K.S. asks from Portland, OR on April 05, 2009
I'm Recently Separated and Don't Know How to Deal with 3 Year Old's Tantrums
My husband and I separated 2 weeks ago. We rented studio "cottage" and switch back and forth while our 3 year old daughter stays at the house. We are going to counseling and trying to reconcile and show her as much love as possible. This is of course hard on her. She misses the other parent while he/she is gone. But it is also so much better than seeing us argue. The thing is that while she is sleeping better and looks more relaxed, she has also gotten extremely clingy and whiny, and her tantrums have escalated. I know that this is normal, bt I don't know how to deal with her in difficult situations. For example, last week at dance class she kept running back and forth ad back and forth between me (sitting on the side)and the dance circle. It was disrupting during ballet, but during tap it was unbearable (clap clap clap clap clapity clap clap acros the floor). When I asked her what was up she said "I'm shy today". OK, fine, but when I asked her if she wanted to leave she said no. OK, but the running back and forth,back and forth etc, was disrupting everyone, and I was getting upset. Wen I finally took her out of tap 1/2 way through (classes are only 1/2 hour) she was grabbing a post and crying but wouldn't stop being disruptive or just sit and watch. She's been very clingy when I drop off at day care (2days a week) and then screams and needs the teacher to take her out of my arms while I walk out the door with her yelling "Mama Mama Mama!!" this is after I've spent time with her in the classroom getting her acclimated (I've called afterwards and they say the crying lasts only a few minutes then she enjoys herself all day w/friends). I think it is important to maintain as much of a normal routine as possible, to provide stability (hence keeping up dance and daycare). I just don't know how to deal w/situations like dancing and public tantrums. I realize there is an adjustment going on, but how do I support her feelings, while still providing discipline and structure? Please give me some advice?
So What Happened?™
Thanks for some great advice! Things are still difficult though. Last week I took Arden over to the "little house" so that she could see the missing furniture and know that when a parent leaves, he'she does not disappear( she said "mumma, it's beautiful!" and "oh, there's your bed, rocking chair, etc.". I then took her to the park across the street and she thought it was all great! However, dance class still went poorly. After many discussions about not running back and forth from mumma to dance circle, and telling her that we would leave, instead she just ran back and forth across the whole dance floor, and we had to leave, with her crying. In the car on the way home she said "the reason I'm crying is because I am sad that mumma and daddy don't live in the same house anymore" Ouch. I told her that I am sad too, and that she can always tell me when she is feeling sad and I will do my best to make it better. Then she told me that when her daddy came home she would tell him I am a good mommy. I have resisted talking to her dance teacher because her husband works closely w/my husband and noone at work knows. I have however told her daycare teachers, and they are supportive.Yesterday we tried having a family Easter day (both at the house to watch her open Easter basket etc.) & my brother and mom came over to act as a buffer. It worked fine until they left and then we started arguing again, ruining the whole day. This is causing me so much acute anxiety that I cannot sleep at night, I'm averaging 4 hours...split up. This of course makes me even more touchy. I feel like I am losing everything and damaging my daughter in the process. I can't even look around my house without thinking of all the wasted plans, all the damage done. I'm enrolling Arden in play therapy in the next couple of weeks (waiting to hear back)and hope that will help her. How have others gotten through this? Oh, and I'm also concerned about how the recession market is going to affect our finances if we do split? Selling the house, retirement, me trying to go back to work.... Any advice would be welcome.
W.C. answers from Seattle on April 06, 2009
Since she does okay at daycare when you leave, I think it should work for ballet and tap dance. If you are required to stay, ask if you can wait outside--out of view. It might work.
Also this separation could be aggravating the terrible twos tantrums again. Try what worked then. I would just be firm. Tell her "I know that you are mad (scared?), but you may not have this tantrum."
J.W. answers from Seattle on April 06, 2009
Living in the same house isn't the stability she's looking for and needing. She's suffering from extreme separation anxiety. Perfectly normal considering what she's going thru and it's only been two weeks. Most people need longer than that to adjust to a caffeine reduction. You may have to change the activities right now. Instead of group activities like dance, how about just some one on one time with her. To the library where you pick out books and read there or at home? How about a craft store where you find an activity to purchase and then go home and do together. You don't know if she has this same reaction when Dad's at home, she could be doing the same when he drops her off at daycare or an activity. Three year olds feel, they don't comprehend why adults do the crazy things they do. Her tantrums are her way of expressing her fears, confusion, displeasure of what's happening in her life that she had no control of, no say in the matter. Imagine if someone did this to you... I'd be more than willing to bet that your demeanor wouldn't be sweetness and light. You'd be curt and rude whenever you thought you could get away with it, just to lash back at someone, something. And when you're with close friends, you wouldn't want them to leave or you wouldn't want to go, you'd overstay your welcome and they wouldn't say a word because they understood what was happening in your life. More one on one time. More hugs. Fewer group activities until you all have decided what it is you're going to do. Right now, life is like a yo-yo.
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M.S. answers from Portland on April 06, 2009
She just realized that her parents are not permanent. That is a horrible thing to realize at such a vulnerable age. You need to reassure her that you both will always be there for her, and neither one of you will ever leave her or stop loving her. You have to expect and allow that she is going to cling to you like crazy to make sure you won't just up and leave her. Explain the situation to her teachers, and ask for advice and leniency. You cannot get mad at her or frustrated with her though because it not only makes it worse for her, but isn't fair to her. No offense (really), but you created this insecurity in her, and it isn't something she is doing wrong or disobeying about. She absolutely cannot control her fear, and you should understand her and her fear instead of expecting her to snap out of it and pretend. In dance, maybe the teacher can let you sit in the circle too and be a helper. if not, then explain to your daughter that you will absolutely not leave her. Talk about what you will do after class, so she has a reason to believe you won't leave. Read her "the kissing hand" or some such story about being together while you are apart. Maybe even put on lipstick and kiss her arm so she can see a visible reminder of you. Or make a cloth picture of you guys together (like on a t-shirt, but cut out) so she can carry it in her pocket to look at when she feels scared. Try to stay unemotional in front of her so she believes that you are in control. Assure her that she has never done anything that caused you guys to split up, and no matter what she did, she could never do anything that will cause you to leave her. Get some books for her on parents splitting up. The library can help you find some. Let her see your other house too, so she feels like you aren't just disappearing. Never leave after she is in bed or not there, and always say goodbye. If she needs extra time when you and hubby are switching, let her have it. Take your time on that goodbye and let her feel secure. Maybe you and your ex could even have a family dinner together for her sake before the trade-off. For her, you may find it easier for her to switch houses than to have her parents keep leaving her. Time will tell. It is great that you and your ex can work together for the sake of your daughter.
Pick your battles behavior-wise, and give less discipline and more hugs right now.
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M.M. answers from Portland on April 06, 2009
My heart goes out to you. I have not gone through a divorce, but I have close friends and family members who have and it is sooooo hard - on the couple going through the divorce and, of course, to the innocent children caught in between.
I personally think you are doing far more right than you realize. Your response reveals your maturity and understanding of the situation.
To ease your guilt, remember that life is not easy for anyone and there is no such thing as "the perfect childhood." Your little one needs to learn that you will love her and be there for her always, but that no matter what tragedies befall us (and this will not be the only challenge she will face in her life), we are always responsible for our actions.
I would continue to take her out of dance class when she misbehaves.
The fact that she adjusts to daycare within 15 minutes and has a good time means she's going through some separation anxiety (totally normal), but is happy there. So, I would keep her in daycare.
Other than that, I honestly don't think there's a magic way out of this.
Just try to take good care of yourself during this very difficult time.
I have prayed for you and your daughter. Blessings. M.
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M.S. answers from Seattle on April 06, 2009
My ex and I separated last summer and my daughter is still experiencing fall out from it. It definitely made her more clingy and whiny for a while.
When we were at dance class, my daughter would just go sit in the corner with her eyes closed and not participate. As long as she wasn't disrupting the class it was ok. If she got disruptive, we left. I made it clear at the beginning of class that I would be with her, but that if she disrupted the class we'd have to leave.
The other thing is to constantly reassure her that even though you and daddy aren't together anymore, that you are NOT going to leave her and you will be right here for her. Let her know she can call you on the phone on the nights she misses you and she can call daddy on the nights she misses him. My daughter went from going right to sleep to needing 2 nightlights, numerous stuffed animals and me checking on her every five minutes for an hour. I think it's a combination of age related clinginess as they figure out they are their own person and divorce related clinginess since they are worried one or both of you is going to go away.
If you don't already have this book, please pick up Mom's House, Dad's House by Isolana Ricci (I think). It's geared a bit towards older children, but is really helpful in getting through a separation or divorce.
Good luck. I know how painful this process can be.
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J.C. answers from Seattle on April 06, 2009
-- it sounds to me like you are handling it fine---K.- your little one is saying with her behaviour what YOU are saying with your wonderful linguistic skills ''' THIS HURTS-- I DON'T LIKE IT AND I'M SCARED!!!""" She can't say that with words - so she says it with behavaiour -- and you are handling it beautifully--- with sympathy AND with structure ( she does go to day-care- and you remove her when her behaviour crosses a line)--- it's tough=- and so unfair that just when YOUR life is so painful- you have this task too-- been there-- did it- glad it's over --
J. - aka- Old Mom
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M.W. answers from Seattle on April 06, 2009
I agree with the other posts, it sounds like you are trying very hard to be consistent and loving. Also, sometimes 3 year olds just test their boundaries in ways that are totally annoying, regardless of their emotional needs! "Love & Logic" books have lots of great advice on consistency and loving consequences to nurture and guide kids to make the right choices.
The only other thing that struck me was, Is she having the same clinginess/whining with her dad too?? It sounds great that you are both willing to a) get counseling, and b) move out once a week without disrupting your daughter's physical situation. But, if you're not there for a week, and she doesn't really understand where you are, and you are the parent she's been used to Staying At Home with her entire life, that has got to be traumatic. It might be even more traumatic to "show" her where you are those nights, so I don't know what to suggest.
I hope you and your spouse are able to work things out in a way that is best for all three of you.
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B.P. answers from Seattle on April 06, 2009
She has lost some of her security and doesn't know how to handle her anxiety. Give her lots of hugs and cuddle time. Tell her you will both always be here for her and hold her tight. Good luck with your relationship. Do you to to counseling? They can help you with her also.
D.A. answers from Portland on April 06, 2009
Can you leave the dance room? If so, drop her off and wait for a few minutes for her to get settled, then wait outside until dance class is over.
After a couple of classes with you out, then she will probably settle in.
Also, I've just told my daughter (almost 4) that if she isn't going to listen and follow the teacher's directions, then she will need to leave class. She gets one warning, then we go. It isn't fair to the other kids when a child disrupts and is allowed to.
Good luck and maybe take your daughter over to the cottage to see where you are living while not at home and that you/dad are okay.