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4,5 year old ruining our family life...this can't be normal

(30 Posts)
pia78 Tue 27-Dec-16 09:40:31

I am seeking opinions on what is acceptable behaviour from our four year old boy. When is it just 'spirited and limit testing' or a sign of more serious behaviour issues such as oppositional defiance disorder? Our son makes everyday a struggle. A struggle to get up, a struggle to have breakfast, a struggle to get dressed etc..I know a lot of these are part in the parcel of being a four year old, and if were these sorts of things alone I wouldn't be so worried, but it is the intensity in which he displays a range of behavioural traits that I am very worried about.

My husband- inhumanly patient- thinks it's normal, but as a mother I feel something has always been extra difficult, just not quite right. Unfortunately because he has always been very challenging, we seem to be trapped in a constant negative cycle of defiance - consequences and punishment. Over the years we have become so immune to the way things have become it seems like we are living in a prison camp with constant reprimanding, constant breaking rules, constant consequences etc..but it is obviously not working! He KNOWS the rules but either cannot or won't listen to them. The usual strategies I see other parents use just have little or no effect with him.

To list some of his troubling behaviour:

- defiance most of the time. Not able to listen and follow a request from most people. As his mother I feel like I have very little control over him.
- difficulty in socialising with his peers. In any given situation- school, plsydate, outing with family friends, holiday, he will disrupt the social harmony. It is heartbreaking to watch, to always see that it is him causing the problem. For example there might be kids playing with something, he will come over and either dominate, disturb the peace etc. If he is reprimanded he will try to make amends, but in a way that seems to alienate himself even further. He doesn't seem to able to read the situation. On a good day or when he's trying really hard, he will want to scoaljalsie with the kids, he will say something like 'would you like to play ball with me?' And sometimes for a short period might be ok but most often than not the other child will not want to play with him and will seek out the parent or some sort of conflict will arise.
- he can be aggressive towards other children very easy to push and shove etc.. even if they are younger than him, doesn't seem to register. Again i know this happens, but it just seems to happen a lot with him
- agressive towards caretaker ( mother, nanny or whoever in charge) if he is asked to do something he doesn't want to do. Can escalate very quickly. Hits, kicks, bites etc..again am i being unreasonable to expect. A 4,1/2 year old not to bite anymore?
- seeks company of older people. Doesn't seem to have developed any friends at school (although only started in September) but calls his teachers his friends. ( was the same at nursery)
- cannot cope with transitions or change in routine. at school gates at pick up if I don't swoop in for a swift removal and linger for even a few seconds he might rip of his coat, start running around manically, might even jump into the street, will annoy other children by poking them, pulling at them while walking passed. Have noticed him even giving slight kicks to other parents who are waiting for their children. I have a five month old baby with me and cannot run after him if he runs around like a maniac in central London. It is to the point that I am too scared to take him anywhere if I have the baby with me (even if she's in a sling, he is so fast it scares me that I can't control what's going on) Another example at the school Xmas concert, he found it very difficult to stay in his place and perform the three or four songs. There were two teachers positioned around him to keep him in line from either annoying the other children (tapping shoulders, poking and even kicking them) or wanting to run out to me. Afterwards there was a classroom breakfast with all the parents, and again it sent him
Into 'naughtiness', running around, pulling and pushing his classmates, even stomped on one of this classmates' father as he picked her up to remove her from his proddings. It seems he just can't cope with any social situation, but then again our home life is no better. I feel like I am on egg shells attempting to do 'normal' things but everything turns out to be a struggle. He is full of energy and very active so we do a lot of exercise, but again swimming classes and football classes are a struggle because he simply won't listen or follow the rules.
It is very alienating because people don't understand from the outside that he is not just a 'naughty boy' and that we have tried everything to engage him in positive ways.
My patience is at wits end as there does not seem to be any normality left. He started school in September and have already been called in to discuss his behaviour a few times. I am worried they will ask him to leave. Our GP has referred him to CAHMS for assessment. We are in North London and am wondering if anyone has any similar experiences of either or both these sorts of behavioural issues and or CAHMS?

He's had a lot of change in his life ( moving countries, houses, a dad who travels and is away a lot for work) but I just cannot understand how this or our parenting could have resulted in such extreme behaviour.

To add on a good day he can be so sweet and funny but it seems the ratio towards the negative is 80/20...this can't be right..

Apologies for such a long post, desperate for some advise.

CloudPerson Tue 27-Dec-16 09:45:57

He sounds quite like my son who has ASD/PDA.
If you google PDA society you will find some information.
Even if you don't think this fits you may find that PDA strategies will be more helpful than nog-standard parenting, the PDA resource has some useful links, and there's a book called The Explosive Child which is amazing for children like this, and works on the basis that all children will do well if they can.

Littlefish Tue 27-Dec-16 09:49:50

I think you need to have a very honest conversation with the school. If they felt it necessary to have 2 members of staff with him at the christmas play, it suggests they are aware of his difficulties. Is he at a private school? If it's a state school, he will not be asked to leave.

A visit to your GP sounds like a good idea.

Your situation sounds tricky.

pia78 Tue 27-Dec-16 10:44:52

Thanks @cloudperson for alerting me to PDA...that's one disorder I haven't come across. Can I ask you how old your child is and how long was the diagnostic process?

SummerHouse Tue 27-Dec-16 10:54:51

No advice, no experience but sympathy in abundance. I think your post will change my judgemental attitude when I see a child being "naughty". Sounds like he has the most amazing parents to me so could not be in a better place to get the support, understanding and help he needs. flowers

oldbirdy Tue 27-Dec-16 10:59:33

Be warned, pda is not an officially recognized condition and most psychiatrists cannot diagnose it on the basis that it doesn't appear in either of the manuals they have to refer to (dsm5 and ICD 10. The ICD is being updated and it has recently been decided not to include pda in the new edition either). All people with pda are autistic, but not all autistic people have pda. Also be aware that the literature is increasingly referring to "EDA" not "pda" (extreme, rather than pathological).

It could also be overactive/ impulsive rather than a core social difficulty, in which case it would be more likely that they would investigate ADHD. Glad he's already been referred to CAMHS; this means there is already tacit acknowledgement that he is not "naughty" and that his issues fall outside the "usual" range. You may have to work on your dh's understanding a bit in view of that.

funkystars123 Tue 27-Dec-16 11:34:18

It sounds tough and you are a great parent who is trying her very best... I really sympathise, my son was very spirited at that age and has ADHD. My daughter has just been diagnosed with asd with demand avoidance. We believe she has PDA.

Your challenges sound very familiar and a CAMHS referral sounds very sensible- for my daughter we have found the diagnosis a real help ( and so has she) I know it's not my parenting now and that takes away so much of the stress.

Am happy to answer any questions on PDA and/or ASD

oldbirdy Tue 27-Dec-16 12:20:12

Funky - asd with demand avoidance is basically an acknowledgement that your DD has pda; it can't be an official diagnosis in most areas for the reasons I outline in my post.

pia78 Thu 29-Dec-16 23:13:38

Thank you summerhouse and funkystart123 for your kind words-

I have been reading about pda and it quite scarily sounds like him. realising this is more than just a 'very active boy' or just a tricky phase is very confusing. I feel such despair for his future but at the same time a sense of relief - finally something that seems to resonate and explain his behaviour. I don't want to rush ahead because it's a bit like reading ones horoscope when looking at all these possible disorders but certainly the anxiety, the need to control, the apparent sociability and oh my , the role play- how he loves role many of these symptoms seemed like endearing traits (role play with his soft toys, mimicking teachers/adults, uninhibited way of relating to and approaching adults, obsession with the colour purple and an older boy at school) but when looked holistically seem to point in this direction.

If anyone can tell me their experiences following a diagnosis- do things get better? What sort of expectations should I have?

tinks269 Fri 30-Dec-16 23:21:23

I work at a special school for pupils with asd. We have a number of children with pda. As others have said it is hard to get diagnosed, but is beginning to be.

Having said that you say yourself that he has had a lot of changes in his life , house moves, country moves and a parent who travels a lot. I am sure that these have happened for the best of reasons but please do not think that they have not had an effect on your son. Personally I would be patenting and expecting the school to be following a therautic approach (read Dan Hugh's - creating loving attachments and Ross Green's - an explosive child).

Kleinzeit Sat 31-Dec-16 19:39:18

My DS had a fairly similar set of behaviours (well worse actually) and he came out with an Asperger's diagnosis. It didn't matter that much, DS had some qualities of both and the child-psych recognised the anxiety that underlay a lot of DS's misbehaviour. If your DS's struggle with social situations and his difficulty with change etc point at "something autism-spectrum-ish" then that's a reasonable starting point.

And I know it's easy for me to say this now - my DS is 18, at university, and with quite a happy social life! - and we had a lot of ups and downs on the road to get where we are now, but try not to despair about the future. Your DS may well need extra help with some things and it may take him a lot longer than other kids to pick up social skills, and he may end up doing some things in a rather unusual way but with help and understanding he'll get there. Finding out what the problem is will be the first step to a bright future for him flowers

In the meantime I see you've already had a recommendation for The Explosive Child. I second that, it really helped us.

cece Sat 31-Dec-16 19:47:42

Sounds similar to my DS2.

He's has been diagnose with ADHD so far and awaiting CAHMs diagnosis re ASD/PDA.

PiePieChickenPie Sat 31-Dec-16 20:01:14

Probably way off, but have you ruled out Glue Ear? Lots if what you describe matches Ds2 behaviour and he has chronic glue ear (regular hearing tests, three grommet ops, tonsils & adenoids out) He now has intervention in school with SENCO and had lots of speech therapy prior to starting school. He is now catching up with his peers (yr 1) and his behaviour and awareness of others has hugely improved. As I say it's probably way off but thought I'd mention hearing/glue ear. Hope things improve for you all.

steppemum Sat 31-Dec-16 20:13:43

a diagnosis is not a magic wand. What it does it it shows which of the thousands or resources out there might work with your ds. So it is like a sign post pointing you and the school in the right direction.

It also tells the school what they should be doing, and it may help with some finances for the school.

You don't have to wait for the school, you can instigate the referral process through your GP.

In the meantime, try out some of the stratgeies suggested on the websites, most traditional parenting techniques don't work well for ASD or PDA.

Blossom4538 Sat 31-Dec-16 20:13:52

Feel for you. It has been a rocky road for us too and DD (5) is being assessed for ASD.

Keep going, you're doing a great job. It can be exhausting can't it!

Certain ways of reprimanding don't work for our DD but gold star stickers and rewards
Occasionally help (a little) with desired behaviour...e.g, getting ready for school etc. Also filling a jar with coloured Pom poms with reward once full helped...for a while! She certainly doesn't respond as expected for punishment (doesn't care really) and rewarding behaviour. I do try to praise the good behaviour as much as poss though.

Huge hugs.

steppemum Sat 31-Dec-16 20:22:28

there is a great system of visible timetables, I cannot remember what it is called. It is basically a board with velcro on it, and a set of pictures, each on representing an activity. You set out the activities for the morning, in the right order, and talk through them. It really helps with kids struggling with change, demand avoidance etc.
So you have pictures for dressed, breakfast, shoes and coat, car to school. Then you put them in the order and he can see what is coming up and it becomes less scary, more predictables, more understandable. It also enables you to say 'Go and see what is next?' so HE looks to see what is next rather than you saying now you have to do X, so takes the demand away, and HE then can do the next activity.

cece Sun 01-Jan-17 09:48:22

I have a visual timetable for mornings and after school routines (we do it the same order everyday) blu taced to my wall in the hall. Then if he argues about doing something I just point at the visual cue and say "well we have to do this as it says so here". Makes it harder to argue about doing it as he would be arguing with the timetable rather than me telling him what to do.

cece Sun 01-Jan-17 09:51:09

visual timetables

cece Sun 01-Jan-17 09:52:16

social stories can be helpful too.

Planetarymagic1 Sun 01-Jan-17 09:55:33

Lots of excellent advice. Just popping in to say you sound luke an AMAZING mum, and he is very fortunate to have you. smile

steppemum Sun 01-Jan-17 11:03:26

Another one that works well is a sand timer. You can get them for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes etc.
The point is that it isn't YOU asking him to do or not do something, but that this thing happens when the timer says so. It takes away the conflict.

So, you turn the timer and say - when it runs out, we will go to the shop, or when it runs out it is time for bed.

Then when it finishes, you point to the timer and say 'look the timer has finished so now it is time to go to bed'

It is amazing how making the timer/timetable/story responsible for what comes next takes away pressure

JerryFerry Sun 01-Jan-17 11:26:06

A friend's child is very much as you describe yours. The nursery appointed a teacher to tail her so she wouldn't hurt other children. There were referrals to various agencies and the child psychologist wanted to put cameras in the home and nursery to get a good idea of what was going on. However the child's father wouldn't allow it and the problems continue.

I can tell you as a lay person it was absolutely a parenting issue. The approach was so negative, they threatened her constantly and drew sad faces on wall charts to remind her how bad she was. Both parents argued the toss with her about every tiny thing, it was a 3-way battle of wills. And pretty sad to witness.

Yet the parents absolutely want the best for their child and believe they are on the right page. They mean well.

I tell this story not because I think the OP is the same as my friend, not st all. But that it can be so very difficult for an outsider to understand what's going on.

Maybe the child has additional needs, maybe he doesn't. But the school I would think would be able to provide a useful perspective as a starting point. Then to a top child psychiatrist.

3luckystars Sun 01-Jan-17 11:32:10

Can you get him assessed for aspergers.
Use visual aids instead of telling him things, this might really help.

Isadora2007 Sun 01-Jan-17 11:39:15

Have you been to your GP? I would be asking about assessment for ASD...
meanwhile try really hard to reframe requests to not use negative words. So instead of "don't do x" say "lets do y". Make charts and visual aids to avoid the point of conflict and the head to head stuff.
At 4.5 he is still very little. But much of what you're saying sounds similar to my nephew who has ASD.
Does he actually converse or does he use lines from tv programmes to communicate? Or when he plays does he actually make up stuff or is it replayed stuff he has learnt or heard?

Piglet208 Sun 01-Jan-17 11:39:41

It sounds like the school is having behavioural issues with him too. You need to find out if they have concerns too. Please ask for a meeting with his teacher and the SENCo to discuss your concerns and if they agree you can ask for a referral to a paediatrician. There are various ways to gather evidence from home and school which will build a picture for a paediatrician to make an assessment. From my experience as a teacher in early years I would be thinking that he may have traits of ASD. You also should ask the teacher what strategies are being used at school. A diagnosis is not the end of the journey but the signpost to lead you all to try appropriate strategies and access support from experts to make life easier for you all. Good luck.

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