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help needed - wits end with messy praise junky 8yr DD... (sorry - very long thread)

(11 Posts)
mrshibbins Tue 25-Aug-09 09:12:26

For those that don't know, i'm in an unusual situation in that I'm a step mum but have full (and I mean full) care of my SD, aged 8, so our relationship is mainly one of parent/child. LO unfortunately very rarely sees her BM, who has a LOT of problems, and when she does it's just for a few hours in a supervised context in a child care centre...

I 'adopted' her a couple of years ago, when she was just 6, and because of the way she'd been brought up, she's been left with a LOT of behavioural and emotional issues, which we are slowly (and I mean SLOWLY) working through. It means that she is very far behind a lot of her peers on a number of fronts, and I've had to 'fast forward' on some things, such as issues with a regular bedtime and sleeping in her own bed as an example, which most parents go through with their kids when they are years younger.

And this is why I generally post on this Topic rather than in the Step Parent's one, because I don't share the same issues with most of the other step mums on here.

There are TWO things I'm having problems with that I could use some advice on ...

Firstly, there is the mess she makes when she eats. I've taught her how to use a knife and fork now (just about) as she was still eating with her fingers and asking to be spoon fed But at aged 8 she is incapable of eating anything without getting food in a wide radius around her plate, all over the floor, down her clothes, all over her face, even in her hair... she gets laughed at by her friends, and I just despair. I have to do SO much cleaning up of her mess, cleaning the floor etc, having to do changes of clothes ... but I can't even seem to get her to care. I've started making her clean up her own mess, but it's had no affect but her stropping. I've threatened bib and splashmat, but never had the heart to go through with the threat ... what can I do?

ok, second problem I'd like help with

This one's an emotional problem. She is, it seems to me, obsessively and neurotically addicted to praise and attention. She can't get by without running to me or her Dad every few minutes and desperately demanding validation "Did you see me? Can you watch me? Are you looking? Isn't this good? Aren't I wonderful?" that's generic, but the list goes on and on and is constant and tbh very exhausting. And if she doesn't get it, or you stop watching her perform she has a tantrum and storms off saying YOU HATE ME YOU THINK I'M RUBBISH etc etc. She will then do ANYTHING to get attention, from pretending illness and fainting to actually picking herself to make herself bleed She is unable to play happily on her own, and seems to have no ability for solo play, which is a problem when you are an only child, and especially for me during the holidays ... She is also incredibly competitive with her friends and if she has a playdate at home, if any of her friends get given anything BEFORE she does she has a tantrum. It was the same at her birthday party if any of her little guests won a party game.... Another symptom is that she constantly interrupts other people's conversations. ... We went to stay with some cousins a few weeks ago while me and her Dad had a much needed solo weekend away, and her Aunt had a word with me about the loud and constant need for attention when we went to pick her up. ... I've sat down with her SO MANY TIMES and explained that we love her and we think she's great, but that we can't spend all day every day watching her and praising her ... She gets a LOT of quality time from both of us, but it's never enough for her. She want's it - demands it - ALL the time. Her Dad and I have had a long talk about it and have started to STOP feeding into this by being encouraging but only giving praise where praise is due, but when it IS due being VERY praising ... but not praising what is just 'normal' and being very firm with the 'not now darling, SM and Dad are busy/talking/on the phone' etc. BUT sadly this seems to be making her even more anxious and neurotic and demanding and interrupting and melodramatic about it. What can I do to help her to value her own worth and be more self-reliant and less exhaustingly needy or, at 8, is it already maybe going to be stuck with her for life??? Should I try to get support / some kind of child counselling?

MmeLindt Tue 25-Aug-09 09:55:21

We have a child in the family who sounds very similar (but not quite as extreme). She is vaguely related to my SIL and has lots of problems due to her upbringing. Her parents are drug users and border on neglecting her.

It is very hard going with her, she is very attention seeking. She is actually a lovely wee girl, but just so love-starved.

One thing that has helped is that my mum has started doing things with her, and having her stay overnight. She loves the one-to-one attention.

Praise when praise is due is a good idea, no overinflating praise. I wonder if you could reverse the praise thing, to get her to self-evaluate? Perhaps with a star chart where she gives herself a star when she is happy with what she has done?

Aside from that, I do think that you need to look into counselling.

mrshibbins Tue 25-Aug-09 13:28:23

thanks MmeLindt, I'm liking the self-evaluation idea - it's something I've been trying to get her to do, but wasn't sure about a method. I'll try this!

pugsandseals Tue 25-Aug-09 13:49:46

Could you try totally ignoring ALL the negative behaviour? After a year of a very negative teacher who gave lots of attention to poor behaviour we have started trying this with DD age 7. It works a treat but you have to be super strong to ignore the tantrums!
Attention seeking behaviour is just that. And the more times you stop what you are doing to ask them to stop the worse you make it for yourself. It's ever so hard to deliver though!

HerbWoman Wed 26-Aug-09 15:35:26

I have DD (nearly 10) and DS (just 5) and over the last few months I have gradually realised that I rarely have to put stain remover on DD's clothes. I've come to the conclusion that kids are either messy eaters or they're not. DD was and DS isn't and although DD has improved she is still messier than her brother. Having a go at her to be less messy with her food made no difference at all, and I can't say that anything has worked except starting to grow up. She is messier than all her friends who have eaten here, and yes, she still occasionally gets food in her hair. But she has become far less messy over the last year, so your SD might just need time to become more co-ordinated.

asteroids Wed 26-Aug-09 15:49:40

I have to agree with Herbwoman. Your attempts to stop the messy eating are probably doing the opposite as you are giving your SD so much attention as a result. Try to ignore they mess, let her get messy and just quietly clear up afterwards. If she is relatively clean, praise her like mad and make it very clear that you are praising her for eating like a young lady (or words to that effect).
With the second problem, each time she demands your attention, try to give her a new task to do. Eg. Go and do me a drawing, write a story, make something and I'll come and have a look in 10 minutes. You could even give her a timer and gradually extend the time.
Ignore interruptions, tantrums etc as much as possible and give lots of praise when it's due, clearly explaining exactly what the praise is for.
You will have good days and bad days and you will have to be very consistent in your actions. Sounds like you're already doing a fantastic job and there are just these few concerns which need addressing.

mrshibbins Thu 27-Aug-09 17:41:50

thanks for all the advice everyone. i seem to have run out of tactics and energy at the moment ... perhaps i'll feel better and more motivated again after school starts again next week ...

claw3 Thu 27-Aug-09 17:57:41

Sorry im totally unfamiliar with your situation and i hope this isnt a really silly question, but are you sure all these problems she is experiencing are due to her up bringing, has she been assessed for special needs?

mrshibbins Mon 31-Aug-09 20:03:48

i do wonder sometimes .. but i just don't know ... her attention span is so poor and her grasp of maths and logic is (just about to start year 4) hardly better than simple adding, year 1 stuff really ... but wouldn't her teachers say if they thought there was any need for special needs assessment?

FabBakerGirlIsBack Mon 31-Aug-09 20:12:59

My 8 year old would eat mostly with his fingers if he could and does use them sometimes. He also makes more mess than his 4 year old brother. We just keep asking him to use cutlery and say we hope he doesn't eat like that at school...

The praise thing is difficult. Have you asked her why she wants the praise all the time (though I realise that is hard.)

mathanxiety Mon 31-Aug-09 20:16:23

The messy eating can happen to anyone, (my oldest DD is 17 and still needs more of a trough than a platesmile) but if she's not had much practice with a knife and fork, it might take her a bit longer to get the hang of it. Have you tried getting her to do some chores for points or stars, or be a bit tidier at meals, so she begins to associate attention and praise with actual achievements, and also to wait until the end of the day for some sort of evaluation and attention. Having low self esteem makes children desperate for attention and feedback, but it should be based, at her age, on having done something worth attention and sincere praise. Also, is there any sports programme she could join (thinking of swimming here, maybe) where she could also be given goals to attain, attention when her turn comes, races where she could be competitive.. As for the phone thing and the interrupting the conversations, just be firm and consistent and eventually it will go away. She is searching for boundaries and these are painless ways to show her where they are.

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