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What I'm doing isn't working

(25 Posts)
Devora Mon 17-Feb-14 12:06:13

I really need some fresh resources, ideas, suggestions for good books...

dd2 is now 4 and delightful, she really is. I wouldn't say we're in crisis, not by a long chalk. But her emerging issues are becoming increasingly evident and my responses are not helping - in fact, I think I'm making it worse.

She is very full on, needs constant attention. She has huge anxiety about being left - we never go out as a couple because she won't tolerate a babysitter, and she still sleeps with one of us every night. She is very loving and sweet, but also has real problems managing her temper. At 2 and 3 I told myself that this was probably normal, but I no longer think it is. I watch her on this cycle of building up her temper, usually resulting in tantrums or in physically attacking her sister (who she really loves). Sometimes, if I have a spare half an hour with nothing else to do (not often!) I can divert this by giving her my undivided attention, reading a book with her or something. But otherwise there comes a point where I snap and get cross with her. She doesn't stop until I do.

Time out is a complete no no - I discovered that the hard way - so I tend to do some time in, just to protect her sister if nothing else. Usually I take her to the kitchen and hold her on my lap till she 'calms down'. But that calming down only happens AFTER she works herself into a frenzy, thrashing around in my lap, until eventually the storm is spent and she's in tears.

It feels like she NEEDS to reach that complete frenzy, that it's cathartic for her, and that she lacks any other way to calm herself down. Meanwhile, I have a hot temper at the best of times - and it's rarely the best of times when I'm knackered, sleep-deprived and raising two demanding children while working a FT demanding job. So often it ends with everyone shouting - I feel like she wants and needs me to get to that point so that she can cry and be comforted, but ultimately I'm reinforcing this pattern by doing so.

dp doesn't have quite this pattern with her - she's not a big shouter, and she says dd doesn't act so much like this with her. I think this is partly true, and there is a dynamic between me and dd, though I also think that dp tolerates a lot of bad behaviour from dd2 and expects dd1 to just put up with it (and be hit).

As I say, we're not at crisis point. dd2 is lovely, we all love each other, and she's doing really well at school. But I really want to tackle this dynamic while she's still young (and not seriously hurting people). This morning was worse than usuall: all before breakfast, she got hugely worked up, whacked her sister in the face with the TV remote, then thought about what would happen if she accidentally killed dd1 and went completely hysterical, screaming, "I can't live without her, I can't cope without her."

Please, can someone more experienced give advice, or suggest books you found particularly helpful?

Devora Mon 17-Feb-14 12:06:43

Sorry that was such an essay...

Swanhildapirouetting Mon 17-Feb-14 13:11:02

Dd was hugely frustrated at that age. Needed lots of physical security.
Great at school. Very obedient there. Good at school work.
Loads of friends
No social communication difficulties
Hated being ordered around or told off.
Total windup.
Whatever you did she wanted more...seemed to have no off switch.
Physically violent. Only stopped when reached crisis point, as you describe, as sort of cathartic blow out mechanism.
Used to tear up drawings that sort of thing.
Sucked her thumb endlessly

8 years later (she is 12) still sucks thumb
still screams when cross
but I would say pretty well cured by 3 sessions with a pyschotherapist at 8 years which made me think of things from her point of view, what made her feel safe or unhappy (rather than the effects of her behaviour on me)
lots of physical cuddling
feeling safe, knowing what happened next

and reading How To Talk So Children/Kids Listen. (Faber and Mazlish) Massively enlightening. It made me cry. I realise I had talked to dd in a very authoritarian way which had put her back up from the beginning, yet half the time I was being quite wishywashy and not very rock like. A fatal combination.

There was a fair bit of background to dd's difficulties. Her twin brother had ASD and got an enormous amount of attention and love. [jealousy] The household was geared up to boys, we endlessly wanted to go out walking or on hikes and she hated that sort of stuff.[frustration at not doing what she was good at] She longed for companionship, we were both quite quiet studious parents, not given to much socialising.[social frustration] I was a SAHM but quite exhausted by looking after three small children, and I dare say dd hated me being sad and frazzled, being a sensitive soul. So, there is always reasons why children play out their anxieties.

But she is a lovely lovely blooming girl now, tall, independent, feisty and organised. Her vices have become some of her virtues.

Swanhildapirouetting Mon 17-Feb-14 13:17:04

the explosive child by Greene is another good book but I only read that recently sad it would have been an eye opener earlier.

Sometimes picking your battles helps too. I remember dd used to have a tantrum at every meal. My sister (not the most patient mother, also of three) said, with the perspective that only being a aunty could provide, she finds sitting at the table with everyone stressful. Just give her supper in the room next door, not as a punishment but as a special thing. Let her associate meals with calm and comfort, then bring her back after a few meals to the family table. So we gave her a supper on a little tray, spoke kindly to her, left her in peace, didn't complain if she didn't eat something. It made such a difference. Cortisol was suppressing her appetite, and she couldn't imagine taking a bite, hence the tantrums and refusing to eat. All changed when the cortisol effect receded, and she was able to eat and then not be hungry and angry because she was hungry.

MyFeetAreCold Mon 17-Feb-14 21:45:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

junowiththegladrags Mon 17-Feb-14 21:52:21

Oh Devora, I've no words of wisdom but just want to say sorry you're all having such a bad time at the minute. flowers
This parenting lark is fucking .hard at times.
Be good to yourself.

roadwalker Mon 17-Feb-14 22:20:24

She sounds like my DD
My DD is 8 now and can still be clingy I have just got her back to sleeping alone but have been in bed with her since the end of nov
It has got better though and she has gained more control
The best advice I can give is that don't expect too much and don't think you can solve everything
Love, acceptance and security are the most important things
We did filial therapy with our DD and that really helped my DH relationship with DD. She was terribly rejecting of him and still can be but only occasionally
We were taught filial at CAMHS but the principles are easily learned and can be done at home. I can give more info if you are interested

Have you looked at theraplay activities? If you are a member of AUK you can borrow the book. I borrowed it and photocopied the activity section. I am slightly anal so read the whole book but it is the activity session that is the most useful
You may know all this already
It breaks down activities into sections depending on the needs of the child and what your aims are. The activities are about 5 mins long so it is very doable
I adapted some. For example: my DD used to run away all the time and dance around in the road, very dangerous and stressful. I would take her to the park and have her walk with me whilst I shouted out colours. If I shouted red she had to stop, green she could go but I shouted lots of other colours in between. The aim was for me to take control and to encourage her to pay attention
Rocking helped her. DH and I would put her in a blanket and rock her
Jumping on the trampolene
I had to restrain too but rarely now
This is all a bit random, sorry my mind flits around
Ignore if you know all this but if you want more info let me know. I have the list of theraplay activities somewhere if you want a copy

Swanhildapirouetting Mon 17-Feb-14 22:38:15

another book I've read recently, and this was because a friend was dealing with the fallout from her violent teenager (who incidentally had had these issues from age 3 sad. On the surface there was no reason for her child to be violent, he was talented, NT, at a lovely school, kind caring parents, siblings he adored and day to day a charming boy when you meet him. But he was extremely frustrated by something and the situation got worse and worse.

She read this book called Non Violent Resistance, which explains how you can "intervene" to give a child back security and prevent them being violent. The parents are key, the child doesn't have to even agree.

I think in most cases violent reactions are an expression of anxiety or panic, or they can be an attempt to control the parents, because that is the best way the child knows to deal with his anxiety. The book explains how you can break the cycle of shame that violent actions bring, when you are ashamed that your child is violent and they are ashamed too, and often people don't dare ask for help or to admit it is happening for fear they will be thought bad parents for getting angry and frustrated with their child (in escalation situations) or that their child will be thought bad. It also talks about the social network (the real one I mean); how communities are invaluable for supporting children and parents and preventing this sort of dynamic; how often parents feel isolated and this increases their helplessness and their perception of their child's controlling nature. Once lots of neighbours and friends and relatives are involved, and commit themselves to help and support and in some cases prevent violence by just being around, the child will have less need to control, and be less anxious.

It is a pretty taxing read but very very interesting.

Swanhildapirouetting Mon 17-Feb-14 22:48:42

One of the issues I had with dd, and I don't know if this rings a bell with you, is that I really never played with her with toys. I sang to her, read her stories, played games of pretend where I was a bear or a wizard, took her to playgrounds, ran around danced around, but I NEVER PLAYED WITH HER or DID CRAFT WITH HER. It was always a disaster, so I quickly tried to avoid it, or leave her brother or friends to play with her (I mean fine motor skill/imaginative play, like dollies or Barbies or Playmobil or Sylvanians or dolls houses, playdough, drawing)
As she had a twin, I probably thought a) it wasn't necessary or b) I didn't have time

Now looking back I wonder whether that wasn't a rather important part of our relationship I missed out on. If I had perservered it might have done a lot to resolve that "cannot get enough of mummy lark.".which made her seem so demanding. She didn't appear to want to play fine motor stuff with me, but maybe that was just wishful thinking, and I didn't give her enough time.

So PLAY is good. I'm glad I did all that dancing and singing and story telling at least. One of things that definitely helped as she got older was long made up stories in bed, dressing up, make up, hairdressing. Those were lovely ways to bond.

Devora Mon 17-Feb-14 23:13:53

Thank you all so much. I have cried with recognition at some of what has been written. I need to reread this a few times and digest it a bit. May well come back to you for more!

In the meantime, thank you for taking the time to give such lovely, thoughtful advice. It's really good to feel less alone.

Italiangreyhound Tue 18-Feb-14 00:07:46

Would this book be any good?

'What to Do When Your Temper Flares: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Problems with Anger (What-To-Do Guides for Kids)' by Dawn Huebner (Author), Bonnie Matthews (Illustrator).

Hope you can get some help, would therapy help?

I am not yet an adopter so you can ignore me.

My DD has had a few issues over the years. Probably not the same thing but will PM you.

Italiangreyhound Tue 18-Feb-14 01:20:27

This page on the web is not about specifically adoption but I found some of it helpful.

have4goneinsane Tue 18-Feb-14 02:21:11

she sounds like a complex mixture of my eldest 3 children so I really do empathise

with DS1 we used to send him out to run round the garden 5 times, or bounce on his space hopper or punch a pillow in his bedroom - that would allow him to reach his 'peak' in a safe way

with DS2 he could take a whole day to get me to breaking point - if I managed to get through bedtime still calm you could guarantee that the bed would be wet and pooey pretty swiftly or something similar to get me to shouting point. I actually learnt in the end that it was easy to get 'angry' with him sooner rather than later - it was like he needed to know there was a boundary. So I would put my foot down and get clearly irate but calm early on in the build-up and then we could move on with things. But I still remember the 8 pairs of poo-ey pants before 9am one morning angry

with DD1 she will dramatise and worse-case-scenario anything, 4 was the worst age - regular 3 hour tantrums and she would hurt herself by flinging herself around during them. If I tried cuddling her through them or being round her then she would wee on me! Something that really helped at that age was to give her a 'tantrum spot' - a place she could go to if she wanted to have a tantrum. We had a regular spot in the house and would just pick a quiet corner if we were out and about. I would calmly lead her there and say 'if you want to have a tantrum, have it here'. Now (age 7) she is sent to her room and knows that when she is calm there is a cuddle waiting for her. Her room is her 'safe' space and away from everyone else so she can work it all out.

I know with the anxiety that it is difficult but it also sounds like you need some space and time together as a couple and with her younger sister. We worked up from leaving our lot for 10-15 minutes to eventually managing evenings out and even a weekend or 2 away. We have built a strong community around our kids (it's taken time and effort and has weeded out a lot of fair-weather friends) so that there are a number of people they trust and places they feel safe.

Kewcumber Tue 18-Feb-14 10:18:45

Oh Devora my love - I could have written this virtually word for word about DS. And as you know he is the most amazing, lively, funny, lovely child ever created wink so I do understand what you mean about it not being a crisis yet but its exhausting and you do worry about what it means for them as they get older. We didn't have the added dynamic of a sibling to deal with so probably slightly easier for me.

I will apply my great brain later today when I have a few minutes and probably give you no real advice at all but much empathy.

I think you probably already know that DS didn't sleep alone until he was 7 and the only advice I can give you about that is that if its manageable for you just keep doing it - its the least of your problems and my view was that DS really really needed it and I wish I'd done it earlier.

I also decided this summer when his temper/anxiety was particularly bad that he was probably sensory seeking (I still think this but it seems to be worse when he's anxious). If you look at some of the links on other thread about sensory issues (particularly sensory seeking) some of them might ring a bell and might help calm some of her anxieties - lava lamps, heavy blankets, just an acceptance that she needs to be "anchored" to you physically (thats my description not a professional one!).

I also hate to tell you this.... but things didn't start to improve until I changed and became a zen master in the art of calm - no I don't always achieve that bit but it did help enormously.

Will come back to this later.

OneOfOurLilkasIsMissing Tue 18-Feb-14 15:37:47

Devora <<hugs>> it's so hard sometimes xx I can see things there that really resonate with me and my three

I was going to also suggest the book "The Explosive Child" because I've heard very good things about it, but having said this i haven't read it myself

I'll come back to this later as well as soon as I have a few minutes and I'll have a think for you

Also let me say that I think you're a fabulous mum, managing all this alongside a demanding FT job, so don't be beating yourself up about this, you don't deserve to do that to yourself.And we're all here and we all get it x

Moomoomie Tue 18-Feb-14 15:49:30

Devora, Im going to pm you.

Devora Tue 18-Feb-14 22:24:45

Thank you all again. Some brilliant advice here. I will certainly be following up all your reading suggestions.

I feel slightly awash with grief at the moment; I think this is the moment when I accept that my dd HAS been affected by her start in life, that I can't just pretend this is normal toddler stuff, and that she will be 'the one that got away'. I just said to Moomoomie (who sent me a lovely PM) that it's not even that her behaviour is so much worse than, say, the neighbours' kids, but I do think she is wired differently and absolutely needs a different kind of parenting.

But it's not an entirely negative feeling, because of course I've been waiting and watching for this for three and a half years, and there's a bit of a sense of, "Ok, time to roll my sleeves up and get with the programme".

Kew, your post is very cheering because, as you say, your son is the George Clooney of Y3 and hugely charming. And I know you are right about the changing me bit. I have always had a huge problem with anger - it's been my life struggle - and I have been generally very effective in keeping it very battened down (not without some personal cost) to the extent that my performance appraisals at work always say something like, 'calm and unflappable'. But small children just drag the worst out of you, don't they? (As well as the best.) Expressing anger to the children because they deserve it, or because I'm knackered, or because I don't have the time or energy for other strategies, is no excuse if it's just teaching an explosive child that the only way to handle tension is to explode.

Islagiatt Tue 18-Feb-14 22:48:08

Hi Devora, your para about 'NEEDING' to reach a frenzy hit a nerve. I posted something last week (Adoption thread: Tips for getting it right).

"When babies are in the womb, we like to think that the birth mothers look after themselves and put their baby first. However, in less than perfect situations, birth mum may drink, do drugs, be stressed, ill, all at one go. It is has been shown that the stress hormone cortisol can affect the unborn child and this can affect brain development. So whilst they may not 'remember', their brains do.

Then when born, instead of the calm, rocking lullaby singing peaceful world we would want for them, they frequently lack basic care and skills. For the first 12 weeks of life, the key period, they need to learn that as creatures they are safe, when they cry someone will come, when they are hungry they will be fed, and will survive. After the brain understands this, and only then, does the brain development of a baby move on to trying to move and exist as an independent being.

My son did not have this calm period of time, either before or post-birth, and I can see his brain can't calm, gets anxious and constantly seeks attention to prove he exists. He was (probably!) born with increased cortisol levels in the brain, and which his brain thinks is normal. So as he gets older he has sought out ways to get the cortisol (similar to a drug addict!) and so when I shout or get cross the cortisol is released and he gets his fix. But we are working really hard on bringing his levels down and so far so good"

What has mostly worked for us is not giving him his fix (no matter how hard) and we do lots of deep breathing, when stressed, and when at peace, to learn how to calm and bring the levels down. I see it very much as a 'need' but one which can be managed and reduced with lots of time and inhuman levels of patience (which I don't always have!).

roadwalker Tue 18-Feb-14 23:21:03

I think the acceptance that your DD has issues is a huge step
I have reached an acceptance that our lives will never be 'typical' and we have adapted to what our DD can cope with
Many people wouldn't like how we live and it is not what I expected but we are happy
I would like to think that this has helped her, and it probably has but a lot of her progress is her development and gaining some control over her emotions and rages
There is no doubt though that she is a deeply troubled child with a terrible hurt inside and this comes out in destruction and violence
She is loving and gorgeous too

roadwalker Tue 18-Feb-14 23:24:18

I just wanted to add
I go to a crochet group occasionally and I was amazed when some took their children, young either pre-school or early primary schoolers, and THEY SAT QUIETLY DRAWING
I was so shocked that I was unable to crochet.
Times like this can really hit home just how different my DD is and I can get very sad for her and all of us
we have just got to the stage where we can manage a quick coffee in a cafe which is great progress

lougle Wed 19-Feb-14 00:05:39

DD3 isn't adopted, but she sounds similar. The single best thing I ever tried very recently was this:

I ask hat to do something/ask her nit to do something.

If she argues about it, I let her say her bit. I explain why I've asked her to/not to do x.

After that, if there is any more arguing I simply say: "DD3, I'm not arguing with you. You're a big girl now and you've heard what I said. Yo need to decide whether you are going to do as I've asked, or disobey me."

crucially, I then pretend to completely ignore what she does next. So far, she has always chosen to comply with my wishes.

Before we did this, I used to have the same screaming ball of rage and frustration as you describe.

Swanhildapirouetting Wed 19-Feb-14 11:17:57

dd isn't adopted. She was breastfed for a long time, we co-slept, excellent routines, plenty of sleep, she was loved and cherished from babyhood. I think although there are issues to do with parenting or early nurture, sometimes

children have personalities that are geared to needed a lot of attention. This may clash with the personalities of their parents, or the kind of interests/resources their parents may have. And that leads to escalation of tension.

I just wanted to reassure you Devora, that it may not be because she is adopted, that you are finding it difficult to deal with her. But intervention is always good, and saying they will grow out of it or that lots of four year olds are like this, is not a good strategy.

Devora Wed 19-Feb-14 23:23:33

Thank you, Swanhilda. It's not an option to hope she'll grow out of it anymore, not least because she is so distressed herself by the whole thing. Increasingly, we talk about the 'difficult feelings' when she's angry. She gets hugely upset, particularly about hurting her beloved sister, and cries that she doesn't know what to do, she can't stop it and she can't bear it. She's only 4, poor little mite sad.

Kewcumber Thu 20-Feb-14 09:34:07

DS used to really distress himself when he lost it but although he hasn't grown out of it and it escalates when he's anxious, we go through quite long periods of relative calm now and it has become much easier since I really grasped that the problem was real and not just a "normal" phase, it enabled me to tackle it in a much calmer way (though it was faked with me sometimes screaming inside!). He absorbs my distress and escalates it and it disturbs him so I (mostly) manage to keep a lid on it when he's at his worst.

I had forgotten that at his worst (probably around 3-4) I did "holding" for his time in mainly to stop him hurting himself.

It has also become easier now that he can have a more thoughtful talk about it.

Swanhildapirouetting Thu 20-Feb-14 11:16:33

I completely agree with Kew that it is very important to see that the issues are real, and not just keep trying to deal with it as if it is a normal phase and hoping that firm boundaries, pull yourself together, don't let her get away with it stuff is going to work. Because I don't think that works at all, if anything it can make things worse.

I think roadwalker 's story about the crochet sums it up. Just expecting them to behave well isn't to to give them the skills to behave well.

I think I worked it out in fits and starts, how to deal better with dd. For example I began to understand that putting her to bed involved a lot more cuddling and being "present" than the boys needed. If it meant lying down next to her for an hour before she went to sleep, that's what she needed aged 6. If it meant carrying her to school aged 4 because she didn't want to walk, that's what she needed. People laughed at me for carrying her to school or putting her in a pushchair at that age...why are you carrying her, she's four years old fgs shock But I did it, and within a few months she didn't need that anymore. I had given her what she wanted, which was reassurance and safety at pickup and drop off. So I can see ways I did improve our relationship, and intervened in a positive way, just that I didn't really tackle it to its fullest extent (as I said..the stuff about playing listening and involving her in day to day decisions about her existence - that was stuff I didn't do hoping the problems would resolve themself and she would miraculously become much easier to handle. Not the case)

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