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Discipline 4 year old - father dying - she's acting out - what do I do?

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
My husband has had cancer since my daughter was an infant. The last year has been very hard on us. First, they put him on steroids which had changed his personality and he had anger issues. Then, he's been in hospitals, with a very brief time home, for the last 4 months. We go to visit him often at the hospital.

It has been almost impossible to keep any routine with her. We eat on the run. Today was the first night I actually was able to cook and eat dinner with her in months. I have so much to do that I put her in preschool so I'd have time to do this and see him.

She does not like to visit her father for very long. He is confined to bed and out of it. He cannot really respond to her. He has terminal cancer.

I am stressed out often and this is hard to deal with alone. Lately, she seems to be all over the place -- not concentrating. It takes hours for her to eat. She defies me. She does not want to eat faster. She refuses to get dressed in the morning. She refuses to brush her hair or to wash her hands after going to the bathroom. I find myself yelling at time and I don't want to do this. It does not work either. She just wants to play.

The most disturbing thing is when she gets out of her seat belt. She refuses to keep it buckled or to even buckle it in the first place. I asked her why -- she does not know why she is acting this way. I pull over and wait for her -- it seems to be a power struggle thing.

I know she is upset about her father. We did not even get to go to the beach once this summer due to me needing to be there for my husband.

She is angry, her schedule is off track, her foods are not great...

How can I speed her up and keep her in her seat? It is so dangerous when she stands up in the car -- until I can pull over.

Thanks!
post #2 of 32
I wish I had answers, what a difficult situation this has to be for all three of you. My heart and best wishes go to you guys, I hope someone can help you here with some understanding and practical ideas.
post #3 of 32
It sounds like shes trying to process whats happening to her father. Testing boundries "defying" danger all of it sounds very typical for a person starting a grief process. Try to be patient with her and with your self do you have any support system? extended family? DO you cosleep with her?

Deanna
post #4 of 32
didn't want to read and not post.

much strength to you and your family during this very difficult time.
post #5 of 32
I am so sorry you and your family is going through this. Hugs to you.

I really don't think I'm in a great position to advise. I think this must be one of those times of life where it really is just about making it through. But reading your post this is what came to mind:

- can you create routine in some of the chaos? For example, when you take your daughter to the hospital can you have a little 'entry routine' where you spread out a blanket, or sing a song/say a prayer, or have a particular, special snack? A "food on the run" routine? Special music in the car? I don't think kids always need every day the same, but it may help to have each element of a day have some sameness. If that makes sense.

- In the morning, can you create ten minutes of play with you early (with timer) so that her need to connect through play is met? You probably have no time to read but from my reading of Playful Parenting I am guessing that her need to play is coming from a deep-seated need to process her experience and establish some control. Giving her that space up front in a structured way might help.

- I think you are handling the carseat perfectly. I'm guessing that in your daughter's mind the car is the enemy right now, and I don't know how I would handle it other than how you are, except I might say "too bad for my ideals" on this one and resort to a bribe in this case, like if she stays in her buckled seat all week she gets a toy at the end. Or special time together.

- I was so sad to read about the trips to the beach. I have not been in your shoes and can't imagine how you make these kinds of decisions. I did wonder regardless whether it would be possible to take a day away from the hospital, perhaps with another family member going in your place, now and then - not just for your daughter but for you too.
post #6 of 32
You are dealing with a lot and so is she.
My oldest DD had cancer a year ago and it was so hard. DD#2,who was 4 at the time, in many ways had it the hardest, not eating properly no schedule, different caretakers. Grandma came to help but I was spending most of my time in the hosp with DD#1, so DD#2 and DS did not get the care they were use to.
Perhaps you can try to give your DD as much choice as possible. She can choose what or where to eat, clothes to wear etc. It really helped my kids to make something special for DD it made them feel included and that they were doing something. Hospitals are stressful places and your DD is probably associating the hospital with "making" people sick rather than some where sick people go. It is a very difficult concept for small kids.
Generally there are social workers at the hospitals that may have some better more direct advice to give.
post #7 of 32
I'm so sorry for what you are going through.

Is the hospital able to offer any support for you? Is there a group you can join and/or a group she can join? You are doing so much and giving so much to everyone, are you able to do anything for you?

Since you are at the hospital so much, I would see if they have a social worker or counselor or some kind of group or program for your DD. Perhaps you could schedule visits so she goes to the group and you are with DH?

I will also tell you that we went through very similar rage and defiance incidents from age 3.5 to 5 with nothing unusual going on in our lives. The same thing with the car, although she was on steroids at that point and refusing to get dressed. It was only a few incidents with the car and I attribute it to the steroids - but I KNOW - it's horrible. Some part of what you are going through is just the tough age or 3.5-4.5. When we got close to 5 and were still having tantrums and rage incidents I got some sensory therapy. Whether it worked or she grew out of it, I don't know but it's much better now.

Please do 1 thing just for you today, even if it's a drive-through latte or a hot bath while DD watches a cartoon!
post #8 of 32
I'm so sorry you and DD are going through this.

See what kind of resources are available for your DD in terms of counseling. Remember that this is hard for YOU, an adult, can you imagine what all this must be like to a little kid?

I'd try to ride out the tantrums, let her go out with unbrushed hair, dress her yourself if she refuses to dress herself (or even let her go out in pajamas, or the clothes she wore yesterday and slept in...) basically, choose your battles. The seatbelt is a safety issue; everything else is not. Even washing her hands after using the bathroom is more about "establishing healthy habits" than any real threat to her health from germs that came from her own body.

She may be more receptive to following seatbelt rules if she's not constantly fighting with you over washing and brushing and dressing. At the very least, you'll feel less burnt out by fighting with her about less stuff!

I'm glad to hear that she's in preschool. It's one of the things I was going to suggest- it might mean a little more confusion as she adapts to the school routine, but in the long run it will provide more stability. School will stay the same no matter how long Daddy's in the hospital. School will be the same if Daddy dies. School will be the same if he makes a miraculous recovery and is able to come home.

School is the most stable thing in her life right now, even if she's only gone for 2 weeks so far and it still feels new to her (which can temporarily cause more problems as she adjusts to this new part of her daily routine.)
post #9 of 32
I just couldn't read and not post. I'm so sorry that you all are going through this.

I think that you need to be kind and patient with yourself as well as your DD. You are under so much pressure. I was my Grandmother's primary caregiver when she had terminal cancer. I can't imagine doing it with a young child.

I agree with letting her have a little more control. Pick out 2 outfits in the morning and let her pick which one she wants to wear. Give her choices about where you eat. It may not fix the problem, but it might make her feel a little more secure.
post #10 of 32


Hospitals have social workers who are great at finding resources/helping you navigate things.

Is she in any sort of counseling? Are you? I would definitely start that NOW. I know there are a couple of organizations in our area that have grief groups for children - children who've lost parents, children who've lost siblings, etc. I would ask the hospital social worker for some referrals and whether there are any groups like this around. You, too, need a place where you can grieve, talk about how you're feeling, your issues with dd, etc.

In addition to trying to create some routines, it might help her to have a daily schedule so she knows what's coming. With everything in turmoil right now, knowing what's coming up would be really helpful. You can do a picture schedule for her - a picture of preschool, a picture of the grocery store or whatever for errands to run, a picture of the hospital. Even if the exact times are not on there, the ORDER is, which might help her feel more in control.

Don't feel guilty about preschool - this may well be a haven of predictability for her at a time when she really needs it.

Finally, is there any way you can carve out 30 minutes every day where she directs the play/interaction? I find that those 30 minutes really help my kids stay connected, and we don't have anything major going on in our lives right now.
post #11 of 32

So Sorry

I'm so sorry that your family is going through this. I just can't imagine what it must be like.

I also agree with Ellien C. A lot of what you're dealing with is typical of 4 year olds who aren't struggling with lack of routine and a terminally ill parent. In an odd sort of way, I think you can feel good about having what sounds like a pretty normal kid despite somewhat abnormal circumstances. Don't be too hard on yourself.

There's been lots of great advice posted. I don't know that I have anything to add. But like others, I couldn't read and not respond.
post #12 of 32
I'm usually a lurker, but your post just broke my heart. My son has a bone marrow disorder, and we're in an out of the hospital all of the time. I don't have other children, so I can't say I completely understand what you're going through. I do know that its exhausting, and its hard to schedule time for self care when you have some one to care for. I just wanted to mention that there is a family I see a lot with older kids, and I've noticed that they create routine where there is none and the say the routine out loud every time they do it. They walk into the room and say to their other kids, "now we wash our hands." "Its 6:30, now we eat dinner." It seems to help.

I'll keep you in my thoughts!
post #13 of 32
I am so sorry for what you are going through. . I also agree with what others had to say about creating some small amount of sameness for your little one. I wish you much peace in the midst of this trying time.
post #14 of 32
I am so sorry that your family has to go through this.

Does a social worker at the hospital or a teacher at the preschool have a lit of counselors who work with young children? Play therapy might be just the place for your little one to express what she is feeling and have some extra support living through this time.
post #15 of 32


I can't even imagine what this must be like for you and your family. My heart goes out to you.
post #16 of 32
:

I think you've received a lot of great advice. You and your family are in my prayers.

My RA when I was a Freshman in college was studying Art Therapy. No idea if that interests you, but you might want to ask the school or hospital if they work with any.
post #17 of 32
I am so sorry that you are going through such a terrible time, and so sorry for your daughter, and just so broken up after reading about this. Honestly, it sounds to me like your daughter feels like there are too many things in her life that are out of control. She's probably scared. So she's looking to exert control in whatever small ways she can, to feel like she "owns" something in her life. So I agree with the PP-- choose your battles. Let her control anything and everything that you reasonably can, and give her plenty of choices when it's possible. Be gentle but firm about the things that are true safety issues. Try talking to her about her feelings a bit-- she probably has a lot pent up that needs expressing. If you're not in a place emotionally where you can do this, the hospital probably has excellent resources for somebody who can spend some time with her helping her process her feelings. Do you have any extended family you can look to for help? Having somebody else along when you visit your DH might help her, and having somebody else around the house or along on errands with you might give her some chance to relax and play a bit, and feel more like herself. I think preschool is a terrific idea, for exactly this reason. She can relax and just play and be a kid with other kids, and it also gives you a chance to be alone or with your DH, to experience your own powerful emotions without having to hold back for her sake.

And in the meantime, keep her as close to you as you can, love her with all your heart, and just get through it, in whatever way you can. My heart is breaking for you, and I will be praying for you and her.
post #18 of 32
I couldn't read without posting - I can't try to understand what you and your dh and wee one are going through together. I agree that you may be able to find some sort of order in amongst all the chaos that's surrounding you, pre-school sounds like a great idea for your wee one, when I was a tiny babe and very ill my Mum sent my sis off to school (abit too young) but she was going bananas and so was my dear sis it was just a couple of mornings a week but seemed to give some sort of stability that they both needed. And yeah - choose your battles, hair, clothes and other things really don't matter in the grand scheme of things, safety in the car is non-negotiable however, you can explain that to her, that you can negotiate almost everything but the car seat is never going to change, we all do it - it takes time but she'll understand. Hugs to you and yours during this difficult time.
post #19 of 32
The other mamas here have had some great advice, so I am only going to address your concerns about her unbuckling herself in the vehicle.

It sounds like you have her using the seat belt? Either on its own or in a booster seat? I would recommend a 5-point harness seat which is not as easy to get out of as a seatbelt (where they can easily lean forward to get to the buckle). At 4 years old, she would be FAR safer in a 5 point harness. If she is unbuckling her seat belt, she is likely not sitting in the proper position most of the time, which means that even when she IS buckled, she likely isn't safe. Being out of position greatly increases her chance for ejection from the vehicle in an accident and seatbelt syndrome. 2 seats that are 5 point harnesses now, and convert to a booster later are the Graco Nautilus and the Britax Frontier. The Nautilus is less expensive if budget is a concern for you. I think switching her to a harnessed seat will make your car rides less stressful AND keep her safer in the car.

mama. I realize this is a difficult time for you and applaud you for your efforts in dealing with the situation.
post #20 of 32
Oh my gracious. I have no advice, but I wanted to send cyber-hugs to you and your family.
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