Dear Dr. Yael:
Our four-year-old daughter is driving my husband and me crazy. She is a whiner, complains often and seems to need a lot of attention. She is also very active, has difficulty sitting still, and seems to be more difficult at home than in school or among outsiders.
Her teachers think she is a little tough to handle, but that she is bright. But when she is with us, she has problems sharing and rejects most of what we ask of her. She simply does not listen to us. Additionally, our daughter gets easily upset, has frequent tantrums, and has a hard time adapting to anything new.
Her behavior is beginning to affect our shalom bayis, as my husband and I argue about how to handle her. The stress she causes us often makes us more edgy.
Our adorable two-year-old son, on the other hand, has a very lovable, easygoing personality.
We had our daughter tested for ADHD, but were told that she is not on that spectrum. Should we send her for therapy or should we go for therapy? Do you suggest child therapy for our daughter at such a young age?
Dear Going Crazy:
As a professional psychotherapist who counsels parents and runs parent workshops, I must urge you strongly to seek professional help to assess the situation more carefully. Every situation is different, but I generally prefer that parents attend therapy for themselves before taking a young child. Effective parenting will most often be enough to handle most child/parent relationship situations.
If your child is articulate, however, it may be helpful to go to a child psychologist who specializes in parenting and child therapy. This would kill two birds with one stone.
It appears that your child is in “the difficult child” category. Dr. Stanley Turecki, in his book, The Difficult Child, relates that a difficult child has one of these issues: a high activity level (restlessness, fidgetiness, and out-of-control impulsiveness); high distractibility (difficulty maintaining focus); high intensity (loudness and forcefulness); irregularity (unpredictability); negative persistence (stubbornness and prone to tantrums) and low sensory threshold (physical sensitivity to color, light, sound, taste, smell or temperature). Some “difficult children” have initial withdrawal (shyness and a reserved attitude toward new people and in new situations); poor adaptability (trouble adjusting to change in routine or activity) and a negative mood (crankiness). The extent of a child’s difficulties can be assessed by the amount and intensity of these temperaments.
Based on the information you’ve supplied, I would suggest the following tips, although I urge you to seek formal professional help. (The following ideas on how to deal with difficult children are taken from Dr. Turecki’s expertise in this field, along with my perspectives. Professional counseling will help you put these ideas into action.)
1) Can you handle the problem effectively as it arises? This will be determined after examining your feelings and mood. If you conclude that you are unable to deal rationally with your daughter when she’s acting out, give yourself a timeout. Explain to her that you’re upset and need this time to regain your composure.
2) Become a parent/leader. Try as best you can to become as neutral a participant as possible during the challenging times. Make a concerted effort to remove your feelings from the situation. Don’t feel as if your daughter is purposely trying to hurt you. By changing your outlook on the situation, you will become calmer and better able to handle the circumstances.
3) “Frame” your child’s behavior by analyzing her overall actions. Keep a log of how and when she makes it unbearable for you to handle her. This will help you establish patterns of behavior, and hopefully determine what is behind her actions. Remember that children usually have a reason for acting the way they do; perhaps your daughter acts out due to over-stimulation. Maybe she’s hungry or tired – or knows that she will eventually get her way. If she’s hungry or tired no parent strategies will calm her, except by taking care of her needs.