DSS taking it out on me and behaviour getting worse(21 Posts)
My nearly 4 y/o DSS lives with me and his dad (DP). He sees his mum very very irregularly (every 8-12 weeks) and only talks to her once/twice a week. Last time he went to his grandparents he saw his mum for an hour. Granted, his mum really isn't in a good place right now and I know shes doing what she can, but everytime DSS sees her his behaviour when he returns is horrendous! Kicking, hitting, spiting, biting, throwing things at me, breaking things, screaming like a banshie, and bedtime has become a constant taking him back to bed up to 10pm for the past 5/6 nights, even wetting himself in his room whilst awake when he's fully toilet trained and is right next to the bathroom. I know these things are semi-normal for a 3/4 y/o but normally he's fairly mild-mannered and we rarely have to use quiet time or send him to his room, he usually goes to bed without any tears. Also usually all of this calms down after 3/4 days but its been nearly 2 weeks and he hasn't shown any signs of calming down. All of this is directed at me as well, rather than DP (although he is hitting people at nursery too, but not going totally nuts like at home). All we can do when DSS gets really bad is pick him up and put him in his room, if he'll even let us carry him without really hitting out/pulling hair/kicking/biting my arms. I'm just wondering if hes taking out what he's feeling about the situation with his mum out on me, because he identifies me as taking her place? I really don't know what to do and I'm wondering if we need to start thinking very laterally about this. I don't want it to turn into a mega problem and us need to go down the child psych route! I'm also wondering if I'm doing anything wrong? I don't shout at him, we say the same things to him (he won't listen to DP btw but he doesn't hit out at DP he just ignores him), we don't have other kids so theres no issues of jealousy there, I'm just getting to my wits end abou this one!
Didn't want to read and run... I have no experience of this but to the untrained eye it looks as if he is very insecure and sad about his mother and needs LOTS of reassurance.
It could be that he just has no way of coping with the feelings which are overwhelming him. I suspect it would happen whether you are around or not.
Look at it positively - as a safe and consistent presence in his life, you could just be there to support his Dad and him. Maybe do a bit of research but mostly just give him plenty of time, hugs, comfort and unconditional support.
Hope this helps. I am sure others have more experienced voices to add.
This isn't normal behaviour for your DSS. My son used to act out after intermitted contact with his dad when he was younger especially when he was past to pillar to post by other family members. Hes needing support and reasurance from his mom and unfortunately hes not getting it so expressing himself in a negative way. I would suggest having contact with mom directly in a safe place supervised so hes reassured.
I found my DS settled with dad on his own on a contact centre having one to one time without family members wanting to take away from his dad and have their time.
My DS has a good relationship now has him twice a week over night and a full week in the holidays. Was definately worth rebuilding it in the contact centre for the benefit of both their relationships.
His mum won't do a contact centre. So it's always supervised by her dad, but we thought it better than nothing! I offer him lots of love and support and maybe I just need to be patient and hope that time will sort it out, but I'm actually loosing hair because of the amount he's pulling it. hope I can keep my hair on literally and metaphorically!
This contact obviously isn't doing your DSS any good, quite the opposite in fact. I think your DP needs to step up and do the best for his son. Tell his ex for the moment, it's a contact centre or nothing, that is if he even wants the contact to continue at this stage.
I'd speak to your health visitor about your concerns. It does sound like he's not a very happy little boy They might be able to refer him for counselling, or you for some parenting help to know how to deal better with his upset. I can't see how a contact centre would be any easier for him - just another new place instead of his gran's. Would it be feasible for either of you to stay around when he sees his mum? But it might be more about her not being there so much of the time that he finds hard, nothing to do with the nature of the contact itself.
I'm starting to wonder if it's all just me, DP said I scared DSS this morning - he had wet the bed after taking his pull up off which I had said said wasn't good. He then wouldn't have a shower and was whining about that then he refused to get himself dried or dressed and I was getting annoyed and I walked away after being kicked and hit. I told my partner who told him off but then he needed to get himself ready so I went back in to help DSS only to be punched and have my hair pulled. DP thinks that he's done it because I've somehow scared him. I asked DSS if he was scared and he said yes...so I'm now feeling like I'm so demon stepmother cause of all his behavioural issues.
That's your first hurdle OP, you and DP need to be absolutely united in your handling of DSS and he needs to be backing you all the way if he's sharing care of DSS with you. It does sound like contact with his mum is doing more harm than good at the moment, is there anything formal in place with regard to a contact agreement?
There's no contact order, no custody arrangements, nothing formal in place - she was looking after him until 9 months ago and then she turned around and said she couldn't cope and he was best with us (just as DP moved in with me). Everything has just been verbally agreed and everyone is on fairly good terms with each other, it's just the fact that DSS's mum is in a violent relationship and her partner has convictions so we don't allow her to have him overnight at her place (with her support) because neither she nor us can guarantee that her partner won't be around.
It's really hard he wants to play softly softly and I see that he needs clear boundaries but lots of love too. His dad would bankrupt himself if he thought it would make DSS happy, where I needs structure but he's never had any before - he's only been going to nursery regularly since living with us and his mum just wasn't in a good place to provide for him emotionally but I'm maybe I go overboard? I think DP doesn't see that small children can be manipulative to get what they want. Part of me feels like he likes it this way so he can play "daddy make it better" and just give in to him all the time.
Urgh...how can we get to a stage where were singing from the same song sheet?
It sounds a very hard situation for you.
Why are you the one to sort him out in the morning and get him dressed? If my DSS, when he was 4, had been kicking off like that I would have left it to his father to sort out.
4 is still very young, but he needs to be taught very quickly that hitting is not acceptable, for any reason, scared or not. By giving that as an option he will learn that he can hit if he says he is scared.
You and your DP need to agree strategy for dealing with him. Without working together, it will build resentment, cause arguments and damage your relationship.
I think you do also need some support too, health visitor or something.
Totally agree you need to agree strategy with DP and that, if he isn't happy with the way you deal with DSS, he needs to do it himself. Maybe try googling some info on dealing with aggressive behaviour in children and using some of the methods described, you might have a better chance of getting DP to stick to an external method than having to choose between 'your way' or 'his way'. You can't carry on putting up with being physically hurt though and DP shouldn't be expecting you to.
DP gets him ready most mornings, but he hadn't slept well last night so he asked me to sort DSS to give him an extra half hour in bed.
DP really doesn't want to go down the route of where we end up having child psychologist involved due to his past experience (he was diagnosed with ADD as a kid by one psych and another said it was his step mum that was the issue...but thats another long story). What could the HV do? DP has a meeting with someone from the local children's centre next week to see if they can provide anything, but I don't think they will be able to. There were issues with his speech, and he has an intermitent (but very noticable) stammer but otherwise he's come on leaps and bounds since being with us.
DP isn't expecting me to put up with it but he doesn't want me shouting at him (nor do I want to), and he is willing to talk about it. In a way I am glad I'm no longer being singled out but also really not happy DP is now being hurt as over the past couple of days DSS has started hitting out at him as well.
Both of us are still fairly new at being full time parents in a way, and its been a really steep learning curve for us to suddenly have a child in our lives 24/7 not just at weekends. There are still lots of things we're having to catch on to quickly. But one turn up for the books is that he went to bed without any hassle tonight for the first time in nearly 2 weeks! yay!
Maybe Home Start can help. They are a charity that provide support for families. Having someone to talk to who can offer advice, will give you some support.
I disagree with the need for a contact centre. I'm assuming mother isn't a serious risk to DSS? And she's supervised by her father in any case?
I also think his behaviour does sound "normal" given the circumstances. That's not to say you should just allow it as you need to keep the boundaries of no hitting, kicking etc.
I would speak to your GP in the first instance. They can refer to CAMHS or hopefully to an emotional resilience building service. It doesn't sound like a psychologist is needed at this point but some sort of emotional support for him and for you and your DP.
Have a Google and see if there are any child bereavement services in your area - they often support children experiencing loss through divorce/separation as well as death.
And pat yourself on the back. You sound like you're doing a great job in a really hard situation.
The mother isn't a risk to him when shes with other people (she ODed once when she had him but that was nearly 18 months ago, and shes hit him a good few times), and she is always supervised by her dad. I'll talk to DP about it, i want to talk to the HV and go from there really, because I've had enough and its making me feel like I'm an awful person.
His mum and DP broke up when he was 4 months old and he's been with us for not far off 9 months so would a bereavement service help considering the timeframe?
Yes, definitely. People go for counselling for situations involving loss even years later and it is still healing. 9 months is pretty quick!
Involving the HV or GP sounds like a really good start. Make sure you're getting plenty of time away from it all. I am a very involved SM but sometimes I have to remind myself that actually it isn't my responsibility to parent my DSC. I hope your DP is able to hear where you are coming from.
Can't you tell his mother how he is behaving after their visit? Sometimes no contact is best as it is just confusing this little boy.
Your dp ought to be greatful of the role you have taken on if anything!
I would let your dp discipline the boy and see how he likes what comes his way.
The boy has likely suffered from emotional abuse since you say his mother is in a violent relationship. I dread to think what the boy has witnessed. It is all absorbed no matter what the age.
This little boy has been through nearly four years of hell culminating in his being taken away (in his eyes) from his mummy and sent to live with you and his daddy in an unfamiliar home.
He is frightened and confused so pushing boundaries. He's testing you to see if you will stop loving him and leave him if he is naughty. Possibly that's what he thinks happened with his mum.
You and your partner need professional support so you can both support your DSS.
Very, very similar situation here -have posted about it previously - however DSS (4) has no contact with his mum or any of her family, through her choice, for over two years. He is unbelievably aggressive and violent with me, it still shocks me the stuff he does even though I should really be used to it. I have asked for help from HV, school nurse etc but the end result is we are waiting till he is 5 and can get referred to camhs. I personally believe he has either PDA or RAD alongside huge issues with his mum and her rejection of him, and genuinely fear for his future as a healthy and mentally stable young man. This is beyond 'naughty step' behaviour. I suffered in silence for months because I was embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn't manage him alone, which in hindsight hasn't helped either of us. He is unhappy and so are you, honestly reach out for help, it can take months, best to start the process now it's bloody hard work so well done x
Hi Green, I'm sorry I'm so late to this, but hope I can offer a few useful thoughts as we've been through something similar. I echo previous posters saying get someone else involved. A professional can provide support to ALL members of the family - and you all need it.
In our situation I insisted we involve a child counsellor when my DSCs Mum announced she was leaving and the DSCs were moved in and she was gone within the week - the change was so sudden we were all left spinning. Although it had been 50:50 up until then, so in some ways not such a dramatic change, the concern I had was the rejection DSCs would feel, especially as it wasn't the first time she'd gone.
The youngest DSC was 4 at the time, had delayed speech and so was unable to express himself well - we were fortunate he wasnt violent with it. Two useful pieces of advice we had from the counselloir were to do a 'feelings' check at every evening meal (or at some consistent time every day) - it gaves the children an opportunity to express just how they were feeling. For very young children a picture of a smiley/sad/crying/laughing face they can stick on a chart can also work really well. It allows them to express something and get it out there rather than bottle it up, but there should be no judgement of the feeling, just hearing what it is. I suspect the lashing out at you is because he just can't find the words to express himself (I think anyone would struggle in such a situation). So being able to stick a sad face on a chart for today would allow him to express that - and for your DP to note it. It can then be discussed but it is sometimes good to just hear it and pass no initial comment.
The other really useful piece of advice we had was to give them some power back. In your situation as well as ours, the children had absolutely no say in their Mum leaving them. So we discussed ways that a child can regain some control of their life - really simple things like choice at meal times (would you like the peas, the carrots or both?), choice at bedtime (would you like to go up to bed now and have a story, or stay down for 20 minutes longer and then go straight to sleep?), and anywhere you xan give them that ability to control a bit of their own destiny (would you like this bubble bath or that, which clothes would you like to wear today etc etc). It seems really simple, but for a child who has been told a parent is leaving and gets no say its fantastic for them to feel they have a voice again. Obviously you set the choices up so they are age appropriate and don't allow the child to run the household, but we found that worked very well. It resolved a whole swathe of other issues too and I now use it much more as a technique to get stuff done (semi)willingly round the house!
On some other issues you mention; we found the eldest DSC started wetting the bed the first time his Mum left ( he was older than 7). I think it comes with the territory I'm afraid - get a plastic mattress protector, make sure they wee last thing before bed, and best of all don't make a big thing of it - they are usually ashamed enough. I'd also let his Dad deal with it every time and not you, they can feel embarrassed in front of a step parent. I stay out of that one totally and let DH get up, do all the cleaning up, the showering if needed and the washing and act like I don't know.
On the hitting front - I had this a lot from one of my DSCs in the first year I knew him - I was continually being karate chopped, kicked for no apparent reason (ie he would just run up to me and do a flying kick) which was a complete shock as DD had never done anything like that at all. I repeatedly asked DH to sort it out and nothing changed, I was still getting hurt. One day I had been kicked one too many times and I sat the DSS down and explained it hurt etc and if he did it again I would kick him back if he kicked me first. He never hit/kicked me again. I had no intention of kicking him, but could find no other way to sort the problem out and DH telling him off, sending him to the naughty step etc was making no difference. When I look back on it now, I realise this behaviour was getting him in to trouble at school, was causing repeated fights with his oldest brother, and I suspect no-one had ever pointed out it hurt and that other people could retaliate which he wouldn't like. I think your situation is different as it sounds like you are being hit when he's really struggling - I actually don't think you should be having to deal with that, can you not leave his Dad to sort that out and just totally remove yourself from the situation?
Final thought - you mention your DSC speaks to his Mum every week - I wonder whether skyping is an option at a set time? We pushed hard for this and eventually DSCs Mum agreed and it gave them something to look forward to, but with a young child particularly it can help to see rather than just hear the parent. That said, we did notice sleep patterns in the youngest child were always disrupted the night he'd skyped with his Mum, and he'd be off for days after her twice yearly visits. You have to make massive allowances for the huge disruption they suffer and just accept it is part of the territory.
And you - who is looking after you in all this? Make sure you are looking after your needs for down time/me time. Looking back I realise I did far more than DH when the DSCs' Mum left - mainly because I acquired little shadows who wouldn't let me out of their sight. I found it really tough to do anything alone for two months as they were continually following me, wanting endless cuddles etc - and I had to do it because they needed it. I think I wasn't good at saying to DH 'because I am doing x,y and z to support DSCs you have to do a,b and c to support me in this'. I'm definitely suffering the long-term consequences for not having looked after myself and putting everyone else first with ongoing depression, so you must look out for your needs to help your family unit keep functioning. Things are a bit different now, their Mum is back now and sees them once a week so I have stepped back from so much hands-on parenting and see my role to be a reliable and stable female figure in their lives - I want them to know from my example that women can stick around and be reliable.
Sorry this is so long, but your post really resonated with me - hope I've not dumped too much of my own baggage and issues into this!
I really am starting to think he has PTSD. He went to open the door today (which he's been told not to do but he thought it was he dad coming back from the shop) and when it was someone he didn't know he screamed and ran up to his room and hid behind the curtain. He hasn't done this is in months but he used to hide everytime the door went. DP is doing the disciplining and telling me that it hurts me, but he'll do it again 5 mins after. HV has put DP down for a Solihull approach course but theres a 12 week waiting list and we're hoping to be moved by then, plus that only involves him and not me.
Downtime for me...I get rare nights away with friends, but otherwise theres very little. I stay up late and defrag when I have the energy, but my whole life has changed - my spiritual stuff has gone out the window, and we're both pretty isolated in being 50+ miles away from friends and family. I was away this weekend for DM's 58th birthday, and he was fairly ok with DP, no hitting but not listening to what he had to say and a lot of being sent to his room and stuff. DM thinks that DSS is projecting what he's feeling towards his mum...which DP is starting to think is the case to, but he isn't prepared to stop contact with her because thats what his dad did with him and he feels it did him more harm than good.
We do give him a fair amount of choice, he gets a couple of options for dinner and get to choose what to wear as long as it weather appropriate.
I am feeling so very very drained tonight now. DSS has only just gone down after being put to bed at 6.30 and I have loads of reading to do for uni which I am now feeling like I'm really struggling with (hasn't helped that I've had no mentor or Dyslexia tutor since before xmas and have 8000 words to write in 2 weeks...I think I need more of an extention!)
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