My question is how on earth you implement a Plan B program of any sort with a child whose problem is that she doesn't want to do ANYTHING unless it's her idea. She finds EVERYTHING that's not her idea worthy of a complete and total freak out. It isn't just a few things. It's EVERYTHING she doesn't like. She doesn't want to go somewhere, she freaks out and screams at us. She doesn't want to take a bath, she does the same. She doesn't want to go to bed, she doesn't want to get off the computer, she doesn't want to do her homeschooling work, she doesn't want to leave somewhere - ALL of these things will cause her to freak out, hit us, kick us, etc. I can't just NEVER transition from one thing to another. I give her countdowns ("We have to leave in 10 minutes," "Five more minutes now,"). I try to give her choices as much as possible ("You have to have a bath, but we can do it tonight or in the morning"). None of it matters. No matter how long I count down, she will freak out when it's time to transition. No matter how many choices I give, she will be mad at the one she chooses when it's time to implement.
I've tried Plan B a few times, but every time she says she doesn't know what the problem is, other than that she doesn't want to do X and that she has no solution. Additionally, she doesn't like any of my solutions. I am at my wit's end with this child. Rewards don't work. Time outs don't work. NOTHING works and she won't participate in Plan B. She literally has me in tears about 4 times per week. She used to be the sweetest kid when she was littler - back when this behavior was normal and she could be distracted. Now she's too old for this to be normal and she can no longer be distracted, plus she has an opinion about everything, which she didn't when she was littler. Our families both think we're awful parents and she's an awful kid. HELP!
When I took workshops from Dr. Greene, he said that when Plan B isn't working there are usually one (or more) of some basic causes:
1) One or both parties lack the skills necessary to engage in Plan B. At differing times, both my child and I lacked the skills we needed. I needed to practice getting down to concerns vs. solutions, for example (it wasn't working when I was focused on solutions). While kids do learn skills just by participating in Plan B, some kids need some more explicit instruction in one or more skills before they can even participate. My dd had to learn better emotional regulation skills, communication skills, and thinking skills (esp. thinking flexibly) before Plan B could work for us with regard to one particular trigger. Some kids have underlying issues that need to be addressed before Plan B can work: for example my dd has an anxiety disorder, and she really does better with Plan B when the anxiety is under control.
2) Spending too much time relying on Emergency Plan B (starting Plan B once the problem has already begun, instead of engaging in Plan B before the problem begins: so, if you've just asked her to transition and then you begin engaging in Plan B, that's emergency plan b).
3) Focusing on solutions rather than concerns ("I want to keep playing my game" might be a solution, not a concern. "I want you to go to bed now" is a solution, not a concern-a concern might be "I'm worried you'll be tired if you stay up any longer.").
4) Missing steps. There are 3 steps to doing Plan B, and it can be easy to leave one out. In particular, moving too quickly past the empathy step is pretty common-doing "drive-by empathy." It's easy to kind of go "I know you (x), but..." instead of taking the time to listen and really get down to the child's concern-and let her know you really hear her.
For me, when things were to the point that I felt like nothing I did was working, not even Plan B, despite how much effort I was putting in, when I was in tears weekly, when things were getting worse instead of better, taking my dd for an evaluation was extremely helpful. I literally had no idea that anxiety was a big problem for dd at the time we took her in. Most of her anxiety came out as irritability, wanting to control everything, tantrums--she rarely expressed anxiety in obvious ways like saying "I'm scared" or "I'm worried." It was really helpful to get someone else's professional perspective, and to have some help teaching my dd the skills she needed to do better.
In terms of transitions: this is something my dd has trouble with. She really has difficulty "shifting cognitive set," shifting gears mentally in order to go from one thing to the next. So she resists that movement. She'll be doing something, and I'll tell her it's time to do something else, and she'll just continue to do the first thing. When she was younger, she would tantrum when it came time to transistion. I found we had to experiment a lot with how to approach transitions. We did lots of warning for transitions (5 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute...), which I still do and which helps (but sometimes when she was younger that wasn't enough). We've done written schedules (for a younger child you could do picture schedules)-my dd, with her anxiety, just loves to have things mapped out and will rigidly stick to a schedule. The written schedule could be different every day, but as long as her day's schedule is written down she feels good (the predictability helps her feel secure) and transitions are easier (she can see what's coming and when). We've used timers (to show visually how much time is left, and to remove conflict by putting the timer in charge instead of me). Different things have helped at different stages of her life.
One other thing that also helped enormously was to set aside 10-15 minutes at least 5 days a week for "special time." This was uninterrupted one-on-one time when dd chose what we would do together, and I did not ask questions, talk about behavior, or direct any play. Anything I said was positive. It made a huge difference in terms of our relationship, which made solving problems easier. It helped us nurture more positive feelings toward each other, it helped us build trust. I know it can be difficult to carve out that one-on-one time, but it's worth doing.
You'll get through this. You're not awful parents and she's not an awful kid. It'll be okay.
eta: You can ask some questions here: http://thinkkids.org/mythinkkids/ about Plan B. It's a new forum but some of the people who will reply have been doing Plan B with their kids for a long time. You may or may not find the videos at www.thinkkids.org helpful in term so of troubleshooting plan B.
She finds EVERYTHING that's not her idea worthy of a complete and total freak out. It isn't just a few things. It's EVERYTHING she doesn't like. She doesn't want to go somewhere, she freaks out and screams at us. She doesn't want to take a bath, she does the same. She doesn't want to go to bed, she doesn't want to get off the computer, she doesn't want to do her homeschooling work, she doesn't want to leave somewhere - ALL of these things will cause her to freak out, hit us, kick us, etc.
If you're doing proactive plan B, and she's refusing to participate, then here are a couple of ideas that might help:
1) Offer some kind of reinforcement for participating in the conversation. Pick a relatively easy topic (e.g. one that's not hugely upsetting to her, and one on which you're willing to make compromises where she gets very close to what she wants, but not exactly what she wants and say "Hey, I want to have a conversation with you, why don't we drive to the ice cream store, and we can talk along the way". Then when you get there, say we need to finish up so we can get out the car for our ice cream.
2) Set up some completely artificial situations (e.g. get a package of a snack she likes, and negotiate, I want them all, and you want them all, how can we share? or if she isn't likely to be able to tolerate that, here's two dolls let's pretend they each want all of them, how could they work this out -- and then let her eat both doll's portions. Another would be, let's pretend that I want to do X, and you want to do Y (but pick both activities that she would actually enjoy) and then come up with a solution where you do X and then Y.
3) Once she's had some experience doing Plan B under one and two, think about whether a behavior system makes sense. However, make sure the reward is incremental, and that it's not for not melting down (she doesn't know how to not melt down, it's a skill that is not in her repertoire right now), it's for trying the plan B. So at first the reward might be -- I'll give you a quarter for your piggy bank for every two hours during which you either told me what the problem was, or repeated the problem back after me if I guessed right (if you think she really doesn't know -- some kids in "vapor lock" can't organize their wants in to words and you need to say things like "Hmmm, I'm guessing you want the TV to stay on. Is that right?). Then even if she melts down, if she stuck with you long enough to agree on the problem before she lost it she gets her quarter. Then once that's consistent add another baby step -- state the problem and listen quietly while you state your problem. Eventually you'll have "shaped" the behavior into having a problem solving conversation. One thing I'd caution here, is that you want the reward to be given based on time (e.g. during the next 2 hours you participate in problem solving every time I ask you to) vs. event (e.g. you get a reward each time you participate in problem solving) because 1) she's likely smart enough to realize that kicking up an initial fuss leads to your request to problem solve which leads to rewards (which might lead her to start struggles when she might otherwise not have) and 2) because in the initial stage where you're probably going to have a lot of half-negotiations followed by meltdowns, you don't want to be giving the reward immediately after meltdowns will be confusing and 3) then you have an excuse to talk to her and remind her of the system when she's in a calm mood -- e.g. she's happily playing with the computer, you come over, give her a hug and say "Here's your quarter, you problem solved every time I asked this morning! I'm so glad you're working hard on problem solving", even though the only actual problem solving she's done is this morning you offered cheerios, she asked for fruit loops and you compromised on a bowl of 100 fruit loops and 4 cheerios, 2 of which were still uneaten in the milk at the end.
4) Think about putting more in Basket C. Homeschooling work? She can do Kindergarten next year. At this point you're building habits, and meltdowns become pretty intractible habits. One benefit of using Basket C a lot is that kids spend less time melting down, and then they realize that life is more fun when they aren't melting down, and then they're motivated to do the hard work of learning how to negotiate and not meltdown.
5) Make sure that when you're attempting Plan B, and she's attempting Plan A (e.g. I want my own way and I'm not budging), that Plan A does not work for her. Choose things to target with Plan B where you can actually make sure that she doesn't get her own way in the end. Homeschooling is probably not an example of this, because my guess is you might have situations where the pattern is this -- you ask her to do something academic, she starts to meltdown because she doesn't want to do it, you move in to Plan B, she holds her ground and in the end the academic work isn't done, because you can't actually force her to do with it -- she learns that she can ignore your attempts to problem solve. On the other hand, if the issue is turning off the TV, you let her know that you'd like the TV off but let her know you're willing to compromise -- she wants it off "never", and melts down refusing to compromise. You say "I was hoping we could compromise, but now the TV goes off (even if you need to unplug it and put a luggage lock through the plug so you can simply walk away)."
Disclaimer: I'm a teacher, and reading back over this I feel live I've said "don't homeschool" several times, I don't mean don't keep her home with you, I mean right now stop the adult directed academics, or at least stop forcing them. Offer an activity and if she says no thank you, then let her be.
I wonder, too, if you can change the words you use to approach the problem. And maybe be more general: "I've noticed lately that when I ask you to do things (or we have to go somewhere), that you get upset and it's hard for you to do what I asked you to do. I wonder what's up?" And just pause. Let her think. If she says "I don't know" then ask more: "does it feel hard for you to stop what you're doing?" or "do you like to be the one to choose when to stop (or what to do)?" or whatever. Toss ideas out there.
One solution we came up with when I had this (nearly exact) conversation with my (non-explosive but very spirited) 4 (at the time) year old dd was to make sure that she had lots of other choices to make about what to do and when to do it. We identified times when she could not choose (i.e. when we have to go pick up ds and dd1 (my explosive child) from school) and times she could choose. This wouldn't work for every kid, but it worked for her b/c she really did feel she was getting dragged around and told what to do, not making choices for herself.
Also, remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. Sometimes you have to go through the problem solving process several times to find a solution that sticks.
She's not in therapy. We're currently looking for someone whose solution isn't that she needs to spend more time in time out or get more rewards for good behavior. We did not initially do either of those things, but started them when she was maybe 4.5 and her behavior started to get unreasonable. Over time, they've made things worse, not better. She won't sit in time out like other kids (it takes 20 minutes of putting her back in the chair before she'll sit long enough to calm down). Rewards are just punishments to her, because she can never earn them. Those were reasons I was initially opposed to time out and rewards, but when she started getting very uncooperative and uncaring about others, we didn't know what else to do. At any rate, they haven't work and haven't helped one bit. Neither have sticker charts.
As far as her academic stuff goes, she actually does end up doing it every day. It's just that it takes roughly 60 minutes of begging and pleading on my part to get her to do 75 minutes worth of work. I have this fear she's going to hate anything at all academic and I really don't want that. It's not the programs we use. It's just her not wanting to do anything unless she decides to do it. For instance, on the weekend she will frequently come to me and ask to "do school" then throw a fit when I can't drop whatever I'm doing right that minute and go do whatever it is she wants to do. Although I guess typing that out makes it obvious that she probably doesn't hate academic stuff so much after all. Duh. lol
A year ago, we thought she was just difficult. Her behavior really only became what I would consider explosive over the past few months. I think it has a lot to do with my pregnancy and my DH's work changes. He went from working a regular day job to being a full time student and not working, so he studies all day, then goes to school 4 nights a week. We actually see him less than we did before, we don't all eat dinner together when he has school, he's home during the days...it was a big change for us. On top of that, I had months of morning sickness so bad I could barely move every day. I'm 33 weeks and still get nauseous daily and vomit occasionally. She became really unmanageable in the midst of all this. I think it doesn't help that she knows she's not going to be an only child anymore when this baby is finally born, so that probably worries her some.
We've tried proactive Plan B a few times - not enough to give up already or anything. It's just hard to know how to do it when the real issue is that she doesn't want to do anything unless it's her idea. How do I say, "DD, I've noticed you don't want to do anything we ask you to. What's up?" That seems overly broad. lol Magella, I think you actually addressed that.
As far as whether she goes from calm to freaking out quickly, yes, she does. But it's predictable. It's whenever we tell her she's going to have to do anything. You have to understand that I don't just walk in the room and say, "Time for a bath!" (she hates getting into the tub, even though once there she doesn't want to get out). I say, "Okay, you're going to have to take a bath tonight or in the morning. What do you prefer?" Of course she'll prefer morning. Then in the morning she'll flip out when I say she has to have a bath now, since that was what she agreed to last night. When morning rolls around, she wants to re-negotiate. Or if it's time to turn off the computer. She knows she has so much time and we tell her time will be up soon, then we count down, then she freaks out when she has to stop.
I do believe she needs to learn some skills for managing her emotions, which is probably the main reason I'm looking for a therapist for her. I think if she could deal with whatever it is that makes her so upset, then she'd be fine. I also just ordered a book for kids about anger, so maybe that will help. My husband thinks I'm getting too worked up about it and my family says they had to take turns talking me down when I was her age, but I did grow out of it, so maybe she will. I don't want to just sit on my hands and wait to find out, though.
I just finished reading another book which seems like it will be very helpful. I've already tried some of the communication strategies and DD seems receptive so far. I just read "How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk." It's an old book but is still relevant. I also think it fits in very well with the ideas of The Explosive Child.
The cool part is that they explain better what to do and how to say it and in different variations. The other cool thing about the other book is that the authors set up scenarios for practicing and also for understanding how kids may feel (and hence react) with different types of communications.
I also think their problem solving section is compatible with Plan B. It seems to be basically the same type of problem solving but with the steps broken down a bit more. I found this very helpful because I think I kept getting lost in the steps of Plan B. The "How to Talk...." explains ways of empathizing beyond parroting back and how not to lecture (a problem of mine and DH's).
In the problem solving they suggest to write down all ideas for solutions after identifying both parents and childs needs. Then the parent and child work through the list together to see what they can agree on and what solutions may work for both parties.
I still think Plan B is the way to go, and I really liked Explosive Child, but I feel like the other book is an excellent companion book. It helped me pull it all together better.
We will see if our Plan B sessions work a bit better from now on. I am still in the phase of learning how to do it effectively, but I do feel like DD has been more receptive to me lately.
I printed out a flow chart of Plan B from Dr. Greene's website. They also had a checklist to help figure out what I wanted to work on. Now I am trying to figure out which issue we want to approach first with proactive Plan B. And I am using the additional skills from the other book to enhance my approach.
I was also thinking some more about how much more out of control she's gotten over the last several months and realized that we've also been traveling a LOT because my grandmother had terminal cancer. We've been to visit her several times and I've left DD here with DH for a few weekends so I could go alone. DD doesn't really like traveling and I've been really stressed out over my grandmother for a looooong time now. I lived with her for several years since my mom took off when I was tiny, so we had a very special relationship. (Incidentally, my horrible mother abandoning us was what my family thought caused my difficult behavior, but maybe it's genetic. )
Anyway, adding that to all the other changes going on over the last few months is probably the explanation for why DD suddenly got so much more difficult. My new pregnancy, DH's new schedule, my months of morning sickness, my stress over my grandmother and the undone housework, the traveling, leaving DD with DH (she loves him and he's great, but she's not used to me being gone)...that's a lot of stuff to put on a 5-year-old all at once. I never really thought about it because I was so wrapped up in all my own stress and grief. Poor DD. I can't believe I never realized it all. I feel like such a jerk.
Maybe now that I'm feeling a little better, we're used to DH's schedule and there will be no more traveling for anyone, she will feel more at ease and this will return to a more manageable thing. We still need to work at it, because she was already unusually difficult before all this, but it wasn't nearly this extreme (with the aggressiveness and seemingly not caring about other people) until recently.
Do you allow your daughter ANY food at all with artificial colors in it? A lot of food has artificial colors and it can make kids act exactly like this. If that's the problem, no amount of discipline in the world is going to have a single bit of effect.
We lived with a woman a few years ago with a five-year-old girl who was exactly like this. She would just lose it over the tiniest little thing and she was very violent. She would hit and kick people. She would attack her mom. Her mother tried everything and nothing worked.
Right around that time, I saw an article in Mothering Magazine about how food dyes, especially Red Dye 40, makes many children uncontrollable, angry, and violent. I showed her the article and we immediately removed everything in the house with artificial coloring.
I am not kidding when I say the changes happened almost overnight. By three days later, she had turned into a sweet, gentle, loving child who never threw a tantrum again after that. It was miraculous. Some people just have a bad reaction to things. With me, it's Benadryl. It makes me RAGE. With kids, it's artificial coloring. I often see parents with kids who are uncontrollable and I wonder if that's what the problem is.
You have to cut it out entirely if you try it. If she has even one cookie at a friend's house or anything, it will happen again.
So sorry, momma. I hope something helps!
My dd, while not explosive, tends to be withdrawn, and is easily confused by social/emotional situations. I had a really hard time connecting with her for several years, and she displayed a lot of "attitude" toward me.
One day I just said, "I am trying to be your friend and you won't let me." I got real. I gave examples. I talked to her like she was a person, and not somebody I was trying to psychologically figure out. And she listened and things have been 100% better. When stuff slides I say, "I don't like how our relationship is going. I've not been who I need to be, and I don't like how you've been to me. Let's work on it, okay?" And we do, and have lots of conversations about what people expect, what different mannerisms mean, and trying to be a friend.
My dd just didn't KNOW how to be. After I explained what my goal was (to be close with her) and after I told her what the things she was doing meant, and what the things I was doing meant, she was happy to be my friend.
We still talk about it lots, and it really has been just what we needed.
"If you keep doing the same things you've always done, you'll keep getting the same results you've always gotten."
I bought the workbook linked below to work through problem situations with ds. It worked very well with ds I think because problem solving became non-personal. We were working together to solve someone else's problems - we had to identify the facts, feelings, work through possible solutions and what the outcomes would be. It gave us a basis to work through things that were emotional for him.
(You don't need the cards, just the workbook.)
Laura - Mom to ds (10) and dd (7) "Time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life." Brian Andreas.
Do you allow your daughter ANY food at all with artificial colors in it? A lot of food has artificial colors and it can make kids act exactly like this. If that's the problem, no amount of discipline in the world is going to have a single bit of effect.
I have to agree with that comment, changing foods can totally change a child's temperament.
That said...I don't want to alarm you, but have you had her evaluated for Aspergers Syndrome. The way she reacts to things sounds like the way my little sister does. When we take her on trips and something does not go her way (like they don't have the brand of water she drinks), she will have a melt down. She has grown out of the kicking, hitting and screaming stage,(she is 21 now) instead she copes by ignoring everyone sitting down and refusing to walk, even if were in the middle of a amusement park. Aspergers is like a social disorder where they have trouble adjusting to change, it's also on the Autism spectrum, and my sister has learning difficulties. My mom still has to work hard to get her to try something new. She has a set schedule and if it deviates she has problems. With my sister she is mostly Vegan, she drinks no soda or juice with food coloring and her food has to be mostly organic. That helps her a lot.
Good Luck, you sound like a great mom so I don't think your doing anything wrong it may be as simple as food coloring or a little more complicated
Momma to a toddler
Mama to a crazy preschooler!