Parenting 3000: Advanced Techniques
November 24, 2016 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for books/sites/groups/etc that offer parenting support beyond the intro level. My wife and I are good parents, in a calm and happy marriage, we both have graduate degrees in psychology/sociology, and we are struggling so hard with our 4.5 year old that we cry in each other's arms nearly every day from the stress of it.

Our 4.5 year old is a smart and thoughtful kid who happens to have an inexplicably toxic relationship with my wife. I find him difficult too (he is a "spirited" child), but not nearly the way she does. He is one of those kids who cries at nothing, whines all the time, screams and screams, and then says something so brilliant you can't understand where it came from. And as tough as he is with me, he is much much worse with my wife. It is at the point that I can't leave the two of them alone together.

Yes, we have been to doctors. He does not appear to be neurodivergent or have a sensory processing disorder. His behaviour is also more extreme than the typical pre-schooler, so please don't just tell me "that's normal." Last time we trusted our friends on "that's normal" we delayed a diagnosis of severe iron deficiency by almost a year.

So we are reaching out. Going to the doctor yielded nothing. Going to the Family Centre gave us tips like "warn him five minutes before you leave the park" and "walk away if you feel like you are going to be violent." We know this. We are not violent. Counselling got my wife placed into an anger-management group with people who were court-mandated to be there thanks to beating their wives/kids. Oh yeah, the counsellor also suggested the problem is that my wife isn't the kid's "real" mom (I carried him, my wife carried his little brother).

We are on our own to solve this. Most of the books we have tried are disappointingly Intro-level. Right now we are reading "Parenting from the Inside Out" and "Parenting the Spirited Child." What else should we read? Are there any workbooks we should try? Meditation? Family therapy? Anything?
posted by arcticwoman to Human Relations (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
How about a family or child therapist instead of a doctor? Not to diagnose an illness but to observe the dynamic. It sounds like they are pushing each other's buttons (or at least he is pushing hers).

I would go with someone like this guy or his associates; he was on that documentary called the dark matter of love, and his staff seemed to get relationships on such a deep level, it was really impressive.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child may help. The author is affiliated with the Yale Parenting Center, which may also be a helpful resource.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:33 AM on November 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have two of your kid! A book that saved our lives with our now 15-year-old was The Explosive Child by Ross Green; it helped guide us in shifting our approach to him in ways that made the years between 3 and 9 much easier than I think they would have been with more conventional approaches. It wasn't easy but it could have been much harder, and more damaging to our relationships.

That mix of emotional immaturity and "how did that come out of his mouth?" is a common developmental pattern for gifted kids. Anxiety, inflexibility, being "behind" in emotional development and "ahead" in intellectual development is quite typical. The term is "asynchronous development" and it's a good thing to be aware of in terms of accepting the pattern of your child's development. The NAGC has some good information.

Don't listen to bullshit like the "real mom" thing. And don't listen to people who are full of advice about what worked with their more typically-developing child. But I think you've already figured this out.

Another thing that really helped me was a consultation with a therapist who specialized in working with gifted children. For me, not for the kids. Sitting in her office and incoherently describing these behaviors I'd struggled to understand, and her reacting like it was something she'd seen a thousand times was amazingly helpful for me. My kids weren't typical-typical, but they were following a really common, known pattern of development for anxious, gifted kids. They were a different kind of typical, in other words. It certainly made me feel less alone. I drove two hours each way to see her, and it was 100% worth it.

You have all my good wishes and sympathy.
posted by Orlop at 11:34 AM on November 24, 2016 [27 favorites]

I can't speak to your specific kid, or even if this will be helpful, but I found hope in reading Janet Lansbury's thoughts on parenting. I have the best results with my spirited kid when I can be an unruffled benign robot parent, and her perspective reminds me of that when I forget.

That counsellor sounds like an awful experience. I'm so sorry. Are you in an area with other counselling options? Perhaps by Skype? A good therapist is worth their weight in gold.
posted by lizifer at 11:34 AM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

That sounds really rough. Would you consider trying a different counsellor?

Since you mention meditation, just to say that the book "Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World" by Mark Williams and Danny Penman changed my life. It is an 8 week course based on "Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy" which is a non-woo totally scientifically proven thing. It will not change your son's behaviour but it will change you/your wife's ability to cope with his behaviour.
posted by bimbam at 11:37 AM on November 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

While I second the various recommendations so far, I have a question: has your child had strep throat? If so, you may want to look at PANDAS, which is Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychological Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infections. You can read up on PANDAS here. You haven't described all of the symptoms, but it might not hurt to look into this, particularly if your child has had strep. Good luck.
posted by Slothrop at 11:41 AM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

You definitely need a very good therapist or counsellor. It's almost impossible to give good advice without seeing you all together.
That said, your son reminds me of how my foster-child was before her mother died, and obviously it became worse for a while after. It is still not easy, but it is a lot better.
First of all, it's fair to be human. Don't blame yourselves if you sometimes just explode. (Within the limits that are all violence is wrong). Now when my girl is nine, we've talked about the times when I got angry, and she completely understands that I was either scared or at the end of my wits, and that it makes no difference in my love for her. Younger children can't proces this, but childhood is a journey where both children and their parents can reflect and learn. Always and never don't apply.
One thing that has helped her is a rigid schedule: there are mealtimes and bedtimes and getting to school on time and there are rules for clothing and eating and story-time and internet-time. Sometimes she protests, but it is also clear that she relaxes when the rules are upheld. Strict rules for how to behave in all the regular situations are helpful as well. You decide the rules (not least because you have to abide by them). Imagine a gifted child needing to think through every single situation in his life. It is immensely stressful. By giving rules for a lot of situations, like mealtimes, or getting up in the morning, or going to bed, you are relieving your child of decisions. Less gifted children don't think so much. Even the most brilliant child in the world can't think through all the decisions that need to be made in the course of a day but if they feel they need to, they try.
With the rules in place, you can move to channeling all that energy in positive directions. Encouraging creativity rather than negative thoughts. My girl spends too much time on youtube, but when she gets out her paint books she is both happier and more in her own thoughts. At your sons age, legos or long walks in a park or forest could be a thing, soccer is great. Cooking is another activity that seems to work extremely well with most children, wether it is cookie-baking or pizza-making or something else altogether. The idea that they are contributing to family life is so important. Cleaning can be good too.

With my eldest biological daughter, I had a similar experience to Orlop's above. My daughter was acting out, dramatically, and the school was complaining. And then a psychiatrist told me that she was a gifted child and that her behaviour was normal - it was as if everything fell into place for our family. For us, it became clear that she needed me to be more present as a parent, not because I was her mother, but because I had something she needed in her development. This may not apply at all to your family, and I find that counsellor's comment extremely offensive, but for us it turned out that I had capacities regardless of biology and gender-roles that were important for my child. Today she is bot harmonious and succesful in her 20's.

(My foster children are part time - they live with their dad most of the time, and they are doing well)
posted by mumimor at 12:26 PM on November 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Seconding Janet Lansbury. She does personal consultations, and is very responsive over email.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:34 PM on November 24, 2016

Has ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) been ruled out?
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:05 PM on November 24, 2016

I wanted to second Orlop's recommendation of The Explosive Child. And it's possible to consult with the author himself; he may be a valuable resource. Our son is not as extreme as yours, but definitely similar, and The Explosive Child, combined with Greene's new book Raising Human Beings, has helped us navigate our situation.

I send you so much sympathy. It's very, very hard to have a child who behaves as you describe, and who is so different from the other kids around him. I hope you can find the help your family needs.
posted by linettasky at 1:08 PM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

My recommendations are going to specifically be around diffusing the situation between your wife and child. First, I am sure you both are doing your best and I entirely believe you that this isn't a normal situation. I am really angry at that comment to your wife and the way people seem to be responding.

1. Playful Parenting and its core idea, which is to engage the child in a role other than enforcer, really has helped me with our younger son who developed a whack of issues while he was (unknown to us) losing his sight, and he is definitely in the asynchronous/emotion gap category. I am betting 'playful parenting' is the last thing you want to consider but it's really about how to navigate through power struggles and engage a child at a level that bypasses some of the emotional risk/anxiety. It really helps us a lot to get to where we can start to work on other strategies. If you want to talk about anything feel free to MeMail me.

2. For another child I know approaching the spirited behaviour from the point of view of anxiety in the child coming out all SPROING helped a lot. AnxietyBC has some help.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:36 PM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

My bros family had a pretty rough patch with one of their spawn, and at a buddys recommendation i got them this book which they loved. The change has been pretty cool to witness firsthand. You guys will be okay, things have a way of working out. Keep your head up.
posted by speakeasy at 1:51 PM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hope my experience can be of use!

My daughter, now 6, has been a challenge since day one. She was always intense and we barely made it through the first few years. Super advanced verbally but emotionally fraught. Routines and structure were how we tried to solve it but it was exhausting.

Then things got worse. I wish we would have sought help before cancer hit our family. I think it took having a social worker guiding us through resources to make it happen. (Your pediatrician may have a LCSW on staff)

We joke that the way other families do soccer practice and piano lessons we do therapy and more therapy.

Everyone in my household sees a therapist weekly. For my daughter we met with a few people before finding a good fit.

What has been key is the monthly meeting I have with my daughter''s therapist. I feel like she is my parenting coach and I trust her because she knows my daughter so well. She has also been a connection with school teachers and councilors.

I also stress finding an excellent therapist for yourself and your partner. This shit is hard and you need support. Keep trying till you find your team. Keep reaching out to people. You will find help and you can do this!

I feel much more confident in my abilities now and over time, I feel like our team of professionals are family.
posted by mcbietila at 2:34 PM on November 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Hi, I'm sending you a MeMail with some info specific to Alberta.
Sending lots of empathy too!
posted by bluebelle at 4:28 PM on November 24, 2016

Where did the counselor get the idea that your wife isn't his "real mom?" Was it the counselor's bias, or was it something your son said? Is it at all possible your son may have heard it from somewhere else (teachers, extended family members, etc?) Because if your child believes that, something or someone is alienating him from your wife, and that needs to be stopped.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:12 PM on November 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

Child therapist here. Please look for a therapist in your area and vet them for their experience with children under 6 (different skill set), experience with emotional dysregulation, and perhaps PCIT (Parent-Child Interactional Therapy. You can also read about PCIT and get some skills, but a therapist trained in PCIT can be a godsend. I would never call a 4.5 yr old "ODD," honestly, it's a bit of a garbage diagnosis in that all it does is describe behavior with no root cause discussed, and implies that a kiddo is just being defiant to be defiant, which in my 7 yrs experience working with the tiny people is almost never the case. I highly recommend that you vet most for a therapist who specializes in kiddos under 6. Hope this helps, take care! I'm on mobile, if you want any more specifics, feel free to memail me.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:06 PM on November 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

Yes, ODD is kind of a useless diagnosis, because it can make people think there is no cause for the disability. It's usually something that has developed out of circumstances or because the child has no other way to gain control over their other disabilities or things in their environment.

PCIT can be helpful So can using PRIDE - even for five minutes a day, if that is all you can manage. And look for someone who works from an attachment-oriented framework. I sent you a Memail with more specific info.

Ross Greene is excellent, but some kids experience attachment issues if things seem a bit too collaborative with their caregivers.

You may also want to look into an attachment-oriented ABA behaviour consultant and interventionist. (You would want someone who has experience outside of autism and experience with building attachment.)

And private assessment can be a godsend. I know many people who couldn't get decent assessments within the public system, but got good information once they paid a professional to spend more time with their child than the public system (in my province) allows. Your extended medical may cover it or you might be able to pool your benefits for multiple family members (since they consult all 3 of you?). Talk to the private provider about how they do it.

You may also need to keep rattling chains. Many people can't get a decent diagnosis till their child is in school or a bit older, both because there are so few professionals for kids under 6 and also because there is such a tendency, even now, to blame Mom.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:49 PM on November 24, 2016

I am glad to see the recommendation for PCIT. There are not that many evidence-based therapies for preschoolers, but PCIT is supported by research. I would go straight to experts, don't bother with bloggers like Lansbury. You need more support than that.
posted by yarly at 9:24 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I always recommend this book and I suspect nobody ever gets it because the cover is so terrible, but here's hoping: The Incredible Years, by Carolyn Webster Stratton, is just what you need.

A lot of the books people recommend might be fine for kids who are a teensy bit more lively than others; this was not my situation and is not your situation, and I found those books made me feel worse (why doesn't counting to three work for my child when it works for everyone else? Why do they presume I don't know what "clear expectations" means?).

I took her parenting classes and they were really, really good, too.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:02 PM on November 26, 2016

Thank you so much for all the advice and support. This is very helpful. We now have some useful vocab, some book recommendations, and an idea for what sort of therapist to look for.

I honestly cried as I read through this thread. I feel understood and supported, which I haven't felt in a long time. What a feeling. <3
posted by arcticwoman at 11:47 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm coming to this discussion late, but if you are still looking for tools I highly recommend the Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child. This is a detailed, evidence-based approach to Parent Management Training.

We had lost control of our relationship with our wonderful five-year old daughter. She yelled, demanded, hit, threw tantrums. Our lives were consumed by it. We were beginning to treat her with anger and frustration rather than love. Our older child was also starting to feel the effects of all the yelling and anger.

We put the system in place and she responded. It's been great. Of course, there's still work to do. She is still very spirited and has strong ideas about what how things should be done. But we're able to function again as a happy family. It made a big difference.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:48 AM on December 7, 2016

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