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3yo dd is angry, aggressive and antisocial - is this normal? What do I do?

(32 Posts)
hester Fri 19-Jun-09 22:19:19

dd is 3.8, very bright (ok, aren't they all, but she really is) and articulate. She has always been very shy - more than just shy, actually. As a baby and toddler she used to avoid eye contact - seemed to find it overwhelming - and would freeze and dissolve into tears if other children so much as came up to her. She talks about friends and playdates a lot - she clearly wants friends - but doesn't seem to know how to engage with other children. She is shy with adults initially but soon warms up and chats away.

She goes to a very small, sweet pre-school where she has made real progress - is a lot less scared of other children - but is still by far the shyest child there. She won't join any group activity; just hovers on the outskirts, wanting to get involved but not knowing how.

Most worryingly, though, she has become fiercely competitive and very aggressive. Everything is a race and she wants to be first at all times. She talks all the time about hitting: "I want to be a mean boy and hit mean people", "I want to hit little girls" etc. She does hit other children and us if she feels she can get away with it (this means rarely, because she can't get away with it - but she would if she could!). Her teddy tells me that she is cross, but can't explain why. Her fantasy play involves a lot of people/animals being mean and excluding or hitting each other.

I am finding this very upsetting (and embarrassing). Is it normal for a child this age to be so fascinated by aggression? Could it be linked with her social problems? How do I handle it? - right now I'm using a mix of ignoring where she is just talking about it, and punishing (by stopping playing or withdrawing privileges) if she actually acts out. I'd be really grateful for any advice; right now I can't imagine her being able to start school next year.

hester Fri 19-Jun-09 22:44:12


Finona Fri 19-Jun-09 22:55:20

What do the teachers at the pre-school say? Have you spoken to them about your concerns?

Has she ever been exposed to any violence/conflict at home(sorry if that's a bit personal, but parents often think that children don't know about what going on between parents, when actually they pick up on a lot). Are older children having an influence or could she have seen anything on TV that might be age inappropriate - even cartoons? It's what she's saying that would be most worrying to me rather than the shyness or the competitiveness to be honest.

I'd talk with professionals involved with your child and see what they have to say.

apostrophe Fri 19-Jun-09 22:59:29

Message withdrawn

Bumblebooz Fri 19-Jun-09 23:04:29

Does she still have a problem with eye contact? What is her reaction after she hits someone? Does she have empathy?

What is your reaction to her when she voices these desires? Does she have any siblings or pets? What do the pre school staff say?

Sorry for all the questions but it does sound as if she has difficulty with social skills, but then not having siblings etc would mean she doesn't know quite how to react.

It sounds as if she's in a nice environment and you have seen progress so it could just be a stage.

Why not keep a record to see what triggers certain behaviours? Perhaps invite a girl home from pre school for tea and watch your dd closely how she interacts.

Talking things through with her to let her know how not to behave may be better than ignoring it?

Is she generally loving and affectionate?

cookielove Fri 19-Jun-09 23:06:12

do you ask her why she wants to hit things and why she is so cross all the time?

at 3.8 she should be able to voice her problems.

i'm not a parent but i do work in a nursery and have seen lots of children that use aggression.

i imagine if she is hitting at playschool that she will be recieving some form of timeout e.t.c

she must be quite frustrated not being able to play maybe ask the teachers if they can so one on one actvities with her, and slowly add a child to the group then another and another this should build her confidence and maybe stop the aggression?


cookielove Fri 19-Jun-09 23:07:53

*do not so*

hester Fri 19-Jun-09 23:29:20

Thanks so much for posting, everyone.

Finona: her teachers are worried about her shyness. But they have no complaints about her behaviour, and no reports of aggression. They do say she dissolves into silent tears if other children are rejecting to her, and that she finds it very hard to join group activities. But she works well, has great concentration, and behaves herself. I am reassured that she isn't hitting anyone there (though obviously wanting to!) but alarmed that after 9 months with just 8 other children she isn't more relaxed with them.

She's an only child. No real conflict at home (I'm not pretending she's never heard a bit of a bicker, but no yelling or violence). She has never been smacked - so far as I know; she spends one day per week with her dad, and one with her gran, but neither believe in smacking.

She watches videos rather than TV, so no violent cartoons.

Bumblebooz - she makes eye contact usually, but not when meeting someone for the first time, or when overwhelmed emotionally (e.g. when granny picks her up from nursery, because she's so excited, she often averts her eyes). She is loving and affectionate and cuddly, but often sometimes rejecting and unkind to my dp (who is besotted with her; they have a very loving relationship; I see this as my dd finding it a very safe place to test out her ability to hurt and reject others).

I've tried talking to her about why. She just tells me she wants to be a mean boy (she thinks all boys are mean and that boys don't have feelings). There are some obvious triggers: tiredness, hunger. She gets very cross with dp when dp has to spend too much time at work.

I do wonder if increased social skills would reduce her frustration; she clearly WANTS to have friends. She often talks about children she knows and says she wants to play at their houses. But when I take her round, she usually ignores them or shoves them or gets overwhelmed and starts crying. I have tried to tackle this by: taking her frequently to playgroups (since she was a baby) but not forcing her to join in; sending her to a very small pre-school so that she can get to know each of the children; doing lots of playdates; talking to her about, and role-playing, how to play with another child; talking with her about being nice and how people want to play with you/do nice things for you/be nice to you if you are nice to them; being clear that hitting or shoving is not acceptable and results in immediate sanction. I am very sympathetic to how she must feel - I was terribly shy as a child and found school agonising - but I wasn't aggressive or defiant and I am feeling so upset by this.

cookielove Fri 19-Jun-09 23:47:45

from what she is saying she must be seeing the aggression at nursery, but if she's not being aggressive at nursery and/or saying these things there, its hard to say how to combat it

Bumblebooz Fri 19-Jun-09 23:50:42

Goodness! It sounds as if you are doing all the right things so I would just take the pressure off for now, especially as you were shy too. These things often run in families and trying to make her more sociable at this stage may be having an adverse effect on her which is manifesting itself in aggression.

Perhaps having a shared activity like ballet, swimming, trampolining etc would be better for her so that the focus is not about her interaction with another child per se, but rather an activity she can do with a child she knows from school?

But anyway, she is still very young. Is the anger directed at you too or just your dp? Did she witness the break up of your relationship with your ex?

hester Sat 20-Jun-09 21:15:10

I'm a lesbian mother, Bumblebooz - her dad is a friend who helped us along, if you like, and is now very involved with her. So all very amicable. I get a lot of anger and wilfulness, too, but also lots of affection (she is a very loving child, to all her parents).

I think she is definitely what used to be called 'highly strung'. I have just come from half an hour trying to soothe her, in tears, crying, "I don't want to die, Mummy. I don't want to lie still and my eyes freeze up and turn into food". Lord knows where that came from.

My mum says she's autistic. I think that's complete rubbish (and ignorant), but it gives an idea of how extreme her social phobia can appear.

Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to offload and get some sympathy - it really helps. Bumble, I really like your idea of pairing her with another child in a shared activity - I think that will really help defuse the tension around sharing and turn-taking etc. apostrophe, thanks very much for the link to that thread - interesting reading.

jabberwocky Sat 20-Jun-09 21:22:38

In the past we have had some very good discussions about children who are deemed "shy" when actually they are highly sensitive children who are easily overwhelmed by their environment. Perhaps this then causes her to feel aggressive?

Excellent book called "The Highly Sensitive Child" may give you some suggestions on how to deal with her.

hester Sat 20-Jun-09 21:39:46

'Highly sensitive' is ringing lots of bells, jabberwocky. She's chatty and sparky and funny with family, but seems really overwhelmed/overstimulated by the outside world, loud noises etc. I'll definitely take a look at that book. Thanks so much.

jabberwocky Sat 20-Jun-09 21:55:40

You are very welcome My son is the same and I now work with other children who have sensory issues. Sometimes the smallest accommodations can make everyone's lives soooo much better.

hester Sat 20-Jun-09 22:02:48

Great - thank you - that is making me feel much more positive. On my worst days I've been feeling, I hate to admit, almost ashamed of her, because other people just see this weepy, cranky, hostile child (and judge me for it, no doubt) and I get cross with her for not showing the lively, funny, bright and loving child she can be. And yet I really feel for her - because I know she can't help it, and she feels almost assailed by the world while also longing to be part of it, and I have felt much the same my whole life and I know it's a lonely place to be.

Thanks everyone.

jabberwocky Sat 20-Jun-09 22:08:05

It is frustrating dealing with children like this - especially when you don't understand what is causing the behavior problems. And she is just too young to be able to say things like "When I'm somewhere noisy or crowded it makes me feel upset and scared (or nervous, anxious, etc)" So instead she gets upset and aggressive. Heck, even adults have trouble verbalizing things like this wink

hester Sat 20-Jun-09 22:13:27

So true, jabberwocky. I've spent 40 years learning how to appear socially confident.

I'll do a search for previous threads on this. So glad to hear your ds is doing well.

LeonieSoSleepy Sat 20-Jun-09 22:20:38

Message withdrawn

hester Sat 20-Jun-09 22:41:31

Oh.. maybe I should find out a bit more about autism before I dismiss it then, Leonie, because that does sound like my dd. Do you think I should investigate further and, if so, how? I'm very wary of doing internet searches and coming up with long lists that I start frantically ticking.... is there a better way?

jabberwocky Sat 20-Jun-09 23:23:53

What I would recommend is first reading about HSCs (Highly Sensitive Children) and see how much of that rings true. Ds1 actually fell into the category of Sensory Processing Disorder which is when a child is so sensitive it starts to interfere in a really big way with things iykwim. Autistic children also have sensory issues of course but it's like this, a child can have autism and Sensory Processing Disorder but also can have autism without SPD as well. And a child who has SPD does not automatically have autism. Does that make sense?

An occupational therapist is the one to consult if you feel she is more than just an HSC and want to get evaluated for SPD. Autism is a different route as far as getting a diagnosis. So I would read Eleanor Aron's book (the one I suggested earlier) first and just take it from there.

Oh, and one other thing to think about is if she has any foods that trigger her. With ds1 it is dairy but it can be anything really. There are lots of wonderful posters on the Special Needs board that know about sensory problems so that is also another source for you.

LeonieSoSleepy Sun 21-Jun-09 08:20:00

Message withdrawn

bubblagirl Sun 21-Jun-09 08:40:26

my ds has high functioning autism very bright loving boy who struggles to be social with children, will talk to adults is comfortable with adults he can have good eye contact but its on his terms although this is improving he has help to be social with other children at pre school small games with him and one other child helping him say there name etc and play together he wants to be social too but hasnt the skills to do it

your best bet is to take to gp and explain all your concerns they may refer you to someone else who can assess your dd

does she need routine? does she have any obsessions?

she sounds a lot like my ds but obviously not saying she has autism she could just have some traits as she would need more than few to be dx with ASD

does the nursery have senco teacher? could they try and do more to assist your dd to be social such as 1-1 with another child to show how to play etc

i think your worries warrant enough to go seek help further even if its just to get peace of mind but she may have social difficulties that someone could refer some help within pre school etc early intervention is always best it seems its not a new thing so not a phase but ongoing so best to take it further and seek professional advise at least you can be given extra help for her and some advise on how to tackle the issues dont panic yourself too much just see what professionals think and take it from there

bubblagirl Sun 21-Jun-09 08:48:45

does she have imagination can she pretend play? my ds has some pretend play but its normally repetitive and what he has been shown to do previously although its starting to improve

maybe you could role play at home and pretend to be another child i do this with ds and i say hello my name is x can i play with you its starting to work if i say what do you say to another child he says hello my names x can i play with you

he is very prompt dependent so he will do things if prompted and helped ok now go and do that etc with adult close by telling him and assisting him what to do next he can play with others as soon as the help goes he walks away

maybe the pre school being so small can assist more with this lots of praise keeping it with 1 child first getting her to tell child her name , asking child there name and playing together assisted by teacher

LeonieSoSleepy Sun 21-Jun-09 13:10:27

Message withdrawn

bubblagirl Sun 21-Jun-09 14:38:47

leonie has your dd improved loads with this then does she have dx also?

how old is your dd?

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