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Please, help me help my 3-year-old... I'll be grateful for any advice you may have.

(20 Posts)
rozzi2 Sun 28-Aug-11 02:40:36

Hi everyone.. I hope this post doesn't end up long winded and full of blah.. The bad days are getting worse, I'm desperate for guidance before I actually end up insane or worse..

Problem: My 3-year-old daughter, (3 in October). Recent quotes relating to her coming from other people, "she's touched by Satan" and "I've never come across a child so difficult."

My daughter is fully conversant, and has been since the age of 2. She's beautiful, funny, cheeky, more intelligent than her age, sensitive and very caring. But she has become extremely challenging and day by day this is getting worse.

The timeout chair doesn't work, she's not interested in toys, like other kids she doesn't have a favorite toy or book. She doesn't listen to a single thing I say, to stop myself from losing the plot I lock myself in the bathroom until I'm calm. I've resorted to strapping her into the car seat in order to try to control her. She just screams and screams. She's started doing awful things like taking her nappy off and weeing on the couch, (she regressed with potty training I had to put her back into pull-ups). She keeps trying to hide up grans skirt, frustrates everyone around her that I fear no one will want her around. As much as I love her sometimes even I feel to give her up.

Everyday is a constant battle with her, she has to choose her own clothes, refuses breakfast, refuses dinner, refuses going out anywhere, listens to no one, fears nothing, and bedtime is just the biggest nightmare ever. She can stay awake until 4am. My life revolves around her, all the time. My mum doesn't want to look after her anymore when I go to work (part time), the nursery key-worker said she's not ready after trying to settle her in for two weeks. I've taken annual leave from work until I can find a suitable childminder as I can't leave her with anyone.

None of this is her fault though, I believe she's frustrated, angry and doesn't know how to express it.

I'll give some background, I became pregnant soon after marriage, I realised I had married the wrong man. Through my pregnancy with my daughter my life had become a very stressful, emotional mess.. During three years due the the awful ups & downs of this marriage, my daughter and I haven't lived anywhere for more than 3-4 months at a time. The longest stint we did with my husband was approx 8 months, continuous.

I finally walked out on him, for good, in November last year. He was absent from our lives for about one month. My daughter did fantastic, as fond as she was of her dad, she didn't once mention him, she ate all her meals, went to bed on time and actually slept, etc. She never mentioned her dad, nor did she want to listen if I mentioned him. Then he appeared again demanding access, threatening with court, etc. I was very amicable, I agreed a visiting pattern and assumed he'd stick to it. Well he didn't. There'd be days when my daughter would be up, fed and dressed ready to spend the day with daddy, and daddy wouldn't turn up. I tried my best for my daughter to maintain a relationship with her father, I'd call him, I even used to drop her off to him and then collect her. I begged him to maintain regularity with her but he basically told me to "f off." I approached a solicitor, who was of no help, told me that he still had rights as her father even if he carried on without any regularity. I noticed the slow change in my daughter, she hadn't had any stability since she was born, and now this was tipping her over. I let this carry on through this whole year, where weeks would go and he wouldn't even pick up the phone to call her let alone see her, and then suddenly I'll get a text from him saying "I want to spend time with my daughter." I saw the affect it was having on my daughter yet I never refused him.

Recently we had an argument front of our daughter, I told him to contact the courts if he wants access to her as I will not allow him to see her anymore. So far I've stuck to my words and intend to continue. But my daughter is now uncontrollable, I don't know how to discipline her, or how to comfort her. I try to spend as much time as I can with her (to the point of neglecting my younger daughter, 16 months). I'm currently living with my parents, which isn't helping matters, I'm desperately looking for a property to rent but am not having much luck. I think once she has her own home, it may help her. I feel I have to start afresh with her. I just don't know how.

I feel so sorry for her, she recently woke in the middle of the night, screaming "I'm angry, I'm sad," she didn't allow me to comfort her, she'd just scream louder, I had to leave her alone until she approached me. Tonight she said "Ma, lets find our own home on your computer, one with our own TV." Drs say she doesn't need to see any child psychiatrist, that she's fine. But she's not, how can I help her?

EBDteacher Sun 28-Aug-11 10:11:34

Hi there,

I don't really have any good advice, your daughter is blow the age range I work with. I didn't want this to go unanswered though.

I think you are right in your instinct that your daughter needs a period of stability and predictability in her evnvironment and the people she has around her.

I also think you should persue external help- don't take the first no for an answer. I'm pretty sure you can self refer to CAMHs? Your daughter may benefit from play therapy which they could organise for her.

Your daughter sounds very intelligent and she has lots and lots going for her, including a very caring mother. Don't give up- you will get through it!

yawningbear Sun 28-Aug-11 11:23:45

Hi rozzi2, I don't have lots of advice either but I didn't want to read without answering you. It sounds like you both have been having a really hard time and as you know yourself it sounds like your DD is crying out for stability and consistency. Will the nursery not continue to try and settle her in? If she has already had a period of time settling in it would seem a shame to have to start all over again with something else and another change. Some children will just need longer than the two weeks that is usually given. Is she not due to start preschool nursery anyway?

It also really sounds like a move to your own accommodation where you can put down roots and call home would really help her. How is her routine at your Mum and Dad's? I can see from your post that it sounds like one constant battle but are you able to keep things at the same time, do things in the same way each time? We have made some posters for DD with pictures depicting how different parts of the day will go and that seems to have helped her. If you haven't already maybe a reward system could help. You could just focus on one area of behaviour that you want to encourage and then praise and reward whenever you see it. Could you try and find some storybooks that reflect your DD's situation with her Dad/living with grandparents, seperation etc. I would think if you google it you might be be able to find some that have been written for preschoolers to help them with some of their feelings. Might help you and DD talk about what has been happening. I don't think that strapping her into her carseat will help her in the longrun although I can appreciate that her behaviour is incredibly difficult for you to deal with.

As the other poster has said I would certainly ask for more help, for your DD's sake and your own, even if you have to jump up and down to get it. Could you speak to your HV, go back to the GP again? Is there a local children and family centre or sure start project that you could refer yourself to or self refer to CAMHs? Sorry not to have anything more helpful to add, hopefully someone else will be along soon who does, Goodluck.

butterflyexperience Sun 28-Aug-11 13:46:30

Didn't want to read your post and not answer.
I really feel for you, you all have such a tough time sad
I'm no expert so don't have much advise but if possible please ask people to stop calling her such negative things like satans child.
That just makes it all worse.

FickleFreckle Sun 28-Aug-11 21:11:25

rozzi2 I agree with butterflyexperience about asking people to stop calling your child such horrible things. She sounds like a lovely little girl who has been through a tough time and is dealing with that on top of normal 3 year old issues.

First of all let me say that lots of 3 year olds are thoroughly disobedient - mine is! I think when children are very good with words we forget that they are still just little ones and their brains are immature so they aren't very good at controlling their impulses. When you have a bright curious child you have got to keep them occupied all the time or else they get up to all sorts and few of us have that level of energy! I take my girl to children's centres as much as I can to play with her. I find the more I play with her and do things with her the less bad behaviour I get, but I do have to accept that she will make as much mess and havoc doing the activities as she can - that's just her.

My LO also becomes a fiend when she's tired and if I miss that window of time when she is sleepy and she gets overtired then we are in for an "interesting" evening. I co-sleep with her as it is the only way I get rest and it does seem to do wonders for her feeling secure. On days she is most naughty is the days she needs cuddles and praise most as usually it is when she is feeling wobbly.

I pick my battles as much as possible. If she wants to choose her clothes I let her, I don't make her have meals if she doesn't want to, just have a selection of healthy things for her to graze on all day and that seems to suit her better. She gets a balanced enough diet. I save my energy for the things which are really non-negotiable.

It may be because your little one is so bright that she is more work because she is more curious; what seems like wanton bad behaviour in a three year old may turn out to be tomorrow's scientist!
She may change with the nursery; my girl couldn't be settled at all when she was 2 1/2 but when we tried again with another place at just past 3 she settled in like a dream and has never been any trouble to them there - it was the right place at the right time. With the second place there is a children's centre attached and she had regularly been there to play and I think that made a difference too.

Above all please don't feel bad about yourself or guilty. You are a lovely mum, I can tell. It's not your fault you have all been through this awful situation and nor is it your fault you've got a "difficult" child - some of the greatest adults were difficult children! You are only human and don't have to be the perfect mother to make up for the rubbish dad. You need support too.

I found the "high-needs child" by Dr. Sears really helpful (he has a website) - it isn't everyone's cup of tea but his approach has worked very well for my family and allowed us to stay a happy cuddly playful unit instead of getting into a vicious circle which is where we were headed. In my local library there are books specifically on dealing with divorce and children - could you get help or could they order in? Also could HomeStart or the children's centre help you?

Best of luck, rozzi2, let us know how you get on smile

ppeatfruit Mon 29-Aug-11 12:36:53

I totally agree with fickle your DD isn't even 3 yet!! It is hard when they talk well to remember they are still babies really and can't cope with their emotions like an older child or adult.(remind yr parents and anyone who calls her unhelpful names of that). One of the best rules for coping with L.Os is the 'always reinforce the good behaviour and ignore ,if poss., the difficult'.

I co-slept with all my 3 DCs at some time or another(they all get insecure at different times) that may help you both to get some sleep also a drop of essential oil of lavender on a tissue is very calming.

Is she jealous of DD2? maybe take her out on her own to a park, if she says no, i would jolly her along and say you're taking her dolly who wants her to come too (you can also use her toys to playact e.g. goldilocks while eating porridge for breakfast) IME it's best to make light of things with her.

I wish you lots of luck and hope your circs. change

blessedmother Mon 29-Aug-11 20:57:25


Hope things get better for you all. I am not an expert, but here are my thoughts. Although your daughter is suggesting you move out, it may make things more difficult for you as you will stuggle to even get out of the house - now, even though your mother is/is not suffering, you have some help and accpet without a second thought for now!

Can you take her away on a holiday to an inexpensive quiet rural place - where you can do lots of walking/physical activities until she tires out? As you work part-time, doing this just for a few days even, might help calm her.

As another poster pointed above, when they are as intelligent as this, (my little one speaks so much I forget he is slightly older than a baby!), it is more difficult to handle as they do not yet have the insight and wisdom, along with the intelligence. But hang in there, change is the only constant in life, and things always do get better... ''Hugs''

And you need to have a chat with people who are labelling her - that never helps and the label sticks, inappropriately.

wompoopigeon Mon 29-Aug-11 21:07:21

Your daughter sounds lovely in lots of ways- like you say, sensitive, caring, funny. So feel free to ignore idiots dispensing labels about Satan! And it sounds like you have been through a lot together.
Have you ever visited your local children's centre? Mine has a great child psychologist attached, and it was free to meet him for a few sessions. If you get on with your HV (maybe you might need to register if you have moved) they can still help with advice for a 3 yr old. I don't think your GP was very helpful frankly to just say to you she doesn't need a child psychiatrist and then to leave you to it.

madwomanintheattic Mon 29-Aug-11 21:34:57

nursery say she's 'not ready'? try a different one and explain you need some stability and so does she - is there a sure-start near you? they often have lots of different things going on parenting-wise too to give you some support. if your mum doesn't want to look after her and you intend to start work in a few weeks, it isn't really a choice - do you think she's picking up that you are going to back to work? maybe more reassurance of the nursery type routine and when you would collect her etc might help?

can you try really hard to praise her when she does something fantastic? (or even just ok?)

agree totally with the accom/ stability issues, but she's hard work and you sound at the end of your tether, so maybe this is coming across to her and she is worried about you leaving/ not doing what you say you are going to etc? especially if she is aware that other people find her hard work as well. do you think she thinks that's why her dad left (subconsciously?)

do you talk about 'when you get your own place'? interesting that she has decided it would be the answer - she's obviously very good at picking things up/ reading between the lines?

remember you can also access home-start as well, with tinies. not sure if this would be counter-productive in terms of stability, but something for you to think about.

contact your hv and ask for a home visit to discuss her regression with potty training etc. it might be possible for dd to access nursery through a hv referral if the need is deemed high enough.

you are both still regrouping after a difficult time, so try and be kind to yourself, too. does your mum actually help at all? do you think she is withdrawing her support if she does not want to help you out looking after dd when you are at work? is that relationship suffering too?

i'd go back to the gp too. ask for a referral to a developmental paediatrician. or discuss whether the hv feels this would be appropriate if the gp is unhelpful.

if you want to do something privately, then there are some really good play therapists working with little ones, particularly those who have been through divorce/ etc etc. they can be really good about working out what's going on inside kid's heads, in a non-threatening manner.

HereIGo Mon 29-Aug-11 22:37:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

cottonreels Mon 29-Aug-11 22:46:41

Also not an expert, but here are my thoughts.
I think Id work on two things to start with:
1) Put in as much routine with her as possible. Eg, wake up, milk, 15 mins cbeebies whilst you prepare breakfast and get some activities ready, breakfast, morning activity (felt tips and colouring book, jigsaw, make a dried pasta necklace...), toddler group or shopping with mummy etc etc. Children really respond to routine and your little girl sounds like finds the world confusing and frightening. Routine makes things feel stable. Also talk about your plans for the day at breakfast time.
2) You're probably physically and emotionally tired, but you need to find some energy to takle your daughters late nights. Staying awake until 4am is a recipe for a dreadful temper. Get a routine for a long wind down, lots of loving words and attention from you. Watch out for the 'second wind' and act straightaway if you see it. Bedtime should ideally be over by, say, 8pm giving you time to deal with your emotions and future and so you can re-charge your batteries and giving your dd the time she needs to rest. Get some specific help from the sleep section or from your health visitor is youre struggling with this.
I really feel for you, life sounds really diffcult at the moment, but keep chipping away at the things you want to change will make a difference over time.
Good luck.

rozzi2 Wed 31-Aug-11 00:46:22

Hello everyone,

Wow! I just want to say thank you to you all for taking the time out to read my long post and reply with such kind words and advice. I've never posted in a forum before and am really grateful for the replies I've received, it's lifted my spirits and given me some ideas as to what I can do to help my daughter.

I'll definitely be looking into play therapy and CAHMS tomorrow. And I'll be visiting the GP again.

Yawningbear, thanks for the tip about posters regarding routine, I think that's something that'll really work with my DD, plus I've ordered some books from amazon aimed at toddlers re separation smile

Blessedmother, tomorrow, I'm looking into a weekend break, just timeout for me and LO smile

Ficklefreckle, am making notes from DR Sears website smile

It's definitely time for me to make a fresh start with my DDs. My parents and my brothers have been amazing support over the last three years, as each time my husband drove me out, my parents were there to support me & my girls. But my mum has recently become unwell and looking after both my daughters by herself is proving to be very hard for her. She's around them 24/7 because we live here and she hardly gets rest. And I think in a way my kids are living a holiday everyday, as they get spoiled, relatives come and go, and other distractions.

When I move I know I'll struggle at first, and it'll take time to settle into a new home. Plus my family have supported me for so long I think I may have lost the confidence to look after both my kids alone. Before this marriage fell apart for good, I used to spend majority of my time alone with my girls, going out, activities, play, etc. It wasn't always easy but I managed. I hope I am able to manage again.

I think my daughters behaviour stems from the several different situations she has had to face since birth. She's moved back and forth between "homes", has witnessed arguments, seen my tears and obviously felt the tension in the atmosphere. Whenever my husband and I separated, he'd go weeks without seeing her, then want to see her, then refuse to see her, so she had no stability there either. Due to the stresses she's faced, I've always co-slept with her, but for a short period I was unable to. When 2nd DD was born, at 1 month she had to have open heart surgery, so I had to leave my elder child in the care of my mum and live at GOSH. I used to come and go between Central and North London to see both my daughters every day. This period of separation was extremely hard for me and my eldest DD. I think due to the absence of her father, she fears I'll leave her too.

I most definitely will not reconsider her seeing her father until he actually makes an effort instead of waiting for me to do it. He needs to understand that I have always encouraged him to maintain a relationship with his daughters and that needs to be regular and stable, not on a whim, as and when. I think having something official via the courts is the best idea.

I'm definitely going to try a new nursery/child-carer, but only once she's settled into a new home.

Feeling positive, until my move into a home gets moving, I think I'll take her on a little holiday. Once again thank you to everyone xxx

DioneTheDiabolist Wed 31-Aug-11 01:03:50

Children at your DD's age are asserting their independence (this will not be the last time). Also, you have written about a number of issues that would cause difficulty for an adult, never mind a child, to deal with.

From what you have posted, your DD wishes to be able to control something. Try taking it from where she is and run from there. When it comes to what she wears/eats etc give her the choice of two. That way, you can set the routine, but she has some control over the details. She gets to feel safe and in control.

She is not uncontrollable, she is not "Satan's"hmmwtf? She is a toddler who needs security and stability. She hasn't had much of that in her short life.sad

piprabbit Wed 31-Aug-11 01:17:29

Your DD sounds like a lovely little girl. Many toddlers behave in exactly the ways your DD does, hopefully they leave enough gaps between the truly awful scenes for us parents to recover and gain some perspective so we are ready for the next one when it inevitably arrives.

Unfortunately your DD has been having a tough time of it which, coupled with what sounds like tiredness, is somewhat magnifying her behaviour and making it feel unending. My 3yo DS gets like this when he is tired or slightly unwell.

In your OP you mention sleep problems - with your DD being awake at 4am. I'd suggest that if she is regularly missing out on her 11-12 hours sleep a night, then she is probably exhausted (and you will be too, of course) which won't be helping either of you cope when the regular toddler independence battles happen.

Can you ask your health visitor for some sleep advice? Or even contact for ideas on how to improve sleeping? I'm pretty certain that if both of you were well-rested you would feel better able to help your DD cope.

Thumbwitch Wed 31-Aug-11 02:20:46

I have a friend with a difficult 3yo and it has recently become apparent that the biggest cause of this is poor sleep. When he gets a decent night's sleep, he is a different child entirely.

Your DD is going to have got herself into a vicious circle - late going to bed, probably not getting enough sleep (I doubt she wakes at 2pm when she only goes to sleep at 4am) and that makes her tired and angry - much like we get when we haven't had enough sleep.

I don't have any bright ideas on how to force her to go to sleep but I do agree that it should be your first point to address - get her sleeping more and the rest may become easier.

Having said that, I also have a 3.9yo who has just in the last couple of weeks really upped the ante on the defiance. He is stretching his "power wings" and seeing how far he can push boundaries (not very! grin) and I believe this is entirely normal at this age.

so sorry that you are having such a rough time and hope that you can find somewhere peaceful and stable for you and your DDs to live in soon.

madwomanintheattic Wed 31-Aug-11 04:24:21

good luck rozzi - you sound as though you've regrouped mentally and are taking some positive steps x

ppeatfruit Wed 31-Aug-11 09:14:58

There's also good advice on here about coping with toddlers ( i loved the 'involve yr DC in everyday decisions and talk to them like you would talk to an elderly aunt slowly and carefully)!

beatofthedrum Thu 01-Sep-11 13:31:00

The good thing is, you are very aware of your dds' feelings and needs. You will be able to cope alone, in many ways it can be easier following your own routine and establishing your own quiet time at home with your kids.
Just take everything in small steps and try not to feel overwhelmed. The best way to encourage good behaviour is to praise the good - it can be so hard to remember to do this when you are feeling in a state of chaos, but it WORKS (I'm a primary teacher and it is a very rare child who does not respond at all to this). I think booking a weekend away with your girls is a fab idea and will help reestablish the three of you as a little family unit. You will get through this, you are clearly a very caring mother. I feel so sad thinking how sad you feel - the desire to protect your children is so fierce, it must be so hard dealing with the hurt they've faced from their dad.
The very, very best of luck. The advice on here all sounds like a good way forward. Hope it goes well.

2ddornot2dd Thu 01-Sep-11 23:18:40

I think everybody else has given you very good advice for your dd, but I would just like to add that you should take a few minutes to think of all the good things you have done for her and her sister. Praise the good and ignore the bad for yourself as well!

My DD1 is almost as difficult, (constantly violent towards her sister) and has had a very settled life. I have made great steps forward by praising the good - but it is 8 good things for every one bad. I know that you will start making progress soon, so don't feel too disheartened

hellymelly Thu 01-Sep-11 23:45:07

I agree that she is very young,not even three,and has gone through a lot.We moved house very far away from our old home when my dd was nearly three and it really unsettled and upset her,coming on top of a stressful year with a new baby and a tricky move. Added to that,as others have said, that three is really hard-they are known as "threenagers" on mumsnet ! I think the situation with her Dad has to change into something more stable and regular/predictable,as you say, and if he can't do that then he shouldn't get to see her.He sounds an idiot. As much time one on one as you can manage,even a little bit here and there will work wonders. She really has been through an awful time for such a small girl, as have all of you, it is bound to have an impact. Would you consider her seeing a cranial osteopath? Really helped my DD relax a bit when she had been taken out of school after a miserable time.The children's osteopathy centre in London is very good.

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