Q&A: tantrums from end of school year?

Molly writes:

"My oldest son turned 5 last Tuesday; his kid birthday party was the Saturday before, and we got together with family for dinner and cake on his actual birthday.  On Monday (the day before his birthday), he had a rough day with the nanny and even turned over some chairs in the living room (!).  Every day since then, except Sunday, he has had an angry outburst where he ends up moving and overturning furniture. Twice he had been sent to his room when the behavior started, and moved his brother's crib, then turned the rocking chair and ottoman on their sides.

This is totally freaking me out! He's definitely a challenging kid, but has never behaved like this before. We are reacting more calmly than we did at first, and things seem to be getting better, but I am still very concerned.  Have you ever heard of behavior like this that comes on so suddenly? I am wondering if it's a combination of sadness that his birthday is over and the transition of the end of school (and he knows that he will be at a new school next year, which may be causing him stress).  At what point is this a problem that we need some help with?"

My first thought was that Molly's son may have eaten a lot of things at the birthday party and during his birthday week that could cause these sudden tantrums--artificial colors or flavors or sweeteners are big culprits in sudden bad behavior. The chemicals just overwhelm the kids and they can't control their behavior.

But I checked with Molly, and he didn't eat anything he doesn't normally eat.

So that makes me think it's the sadness from the end of the school year and fear of going to a new school in the fall. This can be really, really hard for kids. they get used to a routine, and to the friends in their classes, and then it just stops. And the summer routine can be too much fun or kind of boring for kids, so it's a toss-up about how they'll react once they're really into the summer routine. But at this point, all they're feeling is that things are changing, and they're not going to do the same things every day anymore.

Loss is hard enough for adults to deal with. Kids need extra help. And it's important to acknowledge their loss and not try to distract them or cheer them up before you acknowledge how real their pain is.

It's probable that your child (under the age of 10 or so) doesn't even really know how to label the emotions as loss. So you might need to instigate the conversations about the end of the school year. Without leading your child ("Boy, you're really going to miss your friends, aren't you?") you can open up the topic of not seeing them every day anymore, or not going to school anymore and just ask how it makes your child feel.

Being able to talk about it may be enough help to end the tantrums, or you may just need to ride them out. As usual, the feelings that cause the tantrums aren't wrong, but hurting people or animals and causing physical destruction is not allowed.

Are any of the rest of you going through this? My older one is thrilled for school to be over in a  few weeks, but my younger one is feeling a little strange about school ending. Molly's son and mine can't be the only ones feeling bad about things ending.