A year and a half ago I became involved with a man with two young daughters. Kaya will be 3 in September and Debbie is 4. For the part year we have been sharing the girls with their mother 50%. For the past month she sees them less frequently and cancels at the last second. The girls are scared and I am very concerned about their anxiety levels which are coming out in some serious temper tantrums. Kaya becomes hysterical over the slightest things and wiil scream for hours. I understand this is a delicate situation but we need to get a handle on it before it gets worse. Their father and I reassure them multiple times a day that we love them very much but I fear it is doing no good. Please help me to understand them better so I can do what I can for them. Thank you.
From: Jennifer, Tinley Park, Illinois
Children this age thrive on predictability, by which I mean routine and structure -- and consistency, meaning limit-setting and consequences. All that helps them feel secure. When they are in your home, do what you can to make sure you follow routines on a daily basis (bath before story time, before prayers....etc) and to be clear in your expectations for their behaviors and how you respond to them. These are kids who sound like they've been buffeted about so I'd go out of my way with this.
Kids this age also are highly reactive to our emotions and take their cues from us. Monitor your own emotions on the days when mom is expected. Do you find yourself getting tense and anxious? Maybe a little short with them? They are likely picking up on this and it makes them act out.
Most kids this age do not know days of the week sequentially, so they don't know to anticipate that tomorrow is the day mom is supposed to come unless you tell them or talk about it to each other or on the phone. What are they over-hearing? My suggestion is that they don't need advance notice that tomorrow is mom's day; they certainly don't need to know your worry, that it's her day and will she show up? Wait until you know for sure she is coming to tell the girls, even if that makes it last minute and even though it likely puts pressure on you to have contingency plans for child care.
Whatever you do, don't badmouth mom in their earshot but also don't go to the other extreme of never talking about her.
Meanwhile, do what you can to find out what's going on with mom. If she's become so unreliable, it makes me wonder what happens when the girls are in her care. Is part of the reason the girls are scared because they don't feel safe in her care?
It sounds like there are some underlying issues here that you and the father need to examine, including, perhaps, the present custodial arrangement.
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