A Mama asked me to post this question anonymously as she is working to figure out how best to help her daughter.
My daughter is exhibiting some disturbing behavior that I am unsure how to address. I was wondering if you might be able to post the question anonymously and hopefully offer some guidance?
Last night I found out that my four-year-old daughter stole things from her best friend at school on at least three occasions – barrettes, a watch and a bracelet, and she lied when asked if she had done it. She is angry/jealous because her friend no longer shares her snack with her. My daughter can also be pretty physical / in other kid’s faces, but most of her physical aggression (biting/scratching/hitting/kicking) is directed at me and my husband, and sometimes at her 18-month-old sister. (Seeing me nurse her sister is one of my daughter’s biggest triggers.) However, the other day she tried to kick her best friend.
My daughter has a happy disposition. The aggressive/grabby/jealous behavior began when I was pregnant with her baby sister. So I’m guessing that the aggression, stealing and lying are triggered by the feelings she has around becoming a big sister (loss, fear, jealousy, rage, etc.).
In my listening partnership I am beginning to uncover and offload the feelings that my daughter’s behavior is bringing up in me — mostly grief and anxiety. I was aggressive as a kid and as a result, found it hard to make friends. I don’t want my daughter to feel alone, angry and like a monster, like I did. I’m also afraid that her behavior could escalate if not properly addressed.
I would very much appreciate any thoughts you might have about how to address my daughter’s behavior.
I’m sorry that your sweet girl is having such a tough time. You are doing really well and are so smart to get Listening Time.
The good news is that off-track behavior is off-track behavior. Patty likes to say, ‘some kids are biters, some are kickers, some are liars, some are… What’s great about that is that we can see that any and all of these behaviors are a sign of a kiddo feeling scared and disconnected.
It’s awesome that you have made the connection between the arrival of your new bundle of joy and your daughter’s difficult behavior. She is definitely trying to signal you in the best way her limbic system can think of that she is scared and feeling replaced.
Back to the good news: You can treat the stealing and the aggression as one big emotional project. The steps involved in an emotional project are:
Steps to an emotional project are:
1) YOU get listening time – which you are doing. YOU need a place to offload the FEAR that this is leading her somewhere awful.
2) ramp up the Special Time – it’s best to do Special Time more frequently in smaller doses – 5-7 minutes several times each day instead of 20 several times each week. Make sure you use a TIMER. That gives her a LIMIT to bump up against. More Special Time will pour in more safety and connection. And more endings will give her more opportunities to offload.
3) Lots of rough’n’tumble physical play where you take the LESS powerful role. She needs this skin-to-skin contact to help her FEEL you; feel your connection. This rough play helps counter her feelings of powerlessness and fear.
4) look for times to BRING LITTLE LIMITS early and often – perhaps there is something that you’d normally work-around – give her a different piece of toast if she complains, or putting on her shoes so you can get out the door. Instead of doing a work-around, if you have time, Set A Limit. It’s not about the toast or the shoes. It’s about giving her more opportunities to cry hard about being replaced.
The bad news is that since you are not in school you cannot BRING the limit right as it is happening. But the 4 steps above will help you two to work on her feelings when she is home. There are 2 things you might think about doing that are more directly related to the actual incidents. The first is to get Listening Time about the school. Is there something at this particular school that is making her feel unsafe.
Here’s the thing about FEAR. So it that feeling gets kicked up by the arrival of a new baby and the loss of your full attention. Now it’s kind of like a hang nail. It can get snagged on almost anything. That’s why working on fear and separation at home will lessen her over-all fear. At the same time, it would be good to explore the school environment and look at ways of making her feel less triggered and more safe there.
Ask the teachers if they have a sense of when it gets hard for your daughter? Is there a pattern to it? A time in the day? Is there a dynamic between the 2 girls. Has the other little girl been playing with someone else? Again, even the little girl wanting to do something different than your daughter kicks up that fear and makes it impossible for her to think.
Too, you can ask yourself what the dynamic has been like at home. Is there a pattern to the stealing/aggression that correlates with anything at home. Maybe a rough morning? Not enough Special Time the day/night before?
It takes getting Listening Time, as you know to be able to recognize a pattern. We just get too stuck in the “make it stop” place of our own fear and horror. However, noticing patterns can be so empowering. It gives us a direction to take.
Is there a teacher who could give her 5 mins of undivided attention/connection before lunch time or before times that seem to be tough? Can you go to school and give her Special Time in the middle of the day? Is this the best school for her? Is it too much school for her? (When my son was 4 and he started going 5 mornings each week – that proved to be too much for him and I cut back to 2 mornings)
Could you do some playdates with this little girl and see if you notice anything about their dynamic that might be triggering for your daughter. If so, you can intervene with some play and see if you can help them shift.
Special Time and rough’n’tumble Play BEFORE she goes to school each morning is crucial.
Here are a couple of articles that hopefully will give you some ideas. The first one is titled ‘preparing for the baby’ but the plan to help a sibling with their fears around a new baby are useful no matter how old the baby is now.
A couple of anecdotes from teachers
Lastly a podcast that I did with Instructor Candidate Summer Sheldon. She has 3 kiddos and the middle one tends to be particularly sensitive and aggressive. After she got tons of Listening Time, she was able to create a whole culture of PLAYING with the off-track behavior and LISTENING for the kisses.
I realized I did not address the ‘lying’ piece. Here’s a great article from Patty about lying. One of the really smart things she says is “don’t ask a question when you already know the answer” Same should be true for the teachers. Even if you all don’t know exactly how it got in your daughter’s backpack, you simply say, “sweetie, I can’t let you take this from Susie”. All of her protests and denials are just the fear coming up and out. You just move in with more warmth and say, ‘I know it’s hard sweetie. I can’t let you take things from Susie”.
This is so important: You are NOT looking for agreement. You are simply stating the limit so that she can bump up against it and have her feelings. Say very little. Just state the limit and LISTEN. Don’t argue. Don’t try to reason. Just state the limit and LISTEN.
You are doing such great personal work, moma! You are going to be able to help your sweet girl with this fear and both of you are already so much stronger and resilient because of your love and commitment.
Let us know how it goes…
Peace & Smiles,
Hand in Hand Certified Instructor
Conscious Child-raising Creating Cooperation and Peace
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“If we are to teach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with children” – Gandhi