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Is my 3 year old just difficult - or is something wrong with her?

(11 Posts)
Sophie1001 Thu 06-Feb-14 20:43:48

I know all 3-year-olds can be difficult, but mine seems worse than most. She was an easy baby but after she turned one she started hitting other children. Play dates and toddler groups became unbearable as they would nearly always end in her hitting or pushing over another child. It was nearly always her, which was awful and alienating for me. She even angrily hit her auntie round the face at a family gathering (she was 2), which was a real low point. Each time, we told her off, timed out, spoke to her firmly etc.

She finally grew out of it but was still difficult. She hated going to groups - she would cling to my side and get angry at any attempt I made to get her to join in. Or she would shout at another child, or run off. Every gathering or group ended miserably. She was fine with me at home and in the end we would do solitary stuff like feeding the ducks - even then she would get angry about minor stuff.

She's now 3 and a half and still difficult. She regularly shouts and me and my husband, or other children. And I mean full on shout. She's bossy, hates sharing, gets incredibly angry over small stuff and hates change of any kind. For example, if it's a dress up day at pre-school she will refuse to wear something different. I've often wondered if she's mildly autistic because she hates change of any kind. She'll wear the same coat for ages and will melt down when I wash it and make her wear another. Even on a freezing cold winter day she'll take said coat off in the park and freeze. I look around at other kids and they're just not like that. She was late to talk, late to potty train etc and I often wonder if there's something in that. Emotionally she just doesn't seem as 'together' as a lot of other kids her age.

She's becoming worse and her temper is getting really bad. She shouts out in the night if she wakes up, and when we go in and say 'It's 2am, sleepy time' etc and leave the room she'll shout out angrily in a really aggressive way and wake her baby brother up. The other night I really lost it with her and shouted. I didn't hit her but I felt like it which made me feel awful.

She's had a fair bit of change in her life - we moved house a year ago, had a baby 9 months ago, she's just started pre-school etc. But nothing out of the ordinary. And we've dealt with each thing by the book - lots of advance warning, explanation, cuddles, comfort, reassurance etc. I work from home and am around a lot. She sees our families a lot. Though she's often rude to them - at Christmas my sister-in-law lost her temper because my daughter shouted so much at her son (my daughter's cousin) and was generally rude all day. She was the one who refused point blank to pose for pictures, got angry about who had what cracker etc.

She can be lovely and sweet and she's very bright. Her manners are good. On the surface and in small doses she seems great. But her temper is hair trigger. Is there something wrong with her? Or is she just 'spirited' and we just have to manage it as best we can? By the way, we are firm with her and do time out, taking away favours, firm telling offs etc. They work temporarily but her default setting seems to be angry and defiant. Any advice?

Janorisa Fri 07-Feb-14 08:35:50

I'm no expert, but it may just be that she has a very strong personality. DD used to HATE change of any kind, but now that she's 4 she's grown out of it. We never had strict routines for her, but if anything 'irregular' happened she would get really upset and cry.

I don't think 3 years old is late to potty train. The age range is quite wide.

I'm not an expert though and you may get better advice from someone else.

KateBG Sat 08-Feb-14 21:27:42

This situation seems exhausting. I guess it is hard for you to be uncomfortable being with her out of your home. But I think that this behavior is not so strange for her age. Every kid is different.
I can give you an idea just to think again if you are really consistent in your parenting. She is checking every single day where are the boundaries and she is going to do this for years and years.
We as parents become tired sometimes and change our attitude towards the rules we set at home. In fact kids like rules and boundaries because this makes them think they know enough for the world around them and it makes them feel save.
I had a trouble with my older son who didn’t know how to behave while his baby brother is around him. Sometimes he became too excited or angry and he hit him a few times. We set a rule that if he hits his brother we are going to throw away one of his toy cars. When he hit his brother I took one of them and acted like I am throwing it in the rubbish bin. He started crying. I told him that if he doesn’t hit his brother for a week I will call the driver of the garbage truck and he is going to return the toy. I did this exactly three times and we already don’t have this problem.
Check if you know what the right currency is for your child. You say that you used taking away favors, but were those toys really her favorite. Maybe for her more precious is a dress, reading tales or another thing.
And something else that is really important - choose your battles. I used this trick only for the problem with his baby brother. It worked perfectly and I was tempted to use it in other cases, but I resisted.
Good luck!

TheGreatHunt Sat 08-Feb-14 21:29:09

Do you shout at her? Or around her? Just wondering if she's copying at all.

justshabby Sat 08-Feb-14 21:31:54

3 is such a difficult age and because they are developing so much it's hard to descern if it's a phase or somehing else. I think I'd go to your GP and just describe what is going on just to get some reassurance.

But more than likely she just has a strong personality. I
thought 3 was harder than 2.

She just sounds three, TBH. I have no idea why people talk about the terrible twos, they're perfectly fine. Three is a total headfuck.

However, the one thing that sticks out to me in your post - you say you are firm with her and then mention a lot of punitive methods of discipline - nothing wrong with this of course, they have their place, but it's really important, perhaps more important even, to balance this out with positive discipline as well, like good, descriptive praise which tells her exactly what she has done right, rewards for motivation, giving her alternative strategies/solutions to coping with situations, like if another child has a toy she wants she can either wait her turn, ask if they can play with that toy together, or for babies who aren't old enough to care much what they play with, she could offer them a different toy.

Also talking about emotions a lot and accepting her emotions - this sounds weird and hippyish but if children always get told off every time they act out due to anger, fear or sadness they can start to fear the feelings themselves or feel like they're bad for having those feelings. Remember too that she is still very little and sometimes she can't always control her actions, even if she did control that action another time. Obviously you still have to make it clear that hitting the baby or whatever isn't OK but that being angry in itself isn't bad and doesn't have to be scary. Sometimes as well it's scary for us to talk to our children about emotions because we worry if we say "Are you angry at the baby because the baby is taking up mummy's time?" then they will be like "Yes! It's all your fault! I hate you!" ie, our guilt stops us from accepting our children's feelings. But actually it's perfectly natural that she might feel angry or resentful of the baby. And it's fine to feel that way, it's a hard thing for a young child to cope with. It doesn't mean that you should feel guilty, because you know objectively in the long run it will be good for her to have a sibling, but that doesn't mean you should ignore her hurt about it right now. And even if it's not this particular thing that she feels angry or upset about, or that anger/upset is not behind her behaviour, it will help for her to be more in touch with her emotions and more likely to talk to you in general if something is upsetting or worrying her.

Also problem solving rather than punishing is fantastic. It means that you look at the problem as a whole rather than thinking "Uh-oh, don't want that behaviour repeated, better make her associate it with something bad" you think "OK, there's a problem here, how can we stop this right now, is it possible to prevent it from happening again, why is it happening and how can we fix it?" You can even ask her what she thinks - this works really well with DS, we had a problem with him having aggressive rages which got so bad he was trying to push over furniture. We asked him what he thought he could do and he came up with the idea of going into his bedroom and punching a pillow. We gave him some suggestions as well and he picked one or two which he liked best. The next time he was angry he kicked off and didn't immediately remember what we'd talked about but when we reminded him, he (amazingly) went off to do it straight away. And it was better. We have to have chats every now and again to remind him but it's so much better - he never ever tries to push furniture now and a lot of the hitting and shouting etc has reduced too.

Goldmandra Sun 09-Feb-14 00:01:00

I've often wondered if she's mildly autistic because she hates change of any kind.

There is a view of Autism that children who have it are the ones whose disability sticks out like a sore thumb. There are children in whom you can see the Autism in seconds but there are many, many more for whom the presentation is much more subtle.

Both of my DDs have Asperger's Syndrome. They were diagnosed at the ages of 12 and 7 and up until then we just thought they were a bit sensitive and their schools thought they were absolutely neurotypical children. DD2 is now 10 and has full time one to one TA support at school in a specialist unit.

The families of the children who attend that unit all met for a social event last week. Our children all have significant Autism and nobody looking on would have realised there was anything unusual about any of them.

If you read more about Autism and think your child may have it you'd be doing her a big favour by getting her needs assessed before she starts school. It's a long drawn out process and the sooner it is started the better.

If I described my frustrations about younger DD's behaviour on MN there would be plenty of people telling me that she was just behaving like a normal pre-teen, hormonal, needs more consistent parenting, etc because it is impossible to properly describe the level of difficulty a child has in a MN post, or even a whole thread.

Listen to your instincts. If they are telling you that your child is finding it harder to cope than other children her age, go and see your GP and ask for an assessment. If your concerns turn out to be unfounded you'll have something to celebrate smile

noblegiraffe Sun 09-Feb-14 00:13:43

Goldmandra, sorry to butt in, but how did your DD go from the school thinking she was NT and you thinking she was just a bit sensitive to needing full-time 1-1 support? Did things change drastically as she got older?

I'm just asking because my school has recently said that my DS who is 4 is displaying behaviours that they associate with autism, and we've thought he was just a bit sensitive, so the thought he could end up in a specialist unit is a bit unnerving.

steppemum Sun 09-Feb-14 00:21:50

my friend's son is autistic and she once made a comment which I thought was very wise:

Even is your daughter isn't autistic, many of the strategies that are helpful in dealing with children who are, work for all children, and implementing some of those will help now, whatever the future holds in terms of diagnosis.

This means that using some of the strategies about communicating, understanding feelings, pictures to show what the day will hold, alternatives to mainstream forms of discipline etc, all work with NT children as well, and so it is worth having a look at resources online, to find ones that suit her.

It is important to remember that children actually don't start to socialise well with other children until they are 3. Pre 3's are wired up to socialise with one or two adults, and while we encourage them to share etc, we should not be surprised if they don't. Proper sharing and playing together (as opposed to playing alongside each other) begins at 3, and takes quite a while. So if she is a little young for her age, she may not be there yet, even now.

Goldmandra Sun 09-Feb-14 00:26:27

*Noble it was mostly down to the fact that she masked her difficulties so well that they simply didn't see a problem. I insisted that she attended mornings only for her first six months in reception because I could see she wasn't ready to cope with full days but they thought I was a loon and continued to treat me as such for the rest of the time she was there.

She used to go into either full meltdown or total emotional and verbal withdrawal for several hours every day after school.

In common with lots of other children with AS, the gap between her and her peers has widened socially and in terms of executive function as she's grown so she's found it harder to mask it.

She's now in a lovely school where the staff are much more skilled at helping her to communicate and express her emotions so we don't get the awful backlash at home, which is beyond lovely.

Her biggest problem is anxiety and obsessiveness and, out of all the children in the unit, her needs are the greatest. It is attached to a mainstream school and most of the pupils attend all their lessons with varying degrees of support. The unit acts as a buffer to help them deal with the social hiccups, sensory challenges and organisational demands they experience there.

There are also several other children in the school who have Autism and don't need the unit.

I think, if we'd known earlier and made adjustments in the earlier years to make school a more positive experience, her anxiety wouldn't be so ridiculously high now.

Brookville Sun 09-Feb-14 19:53:17

I have similar problems and have just bought from Amazon '10 Days to a Less Defiant Child'. I have found it helpful although the author states his programme is for age 4+.
I get the impression that a lot of this behaviour is to do with a lack of emotional maturity and less emotional intelligence than other kids. In addition they are frustrated because they feel very misunderstood. For example my DS age 3.4 still hits, pushes and kicks and is TOTALLY detached from the 'victim's emotional reaction. He just stands and watches. The book suggests that they can't handle / understand their own emotions well enough which leads them to lash out in frustration and in turn not understand anyone else's emotions.
I haven't finished reading and obviously our kids are younger than 4 so it's hard to discuss with them, but the author talks about the importance if listening, understanding and tuning in, not getting angry, modeling the calm behaviour that we'd like to see in them.
Have you been in touch with your local children's/ Sure Start centre?
Good luck. Hang in there.

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