Out of my Depth

My daughter is going through something right now. She has been for about a month. It’s been really, really hard.

I never know if what we’re dealing with is normal. I don’t think most parents of 4.5 year olds are dealing with these issues. I don’t think most parents of 4.5 years olds are navigating these kinds of tantrums, this frequently. And yet, even if that is true, does that mean our daughter’s behavior falls outside “normal” parameters?

I’m constantly asking myself, should we be seeking outside help? Can we deal with this on our own? Are we making the right choices to support out daughter in the best ways we can?

I try to fill her cup, but it’s like a sieve. I try to show her empathy but she hits me over and over and over again. I try to set limits but she pushes back constantly. We are navigating the same kinds of behavior we did when she was two and three years, except now she has the language capabilities to really hurt us, in ways that sometimes feel irreparable.

We both feel beaten, like we have already waved the white flag, but in the game of parenting there is no surrender. We just keep getting assaulted, and we can’t lay down and play dead.

Every time I think we should take her to see someone, I wonder what they’d actually do. I mean, sitting there, in a professional’s office, I’m sure my daughter would be fine. What I need is someone to be there when I’m trying to get her to wear her raincoat because it’s pouring outside. What I need is someone to be there when she refuses to eat butter noodles for dinner–and that is one of the few things she actually likes! What I need is for someone to be here when I set a limit and she hits me and kicks me and when that doesn’t work scratches her own face.

Maybe I need to be seeing someone, so that I have the emotional fortitude to deal with this stuff. Because right now, I’m not sure I can.

Even when I think I know what I need to do, I’m not sure I’m strong enough to do it.

{And yes, I see the irony in the fact that I just posted about how good I felt about my change in parenting. The thing is, I do feel good about the changes I’ve made, and I do think parenting my daughter in those ways are what is best for her, but I just don’t know if I have the emotional stamina to be what my daughter needs me to be. I’m feeling so totally and utterly defeated so much of the time. She is just so much, and I feel like so little.}


  1. This is my first time ever commenting here but I read all the time and can hear the defeat in your post. I would get help. Wouldnt’t it help to hear, “That’s normal… here’s some advice,” OR, “NO, you shouldn’t have to be experiencing this and here’s some advice.” I feel like so much of reaching out is looking for confirmation and validation.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate your perspective. I never thought about how validating hearing either one of those would be. Thank you.

  2. From what behaviors you are describing, it will benefit you all to get outside help. If anything, give you a different tool kit to draw from. Does she do that at school or just at home? Around grandparents?
    You must be so emotionally drained and keep in mind that an outside perspective just might be what helps both you and your daughter. Hugs! This must be so difficult!

    1. I do think some outside perspective would help. I guess I’m just not sure where to get that perspective. Figuring that out will have to be my next step.

      1. I’m wondering if you could call and talk to a child counselor and describe your situation to see if they could help or if they can pass on a reference to someone else? It might save you some money on an actual appointment as well. One more thought, I’ve been reading a book about the Whole 30. Basically a radical way of eating to remove all sugar and processed foods from your diet and ultimately healing your gut and body. There were a few success stories about it improving children’s behavior too. Heres the link to one of the stories. maybe this could help?http://whole30.com/2015/02/whole30-success-story-millers-miracle/

        1. My friend is a child and family counselor so I’m definitely going to ask her if she can refer me to any good resources.

          I am intrigued by your link to the Whole30 page. I will admit that I have considered whether or not diet might be an issue. The thing that worries me is that my daughter is a VERY picky eater. She doesn’t want to eat the few foods she does like. And she is also very sensitive to low blood sugar–her behavior is most aggressive and erratic when she hasn’t had much to eat. I really struggle with this actually, because I don’t want to force her to eat, but I know that if she doesn’t eat it becomes almost impossible to deal with–reason stops working and she just loses it. Bread and pasta are some of the few things she’ll eat. She won’t touch vegetables and when we bribe her to eat pieces of broccoli and green beans she gags and sometimes even vomits trying to swallow them. She won’t eat any meat proteins except for cheeseburgers and turkey burgers (but only with bread). I just can’t imagine how I’d get her to eat that kind of diet.

          1. We haven’t gotten to this age yet, but I do have a friend whose daughter was similar to what you’re describing. In addition to talking to a counselor, they made sure she didn’t have any red dye. Apparently red dye can cause these issues in some kids, so maybe try that as a food change start (vitamins, medicine, candy, ketchup, etc.)? I hope everything works out for you soon!

            1. I will definitely start checking all our foods for red dye. The few I thought might have it (her gummy vitamins, some other gummies we sometimes eat) didn’t have it so I don’t think we’re giving it to her, but maybe she is getting it other places… Thanks for the suggestion.

          2. We, generically, think if a child doesn’t eat much they will starve, die, fall ill or drop weight, whatever. In reality a middle class normal weight child can skip even several meals in a row by their own choice and still be ok. DO offer food on your approved list and do not have alternate food in the house for anyone. Children will figure it out.
            IF it is blood sugar related, or allergy related, you need to know. Talk to therapist also.
            That she goes from No ~ to physically attacking you ~ to self harm really really really is a major issue and getting help is important before the acts extend to her brother and/or become habitual.
            And, the reader who said to video the meltdowns is dead on right. What a therapist can do is tell you what is in normal ranges of behaviors, suggest alternate approaches, and use their expertise in their field to have ideas non-experts may not have. Sometimes it is just tweaks to what you are already doing.

          3. So from what you’ve described with her moods, blood sugar, eating habits it totally could be tied to food! I can email you some things I found helpful from the book if you want to discuss it further. Holsen85atgmaildotcom. I’ve heard parents of my former students see huge success with eliminating red dye as well.

  3. My 5 year old is quite a handful. We have lots of tantrums, lots of crying, lots of yelling. Quite frequently. Just so you don’t feel alone. But if she is physically acting out, then I think I would seek help. It’s just not fair to you to have to deal with hitting, etc. I really think there are probably people who could at least help you with that if nothing else. And I’m sure that would make a big difference. I think when they hit and kick you (and my son did do that a lot when he was younger) it is so hard to keep your cool and handle things because your body wants to go into defensive mode. But I feel you on constantly wondering what is “normal” behavior. It’s so exhausting. We are really struggling with that too.

    1. Luckily I am the only one she hits. If she gets really upset at school she generally just hurts herself. But yeah, it definitely triggers something primal in me that makes it REALLY hard for me to keep my cool. And the older I get, the more I feel her aggressiveness toward me is a personal affront. It’s really starting to wear my down.

      Thank you for sharing your story and making me feel less alone. I do know a few families that struggle with this kind of behavior and it really helps me to know that I’m not the only parent dealing with this stuff, even though it frequently feels like I am. It’s so hard, but it makes it feel less difficult when I know I’m not the only one, and my child isn’t the only one either.

  4. Tantrums. Suck. Period. But, I absolutely think outside help would be of great benefit. If for no other reason than to give you more resources to deal with them and to help your daughter. Start with your pediatrician, if nothing comes of that…seek out a behavioral pediatrician or a pediatric psychologist.

    We deal with tons of tantrums from Cadet. They are on the “bad” side of the scale due to his sensory issues. He hits, screams, hurts himself (head banging against a wall/floor)…the whole shebang. It’s rough. But, we know this is “normal” for him. And we have help from his OT and ST if we need it.

    There’s nothing wrong with seeking help. I encourage you to do it if you feel comfortable. No matter what…sending you lots of love and patience.

    1. My daughter also hits her head against the floor, though less now that she is older. I have always assumed that her behavior was also “normal” for her, that she was a “spirited child” as they say and that she had different needs than other kids. And I suppose if that is true, I should seek help and support in meeting those needs, especially if I feel I can’t do it myself.

  5. I’ve gone through something similar with one of my kids. I started by calling the pediatrician to get a referral to a child psychologist (they usually have a list) and then the psychologist evaluated him and gave us some tips and tricks. He also went in for therapy (usually over legos) to help him work through. Call, even if it’s normal, the knowledge will only help.

    1. Thank for sharing your experience and how you went about getting help and support. I’ll be emailing my pediatrician today.

  6. You know I have nothing but empathy for you, as we are in a very similar boat. I’ll admit I haven’t (yet) practiced what I’m about to preach—I absolutely think you should speak to a counselor or psychiatrist. If nothing else, to tell you whether the behavior is a “spirited” normal vs. something that requires a different approach (i.e. not typical, thus typical advice/books won’t be as useful). You can also get, through them, resources for help/support for parents. My husband and I have gone back and forth on this, mostly along the lines of “we should talk to someone” “but yeah, what are they going to do?” “yeah, you’re right, they can’t do anything”. But this discussion (and me formulating my thoughts to write this comment) are helping me see the value in getting an outside perspective.

    1. We fiddled around starting at about age 4 when our kid didn’t have any behavior improvement since she turned 2 or 3, about whether it was high side of normal behavior or low side of abnormal, and we got an evaluation and it was very helpful. We are lucky in that the diagnosis that stuck included some home visits from a professional so we could have help in practice rather than in an office where the kid is a saint. We also taped a tantrum and a food pickiness episode for our various appointments and it helped too, because again, in a setting to please a non-parental adult, my kid is a saint and is night and day different when it’s a parental (or near parental like at daycare) adult. So what I’m getting at is to ask for a referral to someone and then get a good evaluation and then get the right referral. If you have a rocking pediatrician/primary provider, that might be enough. Ours referred the kid straight away to 2 specialists she needed and then later we added another at the recommendation of a specialist, but it might make sense to start with a child psychologist type person to do an evaluation of behavior.

      1. And I should say that I think we waited longer than was probably good, so if you have the idea that you might need help, there’s no harm getting an evaluation now and if nothing is needed, then you are set and can work on you rather than trying to figure out what’s up with her. It’s been overall really helpful to have had the intervention. We get less hitting and less destruction of things now than before, maybe more coping from the kid. At the very least we are in a better place to know that some/most of the shenanigans the kid gets up to are not our fault as parents but part of her diagnosis/personality/whatever. The guilt of knowing you have the kid who hits and nothing changing that was awful.

        1. Yeah, I worry sometimes that we waited too long too. I feel like when she was two and three her behavior was more “expected” because toddlers have tantrums and it’s harder to recognize what is excessive. I think now, only a few months away from five years old, there is an expectation that we shouldn’t be dealing with this on the scale that we are, so we’re finally seeking support, but we probably should have a long time ago.

      2. I so appreciate you sharing your experience on this. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I hope that we can find someone to support us in productive ways, like you did.

  7. I agree that seeking help sounds like a great idea. As far as what you said about WHAT you would like others to be able to see (raincoat, eating, etc.), I wonder how introducing a video camera into the mix might change things? Perhaps your husband could video a meltdown while you and she are interacting? If it changes nothing, then you have a great piece of “evidence” to show whomever you see for help; if her seeing the camera escalates OR de-escalates things, that would give you some valuable information about what is going on in her little brain mid-meltdown…

  8. That just sounds brutally difficult… I really hope that you can find some insights. I know my kids’ moods and ability to play well with each other varies so much depending on how tired, hungry, or thirsty they are… and I also have some really picky eaters… it’s so hard. You sound exhausted. I really hope something opens up for a long-term happy change.

  9. Hmm. Not to project my daughter’s problems onto others, but the gagging and vomiting can be a sign that she’s not chewing & swallowing properly and the severe food limitations can be her way of subconsciously coping with that. I’ll email you more on this.

    I agree with others that seeing someone could help frame what is normal and provide other ideas when your techniques aren’t working. I can’t get over how much her behaviors sound like a older version of E. Hugs.

      1. I’ve already started filming her tantrums. I’m going to need my husband around to get one where she is hitting me. Maybe this weekend. 😉

    1. I was thinking about this and I wonder if she has a tongue and or lip tie? Those can affect palate, the ability to chew/move different foods in the mouth etc. Very interesting thoughts Mrs T!

    2. I don’t think the gagging/vomiting is about not being able to chew or swallow properly but I’ll definitely bring it up when we see someone. She only does that with foods she really doesn’t like (ie any vegetable).

  10. I think your best bet might be a family counselor, and I might just start with you seeing her, explaining what’s going on, and seeing what he/she suggests. It may just be that you need some additional ideas to rely upon when dealing with your daughter in those tense moments.

  11. Hugs, friend. I know you’ve been dealing with this for a really really long time and of course you are exhausted and fed up. I don’t have much to add other than I agree that an outside opinion is probably best. And if your pediatrician brushes you off (which in my experience talking with parents of kids with issues happens a lot), find someone who will listen and work with you to find some strategies that will help. Thinking of you daily.

    1. My pediatrician was actually very helpful in giving me the numbers I need at Kaiser to get the ball rolling. I appreciated that very much, especially since I just started seeing her recently and I haven’t even brought Isa in for a visit yet.

  12. That sounds exhausting.
    As a therapist who has worked with kids a lot, I agree that it sounds like it would be helpful for you to talk to someone. As others have mentioned, a good therapist should be able to help you with some new strategies for dealing with these difficult behaviors.

    Also, therapists who work with young kids are used to getting lots of information from the kids’ parent(s) about their behaviors–and used to the fact that kids behave differently at home than in an office. So the therapist should still be able to help, even if s/he doesn’t observe the tantrums directly.

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective as a therapist who has worked with kids a lot. I really appreciate hearing your advice on moving forward.

    2. I am so, so sorry about all of this. How hard to see her struggling so and not be able to help her. My heart goes out to you in this. It’s just so hard to know what to do. I don’t have any additional thoughts or advice beyond what’s already been said. Just wanted to comment so that you can feel more support.

      Also, you are a good mother.

  13. Reading this is giving me the courage I need to call a behavioral therapist for Matthew. He is so great at home and with his brother, but kicks, pushes, and hits every day at school or at the Y. He’s about to be suspended from the freaking YMCA. I suspect a sensory issue (very minor) and general over simulation when with other kids, but I need help with it because nothing we do works. My big fear is that we’ll be told there is something major going on (even though I really don’t think there is!) and that’s why I haven’t called. I’m a chicken shit.

    How is she at school? Any issues there? My friends daughter had defiance and authority issues at home, but never outside of her family unit. We have the opposite – almost ideal kid at home, but a terror outside the home.

    Hugs. So many hugs.

    1. I’m sorry you are dealing with all that. I had no idea. It’s so hard when our kids’ behaviors feel outside the scope of what we know how to manage. I hope you find some support in this area. I’ll pass along anything helpful that I find.

  14. I’m sorry I didn’t comment on this earlier. I think issues like this are so, so common – look at all the commenters experiencing similar issues! I think some kids just have bigger personalities & stronger emotions than others. I am actually concerned about how common it seems to be to seek professional help. Are we pathologizing something that’s just childhood?

    If a psychologist can give you some tips, great. But I get nervous about potentially labeling a kid who’s not really out of normal range.

    I tried to talk to my therapist a couple weeks ago about issues I’m having with J. I was disappointed to find that she ended up trying to give me parenting advice, when what I really wanted to talk about was why certain behaviors trigger me, why I handle things in certain ways, etc. plus, her parenting advice was just 123 Magic and sticker charts.

    But anyway, enough about me. Suffice it to say, this behavior is probably much more common than you think.

    1. I’m not really interested in “labeling” my kid, but in learning the tools I need to support her. I don’t expect they are going to say that her behavior is outside of the normal range–in fact I’m counting on them telling me that everything is fine! But I know that it’s not okay for a kid to hurt themselves or others and right now my daughter does that, a lot. She is almost five years old and we NEED to figure out how to help her channel her anger and frustration differently. I watched two kids at her school basically get kicked out for chronic aggressive behavior–I don’t want the same thing to happen to my daughter.

      I also know that I have a really hard time being the parent I want to be when I’m triggered, and my daughter knows exactly how to trigger me. So I hope they can give me some effective strategies for controlling my big emotions when I start seeing red.

      1. I’m glad you’re feeling good about making the call, and I hope it is helpful. I guess I just feel like parenting, in general, has turned into something we need to consult with experts on all the time. We don’t learn from our mothers, aunts & grandmothers like in days past, and we often dont’ spend much time with any kids until we have our own. Then when things like this happen, we’re blindsided. I had NO IDEA kids hit their parents until I had a 3-year-old (or maybe 2? I don’t remember) But, since that’s the society we’re living in, I hope you end up with a professional who gives you some good ideas and takes some of the burden off you.

  15. This sounds so hard. I’m so glad that you’ve gotten the support here that you need and that there are so many people who will be with you as you take this next step.

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