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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have posted here and lurked here a few times. Today I come to you wise parents begging for some guidance.

My 4yr old dd exhibits extreme violence towards herself and me. In the past 24 hours she has drawn my blood by grabbing my wrists and digging her nails in as hard as she can, she has pulled her own hair out of rage, and she has kicked me in the leg.

She has always expressed her self through violence. She started hitting me before the age of one. I am getting desperate. I am way passed the saying be gentle or ignoring it. So far none of the advice I have recieved has worked.

Today after she kicked me I screamed in her face
and we both ended up in tears.

There are physchological stressers going on that contribute to her feeling out of control I am attempting to neutralize and solve those issues but some of it is just life stuff.

Please any help or book suggestions or any kind of advice would be so helpful

845 Posts
DS1 has meltdowns during which he is totally unreachable, and he will often try to hurt me during these angry spells. Is that how it plays out for your DD?

I don't feel comfortable portraying our story as a total success quite yet, but I can tell you a little about our journey so far. Things have gotten a lot better, especially over the past six months. (He turned three years old last fall.)

It really frightened me to see DS developing in this way. I was never like that as a child, nor was anybody in my family... but my son's biological father was that way, and he became a truly awful man. I felt I needed to nip the behavior in the bud, but I didn't know how. I was consistent with delivering consequences for these outbursts, but they weren't doing anything to change him. I stepped up the severity and so he stepped up his negative behavior. I yelled, screamed, and cried in desperation, and he yelled back at me. Nothing seemed to matter to him.

What has made the biggest difference for DS was transforming my entire outlook on parenting. I'm a quick reader, so I've made heavy use of my local library.

These three books were the most helpful:
Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson
Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

They're not perfect (nothing is), but I gained a lot by reading them and adapting the ideas for my own child. As Nelson cautions in her book, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If something an author recommends doesn't sit right with me, I skip over it for now and take the parts that do work. Sometimes I come back and find out I was wrong. Sometimes not. I reread the helpful parts many times and I skim the chapters that don't speak to me so much.

I also got some insight out of The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene and The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron. The latter of those titles helped me see that some of DS' behavior actually stems from temperamental inclinations that I do share with him (even though we react to our sensitivities in very different ways), and it isn't all scary stuff from his bio-father. Knowing this has increased my understanding and empathy toward him. It also helped me start to heal from the fear that I was doomed to raising some kind of monster no matter how hard I try to intervene.

Here are some things that helped DS:
-No time outs
-Gradual departure from punitive discipline
-Giving him more power over his daily life (what to eat, when to eat, what to wear, etc.)
-Refraining from criticism or mini-lectures, trusting him to learn his own lessons
-Saying "yes" whenever possible
-Making extra sure to be available to bond in the way he wants (for example, I helped him get dressed for several weeks, even though he already knew how to do it himself. I did this because he wanted the closeness that comes with it. Nelson actually recommends against this, but I think she's wrong. He's now dressing himself again, btw.)

Okay... so those things have helped make him a happier, calmer boy in general. But he's still himself! He still has meltdowns and they're still not pretty.

My approach now is to let him know that I want to talk about whatever's the matter after he is calm. There is no point in validating, conversing, or even listening much when he has already entered his meltdown. He's not in his right mind at those times and he doesn't mean anything he says. (If he's merely upset, we can talk just fine. Meltdowns are different.)

If he lashes out physically, I tell him that I love him and I won't let him hurt me. If he continues to try, I isolate myself in a room with a lock on the door and I repeat that I won't let him hurt me. We are lucky in that DS does not turn his aggression on himself or on objects or do anything else dangerous to get me to come out. He actually seems relieved that I won't let him do things to me that he would regret. Typically, he will pound at the door and scream at me for a few seconds, then he goes and plays in his room. I leave him to play alone for a while so his body can calm down. When I come out, I ask him if he wants to talk about what happened, or just forget about it. If he asks me to come out sooner, I do.

I think you're right in attributing this sort of behavior to feeling out of control. I know that for my son, control is a very important issue. He likes to feel like he's in control over his own life and, ironically, he will get totally out of control if he feels like he doesn't have enough control to begin with. What I'm starting to see is that I don't need to be afraid to give him a lot of control. It doesn't spoil him or create a tyrant... quite the opposite! The more healthy control and freedom he has, the less he grasps for these things in an unhealthy way.

Another thing that was very helpful for me to realize is that I didn't have to give him the reins on issues where he truly can't handle being in control, or where it greatly inconveniences me to let him do as he pleases. Giving kids more control is not an "all or nothing" thing. For example, he has had sleep issues since birth and would not be able to choose a healthy bedtime for himself. He just can't read his own body's tiredness signals yet. So I decide when bedtime is. But I make up for it by giving him freedom in other areas, so his appetite for control is still satiated.

Anyhow, please don't think I'm implying that you've made all the same mistakes I've made. I just wanted to share what I've been through, in case any of it might be useful to you.
Even though our situations aren't exactly the same, I do know what it's like to deal with extreme behavior and be very worried about it. I really hope it gets better for you and your DD soon!

6,596 Posts
I third the Explosive Child.

I would work on a couple of things with her:

- Anticipate her triggers and soften your approach in those situations. You probably have a fairly good concept of what is going to upset her (reasonably or unreasonably.) Give lots of transition time, allow her time to "think about" whatever it is that you are going to ask of her. "In 2 minutes I am going to want to talk with you about...."

- Keep the tension low. Do your best not to be reactive -- meet her frenzy with calm. Build lots of down time into your routine, and extra time for transitions. When you are inclined to be tense and hurried, force yourself to slow down and be calm. Remind yourself that (paradoxically) time is usually saved by slowing down when you are dealing with an explosive child.

- Start speaking in terms of "problem solving" as often as possible. In a calm moment, directly teach her the steps for problem solving: 1) Name the problem, 2) Think of a lot of ways to solve the problem, 3) Pick the best one and try it. Role play lots of examples. When you read to her, pause to isscuss possible solutions to problems that characters in stories face. When she starts to get upset, acknowlege the fact that there is a problem. "Wow. There really is a problem here, isn't there? I wonder what are some ways we can solve it?"

- Teach negotiation skills by first validating her point of view, and then expressing your own. "I understand that you want x, y, and z. That makes sense to me. I want a, b, and c. I wonder if there is a way that we can both be happy? Lets work on it." "The Explosive Child" suggests starting with the words, "I'm not saying no," to disarm her rage and to begin the process of teaching negotiation skills.

- Reward appropriate negotiation skills and politely phrased requests as frequently as you can by saying "yes." (At the same time, choose your battles carefully and do not reward tantrums, kwim?)

I do think that age 4 is a common age for violent outbursts, but it is also an age that is perfect for teaching problem solving and negotiation skills. They are cognitively "primed" for it.

1,509 Posts
You have gotten some very good suggestions!

Meditation, yoga, and other stress reduction techniques may help for you and your child.

I would keep her out of any group activities with other children - with or without you present. I don't think you should consider school until she is able to control herself.
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