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Defiance in 6 year old- What could this be?


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Hello!  One wonderful thing about parenting- I am always on my toes!  My oldest, a ten year old boy and my oldest girl, 6, have been having a lot of behavioral issues.  We moved last summer, and have had some extreme stress over the past few years.  However, things are finally starting to look a little better.   My dh and I are beginning to figure out what is going on with ds (looks like ADD and ASD), but dd has been having trouble and I don't even know where to start with her!


Background- she has always been sweet and sassy.  She takes after her oldest brother to some degree.  But she's also been within the parameters of normal child behavior.  Both her and ds have been seeing a counselor since October, but it hasn't seemed to help at all with her.  She has been exploding into rages lately, multiple times a week that last at least 1-2 hours.  We sent the kids to public school this year and she is thriving there, so that tells me that it is not an overarching problem, she only acts this way at home.  It gets ugly when she loses control, she even kicked a hole in the wall with her sock feet a couple weeks ago.  When she is not raging she is very defiant, always "Why?", "Why should I?", and "I don't care!"  It is beginning to be a big strain for the entire family, not to mention just Mom and Dad.  Grandparents don't know how to handle it, we don't know where to go next in looking for help.  Any thoughts on what happened to my sweet girl?  Where do we go from here to get her more help?  TIA!

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I know when my child was under a lot of stress at school he did not feel comfortable showing how he felt around classmates and teachers so it got bottled up inside all day.  Sometimes, when he would come home, my sweet, loving little boy would turn into a furious rage monster...  I think two things (maybe more) were going on.  1.  He really needed to release those emotions with someone he trusted to love him anyway.  2.  He was feeling bad inside and did not know how to express it verbally (even though he is extremely verbal) so those bad feelings came out physically, like a soda can that has been shaken up then opened.


Hopefully evaluations can help.  


You may have already tried this but maybe changing the routine would help, too, so that when she first gets home from school you do something totally different with her, even if she seems resistant at first.  Go for a walk or to the park or play a fun game together or even cuddle up and read a book or watch a TV program.   

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One thing that helped my child with these rages was to help him identify what he was feeling and why. Identifying what he was feeling took therapy and lots of it (I wasn't knowledgeable at the time and was far too burned out just keeping the walls together - holes, we gots holes ;) - to learn how to help him there). He learned that there is a whole range of emotions, not just happy/enraged, as he could identify with, and that with a little effort he could learn to identify when he was moving along that spectrum. To this end an "anger thermometer" was helpful, as were "social stories," first in cartoon form with word and thought bubbles, then written out.


At the same time we worked on expressing what he wanted. When he'd get angry like this, I'd stop and ask him "What do you want?" He'd tell me ("I want to not do my homework," or "I want my school to fall into a hole" or "I want you to shut up!" - yeah, I know). When he could identify what he wanted, we could talk about it. Sometimes he got what he wanted, sometimes he had to wait for what he wanted, and sometimes it simply wasn't possible for him to get what he wanted. We talked about these, and especially not getting what he wanted. Because adults had always made him do things they wanted, he had concluded that adults could do whatever they wanted. Knowing that I was limited from doing many things I wanted was a huge eye-opener for him. That concept had never crossed his mind until I introduced that. It led to a lot of discussions about how I, and everyone, feels just the way he did from time to time. I also got mad enough I wanted to break things, I also wanted his school to fall into a hole in the ground, but I reacted differently because I knew I couldn't have them, life's not fair, and we are only in control of so much, and sometimes what we really want requires us to do things we really don't enjoy. I also don't have the same adrenaline rush he had, so he had to work harder on that. But then, he has a much cleverer brain than I do, and I have to work much harder than him in other ways.


Essentially, these were constant conversations we had all the time, when the situation arose with him, his siblings, or me. It wasn't so much a lecture as much as a kind of mentoring him. In some ways, I thought of our relationship as one of a native speaker helping someone in a language foreign to their own. He had much of the same vocabulary, but missed idioms, expressions, implications, and things that are subtle and really never talked about because "native speakers" pick up on them whereas kids like him had to learn them. 


I agree that holding it together at school and exploding at home could be an indication that she's holding it together until she's in a safe place to let her guard down. Maybe you can help her find ways to unwind when she gets home so she can regenerate and re-energize before tacking the next expectation. 

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You need to get a new counselor if this one isn't working.


When your child is enraged, how do you respond? Many people respond with consequences, which escalate the rage. It helps to instead disregard any misbehavior and focus on helping your dd get her emotional equilibrium back. You lend your strength to her to help her calm down. Things that can help:


Talk about this when she is not in a rage. It's best if you and dh can take her out to a restaurant or some place pleasant to do this. For one thing, it communicates nurturing not an adversarial interaction. (Some people would believe that this feeds/rewards the behavior,  It does not. )  For another, she behaves in public.


Ask her to tell you about what she is thinking and feeling during those times. You will learn from her. Be willing to learn that you've done some things wrong and to apologize for those things. (That's not the whole of it, but it makes a huge difference if the parents also are vulnerable and open about their need to change some things.)


Figure out together what triggers the rages. If you can figure out the trigger or the behaviors that precede it, you can prevent the rage. They do not come out of nowhere. There will always be some cues. You can keep a chart of rages and what happened immediately before. For instance, was she tired? Was she hungry? Did you ask her to do something immediately? Had she been a little pouty? DId it occur during a transition? She may also have an idea of the triggers.


Figure out what precedes the rages so that you can head them off before they start.


Decide on a plan to head off the rages. This will depend on what the triggers are.



Decide on a plan for when she is enraged: 


Choose a code word or a hand signal to communicate to her that the plan needs to be implemented. (This can be enormously helpful because when you try to talk to someone whose brain in a primitive state, it doesn't penetrate and can make things worse by adding extra stimulation to process. Let her choose the word and/or hand sign.)


Often a change of scenery is helpful. Allow her to go outside and do something calming (exercise, swinging, etc.) or help her construct a calming area in her room. She can always go there if she is enraged. Her calming area should have her tools near it. (See below)


Ask if it would help if you held her or hugged her or if she could calm down faster alone.


Would she calm down best reading, doing a puzzle, swinging on the swing, playing with trains, playing a video game? Have her develop a tool kit of things to try.


Having a fit does not get her out of whatever it was that started the fit. Once she has been of sound mind for a few hours (NOT as soon as she has calmed down), your plan should include a way to raise the original issue. You two can re-enact it and she can play act what she should have done instead. If it's something like homework, etc. then obviously, she'll need to actually do it. I don't know all her triggers, so I can't suggest appropriate things for each step, but you need to discuss with her ahead of time what you will do about the original issue.




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Guest submarines

I think that it could still be the overflowing stress from the move and from the other stresses you mention, plus the new stress of being in school. She's holding it all while in school, and releases her emotions with someone she trusts. :grouphug:



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Luanne- I would venture to say it is NOT a discipline issue (at least not primarily). She is one of six and they all have unique personalities. She came out that way. Determined, sweet as can be, and spunky! We haven't raised her any differently than the others, but she is developing a pretty severe problem. The ONLY truly problematic behavior has manifested itself since the fall- and last spring/summer we moved cross country, moved to CA temporarily to help my mil as FIL passed away, moved back to ID without a solid job in place, Lived with grandparent, started public school, dealt with the stress of short selling a home long distance, etc. it was quite the year! I know it's been hard for me, and perhaps part of this is simply her reaction to it.


Laurie and albeto, I really found your posts helpful. Thanks! I'll be talking with my husband and working to implement some of these ideas.

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My always easy-going son turned 6 and became a handful....I laughed when I found "Your 6 Year Old, Loving and Defiant" at the library.  I had had the same confusion over my 8 year old 2 years earlier, the book made me feel better at that time, too and then I had mommy brain and forgot about the stage and book's subtitle.  I think it's developmental/holding it together at school than falling apart for someone who's safe and the more positive attention you can give the better.  I am trying to make myself look at any piece of his behavior or choice I can praise and when I actually succeed at this (I'm far from perfect at this) he is so much more helpful, charming and fun that it's easy to keep going with it.  Success begets success.  Then the other piece is identifying the behavior you want to see, communicating this to her and then set up a lot of short term praise and rewards to try to cement the behavior.  


Loved this book: http://www.amazon.com/Everyday-Parenting-Toolkit-Step-Step/dp/0547985541/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y

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