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DSD's behaviour "out of control"(9 Posts)
I'm looking for some advice about my step daughter. I didn't want to post in step families because those threads tend to get derailed by arguing posters and I'd really just like some insights into and advice on what to do about her behaviour. I can only really report the problem behaviour third hand, because it's not us (her Dad and myself) that she's doing it to. Please bear with me, this is bound to get long winded.
To give some background, she's been through quite a lot of emotional upheaval for a 7 year old. She's always been the type of child to attach to one specific person and really become really obsessed with them. When I first met DP, DSD was 2 and DP was literally her whole world. DP and DSD's mum had split a couple of months before and DSD struggled with the transition from having daddy at home to visiting him in a grim flat share. Nevertheless, she used to wait by the window for him to arrive to collect her and she would kick and scream about having to go back to her mums. She's never had the interest or attachment to her mum that she did to DP. When she was 3 her mum stopped contact between DP and DSD due to an argument with her mums then boyfriend (now husband). We only have snippets of info about what DSD was like during that time but from what we have gathered in the years since, she punished her mum severely (as much as a 3 yr old can). Contact was reinstated when she was 4 after 20 months however by that time she had created a new obsessive attachment to a maternal uncle. Then, due to circumstances I can't go into, contact between DSD and the uncle had to be stopped altogether when she was 5 and her behaviour towards her mum became really awful again. She began to wet the bed and reverted to ultra-clinginess to DP at ours but at her mums house she did really awful things (for example she would regularly wet her underwear and leave it in her mums bed under the pillow or inside the sheets). There had to be several meetings at her school between all of us parents and social services had to be involved to help DSD deal with the loss of her uncle, which is essentially what we all believe she was reacting to. With counselling she did eventually come to terms with things and stop punishing her mum. I only include this info to show the amount of emotional upheaval she's experienced already.
All has been well for quite some time since then. DSD has rarely mentioned her uncle in the last few months (though I'm certain she's not forgotten him) and her behaviour has been relatively good. She can be quite possessive of DP and clingy when he gives any attention to other children but I do think that's understandable for a child who's been through so much.
The current problem has been happening in the last couple of months. She changed schools during the holidays and in October DP and I told her we are expecting a baby (our first together, DSD has a little sister by her mum and step dad). Since then her behaviour at her mums has gone a bit mad. She screams in people's faces, refuses to do anything she's told, deliberately hurts her little sister and breaks things (they don't have a good relationship). She says really nasty things to everyone in the house and extremely aggressive towards her sister. Her mum and stepdad have tried the typical super-nanny techniques of time out and privilege removal etc but she just doesn't seem to care. She continues the behaviour as soon as the punishment is over. Her mum is at her wits end and her step dad will no longer deal with her when she's being naughty because of the horrible things she says to him.
As I've said, DP and I don't actually see this behaviour. She is sometimes cheeky and occasionally ignorant when being spoken to at ours but nothing extreme. When asked why she doesn't behave badly for us she apparently said its because she's scared of DP. DP very very rarely gets angry but when he does raise his voice it is very loud and penetrating so I can understand her saying that to some extent, but I don't believe she is actually afraid of DP. As a side note, he's never punished her physically in any way and they have a very loving relationship.
I feel her behaviour at her mums is a reaction to the baby. We've had lots and lots of talks with her about it in which she's fairly adamant she is happy about it or looking forward to it (and gets sick of being asked) but her change in behaviour at home says different. There was an incident the other week where her mum said DSD had told her we were planning to give her bedroom to the baby. DSD and I have had many convo's about this and it's always been clear to her that the baby will sleep in our room and she will not be expected to give up her space. I asked her why she said that to mummy and she told me she didn't, it was her mum that said it to her to upset her. She told me Mums always saying things to wind her up. I don't know how seriously to take that tbh. Her mum is not a bad mum but she can be a bit nasty when she wants to. Having said that, there's been lots of incidents over the years of DSD saying one thing to us and another to them. For the last couple of years we've made a point of keeping up good communication between us to avoid these things turning into arguments between the adults.
What I'm asking is, is there anything more we can do to deal with this behaviour/assuage the fears she seems to have that she won't tell us about? We both have a great relationship with her but I'm at a loss about how to get her to open up about this. We involve her as much as we can but she won't admit how she's really feeling. It's a nightmare for her mum and stepdad and frustrating for us that it feels like there's nothing we can do to help even though it seems we've caused the problem.
I knew this post would get long and it has. Thank you if you've read this far!
It's always sad when children end uo lying as a way to navigate life. I'm not surprised if she feels insecure and fears change or abandonment but it's a pity if she feels she has to resort to manipulation. I think you are quite right to compare notes as adults because there's huge scope for conflict otherwise.
I'd suggest DP carries on with his firm boundaries and penetrative voice Children like to know where the lines are as it make them feel secure. If they feel unsafe, they can retreat into make believe, and need various 'comforters' to cling onto.... including people. When they feel secure and confident that's when they tend to open up.
I would have a look at PDA (Pathalogical Demand Avoidance) as it sounds quite similar to what many others have gone through.
Your DSD may not 'kick off' with you because she may not feel so sure of you all - the fact she didnt see her dad for some time, and the removal of the uncle may make her afraid that if she loses it then you will leave her life too (however unrealistic that is) So she may struggle to hold it all together with you, and mum (who is a constant) will have to pick up the behavioural pieces.
Also the thing about the standard parenting techniques having no effect rings true. These strategies just wont work if its PDA - try taking a look at this website for strategies which often work with these kids. It does mean throwing away alot of what you think about as 'parenting' but if it IS PDA it really is the only way - laying down the law or trying to control them unilaterally wont work at all, and it sounds as if she is a very stressed and worried little girl, underneath it all
I absolutely agree that she feels able to take it out on her mum because she's more secure of her constant presence. When the social workers said this to her mum (the last time this happened) she cried.
Just looking at PDA with DP on the national autism society site. I'm not sure how many of those symptoms apply to her. She's certainly obsessive with people but no developmental delays. She definitely has high anxiety levels when she feels she's not in control
My daughter is very bright. Was in the top stream of every subject until it all became too much for her. She most probably has PDA. developmental delays are not always apparent or what you may think of as obvious.
This is quite a complex case which involves a very confused, angry and insecure little girl. She needs lots of reassurance and firm boundaries.
Have you tried playing games with dolls, teddies or puppets which may give her a platform to act out how she is really feeling but can mask her true feelings behind the toy so she will feel less vulnerable and exposed.it might give you some insight into her troubled mind.
I hope things settle down soon for you all.
Games with teddies or puppets is worth a try. Her favourite game is School, she lines the teddies up and teaches them about Matilda or other books. Just looking at that lives in the balance website. After contact was reinstated and she started coming to our house again, we found she was quite naughty and her behaviour was difficult. DP and I did an exercise with her then where we decided on and wrote down house rules and consequences. Ever since laying down the rules, we've never really had any problems with her. I don't know if her mum has done this with her but from what we're told I think it may be too late for that there!
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