I am a single mother of a 4-year-old son with extreme behavioral problems, and I am desperate for your help as I am not liking what the medical community is offering us (medication, of course).
Here's the main point of concern so I can make my "thesis" clear. For over two years, I've been dealing with serious behavioral problems with my son including extreme aggression and destructive behavior. He has severely injured me on many occasions. I have sought therapy for him and both his therapist and the behavioral/developmental pediatrician we saw are recommending medication. The pediatrician prescribed Risperdal, which is an extremely serious anti-psychotic medication. My parents are not supportive of me giving him medication, and I am not sold on the idea either (as I know most of you probably wouldn't be), but I am at my wit's end with his behavior. I am posting here as a last-ditch effort to get some ideas that might help me deal with my son. Medication is NOT what I want to do, but I am feeling desperate. Also, the doctor and therapist (a psychologist) along with his regular pediatrician say that if his behavior continues, he is building neural pathways that will stay with him for the rest of his life. They say once this behavior becomes entrenched, it will only get worse. They say, "If you have a hard time controlling him now and keeping him from hurting you, what about when he's 8 or 10 years old?" I am scared, angry, and frustrated with this situation, and of course I blame myself.
Just to give you some context for my situation, his father is not involved at all and has never met him, and though I have some help from my parents (they usually watch him one night per week, though they are not at all emotionally supportive), I am raising this child primarily on my own. My parents live an hour and a half away, so when my son has these hideous tantrums, which can last as long as 6-8 hours at times, I have no one to call to help me, and I can't handle it at times.
We had a very hard time from the beginning. He hated breastfeeding (or so it appeared) and screamed, pushed me away, and scratched me every time I tried. I didn't give up, but it took six months and a million visits to a lactation consultant to really be successful with it. He cried a lot and was colicky as well. He was hardly ever content.
The aggression began early. Even at 18 months, my son showed signs of aggressive behavior, trying to slam his head backwards into my face. He succeeded in giving me bloody noses and split my lip on several occasions. People would ask me if someone punched me in the face. I don't know why he did it, but he seemed angry and it seemed very intentional, even though I know he didn't really understand what he was doing.
(ADDENDUM: Since posting this originally, and thanks to a few MDC moms for recognizing it, my son has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and has sensory seeking behavior as part of his SPD. He is unable to tell where his body is in space and has difficulty gauging how hard/soft he is doing things. In light of this, his behavior at 18 months is now clearly related to SPD. While I thought he "seemed angry," it was because he seemed to be trying to hurt me; however, the behavior wasn't happening in response to a "no" or any sort of discipline from me. I interpreted his body language in trying to slam into me as anger, but emotionally he didn't seem angry. It was just random. I don't believe he was being aggressive at that age now, just having difficulties with sensory processing.)
As far as discipline goes, I began with attachment parenting and was very committed to the idea. I breastfed him for two years and didn't put him in childcare until he was two years old. We co-slept and still do. I didn't circumcise him because I felt it was unnecessary and violent. I felt like I was doing everything "right" and that he would be a happy, healthy, loving child. I wanted to show him nothing but love and kindness, which is very different from what I got as a child.
I used very gentle discipline. If he hurt me, I would say, "We do not hit. Hitting hurts mommy." I was later told by therapists, nannies, parents, and doctors that my gentle approach to discipline was what caused his aggressive, out-of-control behavior.
Then, my son was seriously abused at a daycare when he was two, which only made things worse. We had to change daycares, obviously, and he would be extremely aggressive towards the other children any time I was around. He would hit, slap, push kids down, grab and pinch their faces, and once he even grabbed another child's head and started slamming it into the wall as hard as he could, over and over, while everyone screamed in horror and ran towards him as quickly as we could to make him stop. It was horrifying and humiliating. Everyone looked at me with horror and shock on their faces and said, "Why would he do this?"
Keep in mind that he had never watched a single TV show, had never seen someone be violent to another person, had never been physically brutalized by a loved one himself, though I will never know exactly what happened to him at that daycare. I do know that the skin was pretty much ripped off his testicles when the teacher (according to both the doctor's assessment and mine) apparently twisted his testicles for punishment, or torture, or who knows what.
I understand that the abuse he faced certainly impacted his behavior. He was angry and scared, and I still see him as a very angry, scared child. He seems to direct all his anger at me.
I can't count the number of black eyes and bloody noses he's given me. I am fairly sure he has even broken my nose. He has destroyed things, thrown heavy objects at my head, broken lamps, urinated on the couch on purpose (while in a time out), and so many awful things I can't even list them all, nor do I want to.
We have also faced several very stressful situations, one right after another. In addition to the abuse at his daycare, we also had the extremely traumatizing experience of having someone try to break into our house in May when we were there alone. It took the police 30 minutes to arrive, and I later found out (which I knew in my heart at the time) that the person was trying to get in to our house not to steal things, but to hurt me. He lived across the street, but I did not know him. He intended to rape me and cut me up with a box cutter. It's not clear whether he intended to hurt my son, but he knew my son and I lived there alone. My son was awake during the whole incident and we were both extremely terrified.
After this, we obviously had to move, as the attacker's relatives lived directly across the street from us and I didn't feel safe. We had to leave all of our friends that we had known for two years, and my son had to leave all the kids he played with daily.
Only a few weeks after this happened when we were still living with my parents and commuting 3 hours each day to work and preschool, a teacher at my son's Waldorf preschool (yes! Waldorf!) called to tell me that the director of the school had physically force-fed my son on several occasions, shoving a spoon through his closed lips while he sobbed for mommy. He had been particularly clingy when I dropped him off, but I thought it was due to the extreme stress we'd been under after the break-in. This teacher reported the force feeding as child abuse to the child care division and quit her job, and I immediately removed my son from that school. (Another teacher also witnessed the incident and confirmed that the account was true.) Yet another devastating change for him, as he lost all the friends he had made. It's been one loss, trauma, and tragedy for us (and my son in particular) after another.
Sorry this is so long, but there are so many pieces to this terrible puzzle that I feel I need to share.
Since he was a little over two, right after the child abuse at daycare and the aggressive behavior towards other children surfaced, I have been taking him to see a play therapist, and she has advised me to use time outs for any behavior that harms himself, harms others, or destroys belongings. Time outs do not seem to work for him and only escalate the situation until it turns into a complete physical battle. He is hitting, kicking, screaming, biting, and doing anything he can to fight me. He always hurts me, and I lose my temper and can become rough with him or emotionally abusive. This poor parenting on my part has been a new thing; somehow in the past I usually kept it together, but I am just burned out.
He will not stay in time out. He will come out of time out and continue to hit, bite, throw things and generally be out of control. Have been instructed by our therapist (who is generally very kind, rational, and reasonable; I do like her, overall) to restrain him and physically force him to stay in time out by sitting behind him and wrapping his arms around himself, as if he's in a straight-jacket. This usually results in him trying to bash me with his head or bite me, so sometimes I have to sit him in a chair and hold his arms over his head. I often have to drag him kicking and screaming into time out, since he refuses to go to time out.
I absolutely HATE, despise, and detest having to have these physical confrontations with him, like we are in a battle. I am only 5'2" and he is now 3'7" and a very muscular, strong kid. Even though he is only four, he is very hard to restrain and control. It just doesn't feel right, and it's very hard for me because I was very physically abused as a child, and it really triggers me. I feel like I am in an abusive relationship with someone who is hitting me and hurting me, and I want to leave, every fiber of my being is screaming "WALK AWAY BEFORE YOU LOSE IT!" but I can't walk away. He's only four. I can't leave him alone.
As I mentioned above, he has been in therapy for two years, and his therapist and behavioral pediatrician recommend that he take Risperdal, which is an anti-psychotic. This is a serious medication, given to schizophrenics and aggressive autistic children, and giving it to my son would be considered an "off label" use, but it's supposedly the only medication used to treat aggressive behavior in children. I do not like the idea of him taking medication AT ALL.
My parents completely disagree with medication, and of course blame his behavior on me because his behavior is most severe when he is with me. He doesn't act this way at school, and while he does have tantrums and aggressive behavior when he's at my parent's house, it's probably only 25% as much as he does it with me, if not less. I feel like if he's not acting this way at school or as much with my parents, it must be something I am doing wrong. The behavioral pediatrician said that it just shows he has awareness of what's socially appropriate and that after holding it in all day, he blows his fuse when he's with me because he feels safe doing so with me..
In addition to the traumas he's been through (abuse, force-feeding, break-in attempt, loss of friends and home), I think there may be some genetic components, as his father was a very mentally unhealthy person who exhibited many of the same behaviors of being kind, loving, and calm one minute and in a complete irrational fury the next.
I don't want to put him on medication, and I blame myself for not being able to have an impact on his behavior. I don't know what to do. I am afraid that the stress of fighting with him on a daily basis could lead to me becoming abusive. I already see myself going in the direction of emotional abuse, saying awful things to him that I hate myself for saying, like "I don't want to be around you. I don't want to talk to you. Just leave me alone." Of course I feel like crap after saying that, and I never said things like that until only recently. I feel like I've been patient for so long and I've finally run out of patience. He's only four, for God's sake, but I feel like I am in an abusive situation and I want to leave, but I can't. If I had someone to call when I am at my wit's end to just have a break for a few minutes, it would help so much, but I don't have any family here, and all my friends have children, and who'd want to come in to deal with a hitting, biting, kicking, screaming, spitting child? No one. So I am left to deal with it even when I feel like I can't. I love him, but more than once I've felt like just walking out the door and not coming back. I can't imagine living without him, but I can't live with him either. I feel like I am completely at my wit's end.
He constantly hurts me, and makes me late for work by having tantrums that make it impossible to get us out the door, which puts me under extreme stress. We live in a high rise apartment complex and I fear us getting evicted because he is screaming blood-curdling screams on a daily basis, sometimes for hours!
I have also lost several friendships because of this because my friends don't want their children around him. I haven't even attempted dating since I was pregnant, because I can't imagine any man wanting to be around a child who acts like this.
From time to time, he can be very sweet and kind. He loves animals, especially cats, and is extremely gentle with them. He can be very loving with me, but his kindness comes only sporadically and can be followed immediately by an angry, violent outburst towards me. Even things he enjoys, like offers from me of going swimming, to the park, out to eat, etc can bring about anger. It's completely irrational.
On the positive side, he is an extremely bright child (off the charts with his vocabulary) and both intellectually and physically talented. He could run at 9 months, and just before his 4th birthday was riding a bike without training wheels! He has so many strengths, and I wish we could see more of those and less of the emotional outbursts.
I've tried using positive reinforcement instead of negative, trying incentives like sticker charts and prizes, but he hates sticker charts and rewards most of the time, and will even get angry if you tell him he did a great job on a task and offer to reward him. He is a completely baffling child much of the time.
I am at my wit's end, but I love my son and want things to change. I don't want to put him on this medication. It seems like there MUST be another way, but I am physically and emotionally exhausted, and nothing I do seems to be working. Has anyone else dealt with severe behavioral problems? If so, what did you do? HELP!!!!!!
Edited by Bisou - 12/15/10 at 12:49am