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Shellibean
Shellibean asks:
Q:

How do I discipline a 5 year old who doesn't care or listen?

My 5 year old step daughter was taken by DCF away from her mother because her mother had been arrested for having Child Pornography on her computer. She bounced from Family member to Family member and then foster Care before they would allow my husband to get her. The problem was we lived in Illinois and she was taken away in Florida.When we picked up this child she was wonderful, smart,nice, and funny! Her mother got out of the felony charges and had them dropped to a misdemeanor. She was allowed to move back to Illinois to be near her child, Florida courts did a psychological evaluation on her and found 5 different personality disorders but have allowed her to have reagular and over night visitation. Since this craziness this child is very confused. it's been 2 years and after every visit things get worse, She is lying to us more, she is breaking my 4 year old sons toys, She only wants to play with my 1 year olds toys. We bought her wonderful presents for Christmas and her birthday but she wants nothing to do with them. she is constantly giving us hugs and kisses telling us she loves us like every 2 seconds, She is very clingy and when she gets angry she becomes destructive, We have tried every Discipline known to man but this child doesn't care, She continuesly does the same things everyday, over and over again, I feel like a broken record, She knows it's wrong but does it anyway, We always try to give positive feedback but it's hard when she does all the wrong things
In Topics: Discipline and behavior challenges
> 60 days ago

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Expert

lkauffman
Jan 11, 2011
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What the Expert Says:

Thanks so much for your question. I know that many parents and guardians are stuggling with similar situations, and I think that they will benefit greatly from your post, knowing that there are others in the same situation.

My first impression when reading your post is that your step-daughter is struggling with attachment issues fairly typical of a child in her situation. I have included a few links below to articles on attachment as reference. Essentially, attachment is the bond between a child and their primary caregiver(s) that begins early in development. It is considered the "foundation" for a child's sense of safety, comfort, and emotional regulation across time. Children who are securely attached to their primary caregiver are confident that they will be taken care of, their caregiver will always be there for them, and that they are loved and secure in this world.

Children who experience a "rupture" in their bond with their primary caregiver, and who are insecurely attached have a generally "shakey" experience of the world. Some experts suggest that one of the primary developmental tasks of childhood is to "answer" the questions, "Am I loved? Can I count on people? Is the world a safe place?" Unfortunately, a child who is insecurely attached concludes, "No, I'm not loved. I can't count on anyone. This world is not safe for me." And, as a result, they will display symptoms of anxiety, sadness, and acting out.

Now, I mention this because a child has a greater chance of experiencing difficulties in their attachment relationship when there is neglect, abandonment, or abuse in their history. Unfortunately, you step-daughter has this kind of history and my guess is that she is on very shakey ground in terms of her sense of attachment with others. This most likely drives her separation anxiety, emotional dysregulation (anger, tantrums), and regression (playing with toys for children much younger).

If her birth mother is struggling as much as you suggest, I imagine that it is a very confusing situation for her. In addition to her past, she must still contend with difficulties arising from her visits with her mother. I can't really comment on the visitation schedule because I haven't been a part of evaluation, but I can say that this dear girl needs consistency. She needs consistency to help calm her and reassure her that her needs can be met (I'm not suggesting that you can't meet her needs. These types of feelings come from a very primitive part of the brain that doesn't necessarily answer to logic). Thus, you may tell her over and over and over again that you love her, will be there for her and can be counted on, but she has so much chaos in her history, it will be hard for her to really "believe" it deep down.

So, what to do? The answer is that you need to batton down the hatches and hang on. Set up very firm, clear, but loving rules in the house (morning and evening routines, family meals, expectations for behavior, consequences, etc) and stick to them. Know that she is going to writhe against them and test you. She is constantly testing you because she isn't really confident that you will hang in there. She thinks that you will abandon her just like everyone else. So, you need to hang in there. Love her, reassure her, but don't let her get away with anything. She will draw peace and contentment from the structure and the consistency in the home. Just know that this process will take time. It has taken many, many years to form her theories about the world. You need to help "undo" them and help her to trust again. New, positive attachment relationships can be formed, but only over time.

Good luck and keep up the good work. Your step-daughter is very lucky to have you in her life!


Warm regards,

Laura Kauffman, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Education.com JustAsk Expert
http://www.drlaurakauffman.com/
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Additional Answers (2)

windy_jiao
windy_jiao writes:
show him or her what is right or better.
> 60 days ago

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surkaikandace
surkaikandace , Parent writes:
Wow!  This girl has been through alot.  Her actions and reactions are normal coming from a child that has experienced this.  Don't give up!  To me it seems that she loves your family, and the clingyness and her saying I love you just shows that she cares, and doesn't want you to dessert her or give up on her.  There has been a lot of damage done, and honestly, a lot of hard work is involved in getting her to the state she needs to be.  It is really hard to tell you what to do, because I don't know what all the circumstances are.  Consistancy with discipline, and making sure she has a voice to explain is very important.  Make sure you make things clear to her on her own level what is exceptable and what is not.  Make sure that there is consequences for her actions when she doesn't make good choices.  Where is her father in all this.  You are the stepmother, but how is the relationship with the father?  Both parents have to be on the same level of discipline, and involvement in order to get her back to a healthy state of mind.
> 60 days ago

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