My Child’s Behaviour Following Weaning

“Soon after my three-year-old daughter gradually self-weaned, her behaviour seemed to change which I found alarming and difficult to cope with.  She has started having tantrums, which she didn’t really have before and is generally unsettled and difficult to deal with.

Maybe this behaviour is normal for three or four year olds and is not related to the end of breastfeeding, but I feel like my magic “cure all” is gone and I don’t have anything to replace it.  I have considered that a drop in mothering hormones due to not breastfeeding might be a factor as I certainly seem to have less patience now.  This is the hardest phase yet and I wondered if other mums have experienced anything similar after natural weaning or with four-year-old behaviour generally?


Sarah Hudson , Hamilton Central – It is like you have written my story down exactly. My daughter self-weaned at three-and-a-half, and it seemed like she turned into a completely different child. She had gone from being a very pleasant child into someone who screamed and had tantrums almost every night. At the time I thought it was due to weaning, and as she is my only child, and the oldest grandchild in the family, I didn’t have anyone to compare her to.  However, my niece, who is almost five, has gone through almost the same ‘change’ at around the same time, and she was weaned around two-and-a-half. So I have come to the conclusion that it is just something that they all go through and it does pass. My daughter is six now, and while that age brings new challenges in itself, she is mostly pleasant and fun to be around again.

Lisa Ross, Dunedin – I too found my situation was similar when I gradually weaned my son when he was 12 months old. He seemed to turn from a placid easy baby into a monster over night and about a week after his final breastfeed, when he “lost the plot”, I tried to breastfeed him again but he wouldn’t have it. In hindsight, I have wondered if the drop in oxytocin had something to do with this. We both could have done with continued breastfeeding and therefore oxytocin to help keep us calm. However he was only 12 months old and not self weaned.  Maybe a book like Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Discipline Solution could give you some tools to deal with what I bet is a stage. It may be that your daughter is also struggling to know what to do when life gets hard, now that she no longer has her cure-all. Good luck.

Angela Blundell, Papakura – Oh I hear you!  Everyone talks about the “terrible twos” but in my personal experience, it is age three and four that really stretched me as a parent.  My third child is currently mired in that stage and it is quite a challenge.

After natural weaning (mine were younger, between two-and-a-half and three and even when I weaned my oldest at 15 months) I noticed my children did need an increase in physical contact and cuddles.  So I would make sure that I was offering cuddles at bedtime, stories snuggled in at other times, asking my children for hugs and offering more if they seemed a bit down or tired or grumpy.  Diane Levy, family therapist, talks about filling a child’s emotional tank and to me this exactly describes what all children need but particularly this age group, as they work out the world and how it works.

The other thing that I try to do is make sure my daughter is having enough food and rest.  Lots of tantrums can be based around hunger or tiredness so making sure we keep to regular food and sleep routines is really important.  I did have to make sure I’d offer food when my children used to breastfeed, otherwise I’d forget and then it would all go to custard later on!

I also try to keep an eye on what pre empts the tantrum.  Sometimes they are unavoidable but other times they might be a certain tone, or a certain activity that isn’t easy for them and that’s when I might pop in and offer my help.  More often than not, it’s met with a “I can DO IT MYSELF” or similar but that’s when I can say, quietly, “Okay, if you need help you can ask Mummy” and encourage them to ask nicely rather than yelling or screaming.

When everything meets critical mass I’ve found that nothing make a difference. What I usually say to the screaming child is “when you have finished screaming, come to Mummy and we’ll have a cuddle and a talk”.  Maybe they won’t hear it and I might offer it a couple of times, especially near the end when the crying is becoming a bit more forced or there are gaps in the yells.  Depending on what has triggered the tantrum, it might that there are a couple of false starts before the child is calm enough to receive a cuddle and to talk.

I think that it is okay to cuddle and reassure a child after a tantrum but it doesn’t mean that you are giving in.  They still might have to pick up their toys, put on their clothes for preschool or not have a lolly but once they are calm it’s when you can move into quiet Mummy mode, sit with them, validate their feelings of frustration but still quietly stand your ground about what needs to be done.  Again, filling the emotional tank comes into it.

Sometimes, there might be certain things that have to happen, sometimes they can’t do what they want, have what they desire and sometimes Mummy cuts the sandwiches the wrong way… unfortunately this is life and they will learn to deal with it more calmly eventually.  Letting them get the emotion out and filling their tank after might be the only way to deal with it.

As far as the mothering instinct goes, sometimes I do think we see our children more grown up than they are, I noticed it personally when I had another baby, my next in line child seemed so much older and my expectations changed, so it might well be that since weaning, your daughter is less your ‘baby’ and more your child, which might change how you respond.  I find the best way to rediscover the joys is to do the things that are fun – reading stories, going to a playground, play tag or hide and seek or rough and tumble, do some tasks together.  Letting my children know that I am enjoying them at this time helps me through the harder times when their behaviour is less than enjoyable.

Probably the final thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes I can make it worse.  I need to pick my battles, do what is important in my family and for me but also let go of any delusion of control I might have had and make sure that I am responding in ways that are positive .  We can’t control our children any more than we can control the sea but we can provide the framework where they can learn new skills.  The No Cry Discipline Solution by Elizabeth Pantley has a fabulous chapter on dealing with parental anger, and in a way that does not make you feel like a terrible mother for having a bad day!

Kate Stonier, New Plymouth – I breastfed my daughter until she was three-and-a-half.  We didn’t experience any tantrums until her baby brother arrived just before she turned four, but that was short lived.  She also sucked her thumb until we decided it needed to stop (when she was four years and four months) before it damaged her teeth.  She stopped in three or four days but I noticed for about a month how her emotions came out and up.  I actually saw this as a good thing – a time for her to learn to handle her emotions instead of relying on her thumb or the breast.

It was hard work but she has really moved forward now, is more confident and is starting to self-regulate.  I gave her lots of space to feel what she was feeling and often held back while saying that I was there with a cuddle when she was ready.

It is difficult to be patient when you are tired.  I sometimes wondered where my gorgeous girl had gone, but it was a phase.  I am sure some of that is normal at this age but I definitely saw a link to her stopping the thumb-sucking too.  Hang in there, this too shall pass and your daughter will be back and even more capable and confident than before.

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