Website for parent struggling with very difficult 8 yr old

ginjjMarch 14, 2009

As I so often do, I'm checking in with my friends at GardenWeb seeking advice.

I have a co-worker who needs help. She is married and has two children 8 and 5. Her 8 year old daughter is suffering from a yet to be determined, psychological/behavioral problem. At first the docs said it was "Difficult Child Syndrome," and now they say possibly bi-polar. She has been to a psychiatrist or two and tried different meds. Life has not improved. I guess this has been going on most of her life. Much too often mom comes home to see she has gotten into her makeup and spread it all over the bathroom, she tells her little brother she hates him, she calls the police to report her parents abused her (which they absolutely do not,) etc.

I am a great believer in support groups and they are going to try one this week. With our wonderful internet, she has a choice of many online support groups that she can talk with every day. I am trying to find a good one or two to pass on to her. I am wondering if any of you have found sites that you like.

Thanks so much!


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Who is watching this child at home after school, she's much too young (and it's illegal) to be at home alone/home watching her younger brother. If she's unsupervised, then I'd say it's the parents who need help, not the child. And if she's supervised, then what is that person doing - sleeping?

Those behaviors don't seem out of line for an eight year old. It sounds like this girl needs some love and attention from her parents, not from a psychiatrist. It's too easy for parents to say it's the child's problem, and send them off so other people can "fix" the child. It's much harder for parents to say "I'm sorry, I've screwed up", learn good parenting skills and make things right themselves.

Children aren't born perfect, it takes parents loving and teaching them, for years and years, for them to become reasonably happy and well-adjusted young people.

These parents need some serious help learning how to be effective parents. If they don't get their act together, they'll lose this girl, and probably her brother, not only to Child Protective Services, but as productive members of society.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 9:01AM
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I have the same question as momj47. Are these kids home alone? If not, who is watching them and allowing the daughter to do this?

If they're home alone, that IS considered abuse because these two children are too young to be left alone. They are not old enough to deal with many situations that might arise while alone with no adults around. And equally as important, the message to the children from the parents is that they are not important enough to be taken care of properly.

If someone is watching them, that person is clearly not doing a reasonable job of it. If these kids have the time and lack of supervision to wreak this kind of havoc, they are not getting the attention they need.

Either way, I can see plenty of reason for this girl to act out as she is doing. Is there more to this story that you can tell us to clarify?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 11:18AM
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an excellent website for emotionally disturbed children is (note the 's' at the end of conductdisorders).

It's for parents whose kids have mental illnesses, conduct disorders, oppositional defiant disorders, severe forms of adhd, attachment disorder etc...

And yes, it's almost universal when kids are out of control or having huge problems to blame the parents. It's very simplistic to say these problems are caused by her being left alone to babysit when the original poster didn't even say that was happening.

And yes, it is very unusual and a big red flag of emotional illness for an EIGHT YEAR OLD to call the police and falsely report the parents for abuse. We are talking usually about a second grader. It is behavior that is very much out of line for normal kids...and ironically for abused kids as well. (Pre-teen abused kids actually report less abuse than non-abused kids. Non abused kids will on occasion report abuse because they misunderstand what abuse is: it's not being restricted from video games. But it's extremely rare for any kid to report abuse before 10 or 11.)

It's also extremely, extremely rare for an 8 year old to be diagnosed with bi polar--it generally does not show up until puberty, and many mental health experts, not all, believe it is IMPOSSIBLE for a child to have bi polar. So that this child is diagnosed as possibly bipolar is disquietening.

The website I mentioned has a section of very young children with severe conduct problems. Emergent personality disorders and severe mental illness will make itself known quite early sometimes.

The website is sponsored by the pediatric psychiatrist who wrote The Explosive Child.

Unhappily not a lot can be done about these problems. But a forum can be a wonderful support for beleagured parents who have to deal with the child, are anxious to help a child no one else seems to be able to help, endure being criticized by people who really don't know what's going on, and who just want to meet other people in the same boat.

I have a cousin with a child like that, but the stories on that website are so agonizing it's hard to spend much time there. My cousin however swears by that website and take comfort in it.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 1:32PM
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And yes, it's almost universal when kids are out of control or having huge problems to blame the parents. It's very simplistic to say these problems are caused by her being left alone to babysit when the original poster didn't even say that was happening

Ok, so I'll grant you that she didn't say that. But the sentence I can't get past is this:
Much too often mom comes home to see she has gotten into her makeup and spread it all over the bathroom.

So I can see this happening once or a couple of times, even while the daughter is being supervised. However, it seems like after a couple of times of this happening, whoever was watching her, whether it's Mom, friend/relative, or paid babysiter, that person would be on the alert to keep a close eye on the child, AND would be interested in keeping the girl occupied with constructive activities.

So, exactly who IS watching the girl? Why is she able to do this kind of behavior "Much too often"?

No, the OP didn't say she's being left alone, but the fact that this behavior is apparently being repeated often makes it sound like she's not getting properly supervised. I'm just looking for an answer to that specific question.

Yes, the child might have some kind of disorder. But before we jump to a medical solution, wouldn't it be better to find out if conditions at home are somehow contributing? I just can't get over the fact that the child is able to repeat a bad behavior that doesn't get discovered till Mom gets home. Can the OP clarify this?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 3:01PM
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Thank you bucyn for the suggested website.

Sorry to have gotten the other two responders so upset.

It is easy to blame the parents, but there are many difficult children born every day in spite of the best parenting.

I am certain this girl is not left alone. Her mom works part time evenings and the dad has his own business. They have family nearby as well.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 6:09PM
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I have to agree that if a child has the opportunity to repeat the same bad behavior over and over, there is a lack of supervision.

I also agree that some kids require more supervision than others. When you have a kid like that, and you know, you have to work harder. It's not the parents' fault that the kids is more difficult. But the fact that he/she is more difficult requires more, and different, strategies from the parents.

I also agree this mother needs support in the form of other parents. She needs to get an idea of what behavior is within the range of normal, and what is not, and what other parents do to modify the behavior of their kids... normal and not so normal. I'm not sure online will be sufficient. There is nothing like having a good long chat with friends who are in the same place in life as you are.

It doesn't help to blame, or even to diagnose sometimes. Doesn't matter why or how the child came to be more difficult that others. What matters is creative strategies to modify the behavior, and coping strategies for the parents who get worn out dealing with it.

I have a 6 y/o DS who is difficult. He is the youngest of four, and I swear came into our family just b/c DH and I thought we had this parenting thing figured out and needed to be reminded we have a lot to learn. He is oppositional; he is defiant; he is difficult. I worry about it; I apologize for it; I even joke about it. But I do not deny it.

My 15 y/o expresses the 6 y/o's attitude perfectly with this line, "I reject your reality and substitute my own." He does not take authority or instruction well. He will argue with almost everything. He can also be cooperative and respectful... getting it from him just takes a lot more effort and creative thinking than the other kids required. He forces a person to think outside the box... way outside! He exhibits the emotions and behaviors of any other 6 y/o, just amplified. On steroids. With greater zeal and stamina. While some kids will test the boundaries, learn and give up, DS will test and test and test and test... systematically looking for a weak spot or to wear a person down. He tries to negotiate everything, even when it doesn't make any sense to negotiate, when it's not even in his advantage. He just has to debate everything! Not just with me, with everyone.

I read the description on that website for Oppositional Defiance Disorder. He fits it, although I'm not sure it interferes enough with school and life. It does sometimes, but not always. For example, third day of kindergarten he was removed from the school bus and I had to pick up him at school. The bus driver enforced a new rule that: kindergarteners sit together in the front, older grades sit with their grade going back the bus. My 6 y/o wanted to sit with his brother in 5th grade and refused to follow the rule or the driver's directions of where to sit. He argued with the driver, defied him, until an administrator was called to remove him from the bus. That day, it interfered with his life. He has not been back to the principal's office since. Now in first grade, about twice/month DS comes home with a comment in his agenda that he did not follow directions at some point that day. About 3 times this year he's had "silent lunch" (sitting at an isolated table) for not following directions. I believe his teacher to be fair, and I believe she likes him and does what is best for him. I've known her a few years and she's earned that from me.

(Ironically, the bus driver eventually asked me for suggestions on how to handle the kid when he gets that way, I said sit him with his brother and let his brother work with him. It works. His brother knows what to say to make him think about his choices. So he did, and it works. Go figure.)

I have had to learn (and teach DH and sometimes older siblings who watch him or work with him on some task). I know what will trigger inappropriate behavior. Stress, new situations, and frustration are all sure ways to bring it out. So that first week of kindergarten, something was bound to happen.

I explain it to DH like this. Think of how you feel, as an adult, when you are thrown into a new situation. It seems like everyone else around you is very competent and familiar with the tasks. You, though, have no idea what to do and even what questions to ask. That is how DS feels every day. He wants to get it right, but has no idea how, so he acts out to release the stress that causes. As the youngest in the family, it probably looks to him like everyone else knows what to do, and he's useless.

So I give him tasks and don't let the other kids step in and do it for him. He needs to feel competent and valued. I talk about what to expect from a situation, I have to remember that even though I've taught this lesson three times already, I haven't taught it to him. (I can forget that.)

My new phrase with him lately is "People don't like it when you act that way." Or variations on it, "People won't listen if you talk that way." If he starts debating for the sake of gaining control, being in control, I tell him that. So far it is actually helping. He stops and thinks about the way he is acting. He'll even rephrase what he wants to say in a better way, a way that others will listen to.

My next step is to make a behavior contract for him. I'm working it out in my head, then I'll put it on paper. I want to list behaviors that I expect from him: following directions the first time; doing homework in X amount of time (not dragging it out with complaints); following the rules in a game; obeying house rules like 20 mins computer time limit. I'll give points (0 to 3) based on how well he met the expectation. Never, sometimes, usually, always. And a reward (or lack of) based on the points each day/week.

There are kids who behave worse than DS. I mean, I can take him in public. Usually. ;o) He is just more difficult than the average kid. I don't like to send him to play at a friend's without me b/c I know he will sooner or later defy that adult. He does not obey without some compelling reason. "Because I'm the grown up" carries almost no weight with him.

Even with a compelling reason, he will try to negotiate. It's almost like a compulsion to oppose. He could tell me for 30 minutes he needs to use the bathroom when we're out. I finally find one, and send him, and he'll refuse, "I don't have to go now." Just b/c I told him to go. He'd stand there and pee his pants and deny that he has to go the whole time. He could be sweating til he's soaked and when someone says "It's hot," he'll insist it's cold. Dozens of times every day there is some debate like that. Now, I'm saying "People don't like it when you act that way."

He also knows that when I start counting down, I'm done hearing his arguments, I'm not listening. I give him a direction, he might refuse to follow, I start counting backwards starting with what I think is a reasonable time to comply. Just doing that triggers something in him, flips a switch almost, to shut off the opposition. In fact, especially in a public place or he's too far away for me to shout at him to hear me, I hold up my fingers and start counting down 10 to 0 that way.

He is mentally exhausting. He is a handful, I know it. I don't know what/if I "made" him that way. I don't do things knowingly to contribute to it. DH was home with him recently and had to leave to get other kids somewhere. DS refused to put on his shoes b/c they weren't the ones he wanted to wear, couldn't find what he wanted. DH called me on my cell phone saying DS was having a tantrum, refused to get up and out the door. I just said "How big is he? How big are you? Pick him up, put him and the shoes in the car, stop talking to him, and he'll get is act together before you arrive." He did. And the 15 y/o told me later, "Mom, that's what I told Dad to do!" LOL!

Sometimes this kid can just wear a person's mind down until you cannot think anymore. That is exactly what he is going for! So I push myself to resist, knowing it will get worse if I don't. I'm in charge, I act like it. The other kids just did not challenge it as much (at least so far). This one... ay yi yi! He spends more time challenging me about doing a task than the task takes when he finally just does it. I tell him plainly, "I'm not changing my mind. You will not win this." And I stick to it. I do b/c I know if I don't, there will be chaos and anarchy.

Sorry so long. I'm just want to say, a parent HAS to have other parents to talk to. To debrief, compare notes, vent, brainstorm... That's how you know if your child's behavior is something other have dealt with and how, or if you've got something extreme on your hands. I think my DS is still within the range of normal, but he's at the "difficult" end of the range.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 11:50PM
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"...I just can't get over the fact that the child is able to repeat a bad behavior that doesn't get discovered till Mom gets home..."

You'd be surprised with very strong willed ones. They might have nothing else to focus on except what they want. It takes such a short time just to slip a bit of make up into one's pocket, or to talk a friend into smuggling her some--and of course, she will have alone time in the bathroom. Perhaps she is watched every minute of the day, except when she's in the bathroom--which is why she repeatedly uses the bathroom, not the kitchen, not the bedroom, not the living room, to act out by smearing make up around. Just as an assumption can be made that she's not being adequately watched in the bathroom because she repeatedly smears make up there, an assumption can be made that because she smears it ONLY there, she is being watched everywhere outside the bathroom.

Maybe they should take away her bathroom privacy? That's a pretty strong measure and maybe not a psychologically sound one. Or frisk her everytime she's about to step into the bathroom? I don't know. I'd be very reluctant myself to invade someone's bathroom privacy.

And this child is making a statement. She's not playing with the make up, not exploring with it, she's smearing it around the bathroom. Kind of a hostile statement? And why would a child repeatedly make such a hostile statement? Either because she can't help herself because of some kind of mental or emotional illness, or because she's signalling distress.

THe child has gotten a tentative diagnoses of bipolar. So we know she's seeing mental and behavioral health professionals. The diagnoses suggests that the professionals have looked more closely into the details and specifics than we have, and they seem to think it's likely mental illness. You can't fix chemical inbalances with parenting techniques--altho parenting techniques can help the family and child live more comfortably with a disability.

For decades mothers of autistic children were blamed for their child's problem: they were called refrigerator mothers. Now of course we know that's rediculous. But there are/were hundreds of thousands of women who were incorrectly and callously blamed for problems they didn't cause and had no control over. Did that help anyone?

Of course we all know parents who make their kids lives miserable being too strict, too permissive, too distant. And those kids often act out. But when you get into severe behavioral issues, there's usually something more than parental ineptitude going on. Especially when the other children in the family are doing well.

I just want to caution against reflectively blaming parents. That's all.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2009 at 12:10PM
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You know, I never actually said I thought it was the parents' fault. I merely asked (several times) if the kids are being left alone and if not, who is doing the supervising. I used "IF": If they're home alone.

The OP didn't answer this and maybe doesn't know. She said:
I am certain this girl is not left alone. Her mom works part time evenings and the dad has his own business. They have family nearby as well.

This doesn't really answer the question and is more of an assumption on the OP's part.

I do agree that there are kids who are very strong willed, who need special supervision, etc. This might be one of those children. We simply don't have enough information to come to any conclusion. And in fact, the OP was simply looking for websites of support groups so my replies are not addressing her question anyway.

I withdraw my comments.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2009 at 4:41PM
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This is a website for struggling parents.

A good website or support group should not only provide support, but should challenge and offer suggestions. A good local support group should be more like group family therapy since no child exists in a vacuum. A whole family needs to learn strategies and coping skills, or the child just ends up being the family scapegoat, and that's something that should never happen to a child.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2009 at 10:53PM
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