Low tide

All this time, the one thing I’ve tried to avoid doing was turning around the lock on The Big Sis’ door. I have many reasons for this, one being that my parents did this to me when I was a kid, and I have very bad memories of being locked in my room, usually after being spanked. (And let me make this clear here: I refuse to spank my children. It never taught me a thing — I still committed the spank-worthy offenses — and it only served to mangle the trust I had in my parents. I will not do that to my kids.) Anyway, I’ve come close to having The Husband turn around the lock on her door, but we’ve never had to do it.

Until Saturday night. 😦

I’m really at the end of my rope with all of this misbehavior. She completely shuts down when she’s having an anger episode, saying, “NO!” every 5 seconds if she says anything at all, all while hitting, kicking, and/or screaming. She needs to be isolated to calm herself down, but she does not stay in her room — or in any spot. (Kids who STAY in a timeout spot? Sorry, does not compute.)

So on Saturday, we had some trigger that was so insignificant that I can’t even REMEMBER it right now, which led to us telling her to go to her room so she could calm down. Repeatedly. When she refused and hit us, we’d take something from her room (Barbies, CDs, etc.) and take it to the outside trash. An hour later, we were STILL accumulating stuff in the garbage when she would intentionally walk over and hit us. We had no choice. We had to turn around the lock on the door and lock her in her room, not as punishment but to have her in a safe place where she could calm down, as our presence agitates her even more. I cried then about doing it, and I’m choking up right now just thinking about the fact that it came to this.

In case you couldn’t tell, I have no idea what to do anymore — and we are still more than a month away from our therapist appointment.

So that night, she cried and screamed and kicked the door while locked in her room for probably 15 or 20 minutes (felt longer) and finally I heard quiet in there. I knew not to go in immediately, as she’ll relapse if I do that too soon, but after another little bit of time passed, I finally went in there with a peace offering of Goldfish (we’d also had to throw away her dinner at one point because she said she was going to eat but refused to sit up in her chair like we asked repeatedly). She was receptive to me coming in and we briefly discussed the incident (and did more thoroughly later, when she wasn’t so emotionally charged about it) and then proceeded with bedtime as usual. Jekyll and Hyde. One minute she’s fine, another minute she’s not, and then it’s like nothing happened and all is right with the world.

The more I think about it and the more I read, the more I think she has oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) in conjunction with ADHD. And yes, I’m hesitant to put a label on such things, especially at her age, and labels can be self-fulfilling prophesies and affect how people perceive you before they know anything else about you, blah blah blah. But at the same time it’s also helpful to know that such disorders DO exist and our kid isn’t a complete anomaly. It’s like I can either struggle to breathe on my own and attempt to find a solution that may or may not work, or I can be diagnosed with asthma and move forward with appropriate, helpful treatments because we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

The DSM defines ODD as:

A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:

(1) often loses temper
(2) often argues with adults
(3) often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules
(4) often deliberately annoys people
(5) often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
(6) is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
(7) is often angry and resentful
(8) is often spiteful or vindictive
Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.

So let’s go through this briefly.

1. Yes, she loses her temper frequently, often over something minor and out of proportion to what would be appropriate for the situation.

2. Yes, she very often argues with adults, both her parents and her teachers, as well as close friends of ours if they are in a position of authority over her.

3. Yes, she actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules. Very frequently.

4. Yes, I think she deliberately annoys people, but I’m really not sure how much of it she’s aware of — she probably doesn’t fully realize she’s annoying them, though clearly their negative reactions do nothing to dissuade her from the actions and she continues.

5. Yes, many times she blames others for her mistakes or misbehavior, often claiming that a friend hit her — when actually it was The Big Sis who hit her friend in the first place. She very often plays the victim when she was indeed the instigator.

6. Yes, she is often touchy or easily annoyed by others. Her fuse is very short, and we have difficulty talking with her after the fact about her misbehavior. Even if she’s in a great mood, it can turn around quickly if we bring something up (though inevitably we have to, so it’s not something we can completely avoid). I’ve even had times where I’ll try to praise good behavior and tell her why that was a good choice to make, and she’s so touchy that it can make her launch into a bad mood and misbehavior instantly — when I was trying to praise her for doing something good!!! It’s a constant battle and I have to walk on eggshells around her most of the time because I never know when she’ll turn.

7. Yes, I think she is often angry and resentful. And she doesn’t know how to deal with it all all.

8. No, I don’t think she’s very spiteful or vindictive, at least at this time.

And yes, I think these behaviors happen a great deal more than what’s appropriate for the age, and we’ve seen them happen since she was about 3, though it’s certainly escalating in severity more recently. So yeah, we need four of those conditions to be true, and she meets six for sure, and very likely seven of the eight.

Okay, so let’s pretend this IS what we’re looking at. How do we deal with it? That’s the big question. Diagnosis or no diagnosis, that’s what I need to know the most: WHAT DO WE DO??? Dr. Google basically says that it comes down to behavior therapy — and that sometimes even that doesn’t work and it leads to conduct disorder. I’ll try not to think about that, because it’s too overwhelming. She’s not a bad kid. She needs to learn how to deal with her emotions and her anger in a socially appropriate way. I’ve checked out a book from the library that can hopefully give me some guidance.

My big hope right now, as we wait for our therapist appointment on May 1, is that she doesn’t get kicked out of preschool. I’m terrified of that, as I really don’t know what our alternative would be. “Hi, my kid was kicked out of school, but would you be willing to watch her?”

And to add to that fear, this morning I got a phone call from the daycare director, saying she’d like to talk with me after I feed The Little Sis today. Is this it? Is this where she’s reached the end of her second chances and we’re asked to please take our child elsewhere? Stay tuned.

**********

Well, I had about an hour-long meeting with the director this afternoon. The good news: We are not kicked out (for now?), but she really wants to get the aggression under control (as do we!). The bad news: The Big Sis does this head-butt thing that ends in a hug with her teacher, and apparently she did it too many times yesterday and it sent the teacher to the ER. Lovely, just lovely. She said other parents are noticing her constant misbehavior and saying something to the director and not wanting their kids to be near The Big Sis.

We talked a lot about what we’re dealing with at home in regard to this behavior — triggers, consequences, etc. — and tried to talk through some ideas on how to deal with it primarily at school but also at home. I’m not really sure we got much further than we were before, as we’ve already tried a lot of the things she mentioned, but I did like her idea of a subdivided behavior chart. Right now she gets a stone for the day if she has an overall good day, but one big incident can take that away from her (after a couple of warnings) and she doesn’t get that day’s stone even if she redeems her behavior later, which stinks because we really need to reinforce that kind of thing (redeeming her behavior) with something beyond just words. So she suggested a behavior chart that breaks down the day: getting ready for school, morning, lunch/nap, afternoon, going home, dinner, bedtime. The Husband suggested maybe something like a little passport book that she receives stamps in, then if she gets enough stamps for the day (still to be determined what “enough” means), then she earns her stone from us, and if she does not get enough stamps for the day, then she will have a consequence to be determined. Something like taking away a favorite toy for a timeout period that’s long enough to make her think twice about her behavior but not so long that she doesn’t even bother to earn it back. Anyway, hopefully dividing the day will help set her up for success and will lead to more success. Positive reinforcement is key with these children, so we need to do that even more than we already are (which I feel like is a lot in the first place).

In addition, it’s probably time that we very clearly write and post our family’s rules; perhaps it’s too vague to her right now and having something to point to will help. (I’m willing to try most anything at this point, as long as there’s a chance it’s going to curb the poor behavior.) My brother-in-law, a sleep and respiratory tech, also suggested that untreated sleep apnea can be a cause of misbehavior in children and it’s something he sees quite often. I’ve also had suggested sensitivities to sugar and food dye.

I really don’t know what the answer is, but I’m certainly in a very frustrated spot. The preschool director, while very concerned, was also trying to be encouraging and saying that hopefully it’s just a phase and she’ll come out of it soon, and I hope she’s right, but so far I just see it getting worse. The director said she pulled The Big Sis out of class today when she was NOT having an episode just to talk to her when she’s more rational. She told her that her head-butting made her teacher hurt and have to go to the hospital, and the director said she seemed very appropriately remorseful by that. She told her that she’d be talking to me today and that we needed to figure out a way to stop the hitting and kicking so she can keep going to school and seeing her friends. The Big Sis and I had a good talk tonight where I feel like she really listened. We talked about the fact that we have to figure out a way to stop her hitting and kicking so they don’t ask us to leave school, and we started talking about all the things she’d greatly miss if we weren’t allowed to go to school anymore. She came up with a good list, and I added several more items. The key will be to get her to remember this stuff in the heat of the moment — for her to stop and THINK (which is why we’ve always taught her to walk away when she feels overwhelmed) before acting. It won’t happen overnight, but I really hope it happens soon.

I feel pretty beat down at the moment and hope we find the solutions we need — and as soon as possible. I know I shouldn’t care what others think, but it’s so hard to know there are other parents in the classroom who probably think, “Why can’t they just control their child?” They don’t understand, and they never will if they think it’s just that simple for some kids.

Believe me, I wish it were.

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9 Responses to Low tide

  1. Serenity says:

    Aw, D. Sounds like things are really coming to a head right now. And a month is a long time to wait for a consult when it’s so bad right now.

    And yes, I fully agree – it really is less about a diagnosis and more about the fact that she needs coping tools to handle her anger and emotions in acceptable ways. And man, I really hope that between all your research, discussions with her teachers AND her, and all the work you’re doing, you see some changes soon. I really DO hope that this is low tide and you hit on (no pun intended) strategies that really resonate with The Big Sis.

    The one thing that strikes me, too, which I want to mention to you – I really love how balanced your view is of her issues and who she is, right now. I shared some similarities to The Big Sis a kid, and got labeled as the “bad kid” by my parents. I often feel like if they had approached me the way you do, by telling me “we need to figure out how to help you through this,” it would have been a more helpful approach. I really like how you are still looking at her good qualities too.

    Hugs.

    xoxo

  2. Shelly says:

    Chris sent me your blog link. We have had similar issues with Jake recently. Just before he turned 3 he was suspended for a day at his daycare. We didn’t understand what they meant that he was hitting and kicking other kids. Don’t all kids do that? We didn’t get this behavior at home so as parents we felt the daycare was punishing us for his behavior, so we took him out and put him into another daycare.

    He lasted 4 weeks at the new place before they called and told us about his hitting, kicking, etc… They monitored it for a week and said in that week he attacked 14 different children ages 2.5 – 4 yo. What?!? Four parents called the daycare about the attacks on their children. We had 2 weeks to find alternate care.

    We took him to his pediatrician and to the school district for their 3 yo development assessment. They all told me he is Stong Willed. I did find an in-home care and I was forthcoming with the hitting and she was still willing to take him in. It’s been about 3 weeks and he loves it there and she has only had 1 incident with him and another boy who is similar with his behavior. I just hope the behavior doesn’t come back when its time for 4K. We are currently having meltdowns over nothing as well. I just try and make him laugh about something silly or find another activity for him.

    Our pediatrician recommended The Stong-Willed Child by James Dobson. I had to return it to the library before I really read it, but I got the idea. I also found a book for kids called Hands Are Not For Hitting by Martine Agassi. This is the only book I could find geared for kids when they are the bully. Amazon.com has this one and others called Feet Are Not For Kicking, Teeth Are Not For Biting, When I Feel Angry, Cool Down And Work Through Anger, etc… I only read the first one about hitting, but they all look similar.

    I hope this helps and lets you know you are not alone. ~ Shelly

  3. Jodi says:

    I’m a long time reader, although I don’t know if I’ve ever commented…

    Have you considered a Natropathic doctor? I know most of these doctors are out of pocket and not covered by insurance, but it could be worth checking out. Our son had some behavior problems, and we found out he had an allergy to fluoride. It just sent him squirrelly! Because they test for deficiencies as well as sensitivities, you could end up being able to control the outbursts with diet or supplements.

    This is also something you could maybe do sooner than May. It would definitely give you another perspective.

    • Hrm, this isn’t something I’d considered before, but I’m intrigued by the website of someone I found that does work with children. The cost kind of takes my breath away, so we’ll have to check with insurance (not holding my breath there for this) and talk about how to proceed. Thanks for the suggestion! If only some medical decisions didn’t have to be based on money, huh?

  4. Kara (yellownorange2) says:

    I read this a few days ago, but I wanted to come back and leave a comment. I am so sorry that your family is going through this. I cannot imagine how stressful it is. It sounds like you have a great relationship with her school, and I hope you can all work together to manage this behavior. I admire your commitment to trying to do what is best for the Big Sis. I have no advice; just want to say that you are doing a great job and both of your daughters are so lucky to have you.

  5. Jessica says:

    I am catching up on reading blog posts tonight and just saw this post. I am very sorry you and the Big Sis are struggling with this. I can’t imagine how frustrating this is for you (and for the Big Sis), but I give you a ton of credit for the perseverance you are showing in dealing with this challenge. I hope things only get better from here.

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