Worried about DSD (5 yrs old) & don't know what to do(27 Posts)
So it's easter hols and we've spent the last 5 days battling DSD and it's awful. Everything has been hard work. We tried taking her out to the zoo for the day on Saturday which she originally wanted to go but as soon as we were there she had several meltdowns. She didn't want to leave the play area, she didn't want to see the elephants or the giraffes or anything else, she had a meltdown at the top of some steps- at which point I picked her up and carried her down as I was worried she was going to hurt herself if she kept stropping right at the top of the steps. Her big thing is saying (or rather shouting) she wants mummy - and she shouts she wants daddy when she's with her mum - and I think it's because she's upset and doesn't know what she wants so she wants the one thing she can't have. Neither I or DP know how to deal with it. It wasn't just the zoo, it was every bed time has taken over an hour and a half to settle her down, things like getting dressed end up in a half hour meltdown, brushing teeth, not seeing her grandparents, seeing her grandparents just every single thing over the last few days have resulted in meltdowns. We've tried talking to her calmly, enforcing rules such as if you don't start listening to us when we tell you to calm down at the top of the steps then you won't be allowed in the play area, walking away for a few mins to calm down (only in the safety of the house of course). Neither of us know what else to try. Clearly she's not happy but what the heck do we do? Something needs to be done for all of our sakes but what?! Any suggestions?!
How long since her parents split?
How long have you and DP been together? Do you live together in a new house? How much time does she spend with you? How much time does she spend with her dad on her own?
Her parents split 4 years ago now. DP and I met each other shortly after his divorce so about 3 and a half years and I've known DSD for about 2 and a half years. I guess officially we've been together 2 years but we became really good friends before that hence meeting his DSD. She sees us every other weekend and spends at least a few hours each day just with my DP. We try to go out as a family on one of the weekend days but recently it's been more like once a month rather than every time she's with us.
We've been living together for a year but moved to a new house at the start of the year which no doubt contributes to the unsettled feelings she has.
Have look at The Explosive Child - it helps dealing with an angry child and has lots of advice on pre-emptimg explosions and knowing what triggers them. I don't have step parent advice but I have a child who has ADHD and anger/anxiety issues. He will be affected by one thing and it will manifest as something completely different (a meltdown about something trivial). Transition is particularly difficult and can often trigger these things. Make sure you maybe talk through the day, maybe even draw a picture story of the day when you're going out? Also maybe pill back from ambitions stuff and be really realistic about what you expect of her. This helped me because I was expecting DS to do what some other could could at a certain age - but actually I needed to properly consider what he could deal with realistically.
I think a child with lots going on in their head can't always be controlled by 'just' consequences and sticker charts- certainly a very upset child being asked to do something they really can't manage (keep it together in an unfamiliar place for instance) sometimes means they don't care about a consequence. Allowing her to achieve a reward for something you know she can manage might start to make
Her feel she's in control and 'winning' rewards?
Sounds really difficult for you all.
Lack of sleep, a growth spur, battling a virus, some emanating anxieties, these are typical phases kids go through. It doesn't mean they are unhappy. The best thing to do is try to go through it applying rules and discipline whilst remaining calm. Most parents just do their best! Then the phase is over, they become lovely again, we think the lesson has been learnt...until the next phase....and that all the way until they become adult, or often until they become parents themselves!
Thanks swing. It's reassuring to be told it's probably just a phase. I think I find it quite difficult as well because none of my friends have had children so I've nothing to compare it all to. None of DP's friends have DC her age either, they're all 2 or under
I also have a 5 year old DSD, but she lives with us full time. She also had quite an unsettled time in the last 9 months or so, as we moved house, had a baby, and she started school. She has meltdowns over minor things where sometimes she shouts that she hates us and wants her mummy, and other times she shouts and cries because she hates her mum or wants me to be her mum (especially since I had a baby a few months ago).
I think it's important to remember that the tantrums aren't always about what they seem to be - she hasn't thrown herself on the floor because we have the wrong flavour jam, she is thinking about other things.
DD responded well to some counselling which was provided at her school by a local charity, she got 6 x 15 minute sessions. She got this after DH spoke to her teacher about the situation with her mum (no contact). Your DSD's school might offer something similar?
Yes it's worth enquiring with the school I think, thanks. How do you get to the bottom of the issues though? DSD is speech delayed and had been seeing a speech therapist for a while. She's come on leaps and bounds since starting school and has been discharged from the therapist. When she gets tired or upset her speech takes a nose dive again and then she can't communicate what's actually going on inside her head and it's so difficult to get her to use any words at all.
Aww sadandanxious after your last comment it all makes sense.
Toddlers usually have tantrums because they are frustrated that they can't communicate what they want or how they're feeling. Kids grow out of it quite young usually, but if your DSD has speech delays that are exacerbated by her upset then the poor little girl is effectively still trapped in the toddler phase as she's still struggling to communicate the issue to you.
How is her writing? My daughter went through an anxious phase when she was 5 - we got an old shoe box and decorated it with wrapping paper and stickers/glitter etc. This box is now our "secrets box". She can write little notes and place them in the box then only her and I can read them. Sometimes kids feel silly or uncomfortable talking about their feelings or what's bothering them, this is a great way to open up dialogue for them.
We opened the box every Saturday afternoon and would talk about what she'd written throughout the week - more often than not the things that bothered her earlier in the week didn't bother her by the time the notes were read, which taught her that problems resolve themselves quickly. It also helps identify any ongoing problems that you as a parent can advise them on.
In the immediate, whilst she is in the throes of a tantrum at home could toy provide her a calm safe space she can run to and chill out? Make her a den or something? And that could be her little area to calm down in her own time?
Just some ideas I think may help xx
I wish we could use your idea of the box, that sounds fab! She's not good at writing though we have to help her massively even just writing her name. She's fantastic when it comes to things like jigsaws - she can do a 100 piece sphere 3d jigsaw on her own, she has no fear climbing on play equipment designed for over 10s, she could run at the age of 6 months, potty trained within a day and very few tantrums up until about 9 months ago. But I can't think of anything she's good at that would help her express herself a lot more than currently. And I don't mean that in a horrible way, just that I'm struggling to know how to help her.
I totally get the stuck in toddler phase and I think it's made worse because she's older. Providing a safe space may help. Maybe we can make a den in the corner of the living room or in her bedroom.
She could run at the age of 6 months???
misses point of thread
when she gets tired or upset her speech takes a nose dive again and then she can't communicate what's actually going on inside her head and it's so difficult to get her to use any words at all
I have 2 who were speech delayed. The speech therapist explained it as we just know how to make the sounds and do it automatically. For those who are struggling, however, they essentially learn how to make the sound and have to focus on it all the time which is exhausting. It will eventually become automatic but for now, poor thing is probably knackered.
She sounds advanced in all other ways? So possibly frustration with communication is a huge issue for her. Could you look at sign language, perhaps? Not in earnest but a few signs - even if you make them up - to help her express tired, hungry, thirsty, frustrated, angry etc?
She had bowed legs ilove which apparently was why she was able to support herself from such an early age.
needsahalo we did sign language for ages with her but as soon as her speech started getting a lot better it slipped. I guess we took it for granted her new found ability to speak and now I'm not sure I could remember many of the signs - except that for sausages, which she used an awful lot back in the day as it's her favourite food. I think relearning key phrases could definitely be a positive way forwards.
That makes a lot of sense about it being something she has to focus on and so is exhausting. My depression medication makes me incredibly sleepy and at the point of exhaustion just before bed I find it almost impossible to get my words out properly, so I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a tired child who hasn't quite truly gotten to grips with speaking. I wonder also if picture cards for things like emotions may help?
Why not? She's still young enough to enjoy different ways of doing things. Maybe have a Google of some Makaton cards and see if that comes up with anything?
She might be tired because it's been two terms of school. Plus with the easter holidays she's out of her routine anyway. My 5 year old has been a demon!
We've found that one busy day was enough. The rest of the time we kept things quite low key
I'd have a little picture chart setting out her bedtime routine with the various steps so she can be reminded when she is tired. Give her two choices e.g. Of bedtime story etc and keep things simple for her.
You sound like a lovely SM - I don't quite get it though - as you've known her for 2 years - was this Easter holiday unusual or is this how things are. Has anything changed with her mom - new partner or anything like that. FWIW I think zoos can be very tiring places for little ones as there's so much walking about and the animals have limited appeal. The Explosive Child book sounds a good idea.
I noticed you mentioned you depression medication - how are with that - is it manageable or do you get tough periods. Anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression and I wonder if that's a problem too. It's not easy bringing up a step child and when you have mental health problems that makes it so much harder. Don't beat yourself up over the child - you sound like you're doing everything right and she'll grow out of this phase. If you are feeling low or anxious will her dad take her off to the park so you can rest.
I second needsahalo, to brush up the Makaton or sign language. DSD probably remembers a lot of it, and the empathy ones might help her to see that you know how she feels (sad / angry/ frustrated/bored etc).
Does she have much screen time? My (admittedly DD rather than DSD) is 4.5, and finds it much harder to deal with anything if she's had even a few minutes in front of a screen, especially if she is a bit tired or hungry. At which point I usually kick myself for it...
Is she in reception?
My reception child has been having meltdowns left right and centre since the middle of last half term.
She loves school and works so hard there that I think it uses up all available energy and she runs out at home.
We have had a resurgence of night terrors and difficulty going to sleep.
I'm sure the speech delay is contributing, and great suggestions about using sign language etc, but just wanted to let you know that it's also relatively common amongst the kids in our reception class, this last term seems to have exhausted all of them!
Sounds like anxiety to me. My dd was like this when she was younger, any change in routine would cause a meltdown
It only became apparent when she was about 9, when she displayed anxiety and we recognised the desire to be in control and crap at change and transition.
Once we recognised it, it all became clear.
Have you asked her Mum?
I feel really sorry for her She's only 5 and already has a divided family by the sounds of it. All kids need stability but at this age, she is still little and very vulnerable. I know my 5 yr old couldn't cope being at a different house every other weekend (which in the time scale of a child, is quite a long time between visits?)
I second the safe space for kids learning to calm themselves down. DD2 we would say do you want to get your teddy and lie on the sofa. When you are feeling better come and talk to us. It was brilliant after the13h tantrums of DD1.
Also as she got older DD2 did have occasional epic meltdowns. Totally random ones. They were entirely stress related it turns out. Since the source of stress (her Dad) has been removed the meltdowns are a thing of the past.
I've had a bit more of a think. Is she sleeping well? Could it be tiredness, especially with school, as others have suggested? Do you get her up in the morning, or does she wake by herself?
Is she quite a cuddly person? If so, is she getting enough physical closeness and cuddles? E.g. lots of snuggling up reading stories etc.
Have you been able to speak with her when she isn't tired or upset? Is she able to tell you what is wrong? Or how to make her happier? Or maybe, can she suggest what to do next time she gets upset?
Well as far as night time is concerned, I feel like we're fighting a losing battle. Found out at the weekend (after another night spent going back and forth to her for over two hours before she fell asleep and being woken several times in the night) that she's gone back to co-sleeping with her mum and doesn't like sleeping in her own room or bed.
DP doesn't want to co-sleep and tbh I don't very much fancy being turfed out of my bed every other weekend either but the lack of sleep and battle at bedtime is getting to all of us. DSD is shattered in the morning and grumpy all day and then even harder to get to bed any following nights. I thought we'd gone past this as DSD's mum stopped co-sleeping about a year ago but now they've gone back to it and where back in the same rubbish situation we were back then.
I hate the lack of sleep and I hate seeing DSD struggling so much and feel totally helpless!
Actually thinking about it, it wasn't even a year ago they stopped co-sleeping. DP's ex refused to let him have her overnight up until last November when she needed him for childcare. Her reasoning was that she'd "miss DSD too much" (fair enough but how does she think DP feels) and I won't even go into what else she said as it makes me cringe. Despite countless arguments about it between them she only let him have her overnight last November. And no, I'm not just taking DP's word for it. Sadly I got dragged into various arguments when his ex was over ours and she tried getting me to support her despite my best efforts to try and stay out of it / stay neutral.
So I've no idea how she was last easter. She was okay in the day but one day every weekend and one evening per week is nothing to go off really is it.
So thinking about it actually it was only really January they stopped cosleeping. Hey ho, here we are again.
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