This friend is worried about mom's interaction with her daughter

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 16, 2012 06:00 AM

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My friend has two children ages two and four. The girl who is four, seems very oppositional. She literally starts every sentence with "No" when you make a comment or ask her a question. She is and has always been jealous of her brother and antagonizes him to the point of him biting her. Now a new baby has arrived which she has dreaded from the start so she is particularly angry today. She was verbally nasty to me and when anyone asked her today about the baby she refused to answer. My friend is getting quite frustrated with her and I tried to explain the expectation of regression, accidents happening, acting out, lying and just outright non compliance(which has been an issue before baby was conceived minus the accidents) and that she needs to be more attentive as far as communication, including her in baby care etc. I am not around enough to see the full interaction between mother and daughter, but I am out of the obvious tactics for this behavior and because I have noticed the hostile feelings towards the brother after two years of having him around, I am concerned about deeper issues. I forgot to mention that the mother says things like, "I get along better will my son" and ""When the she asks me a mil and one questions while doing housework, I tell her to stop with all the questions, I'm busy". So that may be a clue. They are a very religious couple and are very gentle and sweet. I just want to help her out before she gets too frustrated.

Thanx
From: Debbie (town withheld)

Dear Debbie,

You can:

* Offer to stay with the kids so she can get a break now and then which might have the benefit of giving her breathing-room to have more patience;

* Help her to find a parenting workshop or support group that will increase her range of parenting strategies. Offer to stay with the kids while she attends;

* Spend time at the house and provide a kind of role model for how she can interact with the daughter in more positive ways;

* Have a heart -to-heart with her about your concerns, including whatever you mean about "deeper issues." Do you mean that the daughter has behavioral or temperamental challenges? If so, can you help her to know there are ways to get evaluations and support? (Hint: start with the pediatrician.) Or do you mean that the mom needs professional help for depression or some such?

The problem, of course, is that you don't know what her limits are, or where she will feel you exceed the limits of friendship. This is tricky territory. Some people -- including some readers here, I suspect -- will tell you to butt out. I hold to the theory that parenting is the toughest and most important job we every have as human beings and the one for which most of us receive little or no training. Maybe she needs permission to seek help, including from herself. Maybe you will never forgive yourself if you don't make the effort to be a supportive friend.

And of course, there's this caveat: If you think the children are in danger, don't hesitate to contact your local social services agency.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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4 comments so far...
  1. I would also suggest that she make an effort to spend more one on one time with her daughter. And--in addition to spending more time with her--have the added incentive of "extra" time with just mommy (i.e. an extra book read at night just to her) for good behavior. A four year old is old enough for a sticker chart. For every 3 stickers she earns for positive behavior (Saying "yes", speaking kindly, answering questions when spoken too, using gentle manners with her brother [made very specific for a four year old, of course]) she gets extra mommy time.

    She may be a little girl with some behavioral problems that are atypical, or she may just be a little girl who wants more time with mommy. A very wise woman once told me that 20 mins of one on one floor time with your child each day is what children really want and need.

    Posted by JRC October 16, 12 08:08 AM
  1. "I am not around enough to see the full interaction ".
    Exactly. You are only seeing bits and pieces of it and her frustrations may be legit. Maybe you should simply tell her to talk to her pediatrician for advise. I don't know what level of experience with kids you have to even be offering advise. If you don't have kids then maybe you aren't the one who should be offering the advise. I don't know. Maybe offer to babysit so mommy and daddy can take a break and get their game plan back on trackso they can address this issue. Just a thought.

    Posted by jd October 16, 12 09:01 AM
  1. It is perfectly acceptable to tell a four year old, "I have my hands full right now. Hold that question and I'll talk about it in ------ minutes when I'm done doing -----". You have to do it nicely, and actually take the time as soon as you are done, but you do it. Better to spend twenty uninterrupted minutes with the child before or after the housework and baby care, than have them beg for attention for thirty seconds every five minutes.

    Posted by di October 16, 12 11:36 AM
  1. Maybe I'm misreading the letter, but it seems to me as though Debbie is wondering if the little boy is her friend's favorite. I have a cousin who was perfectly aware while growing up (and it was pretty obvious to the rest of us as well, though the adults tried to convince her that she was imagining it) that her mother preferred her younger brother. It made her quite a sad and anxious kid. It's worrying that Debbie's friend says she "gets along better" with her son - "getting along" shouldn't really be part of the dynamic with two and four year olds - you just look after them and love them. Sounds to me like the family might need some professional help.

    Posted by alien57 October 16, 12 05:52 PM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. I would also suggest that she make an effort to spend more one on one time with her daughter. And--in addition to spending more time with her--have the added incentive of "extra" time with just mommy (i.e. an extra book read at night just to her) for good behavior. A four year old is old enough for a sticker chart. For every 3 stickers she earns for positive behavior (Saying "yes", speaking kindly, answering questions when spoken too, using gentle manners with her brother [made very specific for a four year old, of course]) she gets extra mommy time.

    She may be a little girl with some behavioral problems that are atypical, or she may just be a little girl who wants more time with mommy. A very wise woman once told me that 20 mins of one on one floor time with your child each day is what children really want and need.

    Posted by JRC October 16, 12 08:08 AM
  1. "I am not around enough to see the full interaction ".
    Exactly. You are only seeing bits and pieces of it and her frustrations may be legit. Maybe you should simply tell her to talk to her pediatrician for advise. I don't know what level of experience with kids you have to even be offering advise. If you don't have kids then maybe you aren't the one who should be offering the advise. I don't know. Maybe offer to babysit so mommy and daddy can take a break and get their game plan back on trackso they can address this issue. Just a thought.

    Posted by jd October 16, 12 09:01 AM
  1. It is perfectly acceptable to tell a four year old, "I have my hands full right now. Hold that question and I'll talk about it in ------ minutes when I'm done doing -----". You have to do it nicely, and actually take the time as soon as you are done, but you do it. Better to spend twenty uninterrupted minutes with the child before or after the housework and baby care, than have them beg for attention for thirty seconds every five minutes.

    Posted by di October 16, 12 11:36 AM
  1. Maybe I'm misreading the letter, but it seems to me as though Debbie is wondering if the little boy is her friend's favorite. I have a cousin who was perfectly aware while growing up (and it was pretty obvious to the rest of us as well, though the adults tried to convince her that she was imagining it) that her mother preferred her younger brother. It made her quite a sad and anxious kid. It's worrying that Debbie's friend says she "gets along better" with her son - "getting along" shouldn't really be part of the dynamic with two and four year olds - you just look after them and love them. Sounds to me like the family might need some professional help.

    Posted by alien57 October 16, 12 05:52 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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