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Disturbing and sad behaviour in DS (4) - how should I respond?

(20 Posts)
honkytonkwoman Sun 17-Aug-08 00:00:26

DS (4) said and did some things tonight which I found really upsetting. He was very tired - so it could be extreme tiredness related. Also, he'd been told a reasonable "no" at the time, so it could have been a reactive, button-pushing retort. Still, I felt unsettled by what he said and did.

In response to my "Let's take care of ourselves and get to bed and get some sleep line", DS said in all seriousness: "I don't want to care for myself. I don't care about myself. Not ever. I don't love myself and I won't look after myself." He then began whacking his head and then clawing at his face with his hands.

In getting quite emotional about this myself, I didn't know what to do - whether to ignore the behaviour and assume it's tired and irrational attention-seeking/button-pushing - or to get all serious about things like this, which I absolutely do not want DS to be feeling for real.

Neither his dad nor I have the most robust self-esteem (although I'm really working on mine), and his dad is shortly to see a pyschiatrist to investigate a possible mood disorder - so of course alarm bells have been ringing loudly in my head: I'm hyper-sensitive to anything untoward mood-wise.

I should stress that, apart from being a little on the shy side and an avid thumb-sucker, DS seems a content, bright, loving child most of the time.

Is this his attention-seeking, pissed-off tiredness talking, or should I be worried? And how should I respond if he does it again?

Thanks for any advice.

JonahTakalua Sun 17-Aug-08 00:02:29

he's very little.
they do quite dramatic things when they're knackered.
unless it is a regular occurrence, i would put it down to him being over-tired. smile

hester Sun 17-Aug-08 00:03:32

Oh honkytonk, how upsetting. I'm just off to bed and too tired to think of anything useful to say right now, but just wanted to bump this up for you. I'll come back to the thread when I've had a bit of sleep. Hope you get some good advice.

choosyfloosy Sun 17-Aug-08 00:07:32

IMO when my 4-year-old has had enough/is tired, he simply cannot cope with processing the sort of complicated language involved in an explanation.

In that scenario I stick to a max of about 4 words per sentence, and don't bother explaining anything. He knows it's bedtime. Just get on with shepherding him through the stuff that has to be done before bed, discarding non-essential tasks (like undressing? [slut mum that I am] as necessary.

My dh has schizoaffective disorder so I know just what you mean about looking out for signs of impending psychiatric breakdown sad but truly, a four year old having a tantrum at bedtime is NOT one to ring the crisis team about.

Now. You sound tired too. Time for bed. [big kiss and a hug]

VeniVidiVickiQV Sun 17-Aug-08 00:11:40

goodness! I'd be stumped too.

I dont know what to advise, but would just like to say that being shy is not a negative trait, just a different one. We cant all be extroverts. What a dull world it would be if that were the casesmile

honkytonkwoman Sun 17-Aug-08 00:13:03

Thanks for your replies, Jonah and hester.

DS doesn't do this loads - he's said the "I don't care about myself" line a few times before, almost always as a contrary response to my casual let's-take-care-of-ourselves-by-getting-rest/eating-healthily/etc. And, thinking about it, he always says it when he's tired or he's been told a reasonable no. He doesn't seem to have the air of actually feeling this most of the time.

The hitting is pretty recent though, and tonight's clawing was a first, and it was horrible to watch.

God, what's he going to be like when his sleep gets messed up by travel over the next couple of weeks?!

I want to handle this in a way that doesn't encourage it, doesn't make a big deal of it, and subtly reinforces what self-esteem DS does have. Grateful for any ideas.

S1ur Sun 17-Aug-08 00:18:13

That does sound very tough for you and him to go through. But choosey talks a lot of sense I think.

Also I believe that children particularly around 3 and upwards begin to use words and phrases that seem so adult but lack the understnding and meaning that an adult puts behind them.

So they can say quite hurtful/mature/worrying things and their not necessarily the same as when an adult would say them.

Keep an eye, judge how he is when it is daytime and he is in a resonable mood.

Will he be starting school soon? That can get them pretty nervous ime.

ThatBigGermanPrison Sun 17-Aug-08 00:20:02

I think he was just being contrary. I tell ds1 to go to sleep, and he informs me he never goes to sleep, and he wants o be tired tomorrow, and he likes it when his head aches.hmm

Countingthegreyhairs Sun 17-Aug-08 00:23:49

I'm not surprised you are upset - poor you - I hope your ds feels better tomorrow.

I don't know what to say really except that "I don't love myself" sounds like quite adult language for a 4 yr old.

Perhaps he has overhead something your dh has said?. All I know (from my v. limited experience) is that children are emotional weather vanes and pick up any bit of tension or stress in the house and that gets reflected in their behaviour. Maybe you could ask him if he is worried about his dad when he is less tired tomorrow?

On the positive side - at 4 when he says those words - he can't really understand the full implication of what he is saying - not in an adult sense anyway. (I know I get upset about lots of things dd says when I have imposed my adult perspective on them.) If he's normally bright and content then it may not be anything serious.

It's a difficult balance isn't it? On the one hand knowing when to ignore attention-seeking behaviour and trying not to over-react .. . on the other hand, knowing when to address it because there's an underlying cause that needs sorting out. This is what we need that manual for!!! Hope you manage to get to the bottom of it ... x

honkytonkwoman Sun 17-Aug-08 00:24:58

Veni, I'm with you on the shyness. I feel shy in certain situations, too. I mentioned it only because some camps seem to think it's indicative of an underlying "problem". I would hope it is not.

choosy - thanks for your tips. Yes, one of my most frequent f*ck-ups is, I'm sure, engaging in discussion and dialogue with DS when action and chivvying are required. He holds such a brilliant conversation, dammit, that it's tempting to chat things over and attempt to reason!

I know I say some daft stuff sometimes when I'm whacked - and maybe this is his own unique variety. I just wouldn't want to ignore this if, deep down, he was truly feeling sh*t about himself. Judging by his usual behaviour, I think I can guess he isn't.

choosy, I'd be interested to chat (CAT?) some time - if you'd be willing - about your DH's schizoaffective disorder and your family life in relation to it.

S1ur Sun 17-Aug-08 00:29:25

very very slow xposts sorry.

Okay ideas and plans smile

First how about changing your phrasing first? We go to bed to get energy so we can go to park tomorrow. Change it from being about looking after yourself to a means to an end.

If this meets the response 'well I don't care, I don't want to go the park anyway' then I'd be a bit relieved in a way. Because it sounds more like contrary-ness for its own sake. Which is better than not doing something because you don't like yourself. (though still annoying obv)

With contrary buggers I tend to go along the gentle but immoveable object line.

Right hitting/scratching self. If he's a bit cross with it how about redirecting to something else? So limited if its bedtime but something like 'Cor you're pretty cross with me I bet you could do with taking it out on something, sometimes I like to write it down and sometimes when I am to annoyed to even write I just scribble all over all my pages shock'

Then hand him his own diary?

honkytonkwoman Sun 17-Aug-08 00:29:58

Thank you all for your posts.

DS is starting school soon, yes (and reluctantly, I sense), and DS's dad is depressed at the moment, as well as round here a fair bit trying to persuade me to make another go of our relationship - so as much as, considering the circumstances, I am pretty upbeat, there's probably an underlying insecurity for DS which needs addressing as much as it can be.

Still, feeling less anxious about this as I head to bed - so thanks.


3andnomore Sun 17-Aug-08 00:31:23

Hm, Thatbiggermanprison has already touched on what I want to say....i.e. he is being contrary...and maybe you should not say, when putting him to bed....lets take care of ourselfs and go to bed....but just, o.k. least that way he won't be able to peddle the "I don't care about myself" line....iykwim....

honkytonkwoman Sun 17-Aug-08 00:34:48

Slur, thanks for your very good ideas. In view of what you've said, I'm now definitely suspecting contrariness. I like the redirection-of-anger trick. I've tried similar in the past and it hasn't worked too well, but I can try again. And I figure that I can offer him words like "I'm angry with you, Mum" and jolly him along to bed all the same and ignore the self-directed anger and hopefully, if it doesn't get him anywhere, he might give up.

Ah, Mumsnet's a godsend at times like these. Ta.

honkytonkwoman Sun 17-Aug-08 00:37:01

Good point, 3andnomore. I'm being too wordy with him; giving him too much too disagree with and challenge. He's a boy and a four-year-old: he needs Bloke Speak.

For the record, we had a lovely day until this evening's episode - which I suppose is a good sign.

ThatBigGermanPrison Sun 17-Aug-08 00:38:23

With ds1, I go with "I know, it's annoying that irt's bedtime now. but if you don't go to bed, you will have no energy like Sporticus, and we will have to stay in all day tomorrow and watch Pingu because you will too tired to come swimming, come to the park and feed the ducks. So what do you need to do so you aren't tired?"

"Go to bed."

"What a good idea, ds1, let me help you with your idea!"

It's like 'Yes, minister' for children.

honkytonkwoman Sun 17-Aug-08 00:45:27

LOL, ThatBigGermanPrison. Sometimes this kind of thing works with DS, but sometimes, when he's in full contrary, vindictive mode, I can see him saying: "I don't want to go to the park/go swimming/feed the ducks." <eye roll> I'm going to hit the sack now before I start uttering the same kind of cr*p!

S1ur Sun 17-Aug-08 01:07:27

Maybe you could offer the option of staying in his room being quiet/staying in his bed reading quietly if he isn't 'tired'?

I sometimes end up saying I need to do x, y, z, and I need you to stay in your room and let me get on with it. I know you find it hard to sleep alone and so okay I don't need you to sleep but I do need you to give me the time to get on with things so what can you do in the meantime? Do you want me to find you a book to read?

Pheebe Sun 17-Aug-08 08:41:00

Honkytonk, you've had some great advice and support on here and if you're still checking in today just wanted to add my thoughts

Sounds reasonably normal supertired 4yo behaviour to me. DS1 can behave like this on occassion when very overtired too. I generally ignore the behavior, carry on as if nothings happended, perhaps hold his hands briefly and tell him not to be silly and to stop hurting himself if I think he's going over the top. On occassion I have 'told him off' using a stern voice to 'snap him out of it' followed by cuddles and acknowledgement that he's tired. This works for us but only you can judge if it would be helpful with your son.

We don't have any psych history in our immediate family but my cousin has full blown schizophrenia and my neice is on the aspergers spectrum so I can identify with the 'watching for signs'. They both displayed far more complex and pervasive early signs than this so I try not to worry (((both)))

Notquitegrownup Sun 17-Aug-08 08:54:10

Just wanted to reassure you - my ds2 does this too occasionally, particularly when tired, or, thinking about it now, after a no.

(We have some history of depression in our family, but nothing superserious.) I have always responded by asking him to stop hurting himself - 'you may not love yourself at the moment, but I love you lots, and now we're off to bed to have a snuggle.'


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