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My 3-year-old daughter is out of control. She is extremely defiant, has violent outbursts, will not follow any type of direction, refuses to potty train, and nothing I do seems to work and it is tearing me apart. I am a single mother and I am awaiting an opportunity to finally begin work but my daughters refusal to potty train is keeping her from being enrolled in daycare making me unable to seek employment. I have struggled with some personal demons in the past and have been following the right path for 2 years now but the fact that I am being roadblocked from moving forward toward my next goal is incredibly frustrating and has me discouraged that I can't pursue my career and that we are stuck in my fathers house until she decides she wants to finally potty train. I do not know what to do and I feel like if I can't continue on my path that I may stray and give up. I am a recovering addict and I am at my wits end with this child. I also have a hard time maintaining my composure when she acts up and I notice myself becoming this ugly person and I hate that she does that to me. Please tell me what I can do.


Beverly Willett Replied: Here's the first thing to remember. You will solve this problem. You've solved many problems in your lifetime, including a huge one -- your addiction. Have faith in yourself you will solve this one, too. Reaching out for help is the first step and you've done that. Second, remember that you are not alone. There are millions of single moms, me included. Being the only point person to raise a child and take care of yourself, too, sometimes seems like a constant struggle. Feeling like someone else has control over your life can also make you feel trapped. Of course there are external conditions at times that make life challenging, but ultimately how you respond in any given situation is always in your total control.

I assume from your question there's no physical reason why your daughter is having trouble. But if you haven't taken her to see a pediatrician, do that first.

Second, consider that your daughter might be acting out because of the vibes she is getting from you. Refusing to potty train may be her way of holding onto her own fears -- fear of losing your attention as you go to work, fear of going to daycare, fear of growing up to be a big girl. Some children go through the "terrible two's" at three, too. While you were an addict and in recovery, perhaps she lost some of your attention and is acting out to get the attention she missed now. In addition, you say that when she acts out you're not proud of your reaction. Perhaps that makes her afraid, too. She sees your fear and mimics it by being afraid to potty train. It's a well-known fact that kids mimic parents. If she sees you being more calm, you'll set an example for her to do the same. Accept that your frustration isn't going to do anybody any good, most of all you. The more you push, the more determined she may be to resist.

As a recovering addict, I hope that you have a support group, therapist and/or friends to talk to. You need a place where you can leave your woes instead of at your child's door. Everyone has their own personal path, but prayer has also been a huge help for me as has meditation. Learning to meditate, even if it's just simple breathing exercises, really does provide the tools necessary to notice when your anger and frustrations are bubbling up and ways to let them go. Try and stay aware of when you're getting frustrated and walk into the next room if necessary, sit down and just breathe for awhile. Try sending out love from your heart to your little girl, too. Some days when your approach at potty training isn't working, just let it go until the next day. All kids learn to potty train -- some quicker than others -- and it will happen. Believe it. Forgive yourself, too, when you lose it. None of us is perfect.

A few other practical suggestions. Get a journal and list the positive things you've accomplished in life and obstacles you've overcome -- no matter how small. Start with kicking your addiction. That is huge! Make notes of positive things you accomplish now -- even if it's one hour of not letting your frustration get the better of you. Whenever you're feeling hopeless, look at your journal. Accept, too, that problems are the rule in life, not the exception. When I first split up with my ex, I had constant repair problems in the house. I thought if I could just get the repairs done everything would be fine. Six years later, pipes still burst. Leaks spring up. And while I don't welcome it when things go wrong, I'm now more accepting and less angry. I've even had a good laugh at times. Mostly, I just try and remember my track record of dealing with adversity in order to shore up my faith that I will meet this challenge and it, too, shall pass.

One last thought. Consider taking the dive now. While the potty training isn't resolved, start moving toward your goals anyway. Draw up your plan for finding a job, search out the right daycare, look for a new place to move into. When everything falls into place, as it will eventually, you'll be ready.

You and your little girl have my very best wishes.
Posted On 2009-02-07 14:38:25
Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: The situation sounds really difficult, and I'm sorry you are in such pain. I believe there are issues here that are larger than your daughter's out-of-control behavior, so addressing the problem will require going beyond changing your approach with her. I would definitely recommend working with a professional who can help you determine what all is involved here, and what the most useful approach would be. If you have been in recovery for two years, you have demonstrated that you have the courage, strength, and commitment to resolve very difficult life crises, so it's important to remember this in the face of your frustration with your daughter and your situation in general. Some professional assessment of your daughter's physical and emotional state is in order. She may have been affected neurologically by your chemical use during your pregnancy. She may also be showing signs of anxiety based in part on her biological inheritance but also in part on whatever stresses she may be experiencing in her current environment. It sounds like the two of you have become, understandably, defensive, frustrated, and tangled up in a power struggle;. You worry that your sobriety, and your image of yourself might be at stake here, so this is a time for professional assistance to continue your recovery, for both your sake and your daughter's. Best wishes in your journey.
Posted On 2009-02-06 23:28:33
James Crist Replied: I can see why this is so frustrating for you. Your daughter sounds very angry, and since kids her age have trouble articulating their feelings, the only way she may have to express it is through behavior. I have a few suggestions. First, take her to your pediatrician to rule out any physical causes for her difficulties. Second, is there a history of disorders such as bipolar disorder in the family? Though she is really too young to diagnose this disorder, she could be showing early signs. I have had some luck with using Coromega, an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, to help with mood and anger issues in kids. You can order it online or buy it at many GNC stores. Third, make sure she is getting enough positive attention. Kids with behavior problems often crave attention and if they perceive that they get more from negative behavior than from positive behavior, then that is what they will do. Check out the resources noted. Should these resources not be enough, I would recommend an evaluation by a child psychologist.
Posted On 2009-02-06 23:06:42
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