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I have a 4 year old that seems to always be in a "bad mood". I get a day here and there where she is very good. She listens and coroperates with everything through out the day, but most of the time she is very difficult to deal with. She can bring me to tears. She has become hateful of my fiance also (he is not her father)we have been together for 3 years and she has always been very close to him until lately. When I ask her why she is so mean to him she replys "because i dont like him". We also have a new puppy in the house that she is very mean to. She kicks him and hits him. This I do not understand because we have other dogs that she is not mean to. I feel like I have an angry child and I feel helpless because I dont know why. Please help!!


Rachel Russo Replied: It is common for toddlers and young children to go through a developmental stage that includes the distressing behavior that you describe. I know it must be very hard for you to deal with a child who can be so angry or oppositional; just remember that you are not alone. You can get through this! Sometimes, as you may know, this time period is referred to as "the terrible twos," but it can certainly occur at age three, four, five, etc. Some parents think that these personality traits that emerge in early childhood will be giving them trouble forever- that they have a "bad" kid, so to speak. However, I encourage you to see beyond that and look at your daughter in her own context. It may be helpful to ask the following questions: -What may be going on in her life that is contributing to her bad mood? - Have there been any recent changes in her daily life at home? - Is she in an environment-perhaps at a day care or preschool- that is making her angry? - Is it possible that she learning this behavior from other children, family members, your fiance, or even you? - Does she watch television shows that expose her to violence? - Do you feel that she is looking for attention? Does she become jealous when you give your fiance or dog attention? In addition, you may want to pay attention to the circumstances that trigger her angry behavior. Is there a correlation between some time of the day and her angry outbursts? Does it occur when she may be tired or hungry? Perhaps, it would be helpful if you to record a log of her behavior in a journal. If you see patterns and trends, it may give you insight as to how to handle the situations with your duaghter. Speak with your fiance about this so that he can share his observations too. Work collabortatively to modify your own behavior in response to your daughter. See if things change, but don't expect changes to occur overnight. If you can't come up with some solutions in a reasonable time, it may be helpful to take your daughter to a child psychologist for an evaluation. I'd also suggest a visit or two with a Marriage & Family Therapist so that you and your fiance can better understand the problem and how you may be contributing to it. Ideally, you can work together to help your daughter and learn strategies to prevent her behavior from taking a toll on your relationship.
Posted On 2009-05-21 13:06:15
Peter Hanfileti, MD Replied: I think you should explore the energy dynamics from her point of view, that is, from a 4 year old's perspective. The fact that some days she is fine while other times she is difficult indicates that her "settings" can change depending on what's going on around her or internally with her feelings. This characteristic by itself is quite common for 4 year olds. However, two areas I would investigate are: how has she learned to deal with changes, i.e. new puppy, new fiance/father figure, new daycare or preschool, etc. These are opportunities for her to experience what it means to go through changes and to adapt to them. If she does not do this well, frustration and anger can come up as a consequence. Therefore, it makes sense to uncover this difficulty with change if it is true for her and work on it through practice and your own modeling of behavior that shows her that changes can be dealt with and overcome, and change is simply part of reality and living in this world. Secondly, I would want to know what outlets or options she has to express her own autonomy. This is a strong underlying factor (the need to feel like she is becoming an individual) and should be recognized and nurtured in an age appropriate manner. For example, giving her some say in what she wears, when she does this or that, how she eats her food, who she plays with in a group situation, these are all practice opportunities that she needs to have on a daily basis. If not, her underlying motivation will be to express herself in negative ways, even though they bring negative consequences with them. One last word I will give you is that kids in this age group are more likely to look for external reasons for their emotions in real time, rather than finding the true underlying cause which may have come in the recent or distant past. In other words, she may interpret her anger as being directed towards people, animals, and objects in her current environment only, when in fact the emotions may be stored up from previous events and experiences. Of course, she is not old enough to realize this on her own, you will have to see if the timing and characteristics fit for an underlying issue that is older than just what is happening today. I hope these remarks are helpful. Perhaps you can look for someone in your area who could help you explore these family dynamic and emotion (energy in motion) related concepts with you and your 4 year old.
Posted On 2009-05-19 18:38:22
Maggie Macaulay Replied: It sounds as if something has changed - that your daughter was not always in a "bad mood". My response is based on that assumption. If that is not the case, please write back and let me know.

Around the age of four or five, children may become brash, demanding, explosive and challenging or rebellious. What you are seeing with your daughter may very well be this developmental change.

It also sounds as if she is experiencing rivalry, both with the new puppy and with your fiance. She may not treat the other dogs in the family with hostility because the puppy, not the older dogs, has replaced her as the youngest member of the family. Something may have changed in the relationship with your fiance - possibly you are getting married soon or your engagement is relatively new.

We all have the need to belong, the need to feel powerful and the need to feel loved. If a child has been displaced (dethroned) by a new member of the family or by a change in a significant relationship such as your relationship with your fiance, she will search around to see how she now belongs, how to be powerful and how to get love in the new set of circumstances. She may also misbehave more while discovering how to get her needs met. She may attempt to get these needs met by pressuring others with her "bad mood."

Talking with her about her feelings is a great place to start. Do a lot of listening and make sure your conversational prompts are open-ended, such as "what else?" or "tell me more." If she says she doesn't like your fiance or she feels angry with the puppy, explore her feelings without making her wrong or bad. Avoid saying, "You really love the puppy" or "Don't say that about Jim. He is wonderful." Ask, instead, "You sound angry. What's going on?"

Set clear limits on handling the puppy. Let her know that puppies are not for hitting or kicking. Do not label her "mean," simply let her know that she cannot be around the puppy if she chooses hitting or kicking. Show her how to touch the dog gently and give her a lot of encouragement when she uses her gentle touch.

Spend time just with your daughter. Ask what she would like to do and have regular mother-daughter dates. Also, give her ways to feel powerful and influential, such as asking for her help when shopping and putting her in charge of feeding or caring for the puppy.

Your goal is to help her get her needs met in positive ways while keeping the conversation about her feelings open.

Posted On 2009-05-18 14:03:56
Amy Adams Replied: Good evening! I hear your concerns and this is not the first time I've heard behaviors such as these, you're describing. They're not uncommon, considering that you/she have some pretty major changes going on. Here are a few things to consider: Does your daughter have a relationship with her biological father? What is your fiance's role in her life? Is your engagement recent? Is your new puppy's arrival to the family recent? The reason I ask these things is to put into perspective for you that she may very well be feeling that there's no stability and that the earth is shifting under her feet. Children as young as your daughter often have difficulty expressing how they feel, especially about things that are beyond their control and saying things like, "I don't like him", about the puppy is pretty normal. With all of this being said, you may need to do things a bit differently for a while, to remind her that she is, indeed important to you, and your evolving family! Some suggestions I have would be to first, realign her thinking to a positive tone. To do this, be very upbeat when you pick her up from school, or wherever, hug her and say, "Tell me something great that happened to you today!". Make this a routine for every day, because this will teach her to be a "good finder". She may want to get in the car and tell you how bad her friends were, how mean her teacher is or vent at you, but give this very little entertainment and move on to the positive aspects of her day. If her concerns are legitimate, of course you need to hear her out, but you have to retrain her to want to be happy. Another thought is to have a "mother/daughter activity", where just the two of you spend time together! Make it a big deal! Work it out with your fiance and tell him to role play with you, as you talk it up in front of him, in front of your daughter. Let him know that he can't come, because it's your special time with your princess! Get him to say things like, "Darn, I wish I could go! That sounds like so much fun!" This will allow your little girl to see that she has a place of importance in your life, that he can't fill. As for the puppy, when your daughter is mean to him, intervene immediately and isolate her to her room or put her in time out. Explain to her that it's not acceptable to hurt anyone or anything, because she's angry. She can punch her pillow,if she needs to vent or go to her room to think, but make your boundary lines firm, so she knows which actions/reactions are appropriate to display and which aren't. You can also tell her that she doesn't get to play with the puppy, when she's hurtful to it and remove the puppy or her, from the room. As for the hateful behavior she's displaying, let her know it's not acceptable. What I prefer to do is have all the people in the room leave immediately when she does something unkind or hateful, thus leaving her by herself to think about how she's behaved. When she returns to where you are, sit down with her and explain how unhappy and disappointed you are with how she chose to behave. As young as she is, each mistake corrected allows her to have a clean slate again. Don't use "hold over" punishments, make her consequences immediate. A great resource I love is the "Love & Logic" program, created by Jim Faye. If you don't feel that the things I've suggested are helping, I would encourage you to seek out a "play therapy" group through a local professional psychologist or counselor. I wish you the best and feel free to contact me again, if you have more questions or would like further clarification. With Regards Amy A. Adams, M. Ed.
Posted On 2009-05-17 21:55:26
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