aliciamarie... asks:

My 3 year old has major behavior issues, please help!

I have two kids, a 3 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. Just a year ago, their dad and I split after 7 years of physical and mental abuse. He rarely sees them, and my 3 year old is acting out badly. I cannot force her father to see her. She hits me, refuses to listen to anything I say, and destroys things. She tells her little brother to tell me no and say he hates me. She also tells me she hates me. So, now I have 2 out of control kids. I have tried spanking, time-outs, taking toys away, taking tv away. Nothing seems to work. I don't know what to do. I know this has something to do with her father but I can't do anything about that situation.
In Topics: My child's growth and development, Discipline and behavior challenges, Single parent families
> 60 days ago



May 14, 2010
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What the Expert Says:

This is a difficult situation to deal with; however, there is hope.
First it is important to try to understand what is going on.  It sounds like your kids are showing signs of stress, related to having lived in an environment where abuse was taking place.  Even little kids do absorb this.  In addition, yes, it does have something to do with their father--his absence, which is a loss for kids no matter how young, no matter how awful he was/is. Do your best to take what they are doing and saying as signs that they are hurting, and not a sign that they hate you.  Spanking is not the fix. Taking tv and toys away will not work.  Yes, they need discipline, but not necessarily punishment.  They need a stable, consistent environment with reasonable limits that are age appropriate.  

Here are my suggestions:

Most importantly, No matter how much you want to, do NOT tell the kids how awful their father is. No matter how much resentment/anger you have, he is their father, and putting him down will put miracle grow on their poor behavior.  

Then, work on healing the damage that has occurred. Locate your nearest community counseling center or family and children's agency. Google it, or call the closest hospital and ask about community resources.

You need support and strategies. Find a counselor at one of these agencies and work on parenting skills and dealing with loss.  You are probably stressed from years of abuse, dealing with the kids' behavior, and an unavailable other parent.  

You need some support and when you are feeling less stressed, you will be better able to help the kids to learn acceptable behaviors.
A good counselor will help you learn disciplinary tactics that can be effective, and will help you know how to set appropriate limits, and have a better handle on what is going on.

Give it a try.  I think you will be glad you did.
Bette J. Freedson, LICSW, LCSW, CGP
Clinical Social Worker
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