Thursday 14 December 2017

'I love my little girl but find it hard to like her'

Picture posed
Picture posed
David Coleman

David Coleman

David Coleman answers your parenting questions

Question: I have a gorgeous six-and-half-year-old girl and within the past month or so she has changed so much. She has to be in control of everything all of the time. It starts in the morning with the uniform – she has to get dressed herself and it takes her ages.

If I try to help, she'll remove the clothing I have attempted to put on her so that she can put it on again herself.

This results in her being late for school and me in bad humour! It's the same with everything. We have tried every approach: from being nicey, nicey to punishment – and nothing works. I'm ashamed to say that we do shout at her because we just can't help it; she's pushing all our buttons.

It's so upsetting and I'm quite worried that this might be the start of something more serious but praying it's just a phase.

It's such a huge strain on all the family.

I do love her to bits but I'm finding it so difficult to like her at times and have found myself saying things to her that I've regretted. Please help.

David says: I would be willing to guess that almost every parent has said something to their child, at some stage, that they later regretted. You are not alone in feeling guilty at getting things wrong with your children.

That said, it is always good to be learning from our mistakes, or things that we perceive to be mistakes. So, if you are not happy with how you talk to, or respond to, your daughter then you are right to be making efforts to change that.

It is quite likely that your daughter is just going through a phase where she wants to be a little bit more independent and autonomous.

You say that this only started about a month ago and so it may be just something she is experimenting with.

Alternatively, it may be that she is feeling the need to be a bit more in control of her life. This can sometimes be a reaction children have to being out of control in some other area of her life.

For example, could something have changed in her school, or at an after-school activity, or at home, that may have unsettled her? Either way, the key to helping her (and yourself) is to change your response to her.

Getting cross is definitely not helping.

Given that she is showing an increasing pattern of wanting to do things by herself, it may help you to plan more time for her to achieve things without your intervention.

It is great, for example, for a six-year-old to dress themselves. But as you are discovering, this takes more time than you typically have on school mornings.

So, get her up 10 minutes earlier to allow her time to dress herself. This will take pressure off her. It will also mean you don't have to stand over her, but can leave her to it and just come back and check on her. While you hover near her, you will probably be tempted to intervene.

When, or if, you do have to intervene, you need to be ready to do so calmly. So, where possible, try to have yourself and any other children you have, ready, so that you can afford to focus on your six year old.

Approach her, and the issue, with warmth and understanding. If she is intent on being independent, she will probably feel frustrated if help is offered. If she needs to be in control, then she will feel frustrated if she believes you are controlling her.

Rather than meeting her frustration with your own, try to empathise with her perspective, even if you know she is going to make a mistake or delay things. Try not to have to control situations if at all possible.

This sounds like one of those situations where you really need to pick your battles carefully, choosing only to step in and be in charge when it is absolutely necessary. If you can, leave her off then do.

If you can't let her at it, then breathe deeply to hold on to your patience and offer only enough help to get her moving and then see if you can leave her to finish something off.

It may be helpful for you to hold onto the fact that she is really unlikely to be trying to annoy you – rather she is just trying to make things predictable and controllable in her world.

That is not a bad thing, nor something that you need to try to take away from her.


My son screams in the night

Question: I have two children, a four-and-a-half-year-old and a seven-year-old. My problem is my four-year-old wakes every night screaming to go to the toilet. He won't get up by himself and wakes my husband and myself screaming. When I do get up to bring him to the toilet, I can't go back to sleep. He normally wakes at around 3am and I am awake from then until it's time to get up. We always lift him before we go to bed at 11pm and he has no problem doing his wee and he settles back straight away. I reduced fluids after 6pm but it has no effect. He has no problems with using the toilet during the day and has never wet the bed. I was wondering could you give me some advice.


David says: It sounds like there are several habits that could do with changing. Your son needs to learn to go to the toilet, independently, in the night. He also needs to learn not to scream during the night! And you need to learn strategies to help you get back to sleep if you have been woken.

Many children who wake in the night are 'signallers' – that is to say that they feel unable to either soothe themselves back to sleep or, like your son, manage themselves without parental help, and so call out.

Because you choose to lift him at 11pm, he may have associated that slightly groggy, half awake, half asleep need to do a wee with having one or other of you there. Maybe, he now just expects you to help him if and when he wakes in the night.

So, a first change you can make is to stop lifting him to the toilet before you go to bed. In practice, that may mean that he will wake himself earlier to do a single wee in the night. This may be helpful for two reasons. If he wakes himself, he will be more awake (and more alert to what he needs to do) than if he is lifted. If he wakes earlier (and wakes you) you have more chance of getting back to sleep if you have gotten up to help him.

However, you also need to teach him the route (with lights on) from his bed to the toilet, so that he can literally make the journey in his sleep if he needs to. Do this every evening as part of the bedtime routine. So once he is in bed, ask him to get up and walk to the bathroom for his final pre-sleep wee. You can make more of a game of it by challenging him to get from his bed to the toilet with his eyes closed, or with the lights off. This will, hopefully, build up a script (new habit) for him giving him both the skill and the confidence to manoeuvre around the house at night.

In the same vein, you can then challenge him to try to do this during the night, by himself. Make this, too, into a game, perhaps by getting him to leave something (like his old potty) outside your door as a sign to you in the morning that he has been up to wee in the night. If you find the potty in the morning, then you know to praise and acknowledge his achievements.

While this new pattern is being established, he may still call out for you. You need to teach him that you won't come when he screams but that you will come if he knocks loudly on your door. This, too, gets him in the habit of getting out of bed on his own in the night. If you do get woken up, the less cross you get, the easier it will be to fall back asleep.

This is because the adrenaline released when you get angry can often keep your heart racing and block you from settling. Similarly, if you find that once you get woken up, you end up just thinking about things that have to get done the next day, start writing a list in the night so you can park those thoughts, knowing you can return to them easily the following morning without forgetting anything important.

With luck, your son will become excited by the new 'night-time wee game' and will want to show you how good he is at navigating in the night, letting you stay soundly asleep.

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