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What is up with this child?
July 2, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

I watch a 10-year-old girl whose behavior is very strange and I'd like to get to the bottom of it. She's a family member, and no one seems to take me very seriously when I mention her oddities. I spend ~20 hours with her weekly, and the more time I spend with her, the more concerned I am. Many details inside.

For the sake of anonymity, I'll refer to the little girl as A. From the time A was born, she has been a little off. As a baby, our entire family always had to force her to eat and she stayed sickly - almost to the point where we were all worried she was failure-to-thrive. When she was a toddler, she would do out of control things like spitting in people's faces and walking around during family dinners in her panties with her hand down them, touch herself, and then smell her hand. Her parents usually just let these things fly, but even when they corrected her she just didn't change.

A has shown a distinct lack of empathy throughout her life. She would hit and break her toys when she was little, and now that she's 10 she talks about how she hopes that her current pets will die so she can get new ones. When her grandma passed away when she was 7 she never showed any sadness, not even at the funeral. This really concerns me more than anything she does.

When A was around 8, she gained a huge amount of weight but the distribution of if was unlike anything I had ever seen. Her legs stayed a perfectly normal size, and also her arms and her stomach for the most part - all of her weight went to her face and neck. The weight gain was so sudden that in a matter of a few weeks it was shocking. This was concerning, but she keeps gaining more and more weight in the same areas which is just so strange it blows me away.

The little quirks that A has are the most strange. She's been obsessed with bodily functions her whole life - especially farts. For years, every other sentence she would say would be about farting. I could understand this behavior in a little boy, but a girl? From ages 2-10? She also has no interest in "girly" things. Her hygiene has been horrible for years - I found out last week that her mom hadn't made her wash her hair in 3 weeks since she had been swimming every day. As far as I know her parents still bathe her as well, and she refuses to let them dry her hair so they just let her drip all over their hardwood floors. I've witnessed them trying to brush her hair and she screams so loudly that I would think she was being injured. This refusal to allow anyone to brush her hair resulted in a huge dreadlock in the back of her hair last summer, which her parents stupidly spent hours brushing out instead of giving her a logical consequence of cutting her hair.

A is completely negative about everything, and has this incredibly cruel streak in her. When she can see something bothers you, she just digs at it. I went swimming with her and she pointed out my cellulite and stretch marks multiple times. Another instance was when her grandfather had told her that bees only sting lazy people, and she asked me why I wasn't stung all the time since I'm so lazy. No matter how strict I am with her about the ways she speaks to me it doesn't change anything. I give her consequences that fit the situation and she never seems to learn. A great example - it took our family YEARS (at least 6) to make her thank people when they gave her things, but even now it's obvious she does not want to thank anyone for anything.

A has this refusal to grow up - she still talks like a baby often, calling me "Gace" (my name is Grace) and acting all "cutesy". She also often refuses to fix her own food, even if it's something like cereal. She has no friends at school which doesn't make sense to me, because when I was in elementary school it seemed like the "annoying kids" grew out of that stage and ended up having friends at least by the 5th grade (the grade A is entering). When I compare her to other 10/11 year olds I know, she is terribly behind. While they're playing team sports, doing pageants, and hanging out with friends she wants to color and play pretend. She also will ask the same questions over and over again - mainly asking your opinion on things she makes (she has an obsession with crafting).

I know something is off with this kid - I just can't figure out what. I can't decide if she's just a spoiled little girl (her parents give her almost anything she wants) or if we are dealing with some type of high-functioning autism/effects of abuse. A relative on the other side of the family mentioned to me that she thought something was wrong with A, and this relative is a nurse which is what really got me thinking. If it is helpful at all she has a few health issues such as a speech impediment, bad vision, and a possible heart issue that may have been her lying for attention. I

Thank you for any input on this. I am just at my wit's end trying to understand why this child acts the way she does. If I can pinpoint a possible problem, I can hopefully find a solution.
posted by sarahgrace to Human Relations (62 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're not going to get any useful data on MetaFilter other than speculation. Only an evaluation by a trained professional is going to get you any useful information.
posted by DWRoelands at 9:34 AM on July 2, 2012 [42 favorites]


It is really nice that you're trying to be involved. Are you babysitting her for 20 hours a week? You may see her more than her parents do.

We're not doctors or psychiatrists or anything along those lines. We can't pinpoint a problem from your observations. This is really really really up to the professionals. But yeah, from all you describe, it sounds like something is up.

But, for all you know, her parents and teachers have already taken steps to have her assessed for whatever is going on with her.

Really it is up to her parents to take her to her doctor and have her assessed. You can mention to them that you're concerned, but that's about it. You have no control over the situation in the larger scope of things.

Where is her teacher and school in all of this? If she is displaying these issues at school, she probably should have been identified as needing to be assessed.
posted by k8t at 9:36 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is clear though the the kid needs help. I can't speak to whether her parents are capable & she's just that messed up, or whether she's more or less raised by wolves, or a combination of the two, but the parents are probably in over their heads in either case, & the kid should have professional help.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:36 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess the real problem, and the reason I'm asking for any speculation, is that her parents ignore her issues completely. I know they haven't taken any steps for getting her assessed, and as far as I know as soon as she has any problems in school her mother does all she can to shut the teachers down from any interference. I was hoping if I had some idea of what could be going on, I could mention tactfully to her parents or another family member who could suggest ways to get her some help.

Her mother is a social worker and has been for 10+ years, so I would honestly expect her to know better and deal with her child in a better way.
posted by sarahgrace at 9:42 AM on July 2, 2012


Some of what you say in this post makes me concerned for this child. Some of it makes me concerned for you, particularly the weird gender essentialism about what little girls should or shouldn't be doing. But mostly, after having read this, I just feel like you need to take a giant step back from this entire situation. You don't have a complete picture of her life or health and you don't know what her parents and teachers and doctors are or aren't doing to help her out. She isn't your child or your student or your patient and this isn't your problem to solve.

Say something to her parents if there are specific behaviors you're worried about that you think they may not be aware of. If you're genuinely worried about her safety and feel that drastic action is necessary, contact the proper authorities. Otherwise, leave well enough alone. Those really seem like your only options in this case.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:42 AM on July 2, 2012 [57 favorites]


I think most people here are going to tell you she'll need a professional consultation to answer the "what" of the situation.

For what it's worth, though, I taught grade 4 the year previous. I certainly had students all over the spectrum in terms of behavior, and what you're describing would have been on an extreme end, so I think you're right in being concerned.

Also, it's odd, but her mother being a social worker probably means about zero. I meet children of counselors, special education teachers, principals, and they're all over the map in terms of development, behavior, and attitudes.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


No way of knowing what's going on with this child without a professional assessment and a medical workup.

The weight-gain issues would have me at the pediatrician if nothing else would.

She sounds entirely unpleasant. Is she this way all the time? What do her parents think of her? Her cousins, aunts, uncles?

If the rest of the family is concerned as well, perhaps you can have an intervention (with this child elsewhere.)

The end result would be a medical appointment and an assessment via the school. Her parents are doing her a grave disservice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:53 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess the real problem, and the reason I'm asking for any speculation, is that her parents ignore her issues completely.

This is a problem. Sounds like a bad mix of free-range parenting and a special-need kid.

Her mother is a social worker and has been for 10+ years

This means nothing. The most disgusting house I have ever been in belonged to a higher-up in the health department of a major city.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:55 AM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


You've provided a subjective history which includes how you believe she may be feeling and how she makes you feel. This history, especially as it includes a significant period of time, will be very valuable to a professional.

What isn't here, which you confirmed in your follow-up, is an objective evaluation, which is necessary in order to to identify a problem. In pediatrics both are taken into account in any diagnosis; while a subjective history may lead to a specific evaluation, in your case you are suggesting a very multi-valianet issue that includes medical/psychiatric/developmental assessment. A simple visit with her pediatric provider would likely get a referral to an assessment from a team (which is how kids undergo these kinds of evaluations).

Since you have shared that her parents have not sought out any kind of intervention or assessment, and that you believe they are unlikely to, and because you share that you believe that natural consequences help people understand their behavior, please let the parents know that you will be unable to provide childcare until steps are taken to start an assessment. You're reaching out because you don't believe you can meet her needs until you know what those needs precisely are, and it is the parents' job to get help understanding those needs. Until they take that step, you will not be able to learn what you need to do to care for her appropriately, and so should not care for her.

If you think that abuse or neglect (including medical) may be an element to this situation, please call child protective services and explain what you have here. They may be able to provide the parents with whatever assistance they need to pursue evaluation, OR determine that everything is okay.

You've cared for her for a long time, her whole life, no doubt exhausting whatever ideas/tips/approaches that are available to loving aunts. You don't need to ask for more or for better tips and ideas, you need support from her family regarding her behavior, which includes professional evaluation. Until you have that, you will have to withdraw the childcare, or provide it knowing that a lot of this situation will likely remain unchanged.

I'm thinking about you two, good luck!
posted by rumposinc at 9:56 AM on July 2, 2012 [24 favorites]


Forget all of her personality issues for now. Weight gain only around the face and neck is a very strange, alarming, and specific symptom. Is she seeing a pediatrician? What does her pediatrician say? There could be any number of serious hormonal or other physical issues at play causing this weight gain, and they very likely could be the cause of her emotional difficulties.

Ask her parents if she has gone to the doctor. If they haven't taken her and refuse to take her, figure out how to take her yourself or report the parents to CPS. This little girl needs to be seen by a professional immediately.
posted by phunniemee at 9:57 AM on July 2, 2012 [18 favorites]


Hey, don't expect social workers to know what to do in thier own life. Our strength (social workers) is having a certain perspective based on being removed from the situation. There are many good reasons that social workers need the perspective from not being in the middle of a situation. This is one reason under our code of ethics we can't take on friends or family as client (among other reasons). Your friend is right in the middle of a sick family situation of some sort and so probably can't see she need some sort of help.

The only solution besides fun fun internet diagnoses (ok, Dr. House voice: differential diagnoses people!) is to sit down with your friend and have an intervention. Tell her, "friend, this is an intervention, you need additional help you may even know this". Ask her what her barriers are to seeking help. Ask her what she would say to a client in this situation.

Social workers need social workers too. If your friend isn't already in some sort of therapy or phychoanalysis she should definately consider. If I had my way all social workers would recieve regular therapy of analysis.
posted by fuq at 9:58 AM on July 2, 2012


Is she quite a bit shorter than average?
posted by Houstonian at 10:06 AM on July 2, 2012


I agree that she needs to be seen by a pediatrician, and possibly a neurologist or development specialist. There are just enough physical quirks you describe (odd weight gain, possible development delays) to make me think some sort of assessment to determine brain function/development is in order. As far as how to make that happen though...I don't know. I would think that the weight gain issue should be the first prompt to get her to a doctor who could possibly then suggest other testing. But if the parents refuse the testing, there's not a whole lot that can be done until there's proof the child is being neglected somehow (and CPS gets involved but that's a whole different ball of wax).

Would it help if you kept an objective journal of behaviors that you see when you are babysitting? It might help you feel as though you are doing something by recording behaviors that the parents may not be able to witness, but it could also come in handy if/when the parents take her to a doctor and they can get a picture of her day to day activities. Make sure it's objective, without inserting your feelings or opinions though....just describe the behaviors, your intervention/consequence, and whether or not you observed a different response/behavior correction. At some point it could be valuable info down the line.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:08 AM on July 2, 2012


The fight here is with the mother - not the girl.

The girl is NOT your child. It seems wholly inappropriate to me to bring this girl to a doctor without parental consent - it may even be illegal.

Metafilter is not going to provide you with any answers. The girl needs a professional.
But it is not your place to take her to see one.
posted by Flood at 10:15 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Agree keeping a journal of behaviours is a good idea, and also starting from a medical angle when talking to her parents - suggesting they get the physical quirks investigated first. That way you are not blaming the parents for anything or accusing them of anything, you can help A, but you also leave open the option that, if she is being abused or has some early-stages mental health problem, that the doctors will pick that up (I think they are trained to find things like that, right?)

You are right to be concerned in any case.
posted by EatMyHat at 10:19 AM on July 2, 2012


This child must be seen by her pediatrician regarding the head and neck weight gain. SOON! I can think of a couple of disorders that involve the localized weight gain and severe behavioral issues. It doesn't matter what they are...you can google it if you want to. What matters is that this child gets appropriate medical care. I would talk frankly and openly, without blame with her parents. If they did not respond appropriately I would contact CPS. Sometimes it's not easy at all to do the right thing.
posted by txmon at 10:29 AM on July 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Do you spend a lot of time with other children?

Because a lot of the stuff you mention here sounds within the realm of normal. Maybe not super well-behaved, and not the kind of thing that society likes to have as the cultural narrative of what children are like. Which does not at all mean they are abnormal, just that they're not the idea people have of kids if they're not around them a lot.

You seem to not be drawing a distinction between awkward/annoying/ill-behaved and pathological. Which is not super helpful, since there's nothing really wrong with being an awkward child who is somewhat spoiled by her parents.

Also, just speaking personally, I was a weird kid, and I exhibited a lot of the behaviors you mention here. I turned out mostly normal.

All of that said, there is some stuff in here that concerns me, but more about the parents. They never taught her to thank people? They bathe her? They don't have solutions to the hair issue, like cutting it short? They saw her gain a lot of weight in a short time and didn't take her to the doctor?
posted by Sara C. at 10:33 AM on July 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Seconding txmon and others. Child should be seen by her pediatrician for assessment regarding her weight gain. Localized weight gain is often a hormonal issue, and can be seen in disorders like Cushing's Syndrome (as an example -- your description doesn't necessarily sound like Cushing's) as a result of exposure to steroids.

If this were my child, I'd consider any behavioural issues of secondary importance to the weight gain problem.
posted by zarq at 10:38 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, just speaking personally, I was a weird kid, and I exhibited a lot of the behaviors you mention here. I turned out mostly normal.

Same here.
But I even had the hair issue. I had a friggin' "rats nest" for a year or so and flat out refused to have my Mom brush it until my aunt suggested it to me. The reason was because I thought brushing it would get rid of my "perm" that I got.
I also had a lot of issues with some other things that are equally, if not weirder, than this young girl. I don't think I was quite as mean - but I wasn't the most behaved kid around adults. I was pretty smart back then, though.... but did not socialize with other children.

I think really, the increase in weight gain to the face would be my only real issue.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:42 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree that the odd weight gain is the only true issue that should/could be readily assessed. A lot of the behavioral problems you listed sounded like the child pushing your buttons. Could that be because she senses you don't like her? I think it sounds like you don't like her and that's from a 5-minute reading of your description and she's with you 20 hours a week! A lot of the other things just sound like she's not conforming to your very genderized view of how a little girl should be. So what? You identified she likes playing pretend and crafting: those are her interests and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Perhaps if you spent time encouraging the things she actually likes, much of the bad behavior and acting out would disappear.
posted by Eicats at 10:48 AM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


This seems like a strange situation where you are spending 20 hours a week with her, but not at all on the same page with her parents about so many things. In your place I would focus more on what can be done to improve relations with the parents.
posted by BibiRose at 10:50 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nthing that some of these behaviours are normal. A kids hates bathing and is obsessed with bodily functions? This is the definition of childhood. Why would having undeveloped female reproductive organs prevent her from thinking farts are funny? Especially when she doesn't have a network of female peers applying social pressure to conform to pink and tea parties. I hated girly things as a kid, loved filling toys with dirt and smashing them about, and a friend hated her hair getting brushed so much she'd be constantly dealing with rat nests. These are perfectly normal parts of childhood.

A seven year old is not going to be heaving sobs at a funeral, they don't fully understand death. It surprises me that this is the one thing that greatly concerns you considering some of the other issues you mentioned. My cousin giggled and tried to play through a funeral when he was 6. He's extremely empathic as an adult.

Do you deal with other children? Do you have any of your own? Your image of what a child is "supposed" to be is very idealized.

She sounds immature for her age, and the bizarre weight gain is certainly worth investigating. Her parents might be more open to your suggestions if you don't bring up what most people consider normal childhood development as glaring faults in need of intervention. (Yes I think they should bathe her more often, but that's not child abuse. It's just lacklustre parenting.)
posted by Dynex at 10:50 AM on July 2, 2012 [21 favorites]


It's totally normal for toddlers to walk around with their hands down their pants.
Seven-year-olds are not required to be bawling their eyes out at a funeral.
It's totally normal for kids under 10 to think farts are funny.
The (not) hair brushing? Totally normal.
The "refusal to grow up"? She's 10, for christ's sake.

A is completely negative about everything, and has this incredibly cruel streak in her.

This is projection.

It sounds like you really don't like this kid. I think she knows this full well, hence the reason she tries to push your buttons. The localized weight gain? Cause for concern. Be nice!
posted by dunkadunc at 10:54 AM on July 2, 2012 [25 favorites]


It sounds like you really don't like this kid.

Yeah, this too.

It does seem like you are concerned; otherwise why would you be spending all this time with her? (Unless the parents are paying you money that you really need, or something like that.) But this is another part of the situation that seems strange-- are her parents aware that they are leaving their kid with someone who has some many issues with her that they apparently don't share?
posted by BibiRose at 10:58 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some of what you're describing sounds genuinely concerning -- the unusual pattern of weight gain, for instance -- but other things could be just annoying kid stuff. Not fixing her own cereal, hating having her hair brushed, and babytalk aren't all that unusual. Even the way she (outwardly) reacted to a grandparent's death, the not readily thanking people, and needling adults when she sees she gets a reaction all sound par for the (unpleasant) course.

I think you're going to have way more success with the parents if you can separate this into three chunks: a) physical concerns, b) specific behaviour concerns you have as her caregiver, c) things you just don't like about her.

If you want the parents to really hear you when you talk to them about categories A and B, you need to let go of category C. When I was reading your description, what struck me most is that you seem to have a lot of contempt for the child -- you suggest she lied about having heart problems, she's "obsessed" with crafting, she asks too many questions, her hobbies aren't good enough for you, she's not "girly" enough for you, she doesn't conform, she's not who you think she should be. Consider that those things might not really be problems. Her parents could see the most eminent specialists in the world and address any and all developmental concerns and she could still be a fart-joke-telling, non-pageant-participating, make-believing, non-stop-crafting, quirky, wonderful, girl.
posted by atropos at 10:58 AM on July 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


To address a few questions:

A is not shorter than average. She's actually quite tall for her age.

I spend time with a lot of different children, usually between the ages of 8-12. A is absolutely nothing like any of the other children I often provide care for.

I don't dislike A. I really care about her, and while there are a few things that I feel contempt about (for example the heart condition that multiple doctors agreed was a figment of her imagination and that caused a huge panic and upheaval in our family), I truly, truly want the best for her and when she's having a "good day" (she is often unpleasant) I really enjoy her company. Her negativity isn't a projection - many people have commented on her lack of positivity and how nothing pleases her. Also, I don't expect her to be a typical "girly girl" at all - I wasn't into typical girl things as a child and I find that completely okay. When describing peers of her own age, I gave multiple examples (playing team sports, pageants, seeing friends) - all things that various other children I know who are her age participate in.

In regards to her not reacting at her grandmother's funeral - it's not even just that. It's the fact that she talks horribly about her deceased grandmother today, who treated her like she hung the moon. A recently described a beautiful necklace her grandmother purchased for her as a "piece of crap" and calls her grandmother's past actions "stupid" along with other disrespectful comments.

I feel as the best course of action, as you all suggested, is talking to her parents about the weight gain. After doing some research, that concerns me more than ever before, and I plan on sitting them down within the week and mentioning to them the fact that her weight gain is worrisome to me.

Thank you all for your input!
posted by sarahgrace at 11:16 AM on July 2, 2012


Hi! I have a kid. She's super empathic and sweet.

She also doesn't dry her hair super well, and drips on the hardwood floors. I live with it, because really, if the worst mess you've got is some drips on hardwood, that's...a good day. Hair-brushing is also always a challenge. When she brushes it herself, it's...not always tidy. Sometimes there are knots. When I brush them out, she totally pleads that I'm hurting her. Her parents probably didn't spend hours getting it out, either - they probably spent twenty minutes, which is normal for a parent, but I bet you might see as excessive.

She's also mean to people she doesn't like. She has to be reminded time and time again to thank people, and sometimes refuses to do this with people she doesn't like. Sometimes she tries to manipulate them by acting "cutesy." And if she can get them to fix her food, you can bet your bottom dollar that she would. She loves art and crafting. I don't know any other children her age who enjoy team sports or pageants. This might be a cultural difference.

This is what kids are like. Even good kids are sometimes mean.

The weight gain is a real thing, but the rest of this sounds like maybe the kid doesn't get along with you and you don't know how to handle it, or you have an idealized version of what children are actually like.
posted by corb at 11:22 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


>>Social workers need social workers too.

Seconded. I lived beneath a social worker. Her boyfriend beat her regularly, to the point where he was put in jail for 3 months after hospitalizing her. Last fall she died of a drug overdose.

Something to remember when looking at a social worker's personal life: They may be professionally embarrassed to draw on the resources they have. Or they may be scared: If they are viewed as somehow bad with their kid, how is this going to look to their co-workers? Their bosses? This was a very real factor in my neighbor's life, IN ADDITION to the fear that is generated from living around scary people.

This social worker parent may be minimizing & failing to deal with these problems due precisely for being a social worker. But again, it's wild speculation here.
posted by Ys at 11:30 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was little, I frequently got lectures about how negative and unpleasant I was to be around from adults, even as young as eight. They certainly did not make the chronically depressed little girl with non-traditional gender presentation any less depressed. Undoubtedly people who didn't live with my mother wondered why such a spoiled little girl whose mother appeared to dote on her could be depressed. That's because they weren't there for the physical and emotional abuse I got for being a weirdo who wasn't like the little girl my mother wanted.

My heart goes out to the little girl you're describing. Certainly she should see someone for the odd weight gain, but the rest of it might very well arise from not being able to fit into the box that everyone around her is critical of her for failing to fit.
posted by winna at 11:40 AM on July 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


As has been said, a proper assessment requires a trained professional. However the consensus in this thread seems to be be that, apart from the weight gain on the face and neck, A's behaviour is within the normal range. I can't agree with this.

You describe her as wishing for the death of her pets, failing to form any social relationships, showing no desire to participate in social activities, and displaying a complete lack of empathy for others.

Taken together, these seem a very reasonable basis for concern. Clearly this is an issue of degree; all children lack empathy at points, and some are slower to understand social interaction than others. However if these personality traits are as prominent as your text suggests, then I would certainly think a professional assessment is warranted.
posted by Touchstone at 11:48 AM on July 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


In regards to her not reacting at her grandmother's funeral - it's not even just that. It's the fact that she talks horribly about her deceased grandmother today, who treated her like she hung the moon. A recently described a beautiful necklace her grandmother purchased for her as a "piece of crap" and calls her grandmother's past actions "stupid" along with other disrespectful comments.

But this could also be her attempting to reconcile the loss of her grandmother in her own way. I think you're right in that she doesn't sound like she is neurotypically on par with kids her age. However like all the others have said, the unusual weight gain is something concrete and worrisome. I'd bring it up as a pressing concern to her parents and suggest that sometimes kids might have very treatable hormonal imbalances that can be quickly assessed by a doctor but that you are very worried that something is going on and that they should have her evaluated immediately to rule out anything serious.

And, yeah, if they don't do this, I think you'll have to go to some kind of secondary plan and probably quit being her caretaker.
posted by amanda at 11:50 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The little quirks that A has are the most strange. She's been obsessed with bodily functions her whole life - especially farts. For years, every other sentence she would say would be about farting. I could understand this behavior in a little boy, but a girl? From ages 2-10? She also has no interest in "girly" things.


This is absolutely common - kids find farts funny - there's no reason why a boy would more than a girl - and many girls are 'tomboys'. I also didn't like my mum brushing my hair, because it really really hurt. My mum also didn't believe that hair needed to be washed more than once a week, because she grew up in an era when homes did not have showers and people just didn't wash their hair that often.
posted by mippy at 11:50 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Definitely focus on the weight gain. And, as the mom of two kids, I have to point out something regarding the others in the thread who are dismissing items in the description that you provided to us.

Yes, there are many kids who don't like to get their hair brushed/act negatively/etc. But you know this little girl very well, and you are presenting these behaviors as observations over time and grouped together. Part of me, as a mom and a previously odd/negative child, feels some buttons pushed when I read items "didn't cry at funeral" (I had problems with expressing emotional pain around others as a child, and did a lot of socially awful things to hide it) and "talks in a cutesy voice" (my almost 7 year old does that sometimes and it makes me nuts), etc. But my reaction is more about me than what you've written here about this girl. Because I don't believe that my child (or me, as a child) has something wrong with them. So I overly focus on those things and think, "Wait a minute..."

But you seem to like this little girl. You are seeing all of these things grouped together. You are not a professional and not her parent, so it is difficult to be able to do anything. And you must feel a bit helpless if you'd like to help her in some way.

I think that others are spot on when they say that these assessments are best left up to professionals, that your ability to intervene is very limited, that she could be odd but fine. But I also think that keeping a journal of what notice might also be helpful just in case you have an opportunity in the future to work with her parents in letting them know what you see.
posted by jeanmari at 11:54 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you for the update. I do believe you that you care for and have compassion for A. My childhood was so much like winna's description above that I'm totally willing to accept that I may be projecting all over the place here! Your added details about A remind me a bit of things that happened when I was about that age -- I also complained of physical symptoms that doctors diagnosed as imaginary and I said some shockingly mean things. Turns out I was starting to show signs of a lifelong problem with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

Re: wishing for her pets to die. This may be a way for her to work out her feelings about death in general. I can remember saying something similar about a pet whom I adored and whose death, when it eventually came, absolutely devastated me. Now, if she taunts or deliberately hurts her pets, or any animals, that would be cause for immediate concern.

One more thing -- Is the weight gain noticeable in a way that might cause bullying from her peers? That could well be a factor in her lack of friends.
posted by atropos at 12:01 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


sarahgrace: " In regards to her not reacting at her grandmother's funeral - it's not even just that. It's the fact that she talks horribly about her deceased grandmother today, who treated her like she hung the moon. A recently described a beautiful necklace her grandmother purchased for her as a "piece of crap" and calls her grandmother's past actions "stupid" along with other disrespectful comments. "

It occurs to me she may be angry that her grandmother has died, and is acting out. Or perhaps have other unresolved issues about her grandmother's passing.

Young children don't always cope with death in ways we might expect. They may be a lot more confused, angry, frustrated or frightened than an adult would be in a similar situation.
posted by zarq at 12:02 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think people on metafilter tend to project unhappiness from their own childhoods into these kinds of threads. Also its hard for people to accurately remember their own childhood and at what age they did what so, personality, I would not put much stock in the answers that tend towards "i was a weird kid too!" because I don't think they're helpful to you.

I have taught kids for years in a non school setting (sports) and have had a lot of interaction with non-girly girls at that age. A few of the things you describe, notably the expressed desire for pets to die and a noticeable cruel streak would greatly concern me. That's not normal. Also, by 10 kids should be able and willing to do things like bathe and care for themselves and their pets. 90% of the kids I know at that age can do this with supervision, heck most younger kids can, so yeah I agree that's totally outside the norm.
posted by fshgrl at 12:03 PM on July 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


Agreeing with fshgrl, the cruelty, lack of empathy, and wishing pets to die is very concerning, along with the strange weight gain. She needs to be seen and assessed by a pediatrician first, then possibly another specialist. This is not normal "weird kid" behavior, those particular things are over the edge. I was a weird kid too, but other kids that exhibited those traits were frightening and often ended up as very messed up adults, sometimes dangerously so.

Non-girly interests are fine but there seems to be much more going on here. If the parents will not agree to get help it might be best to quit providing childcare for them, and tell them why. This does not sound like something that is going to go away or get better on its own, especially not if there is some hormonal or other physical abnormality.
posted by mermayd at 1:11 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I appreciate the pointing out of her being angry about her grandmother's death. It was just shocking to me that she spoke so harshly about a woman who so obviously cared about her very much so I never thought about that.

Regarding her behavior towards her pets - my mother believes she is abusive to them. I mentioned some of the responses to this thread on the phone to her a bit ago and she brought up that A and her family had a Sheltie that they no longer wanted and my mom took in. The dog had really intense behavioral issues that my mom really thinks is due to A being cruel to her. I've never seen anything that would lead me to think this, but apparently my mom has when she was with A at some point. What is scary to me is that they only had the dog from the time A was 4-7, so that's a really young child being cruel to animals. I know my mother had mentioned her concern about A getting more pets from time to time when I was at her house, but I never thought too much about it.

Again, thank you all for giving me things to consider. It's good to see things from various viewpoints before taking any action.
posted by sarahgrace at 1:14 PM on July 2, 2012


Also, regarding her weight gain/possible bullying - her lack of friends isn't a new issue. She looks down upon almost everyone in her class and talks about how "worthless/useless" they are... I encourage her to try and form friendships with them even if she thinks they are "worthless", but she refuses. This has been an issue for her since kindergarten (when she was still very sickly). I can't decide if she thinks they're "worthless" because they don't want to be her friend for whatever reason, or because she really truly thinks that.
posted by sarahgrace at 1:26 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Something does seem to be up with this kid in terms of her physical health (sudden moonface is something that needs to be checked out ASAP) and her mental health (abusing pets is a huge danger sign) but you need to focus on those issues, not a whole laundry list of how she's talking about farts or putting on a baby voice or hates to have her hair brushed, because it's really easy to lose the signal in all that noise.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:02 PM on July 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Preemptive contempt is pretty common in people who feel rejected, btw.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:04 PM on July 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


The weight gain and odd distribution sound like causes for concern. IANAD, but a possibility that comes to my mind is Cushing's syndrome. That can cause weight gain in the neck and face, as well as several other health complications. Might be worth looking up and pointing out to the parents, but this is obviously something a doctor would need to diagnose and treat.
posted by scandalamity at 2:36 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


She reported symptoms of a heart condition which she has been accused of having imagined, yet has developed a very strange pattern of weight gain which is being ignored? Someone needs to back the horses up.
posted by sarahw at 2:46 PM on July 2, 2012 [21 favorites]


I also spend a lot of time around children (volunteering, teaching health programs in grade schools, my sister is an elementary ed. teacher, huge family full of kids) and the majority of these behaviors seem extremely strange. I think people are excessively hung up on the issue of the farts-- but I know children who find them funny, and they're definitely not that fixated on them for years and years. When they are, it's usually a social group type of thing. The cruelty to pets along with the comments toward the deceased grandmother and the general tantrum issues are both cause for alarm, and remind me of two special needs brothers that my sisters provided home care for. One had high functioning autism. I think you're right to be concerned, ESPECIALLY when combined with the weight gain/possible heart problems. If she were my child, I would consider an evaluation for the mood issues alone, but since she's not, I think the health problems at least should be investigated (and perhaps you could suggest to her mother that negativity/mood issues might be related). I can tell you're frustrated but also care about her, good luck.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:03 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


When her grandma passed away when she was 7 she never showed any sadness, not even at the funeral.
She was seven. That's a bit young to deal with the idea of death. Heck, I didn't show any sadness at my Grandma's funeral when I was 20.

She's been obsessed with bodily functions her whole life - especially farts.
Welcome to being around children!

I could understand this behavior in a little boy, but a girl? From ages 2-10?
Boys and girls are not inherently different. Pre-pubescent differences are mainly down to nurture. If she's as into farts as boys are, then it means her parents aren't chastising her to be more "ladylike" - good for them. Maybe stop judging her as being not "girly" enough? It seems like you'd think some of her behavior would be acceptable if she were a he.

Many people expect children to all be the same - "oh, she doesn't behave exactly the same as all the other children - she must be autistic!", that's as silly as expecting all adults to act the same. I honestly don't see anything alarming about A's behavior. Is it outlying of "normal" child behavior? It appears so. But is it way, way out there? Not to me.

HOWEVER, if a relative that's a nurse is expressing concern about the physical well-being of A (and the swollen face/neck is surprising), encourage the relative to seek medical attention.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:18 PM on July 2, 2012


I can't decide if she thinks they're "worthless" because they don't want to be her friend for whatever reason, or because she really truly thinks that.

Have you asked her this? I had a teacher who kept wanting me to be friends with someone in my class....while I didn't call them useless, they weren't quick enough to get my jokes, and I found that really irritating. I'd rather sit and read by myself than engage in mind-numbing chatter.

I know this thread isn't supposed to be about *you*, but how do you encourage her to make friends? Do you just say, "you should go talk to them! You should be friends!" Because that would be forcing it. Why not try to show how the other students aren't worthless. If she likes, I dunno, ponies, say, "oh, XX likes ponies, too!" or something, not "you should be friends with XX!"
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:25 PM on July 2, 2012


Preemptive contempt is pretty common in people who feel rejected, btw.

But its not helpful. If my kid hated everyone I'd be as concerned as the OP is about this kid and want to get them some help. I wasn't the friendliest child but I did like some people. And my mother did manage to instill basic social graces long before age 10.
posted by fshgrl at 4:49 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm going to go pretty far against the grain here -- you're her caregiver (and apparently provide childcare as a job?). You're a mandated reporter. You need to voice these concerns to CPS and let them do with them what they may. They have raised alarm bells for you - let someone more objective and professional figure it out.

I was an odd child too. Suffered from dislocating joints that my parents just left in braces until my legs atrophied. Was antisocial. Was sent to school without proper clothing for the weather and never learned to care for myself -- was delayed developmentally that way significantly (and punished for it, not let out for recess, put in detention for not having my face washed). Often was unprepared for lunch (which I camouflaged, from a very young age, as being picky -- not wanting it to be known that nobody had packed my lunch or given me lunch money). I hid from my peers a lot and was pretty hostile to being encouraged to play. I was being severely abused and neglected at home and my genetic disease was not being managed. My mother was a teacher. I am sure that my many elementary school teachers had just this sort of "should I or shouldn't I?" feeling about me -- no one intervened. Every mandated reported I encountered, including a couple times when I just broke down crying in second or third grade when I had to go out for recess wearing a long sleeve tshirt in the midwest winter, erred on the side of "kids are weird and this is really a private thing; I can't get involved."

You're already involved. This is all alarming stuff; I really don't understand those who are saying differently. This is the kind of stuff kids do to show that they're having an emergency - I would trust your gut. There's no guarantee that CPS will do anything, even investigate it; you must know that. But you can refuse to be complicit in possible abuse of A or neglect of A's medical issues -- she deserves to be evaluated. You're, again, a mandated reporter. I wish somebody had made that phone call (or made that phone call enough times) for me.
posted by sweltering at 4:51 PM on July 2, 2012 [23 favorites]


I think some of the stuff here is normal kid behavior as other people have suggested, but some of this is ALARMING. The behaviors you are describing could be a number of problems from physical to psychological to emotional issues to learning disabilities, but she needs help. I suggest calling the school and speaking to her teacher. I also suggest calling her doctor and speaking to him/her. They won't be able to tell you much if anything due to privacy laws, but they could have suggestions to help you. If not, I suggest you call 1-800-4-A-Child or CPS. Not getting to the bottom of a potential medical problem is grounds for neglect.
posted by emilynoa at 4:57 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


fish girl, totally agreeing that preemptive contempt is a terrible strategy for people who feel rejected. But look at what this kid is going through--nobody seems to do anything about her giant moonface, when she reports other symptoms she's branded a liar and malingerer who inconvenienced the whole family, other issues (like hating to have her hair brushed) aren't dealt with, or dealt with by shaming.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:59 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, fshgrl, for the autocorrect misnaming you and my not noticing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:01 PM on July 2, 2012


OMG she sounds like her head and scalp must hurt like hell! Call her MD if her parents are neglecting that part of their duty.

I agree that her parents being social workers means worse than nothing. At best they're too close to see it, at worse they're too worried about losing face to do anything about it.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:03 PM on July 2, 2012


She sounds extremely bored. Possibly very cognitively intelligent and very, very bored by her peers. This stood out for me in particular:

She looks down upon almost everyone in her class and talks about how "worthless/useless" they are... I encourage her to try and form friendships with them even if she thinks they are "worthless", but she refuses.

This causes very smart, often very creative children, to act out because they're bored.

When I compare her to other 10/11 year olds I know, she is terribly behind. While they're playing team sports, doing pageants, and hanging out with friends she wants to color and play pretend. She also will ask the same questions over and over again - mainly asking your opinion on things she makes (she has an obsession with crafting).

Comparisons are not a good thing to do. She has her interests. Encourage them. She likes colouring (artist?) and playing pretend (actor?) and she likes crafting (artist? designer?).

I would go easier on her. Boredom is depressing. Boredom is frustrating. Being different (creative) is frustrating. And all people want you to do is just BE NORMAL and you can't. And everyone's telling you to be friends with peers who are SO BORING. So you create your own fun. And some of that is cruel fun because it's better than not having fun at all.

Try to help her channel her creativity into something positive. See what happens.
posted by heyjude at 5:06 PM on July 2, 2012


This heart condition is hinky. How does a 7 year old fake a heart condition? Are you sure this wasnt munchausen by proxy?
posted by asockpuppet at 5:48 PM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Please talk to someone about getting help for this child. It sounds like she is being neglected or dismissed, possibly abused, or at the very least not getting medical and psychological tests she may need. You could be helping more than you know.
posted by JLovebomb at 6:58 PM on July 2, 2012


It's not at all clear that you've been communicating with the parents about this. This is one of those print out this thread and show it to them situations.
posted by moammargaret at 7:15 PM on July 2, 2012


I just wanted to chime in and second all the people who are saying Cushing's Disease. A sudden weight gain around the face, neck, and upper back ("moonface" and "buffalo hump" is how these symptoms are often described) and thin arms and legs really really really makes me think Cushing's. Mental and behavioral changes can also be present in Cushing's, which is an excess of cortisol, a hormone usually produced in response to stress. The fact that you mention slow early growth rate means that she may have been experiencing out-of-whack hormone levels for a long time (and also makes me think Cushing's.)

I can't speak too much to the other behavioral factors, and I think it might be helpful to have her evaluated for Cushing's first. For one thing, Cushing's is related to arrhythmias and low potassium levels, and if this girl has been marinating in high levels of cortisol for many years, her heart may have been affected, which is serious enough to me for a doctor's visit to trump a visit to social worker or therapist, if you have to make that choice. Also, if her hormone levels can be brought into line, some of her mental and behavioral issues could improve dramatically.

For what it's worth, I'm an RN. Although I can't tell you what you should do, based on what you've written here, if this was a child in my care, I would have them evaluated by a pediatrician as soon as possible. As a side note, many hospitals also have nurses available to speak with you by phone. You could try calling a local hospital and speaking with a nurse who can ask follow-up questions and give you a better answer as to whether/where this child should be evaluated.

Good luck to you!
posted by alittlecloser at 12:20 AM on July 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sarahgrace wrote:'"The dog had really intense behavioral issues that my mom really thinks is due to A being cruel to her. I've never seen anything that would lead me to think this, but apparently my mom has when she was with A at some point. What is scary to me is that they only had the dog from the time A was 4-7, so that's a really young child being cruel to animals. I know my mother had mentioned her concern about A getting more pets from time to time when I was at her house, but I never thought too much about it. "

This is very concerning to me as an animal lover. In addition to everything else, it is irresponsible to subject innocent helpless pets to this child who has demonstrated a streak of cruelty. Any pets still in that home should be sent to new homes. It looks like the grandmother already had rescued one dog. I knew of a situation where a mentally ill child killed several of the family pets. I am sure there were clues before to this potential that the family ignored. Not to mention how often animal abusers move on to human beings if not treated and stopped. This is really serious stuff, and just focusing on this and the medical issues should be reason enough to insist this child be seen by professionals before something really horrendous happens.
posted by mermayd at 5:22 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering where she got the language "worthless/useless" with regard to people. If she has been using that language since she was very young - you don't mention her verbiage about others when she was expressing their usefulness when she was in kindergarten - there is a pretty small chance that she isn't mimicking someone else. Any chance that her mother describes her clients in such a manner when she is within earshot?
posted by 8dot3 at 10:02 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh man. OP, I'm glad you found the thread useful. But it's blatantly obvious that this girl is way outside the norm in a bad way and needs help, and it sucks that so many people were more interested in telling you you're wrong/don't know what you're talking about/aren't in a position to judge (and they are??), than actually helping you help her.

I am worried that now you are feeling a little chastened, unsure of the validity of your concerns, and more hesitant to really bring most of them up and try to get her help. I really hope that you listen to *yourself* and keep trying.

One thing I think you can glean from this thread is that you will get a VERY different reaction to your concerns based on nothing more than how you frame them.

I think you will get much more responsiveness to your concerns if the way you frame them isn't a distraction derailing people. So, when you bring up these concerns to people in real life, here's what to avoid in your framing. (I am mentioning these because my goal is to help you get help for this girl in real life).

-Avoid expressing negativity about the child or her personality. Example: "I can't tell if she's just a spoiled little girl," grouping her in with "annoying kids." Just give your observations about her problematic behaviors without expressing negative judgments about them.

-Also completely avoid expressing negativity about the parents. ("her parents stupidly allowed...) Don't even bring up parenting choices that are not abusive or neglectful. Those are just derails that will cause parents with similar choices to get defensive.

-Don't bring up the child's degree of gender conformity. That is a big, hot-button, derailing issue.
So in the case of the bodily function fixation, you can mention the fact that she is socially inappropriate compared to other *kids* her age. Just don't make it about how she is compared to other *girls* specifically. If you have a concern that is JUST about her degree of gender conformity ("not interested in girly things") just don't bring that up.

-If you use the phrase "refusal to grow up" you will get a lot of "duh, she's a kid!!!" replies. So just say it a different way, don't use that phrase. Say that she often regresses into infantile behavior.

-When you talk about times when she is cruel avoid bringing up her cruelty to *you* because some people will just think you personally have hurt feelings and are projecting from that.

I also think you will get a much more responsive result if you organize these concerns before you present them to someone. Right now they are presented in kind of a rambling way and I think if you focus them, you will get more focused replies. Also, try to make as many of them as possible be *quantifiable* concerns in some way - for example, this happens X times per week, it's been going on for X amount of time, and so on.

Here's how I'd present them:

Caitlin is a 10 year old girl. I have cared for Caitlin for 20 hrs/week for the past 10 years. I am concerned about Caitlin's health and well-being for the following reasons.

-Health

Shortly after Caitlin turned 8, she experienced a sudden, large weight gain: approx. Xlbs within X weeks. The weight gain is limited to her face and neck. Since that time, Caitlin has gained approx. X lbs; the majority of this weight gain is also limited to her face and neck. Caitlin is Xft, Xinches tall.

Caitlin also suffers from a speech impediment and bad vision. As a baby, Caitlin had a very low appetite and was frequently ill. Her family was concerned that she was failure-to-thrive.

At 7, Caitlin experienced possible heart problems. Caitlin's parents believed that she may have made up the heart problems for attention.

-Hygiene

-At 10, Caitlin does not bathe independently. She is bathed by her parents.
-Caitlin expresses pain and screams when having her hair brushed or dried. Her hair goes unbrushed for up to 4 weeks at a stretch.
-Caitlin resists having her hair washed. Her hair has now gone unwashed for 3 weeks.

-Emotional Problems

-Caitlin's parents believe that she was abusive to the family dog, when Caitlin was between the ages of 4 and 7. As a result, Caitlin's parents removed the dog from the home.
-Currently, at age 10, Caitlin has expressed that she hopes her current pets die so that she can get new ones.
-As a younger child, Caitlin often hit and broke her toys.

-Behavior.

Caitlin often exhibits age-inappropriate behavior, and sometimes displays regressive or infantile behavior.

-Caitlin frequently speaks in "baby talk."
-At 10, she is unable to fix any food for herself (including cereal).
-She often asks repetitive questions. (Example: when coloring, Caitlin asked "what color should this cat be?" over 20 times within 5 minutes.)

Caitlin often exhibits socially inappropriate behaviors and is out of step socially with her peers.

-Caitlin has been unable to make any friends among her classmates.
-Caitlin appears to be fixated on bodily functions, and mentions them often in conversation.
-Caitlin makes cruel and inappropriate remarks like pointing out cellulite and calling people names.
-Caitlin resists thanking friends and family who give her gifts.
posted by cairdeas at 11:09 AM on July 3, 2012 [30 favorites]


heyjude: "She sounds extremely bored. Possibly very cognitively intelligent and very, very bored by her peers. This stood out for me in particular:

She looks down upon almost everyone in her class and talks about how "worthless/useless" they are... I encourage her to try and form friendships with them even if she thinks they are "worthless", but she refuses.

This causes very smart, often very creative children, to act out because they're bored.


I think you may reading into this. She may be smart, she may not be smart. Nothing in the description, however, suggested that she was particularly smart. If anything, it suggests she is definitely emotionally immature, but does not at all suggest an intelligence exceeding her peers. And even if you are incredibly intelligent, looking down on and considering your peers "worthless" is not acceptable behavior. The terms "worthless" and "useless" reflect a certain utilitarian attitude towards other people that I find particularly concerning.

When I compare her to other 10/11 year olds I know, she is terribly behind. While they're playing team sports, doing pageants, and hanging out with friends she wants to color and play pretend. She also will ask the same questions over and over again - mainly asking your opinion on things she makes (she has an obsession with crafting).

Comparisons are not a good thing to do. She has her interests. Encourage them. She likes colouring (artist?) and playing pretend (actor?) and she likes crafting (artist? designer?).
"

There's comparing and comparing. Bad comparisons are like, "Why isn't she quieter like so-and-so, or friendlier like so-and-so?" But to say, "her behavior and development don't match up to people her own age" you're basically doing a reality check on her behavior. I played pretend sometimes around that age -- but I did it with my peers (in my case, usually my twin brother and my sister but occasionally friends from school) and I also had other interests. I even was in a musical and everything! And I was about as socially inept as they come!

Also, the coloring thing is key. Does she like to draw? Or is she merely filling in the color in coloring books? There's nothing inherently wrong in this, but I think it does reflect a development stage that is a few years behind her current age.

If any of these things were in isolation (except maybe the disturbing neck weight gain) I think they'd be fine, but added up they show someone who is not "just being a kid".
posted by Deathalicious at 2:23 PM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


As numerous other people have mentioned, the bizarre weight gain initially made me think Cushing's Syndrome. It can have behavioral symptoms. Might be worth looking into.
posted by brevator at 3:26 AM on July 29, 2012


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