Saturday, December 11

Toddler Torn Between Two Families: No Support or Consistency

Questions:  My 3 and a half year old grandson has problems with aggressive behavior:  hitting, tantrums, and not wanting to sleep in his bed (he sleeps on the floor in his Dad and step Mom's room).  My son has custody and the child have visitation with his Mother and stepbrother. The family values are different in each household and there is not a good relationship between the mother and father.  How do we deal with these problems knowing that the other household will not help on these issues?  He is constantly telling us that his mother always says bad things about his Dad.  His father and all of us refrain from saying negative things about her and her family.  I feel that he is torn with two ways of living and I do not know how to help him or my son help him.  He is a dear little boy and I just want him to feel loved and confident about himself.  I’m not saying that all of his problems are the other family's fault as my son has had custody for a year.  I just need to know how to help him deal with his feelings in a positive manner.

Answer:  
Oooh - you sound like such a wonderful influence on him - and great balls of fire, the whole situation is just sticky! 
You are absolutely right - his behaviors are due to lack of consistency and positive environment.  And it's SO hard because even if you guys did everything right, as soon as he goes to the other household, it gets unwound and undone and you have to start all over again.  BUT, if that's what you've got, that's what you've got, and let's just deal with it.
1.  When he is  with your son, he needs ABSOLUTE consistency and structure.  He needs to know what to expect, what comes next (during the day), and how to behave.  At nearly four, these behaviors should be fading out, not getting more aggressive - so the caregivers have got to have a shift in their thinking now and STOP reinforcing behavior they do not want to see.  We do it all the time and don't even know it!!  The TAG method (Toddler ABC Guide) explained in my book shows you how to deal with problem behavior effectively.  The TAG method wraps around setting up a positive environment and setting up each situation for success.  Many times with negative behavior, when we discipline, we focus too much on what we DON'T want to see.  We need to shift: he needs to have consequences to his behavior, for sure, but we also have to show him what we DO want for next time.  If you don't show him, he doesn't know.  And at this point, he is bounced back and forth and I'm sure there is tons of guilt flying around...but the caregivers MUST be consistent and give him boundaries so that we can break this cycle and make him feel safe and secure.  The intention of parents is honorable - you think you are making him happy by giving him what he wants all the time, but it actually does the opposite and makes him feel more and more insecure...which leads to more negative behavior because he is desperately trying to find out where his boundaries are so he can feel secure.  It's a big, messy circle.  So.  He needs a daily schedule, a set routine, and an absolute shift in how you deal with his behavior.  He keeps doing it because it works. When YOU stop reacting the same, the behavior will slow down and stop.  Go to my website http://www.lifewithtoddlers.com/ and click on the fridge icon for a very basic overview of TAG.  You have to use it in conjunction with the book, but it will give you an idea of where you need to start.
2.  If there is any way on Earth that you can get your son to read Life with Toddlers - or even just flip through it - he needs to do that.  It is chock-full of ways to reduce problem behavior and set up a positive environment.  Most of the time, especially with kids who consistently tantrum and throw fits, you have to have step back and take a look at the entire environment and make a shift in how he is cared for...THEN the behaviors will slow down dramatically.  Right now, he is not feeling secure so he need loads of structure, limits, consistency, and guidance (all part of my Five Basics) to bring some of that balance back, and he needs caregivers to stop reinforcing behavior they do not want to see.
You are wonderful person, caring so deeply for this child - my deepest good will is sent your way and best wishes for a quick and happy turn around.  Do your best to give him everything he needs while with your son, and that is all you can do.  He will eventually 'get it' and figure out where he feels more secure, safe, and happy.  Hopefully, the love and guidance you two provide will set him on a positive path.   
 

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