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Young Child Discipline - Divorce Stress

Question : I am in the midst of a divorce which is not amicable even with respect to our age 3 1/2 daughter. I have been trying to juggle understanding and acknowledging her feelings and confusion, as well as what seems to be anger when she comes back from visitation with her dad, and discipline.

There are times when she is whiny, talks back to me, and throws tantrums, and does not show respect towards me and others when she is wonderful. My mother stated that she was behaving like a spoiled brat.

I was wondering if you had suggestions of a way to release her feelings like at a teddy or something instead of me, and how to get back on track with disciplining consistently. I know I can't give in but there are times when there are so many things going on too.

I have been wanting to take her to a child counselor but when I consulted one, I was told it was better to wait until after things were settled.

Also, do you have ideas to combat the other parent's badmouthing and putting untrue ideas in her head?? thank you.

Answer: Your daughter is going through a very difficult and confusing time. She may seem to understand that her parents don't get along, and live in seperate homes, but she can not express or understand any of the emotions she is feeling. As you have noticed, she has been using a lot of attention getting, inappropriate behaviors, as a means of communicating the confusion, anger, and possibly guilt, that she must be feeling, but lacks the vocabulary to vocalize effectively.

It's important to be consistant with her at all times, when it comes to setting limits and following rules. She still needs you to be her mom, and be told what is appropriate behavior and what is not acceptable, for example, "I can see that you are angry with me right now, but it is not okay for you to talk to me so rudely". At the same time, your daughter desperately needs a way to express her emotions, and release some of the stress or anxiety she must be feeling, during this tramatizing time for a 3 year old.

I suggest you try to spend as much quality time as possible with her. Set up a make believe house area using puppets or dolls. Have her be the little "girl", and you be the "mommy" doll. Ask her to lead the story line and where you should position each of the dolls.
Maybe, with a little bit of coaxing, she will use this opportunity as a way of expressing herself, and her thoughts, through the pretend play. If it doesn't work the first time, or she doesn't seem to open up too much, try the role-play with another adult that she seems comfortable with, for example a grand-mother.

Try to really acknowledge any of the feelings that she does express, for example, "You must have felt sad when..." or " That must have hurt your feelings when..." By listening, and providing some feeling words for your 3 year old to use, and by spending a lot of quality one on one time, where you are opening up the communication lines for anything she might want to share, you will help her start her healing proccess of the break up, of what she knew as her family.

As for her father badmouthing you, it's very very unfortunate and so sad that he does not have better judgement, but you can't control his poor behavior, since you cannot control what others say, no matter how harmful it is for the child to hear, it is best for you to focus on continuing to develop a strong and honest relationship with your daughter. With the passage of time, she will come to know her own truths about her father and her loving mother.

If you seek a counsellor, persist in finding a suitable one, that will meet your needs.

I wish you a healing road ahead!
M.C.