Anyone regularly following this blog will know that my hubby and I have had our hands full with our eldest daughter for quite some time. At 5½ she’s a tricky little customer. She’s difficult to please and prone to focusing on the negative. She is explosive and frequent temper tantrums and outbursts of violence have been too often on display. We’ve always been fairly harsh on discipline, especially when she has hurt her brother or sister, but although we have had several breakthroughs, ultimately it just hasn’t got through to her that it’s wrong to behave this way. The cold hard fact was her behaviour had become a massive problem within our little family. From the research I’ve been doing recently, I feel we have a highly sensitive, yet super defiant child on our hands.
After weeks of illness leading up to the holidays, coupled with end-of-term-itis, her behaviour was at an all time low. She was being thoroughly vile towards her sister all day on Christmas Eve, and after one pinch/kick/being called stupid too many our littlest girl had the mother of all meltdowns. She eventually went to bed at 5:30pm and missed out on the whole ceremony of preparing for Santa. If that wasn’t heartbreaking enough when it was time for 5yo to go to bed she did everything she could to wake her sister up. This led to 2yo picking up the tantrum where she left off, and it taking a very long time for hubby to calm her down and get her back to sleep.
All this was playing out while I was feeding the baby. I sat on my bed in the room next door sobbing. Feeling helpless and frustrated I did what I always do and consulted Amazon. After reading the synopsis’s of several self-help books I came across one that really appealed and sounded like it could be the solution to our problems. 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child offers a simple to follow strategy for stamping out the kind of behaviour that has been destroying our family harmony. It also makes you realise that change needs to come from you (the parents) if there is any hope of it filtering down to the kids. It felt like a gift, when else would we have ten whole days where we were both at home and able to focus solely on this? I had nothing to lose, so downloaded it onto Kindle and started reading right away.
“You have been through a lot with your defiant child. You’ve had your patience tested, your feelings hurt, and your fantasy of yourself as a patient and understanding parent smashed. At times, you may even feel abused by your child”.
Day one walks you through how unhelpful and damaging negative parenting behaviours are. There are ten that the author talks about ranging from nagging to shouting to denying their feelings. He dedicates a paragraph to each one and reading through them was an instant wake up call. I realised I was regularly guilty of most of them, and as I read the words I was thinking ‘yep I do that, that and that’. For the entire 24 hours of day one you are to not display any negative behaviour at all, no matter how hard it is. He also addresses the harmfulness of toxic thoughts – which is where you are in such a bad place that you start thinking they are deliberately out to cause you upset. Lets face it, most five year olds are not evil geniuses, but it’s easy to start thinking they are in the midst of all this going on.
Days one to five
Day One: Grasping Why Your Child Acts Defiant
This also happened to be Christmas Day, and both hubby and I were dreading it after the previous day and night’s shenanigans, but hand on heart it was brilliant all in all. We had very little conflict, both the girls were on fine form and when things started getting a little bit fraught we took a stroll on their bikes to the park and burnt off some energy. They went to bed beautifully and both slept all night. ‘Wow’ hubby and I marvelled, talk about a Christmas miracle! Just not shouting at all the entire day was an amazing thing. It had been a long time since that had happened in our house.
Day Two: Understanding Your Defiant Child
As well as continuing to not display any of the negative behaviour, day two is all about gaining a better understanding of your defiant child. Working out ways to get them to open up and tell you what’s going on inside their little head. We decided to go out early and stay out for a large chunk of the day. It was a sensible move but either side of the six or so hours we weren’t home were horrendous. 5yo was lashing out at anything and everything, hurting anyone that came near her (including her 10mo brother). All the time hubby and I were cool as cucumbers, one of us taking the little ones away so the other could sit with her, calm her down and try and get her to explain why she was so angry. I imagine a lot of it was her trying to get a reaction, she had been so used to being shouted out or punished that she was probably wondering what the hell was going on. The girls both went to bed on a meltdown, and poor 2yo was in a similar (but not quite as bad) mess to Xmas Eve.
Day Three: Sidestepping The Yelling Trap
I imagine by day three a lot of parents want to start shouting again, so this chapter offers 25 coping strategies to help you avoid doing so. The advice ranges from ensuring your own needs are being met (very difficult with more than one child in the house) to avoiding tantrum triggers to learning to not take it all quite so personally. To be honest we breezed through day three. Hubby’s brother and his family came to see us which provided enough joy and entertainment. Hubby and 2yo popped out for a couple of hours in the morning to get a few bits, I put baby down for his nap and 5yo was pleasant and helpful preparing for our guests. One on one undivided attention has never been a problem for us, not being able to orchestrate it often enough is. Bedtime went well, but she was up six times in the night which of course led to a difficult start to the next day.
Day Four: Avoiding Power Struggles
This is summed up by the phrase ‘pick your battles’ and is something I used to be super mindful of, but lately has gone out the window. We have gone back to basics now, and unless she is in danger of causing any one else harm, we’re letting most things slide. It proved another tricky day for us unfortunately. Hubby took the girls swimming in the morning so I could get prepared for friends coming over for lunch, but it meant that by 4pm she was beside herself with tiredness after all the exertion as well as night time antics. She is not coping well with being tired at all, and it’s definitely a trigger for her, but there are of course limits to how early she can go to bed. The end of the day was awful, but at bedtime I took 2yo into my room and read her a long story on my bed to calm her down, then popped her straight into her bed afterwards. Hubby stayed with the girls for five minutes after I’d said goodnight which prevented a bedtime meltdown.
Day Five: Reinforcing Positive Changes
We learned all about positive reinforcement a while back, and again although we were super mindful of it at one point we’ve both slipped into bad habits of late. We had more friends over with their kids for lunch and again 5yo was immaculately behaved, until they left when she had a massive strop. When we finally calmed her down and got her talking she said she was sad that our friends had left because mummy and daddy sent them away. By vocalising what she was feeling we were able to explain that mummy and daddy didn’t send them away, they had to catch a train and get home for their dinner. Once she understood this she was lovely for the rest of the afternoon, and went to bed really nicely too. This made it easy to hammer out the compliments.
My thoughts halfway through the program
It’s definitely having a positive effect on our family. Firstly neither hubby or I have raised our voices in almost a week, and that has to be a good thing. Secondly, toxic thoughts have become a thing of the past already. We are also being much more patient with her needs which is also helping.
She is still lashing out, and unfortunately being violent at points, but change will never happen overnight. I can’t honestly see that defiance and temper tantrums will be completely gone by the end of the ten days, but they are already occurring much less frequently than they were this time last week. I have high hopes for being able to turn it all around for good this time.
UPDATE: Since this was posted, our daughter has been diagnosed autistic. You can follow our autism journey here.