Sunday, February 2, 2014

Angry 4 yr old lives part-time with Mom

Hello Dr. Dave,
I am a single mother of a 4 year old boy, who I believe has anger overload. I am going through the process of getting him evaluated through the school district to see what my next step should be. As of right now his dad and I were never together and we share our time with him. However its a weird schedule and it's not a set schedule.  I believe he needs to spend time with his father but when he is over there for 4 or 5 days and comes back it seems his anger is heightened. I'm not saying anything bad is going on but I do see a difference when he returns. So I guess my question to you would be: should I have a set schedule like every other weekend and maybe one night a week? Right now it's all over the place (ex:  I will have him for 5 days, then he will have him for 2, then I will have him for 4 days and he will have him for 4...and so on..) I worked in a school district with kids with behavioral issues, and structure and schedules helps. I'm just confused on how I should be going about this and what's best for my son and where to start.

Hi, Generally, it is helpful for children if the parents have a good parenting relationship with each other, so that they can talk over things, like how to handle a child's anger.  Ideally, you could talk with each other about what is going on when your son gets angry and then discuss how you each handle it. You do not have to have the exact same strategy in each household, but you would not want to have contradictory approaches.  

First, you would want to try to identify what some of the triggers might be.  If one trigger is switching between households, then you would want to think about why.  Is there a big rules change from one household to the other?  Is your child feeling sad or torn between you and his Dad?  Do either of you say negative things about the other parent in front of the child that may make your child anxious or angry?  If your answer to any of these questions is in the affirmative, then you would want to work on that issue.  Often it can be hard to talk about these issues without a neutral third party, such as a mental health professional who can look at the situation and give guidance.  You sound like you are trying not to assign blame and you are trying to find the best solution for your son.  Is your child's father also open to looking at situations when your son gets angry?

Having a predictable schedule may be helpful for all of you, and might reduce whatever tension your son might be feeling, but it may not be the underlying problem. Transitions may continue to be hard for your son, even if the number of days in each household is altered.  That is why it is so important for you to all work together, if possible, to identify the stressors for your son and to work together on strategies.  Try to involve your son's father in the evaluation process; if he has input from the beginning he is more likely to cooperate with whatever plan emerges.  See what the school evaluation shows.  I would recommend you both try to go the the meeting at the school when the results are discussed.  Maybe reading my parent's manual will give you each a starting point for working on strategies together.  If you both can agree on the issues and how to deal with them, your son will likely benefit.  

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb  

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