Depressed 5 year old(5 Posts)
I've debated for a while whether to post this here or on the development section, however Ive decided step-parenting is probably more relevant as I�m looking for advice on how to deal with this situation from my perspective as a childfree woman living with a man who has a daughter from a previous relationship, rather than around her behaviour in general.
DSD is 5 and is a lovely little girl. She's sweet, affectionate, excitable and really lovely to be around for the majority of the time. My observation of her is that she has quite a strong personality. Her temper can flair very quickly, she can be quite demanding and dramatic (foot stamping, running off and flinging herself on her bed when things don�t go her way, constant requests for presents), but nothing that in my eyes is out of the ordinary or unmanageable in a little girl of her age. Her parents split when she was 3, however myself and DP met very quickly after the split (I was not the OW) and moved in together within 9 months. Her mum also now lives with a new partner too. All is very amicable between DP and ExW and they always take time at pick ups and drop offs to talk about what has happened since they saw the last parent and share exciting news. DP face times with DSD most evenings at bed time to talk about her day, and whilst the conversation is usually only a few minutes long, she knows she can speak to her Daddy whenever she wants and vice versa with her mum whenever she�s with us. Myself and DSD get on very well. We have our little in jokes, books we read together, she always wants me to bath and wash her hair and she often comes to me for cuddles. Likewise with her Dad, they spend lots of time together just the 2 of them, he�s very hands on and generous with her, we have a good routine and despite the odd disagreement, the time we spend together as a threesome is generally lovely. She visits us twice a week � mid week after school for a few hours for her dinner and bath and then alternate Friday and Saturday nights and the following full day.
DP is very Disney with her and struggles with managing her temper tantrums. He�s admitted he feels very uncomfortable telling her off and would prefer her to love every minute the time they spend together, rather than discipline her when she is badly behaved. I�ve told him many times that whilst she is an inherently lovely little girl, the times she pushes both our buttons are the times for him to set boundaries so she knows what types of behaviour are and are not acceptable. Instead he negotiates, cajoles and bribes, which I disagree with, however I�m learning that I can only offer advice so many times and as her father, it is his responsibility to parent her and shape her into the adult she will ultimately become.
The issue is her behaviour when she�s at her mums house, which appears to be causing DSD�s mum enough concern that she has decided to take her to see a child therapist. I feel this is a huge overreaction that could potentially be very damaging to DSD, but her mum doesn�t have the skills or patience to deal with the issue by changing her parenting style and instead wants to blame the fact that DSD is depressed. I fully accept that I don�t see DSD every day to have a real insight in how she behaves at her mums and that as a non-parent it�s very easy for me to judge without experiencing the daily struggles and monotony that parenting can bring. However the little girl I see twice a week, whilst sometimes angry and demanding is testing boundaries and attention seeking, not depressed. I feel that DSD�s mum spoils her rotten. She has new �stuff� constantly. Shoes, teddies, books, sweets. Every week when she comes to us with something new to show off, to the point where she places zero value on gifts because she has something new every day of the week. My sense is also that discipline is lacking very much at mums. I�d like to stress that this is only my sense � I don�t know exactly and I�m not making judgements, but what I would like to do is to be able to equip DP with the skills to face this issue head on with his ex. My feeling is that if they could adopt a united approach (as much as possible in 2 separate households) and give DSD the support, boundaries and structure she needs her behaviour would improve vastly.
A couple of things that ExW has cited as evidence of DSD�s depression are crying and refusing to go bed every night (not a problem at our house), constant trips to the toilet (which is an issue at our house too, however I think it�s just a habit she�s got into, she�s been tested for UTI�s and there are no issues), constantly arguing with mum and her DP, saying she wishes she wasn�t alive and that mummy doesn�t love her as much as she loves her new DP. My feeling is that she has learned that saying these things have the shock factor and get her the attention she wants, rather than her in any way meaning them. There have also been issues at school with her interactions with friends and other children not wanting to play with her. I have seen this myself when she plays with my friends children, but once she relaxes and gets over her fears that no-one wants to play with her, she interacts very well most of the time.
My take on the matter is that DSD is exhausted (both from her first full school year in reception and that bedtimes aren�t regularly enforced at mums), she has a dreadful diet (constant sweets, chocolates and cakes and very little of much nutritional value), she�s had a lot of upheaval in the past two years and is just coming to the age where she realises other childrens mummy�s and daddy�s live together and she needs to talk about this, and she has very few boundaries and discipline which are causing her to be argumentative and see how far she can push things. She is not depressed and needs her mum and dad to step up and parent her effectively. Her mum suffers from depression too, which may be affecting her judgement on her daughter. I have tried so many times to talk to DP about his parenting style and the consequences of it and whilst he agrees with me at the time, nothing really changes in the long term.
So my question is, is there anything I can do from my position to try and help? I realise that I sound like I think I know it all from reading the above back and that is genuinely not the case. I think my position as someone who isn�t as emotionally invested in DSD�s upbringing as her parents are can help me see things more clearly. I know the standard advice is just to disengage and not get involved but it�s so hard when you have to deal with a tearful DP questioning his skills as a parent and watch a little girl�s temper tantrums get worse and worse because no-one will tell her it�s not ok to behave like that.
Thanks very much to those of you who have got this far!
OP. Looking at it from the other side, as the mother, your post seems quite fair and sensible IMO. A lot of this sounds familiar to my own life. DD was 4yo when XH left. It took her a couple of years to really be able to verbalise what had happened to her.
I can understand your DSD's mum in wanting to get help for her daughter. I have had to do the same. It is exhausting bringing up a child on your own who constantly behaves badly and you have nobody there to help you or to back you up. DD has had counselling and been assessed by the school under the THRIVE programme. Anything that affects their emotional wellbeing can have all sorts of effects on them and any sort of professional help can work wonders.
XH also just wants DD to have fun when she is with him. This results in them spoiling her. however they also shout at her a lot for doing things that all children do, such as messy hands, not eating properly and various other things.
Your DP does need to grow a pair though and not let his DD get away with stuff. Yes he wants to enjoy his time with her, but he also still needs to be a father to her, and to tell her off if necessary.
A united approach on discipline would be a good thing. My XH has refused to do this which hasn't helped. If your DP and his XW get on well enough to do that then sit down and work things out. There is an online Parenting Plan on the CAFCASS website which they could use to make an agreement on bedtimes, sweets, discipline and lots of other matters. I stress that it will only work though if they can agree on everything, if not it may make matters worse.
Advice I have been given, is to tell DD that it is OK to be angry, and to hug her and tell that. They usually calm down once they realise that they are being listened to. DD is also very wilful and a child like that can take some handling. I usually give DD a warning and a count to five. If she doesn't behave by 5, then we leave or take away or whatever the warning was.
I wish that my XH was like yours as he had to be requested by the local family support network to Skype her once a week as she was having no contact in between 3 weekly visits.
If your DSD has as much contact with her dad as possible and is reassured that everybody loves her even though they don't live together any more, then hopefully she will adjust in the long term. If not then you could try seeking advice and help via the school in September.
I think there is another side to this that you might not have thought of. That while DSD is acting up with you and DP, she is acting out far worse with her mum, because it is there that she really feels she can and really feels safe. I think her mum is right to bring her to a therapist, it can't hurt. And if a solution is that firm routines and boundaries are established in both homes, then that is a positive. I know you do acknowledge it, but while your DP's time with DSD is regular and that's great, it is also for very short time frames. dSD sounds like she needs some support and so does her mum, a therapist could help here. Who is the therapist, where did mum find her?
You sound like a fantastic step-mother. She is very lucky. Unfortunately though, you are not her mother and there is nothing you can do against her mother and father's way of bringing her up. You can just seat and wait. However, you can still be there and be yourself with her when she is with you and that alone might have much more impact on her than you might see.
Don't get involved in her parenting, however bad it is, it is her parent's choice to go about it how they see fit. Just continue to be such a thoughful and caring SM.
You sound like you have got very involved and the girl has accepted you a lot, been open to that. I also agree that boundaries and being clear with kids really helps them to feel safe - it is scary getting loads of attention and no limits if you are very young.
My son could sometimes come back from my Ex at the age of 5 a bit emotionally extreme - which I think resulted from his Dad indulging him and being quite emotional and picking up on anything he said - almost trying to spot unhappiness. It got very 'worked up' which sounds similar to your situation - a lot of attention on the 5 year old is a little scary. I would be going to parenting classes if I were her mum to find practical support for how to deal with the kid calmly and consistently - before turning to a counsellor putting the spotlight on her.
However, in your position, I would go ahead and be very boundaried with her yourself, which is all you can do really. You will not change her parents and their more permissive style - and may cause more problems by trying to. Be the person who is most detached emotionally but patient and fair with her. So that the girl has one adult figure that she can count on to be a bit of a 'rock'.
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