Tuesday 6 December 2016

Family life: How can I help my five-year-old daughter?

David Coleman answers your personal questions

Published 28/03/2011 | 05:00

The biggest problem is that she is causing disruption in school; she scribbles on her workbooks and books, she does not pay attention to the teacher, sometimes she goes at other kids' things and drops them on ground, she kicks her own or their chairs.

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She seems to have really poor concentration. The teacher now puts her in a corner to "calm down" for up to one hour until she finishes what she is doing with the rest of the class. Away from school it is similar. For example, if we are out shopping, she runs and races around the aisles or will start picking clothes or books off the shelves and then drop them on the floor. She is an only child, and she won't go out to play. Then, in the house, she will not play on her own and always needs me or her dad. When I talk to people she starts talking across us. If she does not get her own way she throws something on the ground, and if I make her pick it up she puts on a pretend crying or wailing and will keep it up for ages, getting louder and louder until she does get what she wants. This situation is putting a huge strain on our relationship as well as I feel I am the only one doing my best. I did not have any experience of children before her so it is a steep learning curve for me as well. How can I get things back on track with her?

It can often be difficult when you have an only child for them not to develop a sense of being "all-important". It is easy for them to be spoiled by all the attention they receive. This can easily happen because they get so much focus from their own parents and, generally, any visitors to the house.

Clearly this is not a healthy situation for a child to be in. Young children, especially, need to have the world structured for them rather than to have all the power to structure their own world. If they have too much control, they can actually get quite anxious and this anxiety, in turn, can be expressed as "bad" behaviour.

This may be one of the factors that underlies your daughter's behaviour.

It might also be that she has a natural predisposition to having poor attention and concentration. Indeed, it could even be that she suffers from something like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a developmental delay of some kind.

The fact that impulsiveness and inattentiveness are visible both at home and in school would fit with a diagnosis of ADHD. However, she's quite young to be making such a diagnosis and it may not be in her best interests to be so labelled so young.

I think it might be in your, and your daughter's, interests to bring her for a psychological assessment. This would, proactively, allow you to gather valuable information about your daughter's needs and should give you and her teacher some direction for how to intervene with her.

For example, a positive reward programme for good behaviour in school might be more effective in reminding her of how to stay on-task and be less disruptive. So rather than punishing any misbehaviour by sending her to a "calm corner," it might be better to focus on what she does well and try to build on this.

I can imagine, that if she continues to be unsettled, distractable and distracting in school that her teacher or principal will probably suggest to you that you get an educational assessment of her carried out anyway.

Irrespective of the outcome of any such assessment you and her dad still have to manage her and live with her. This means that you need to be proactive in responding to her behaviour, including the whining and dependency on you that you mentioned.

It is really important that you, and her dad, show her consistently that you are in charge and that you will make the decisions. So, while you can show that you can be understanding of her, you must also show that you mean business when it comes to decisions.

For example, if you tell her to tidy up her toys, you say it first then bring her to the messy toys and help her to tidy. That way, you are there to make sure she does do some tidying and you can praise her efforts. You can also have a bit of fun with her while tidying which will meet her need for some of your time and attention.

Unfortunately, you will have to try and ignore some of her attention-seeking behaviour like the whining and the wailing. The key with planning to ignore, like this, is to be really aware of when the crying stops so that you can immediately notice her and give a lot of attention for being quieter and more appropriate in her behaviour. Five year olds quickly learn that they get more attention for being good and calm and so it can very powerfully lessen their tantrums.

You will probably notice after a while that, paradoxically, the more attention you can give her at calm, quiet times when she is well-behaved the less she will come looking for attention in negative ways.

If you do find that you struggle to know what to do with her then consider some parenting books, like my own "Parenting is Child's Play". Alternatively, you might like to do a parenting course, with her dad. Parenting courses can be great for giving you ideas, strategies and support in dealing with a range of issues that children present us with.

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