentence" that many parents think it is.  You will get lots of help to find out how to help your child thrive.  

It sounds like a rough situation. The key part to your posting is that it was sudden onset and a big change in behavior. Check out PANS and PANDAS, it's basically a condition that can happens following an illness.  It's not as well known as it should be and we learned all about this when it happened to my daughter. Once we figured it out (from googling,talking to parents) we brought it to our doctors and it was confirmed the correct treatments were put in place. I hope you figure it out soon and things get better soon.

Hi - Have you considered working with a parenting coach? I’ve gotten great insight, support, and plans of action from Jenny of True North Parent Coaching:

She has lots of experience and knowledge, and a truly kind demeanor. She also helped me try new things and identify what is and isn’t working. Best of luck to you!

We had a similar issue with our daughter and searched for "parenting coach" on Yelp and BPN. There are not a lot of resources available (which is crazy given how many we found for sleep consulting and lactation consulting), but we ultimately settled on Wits End Parenting via Zoom. Rebecca was very helpful in giving us a few pointers and also helping us (me and my husband) to get aligned on how to respond. She also recommended a few parenting books that we still use. While our toddler continued to have tantrums regularly (and still does), we at least have better tools for handling them. Feel free to message me if you have any specific questions! 

Other people have mentioned that dairy, gluten, and food additives could be adversely affecting your son. Toxins in the air, such as perfumes, cleaners, new paint and new carpet could also be problems. Make sure that you have no gas leaks, mold, etc. Has anything changed recently? 

I recommend Ross Greene's book The Explosive Child and his CPS approach. It's very difficult to find Bay Area providers trained in this approach without waitlists. There are resources on the Lives in the Balance website. I plan to take one of the two day trainings and have used the website resources and benefited.

I recommend David Hill who used to work for the school districts in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz and now has his own practice.  Not sure your location but he works in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. We had different issues than the ones you are describing, but he gave us some super helpful advice and said we didn't really need his help and could just try doing some of the things he mentioned-- and his advice was extremely helpful. 

I highly recommend one of the courses taught by Chelsey and Robin Hauge; the Guiding Cooperation class changed our family life completely when my husband took the class when our son was 3: