Sunday 21 January 2018

My daughter (4) is pinching and slapping other children at creche, and being aggressive to the staff

Picture posed
Picture posed
David Coleman

David Coleman

MY FOUR-year-old daughter has been displaying aggressive and challenging behaviour for several years now. She began to show signs of aggression from a very young age, pinching and slapping from time to time.

Just when she turned two, her father and I separated which resulted in her attending a new crèche. The aggressive behaviour increased to hair pulling and more slapping. Currently my daughter lashes out at other kids, pulling hair or slapping on a daily basis, even several times a day. She can be aggressive toward the crèche staff also.

When she is not being aggressive or disobedient, she is very affectionate, loving, funny and full of innocent mischief. She attends the crèche five days per week from 8.30am - 4pm. A psychologist recently assessed her but I got no direction about what to do with her. I have tried time out, reward charts, talking & reasoning, ignoring etc, but nothing seems to be helping. Although the crèche staff have been beyond supportive, I now feel they are at the end of their tether with her and I am feeling pressure to remove her from the service, but this is impossible at the moment as I am a single mother and have to work.

I don't know what to do and I feel helpless.

David Coleman replies: I AM surprised you got no direction from the psychologist who assessed your daughter. The whole purpose of an assessment is to try to better understand why your daughter acts in the ways she acts, and to use that understanding to help her change her behaviour.

I think, therefore, your starting point is to make contact with the assessing psychologist to see what their opinion is about your daughter and what, concretely, you can do to help her stop acting aggressively.

Hopefully, a significant part of the assessment was an observation of your daughter in the crèche. That observation should have been focused on trying to establish any pattern to the aggression.

So, for example, does your daughter hit out at any consistent time of the day (as she is getting tired or hungry perhaps) or during any particular activity (perhaps she is bored or understimulated) or in the presence of any particular child or staff member (she may have particular personality clashes)?

It may be that different aspects of the environment are relevant to times that she acts aggressively.

For example, if the crèche is very warm or noisy, she may be more likely to hit out.

Similarly, it is helpful to know if there are any immediate triggers to the aggressive behaviour.

So, for example, does she always react to being told "no" or to another child assertively standing their ground in a disagreement about a toy? Does she react to someone touching her, like holding her hand or trying to guide her from one place to another?

Understanding these things that happen before she hits, especially if there is a clear or consistent pattern, may give you and the crèche ideas about things that you could change that might reduce the likelihood of her hitting out.

Then you also need to consider what is the response to the behaviour. How do the other children and adults react to her? What are the consequences for your daughter?

Some of those consequences may be intended, like some formof punishment, but some may be unintended.

Unintended consequences are often things like a child getting lots of attention for their behaviour, or being isolated and removed from situations that they actually had been finding stressful.

So, sometimes, children learn to misbehave because they want to get taken out of a room, or to spend time with one carer.

Again, as with the things that happen before she hits out, you also need to work out what are the things that happen after she hits that may also, unintentionally, be rewarding or reinforcing for her.

With all of this information, hopefully already gathered by the psychologist, you should be able to formulate a plan to deal better with the situations.

Some of the solution may be to change aspects of the environment, or the routine, or the social mix in the crèche, to reduce the stresses on your daughter.

Some of the solution may be to change the consequences for your daughter when she misbehaves.

Behind all of the behaviour, you might want to consider her general happiness with her situation and the stresses of your family life, bearing in mind things like your work and her separation from her dad.

I think you should go back to the psychologist, however, and seek some more information about the outcome of the assessment so that you can make a tailored plan for your daughter.


Our toddler is petrified of noises

MY TWO-and-a-half year old daughter is petrified of certain noises, mainly the lawnmower. It's become so bad, she won't go into the sitting room in case the grass is being cut. There is a green area in front of our house that is cut once a week. She spends all her time in the kitchen. And if we are going out of the house, she cries to be carried. Other than this, she is a very happy and bright little girl.

We have just had a new baby, born five weeks ago and, as you can imagine, we are extremely busy. We really don't know where to go with this issue and how we should be helping her? We have tried reassuring her and giving her lots of encouragement, but with no joy.

David Coleman replies: IT IS always a struggle for us when our children develop a fear of commonplace things. As you are discovering, daily tasks become much more awkward to achieve when we have to take account of children's anxieties.

Mind you, it is not unusual for two year olds to have fears. If you think about it from their perspective, so many things are novel and unexpected and it is easy for them to get a fright.

For small children her age, it is still, mostly, our job to help them regulate their fears by demonstrating a calm and relaxed demeanour ourselves, by being warm, soothing, understanding and reassuring.

If your daughter seems perturbed by loud noises, generally, it may be worth getting her hearing checked for any special sensitivities. One test that might be carried out is a Loudness Discomfort Level, to show if she finds certain decibel levels hard to tolerate.

Although I don't want to minimise her apparent fear of the noise of the lawnmower, I am interested that she cries to be carried when you are going out. The coincidence of this 'helplessness' on her part, with the arrival of her new sibling, may be her subconscious way of showing you that she too is little and needs to be minded.

Many toddlers develop immaturities of one kind or another when a new baby arrives. Whether it is needing to be fed again, or looking for a soother that they had moved on from, we do see that they act to get noticed.

It is rare those actions are thought through or planned. It is more like an instinctive thing for toddlers to ensure they don't get forgotten about in the busyness of the new baby's needs. So, you may find that your daughter's fears also fit in this category of "ways to be noticed when your parents are distracted".

Irrespective of whether your daughter actually got a fright with a lawnmower (maybe one powered up close to her, or came at her when she was out playing) or has come to see that she gets lots of notice when she acts scared, your response to her will be more or less the same.

In the first instance, you need to respond to her anxiety with empathy. That is to say, you must show her that you can understand that she seems so terrified of the lawnmower. Being understanding means being careful not to dismiss her fears, or try to argue with her that there is no reason for her to be frightened, and so on.

Even if you think her fear is irrational, you need to think about it from her perspective, not your own. Only after you acknowledge that she is scared can you try to offer reassurance that she is in no danger from the lawnmower.

It might help, for example, to leave your own lawnmower (turned off) in the garden while she passes by near it, or plays near it.

That may increase her familiarity with the machine. At the same time you can demonstrate how relaxed and safe you feel, while distracting her with some games or banter. Your relaxed and fun mood will be most important in helping her to regulate (and lower) her anxiety.

You could also plan some activities or games for her, to keep her relaxed and distracted while the other lawnmower is cutting the grass on the green. Having the experience of being relaxed while the machine is running is all part of regulating that anxiety. Then, at other times, when all is calm and well in the house, do also try to make some special time for her.

This may counteract any sense of displacement that she is feeling after her new sibling has arrived.

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