Severe behavior in my 3-year-old! Help!

luvcheJanuary 4, 2008

I am a mother of a 3 year old. He is very bright, assertive. Because of his big size he has always been treated bigger (even had to be in the 3 year old room at day care since age 1 because he is too big and rough for the little ones...he tries to be gentle, but just is not aware of his size)

Anyway, I split up with my husband who was becoming very mentally and emotionally abusive and it was slowly progressing to physical. He broke into the house a month later, severly hurting me. Because of this my child was taken by CPS.

I am about to get him back. During his all day visits with me, he is well behaved. I do notice some problems with not listening and running off in stores. But this is to be expected. The more visits we have and the longer they last, the more he listens to me. However,his behavior at his foster mother's has become out of control. It was already bad, and it would go from good periods to bad periods. Which (the counselor says) is also to be expected. Now it is increasingly worse. This is a great woman and I was lucky to get a foster mom of her patience and kindness. I feel so bad. I know when i get him back fully in a month, he will likely start these behaviors at home. They include:(at her house and daycare) running off, tantrums, taking his clothes off (at day care), hitting, biting. he undid his seatblet on the highway and climbed into the front seat forcing the foster mom to get quickly to the shoulder. Now at night he wont go to sleep...and because he knows it makes his foster mom mad will then wake up his 18-month-old foster brother on purpose when he gets in trouble at night. His counselor says it seems he is very smart and knows that the worse the behavior, the bigger the reaction he gets...and that he seems to be entertained by getting a reaction out of people. I know some things can be ignored...but others can not because they are just too inappropriate or dangerous.

I was told 1-2-3 Magic was working well for him.But I don't know where it was being used. This was just something I heard the case worker tell the counselor when we started with this new other details about who told her that. I don't think his foster mom is using it at its fullest. She is very stressed.

How should I prepare for what is to come? Has anyone tried subliminal message CD's at night? I have seen one advertised for children's behavior. Anyone know of any good videos aimed at his age group that he can watch that teaches about misbehaving? I can't seem to find anything. What about any diets and exercise programs? I am trying to find things to supplement the counseling and discipline programs.

I know it will take a lot of work and patience. But I know no one else in my situation. Even the counselor is looking for new ideas. he is about to start getting individual counseling.

I don't need any lecture on what he has been through and this is expected and ask my counselor. I am a health care professional and am also working closely with his foster mom and counselor. I just need some other suggestions and stories about things that may have worked for anyone with toddlers that had severe behavior problems!

Any other moms out there raising a young child alone who at one point saw their father daily and loved him...and now will never see him again? Mine will not ever see his dad again. He is losing his parental rights and I have also changed my address, phone number, vehicle, and job as well as won a VPO against him for me and my child. I know one day the questions will start. I don't want to get rid of and hide all pictures of him. Some I have because they are good pictures with my son in them. I don't believe in cutting people out of photos. So I know he will see them.

Sorry so long, but I am trying to be prepared to have a normal, happy life for me and my son after an abnormal and un-happy situation!

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Maybe this is overly simplistic, but if he seems to enjoy the attention he gets when he misbehaves, perhaps he is misbehaving to get more attention. It's a classic, common problem for young children, and while you sound very pleased (and indeed, fortunate) to have an experienced and capable foster mom for your son, she may not be giving him quite the same level of attention he would get from you. Honestly, that would be a lot to expect...

The programs you are asking about seem to be "fix him" type programs. "Just play the tape while he's asleep and it'll all get better." or "Have him watch the video about how to be good." Yeah - right. I'd expect that only a very 'hands-on' program with a high degree of parental involvement would be really effective pretty quickly. On the bright side though, getting him back seems like a good and natural time to start implementing an effective program.

1-2-3 Magic is a great program. There's a video you can watch about implementing it that is 100% worth your time to see. Don't let anyone convince you that a 'quickie verbal 'how-to' is all you need. There are pieces of the system, such as being sure you have his attention, maintaining eye contact, tone of voice, making it 100% clear that you expect compliance and waiting until you get it -- SO many things that the video illustrates and explains that a 'here's how it works' talk will miss. So get your hands on that video.

'Natural Consequences' is a discipline philosophy that may or may not have it's own 'program video', but it's very effective with strong-willed children. The whole idea is that misbehavior causes bad things to happen, and that the bad things are a direct result of the bad behavior. Touch a hot stove - you burn your finger. So for the car-seat incident, a good natural consequence would be that the trip (if it's a fun one) immediately gets cancelled. "We can't go if you can't stay buckled in your car seat - sorry." Or if it's not a fun trip, stop now, but go again later, cancelling another fun activity because you have to run that errand. Or sit by the side of the road until he buckles up (however long it takes), then sadly have to miss a fun activity because of the time wasted sitting at the side of the road. You get the idea -- The bad behavior causes an unpleasant consequence.

The flip side of this strategy is positioning a positive for right after an unpleasant chore. "We'll have our snack right after we pick up these toys."

Another strategy that might work is called 'social stories' -- It's used mainly for autistic children to teach them appropriate social interractions and what to expect in situations that might cause anxiety, but basically, they're stories that explain in explicit and concrete terms how certain situations work and what the 'good' or 'appropriate' behavior for that situation is. For example, a trip to the dentist might include getting into the car seat and staying buckled, waiting patiently in the waiting room and playing quietly until it's our turn, sitting calmly in the chair and opening his mouth when the dentist asks and not biting the dentist! It would explain that the dentist uses a lot of funny-looking tools that sometimes make loud or strange sounds, and that the sounds, while strange, won't hurt, and that these tools are used to keep his teeth healthy and strong. Again - the basic idea is to explain about the situation, in advance, in enough detail to remove the anxiety-provoking 'unknown' and give the child a model of behavior to follow. It's amazing how effective these stories can be.

And last but certainly not least -- One of my favorites is to catch him being good and offer explicit praise. "That was really nice when you shared your truck with Johnny!" or "You did a great job brushing your teeth tonight - thank you!" Praise and success are the best kinds of attention there is --

Best of luck to you --

    Bookmark   January 4, 2008 at 2:53PM
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I agree with Sweeby regarding the negative attention is better than none.

I don't know if it's a coincidence, but my son was also big for his age. When he was two, he looked four. and my step daughter is big for her age, she looked 7 when she was 5. They are both more physically aggressive than my other two children that were average for their ages. I've always thought my son acted out because he might have felt more pressure (expectations) because of his size. He has always been treated like he was older, while the others were babied more when they were small. (Just a thought)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 11:44PM
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Sweeby offered great ideas.

I suggest that you try to remember that extreme circumstances create extreme solutions. HE has been through an extreme situation and he might be acting extreme to try to regain control over a chaotic life.

I am old-fashioned enough to believe in the power of motherly love. That is: your little boy has been through the mill, and even though you might feel good about his foster mom's efforts, it is YOU he needs and wants. Not just for visits, but hands-on, day and night. He is starving for normalcy and for you and needs to know what and who he can count on.

I suggest that you make it your first priority not to "fix" him but to lavish your attention on him in heavy doses for the first months you are reunited under one roof. I would take a tone of "celebrate that we're together again" rather than "what is WRONG with this child?" He really needs some encouragement that everything will be okay.

Is it possible for you to make this your first priority and get a leave of absence from your job (even one week would be awesome)? Spending time with him, taking fun day trips with his needs in mind, finding new a schedule and routine for your newly-formed littler family will work wonders with him.

My heart goes out to you, but you and your little son can heal each other. Best of luck.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 11:44AM
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Yeah, I think you're over thinking this. I'm not sure what all these learning programs/123 things are, but I doubt they're going to help much except maybe make you spend more time with/on him. Each kid is so individualized that no program is going to work for everyone. And what you're child has gone through is very unique.

He was pulled away from his family unit as he knew it and his whole life was torn apart. Of course he is going to be acting up, etc. No need to play games, find programs, or try to trick, teach or train him to act a certain way, IMHO.

Just be there for him and be the mom he needs. Pay some extra attention to him. I find kids act up when they are being ignored (put in front of the tv too long, etc). He probably feels abandoned by you and doesn't understand it. He needs to feel your love; lay in bed with him at night and talk; tell him how special he is and how much you love him. Give him tons of kisses. And, very important, let him know that you will still love him even though he does act up. Sometimes kids, like adults, just need to have good cries -- his may not be controlled as well, but let him have them; he's been through a lot. Training him like a dog to behave a certain way probably won't solve the root of his problem. Make him feel secure and loved no matter what and the rest should hopefully follow.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 6:45PM
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Wonderful advice from all.

Your child has had a pretty traumatic time, I am sure he will settle down when he is back with you and has some stability. He doesn't have the words to express what he is feeling, so he is acting it out.

But remember children are very resilient, so with your loving, guiding hand he will bounce back.

All the best to you.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 3:47AM
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I agree. I do hope if you can get him back things will be better for both you and your son. CPS is lame in that it lets to many serious cases go through the loops( worlds fattest kid got to stay with mom for example, she couldn't even walk,and has skin deformities from so much weight).

The world simply doesn't need any more people, esspicaly tramatized foster kids.

The cold cruel thing is- most of those places do it for the money, not because they love the kid, I know most group homes are like that, and foster care is like this i assume.

You love the kid, they are a biz, I assume its (the awful behavior) due to stress and trama, children like this should be sacure not heavily punished, though if its bad behavior its important to make them see that bad isn't good, punishment may be needed if it keeps up.

Prehaps have visits with him, and explan that mommy is busy and is becoming 'all better' Perhaps use the example of a lion mother in a story thats breaks her jaw while out hunting and her cubs are cared for by another lioness until lion mother gets better ( this does happen in nature btw- though broken jaws probably 'don't get better')

DO NOT buy the actual nature video of this as its very survival/predator based and could give child nightmares- the last thing you want to do. I was using it as an childish example!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 11:46AM
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