NetWellness is a global, community service providing quality, unbiased health information from our partner university faculty. NetWellness is commercial-free and does not accept advertising.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Stress and/or anxiety in my 1 year old daught
I have been vourt ordered to allow my daughter to visit with her father for 2, 1 week periods each month. We live about 500 miles from each other and i am concerned that it is taking a tole on her emotionaly. The drive alone is 7 hour and she has to make it 4 times a month. She has been showing some significant anger issues, hitting bitting, crying when i leave the room. She is pulling her own hair out. I am afraid that the constant change is confusing her and she is not left with a sense of where home is or where she belongs. I am very concerned... CCan you please help
It is not unusual for a young child entering the toddler years to have difficulty with temper tantrums, hitting, and biting. They are leaving the safety of infancy and entering a very challenging period where they are driven to be independent - hence the anger, hitting, and biting to express their upset that something is not the way they want it. They also do not have the words yet for how they feel, so they use behavior to express their feelings. Their strong feelings are also overwhelming to the young child. Hair pulling is a common self-soothing behavior among toddlers that most adults think of as pain. The eventual moth-eaten way the scalp looks also upsets many parents.
Clearly there is stress in her life and yours. This may well be feeding her unwanted behaviors and making them worse. YOung children are very quick in picking up on angry and upset feelings in their parents. Our feelings make them anxious and insecure and easily overwhelmed with just normal daily experiences.
It would be most helpful to her for you and her father to receive counseling, preferably together, to help resolve the bad feelings between you and create a safer and happier environment in each of your homes for her. If treatment together is not an option, and distance is certainly a significant factor as well as the cost of gas, then get help for yourself. Parent mental health is the most important factor in the mental health of the young child. Broken relationships and dreams are hard to deal with when you also have a small child to take care of, but taking care of yourself really is taking care of her.
It is a good idea to give her the words for how she is feeling. Something as simple as,"You feel really angry. I understand. It feels bad, doesn't it? Let's go run hard to get rid of feeling bad." End the running or chasing each other with a hug and a kiss and tell you are there for her.
When she hits or bites. Stop her and tell her that "Hitting (or biting) hurts. We don't do that. We say "sorry." Sitting alone in a specific place, time out, for only 1 minute also helps to tell her this is wrong. Don't keep yelling at her or harping at her. The correction is done and now you are together again. Give attention to the person who was hurt, not to her.
In terms of the hair pulling, it is best not to call attention to it. You can try a short haircut or putting her hair on braids or a pony tail that will make hair pulling harder and less satisfying. If she likes to wear hats, have her wear a hat to keep her hands away from her hair. Distract her from the pulling by giving her something to hold or do. If it occurs around separation or sleep, offer her a lovey or comfort object, if she does not already have one, for example a soft doll, stuffed animal or favorite blanket. It is a good idea to have several of the same object so that if it lost or needs cleaning or mending, she will still have her comfort object. This will occupy her hands away from her hair.
You may also want to read her simple stories about moms and dads who live apart but who love their child, about good manners, feeling mad and how to handle it. Children's librarians can help you find such books to help her learn bout all of these things in her life.
The trips out to her father do not have to be stressful and negative. Snacks, toys, and music can help distract her from the boredom of riding a long time. Perhaps meeting half way, playing for a bit and then switching her to her dad's vehicle would also be possible so that both of you are sharing the travel burden. Also, use the same rules and ways of handling her difficult behaviors. This will make her feel secure.
The quality of her experience is really in your hands and that of her father. You must both love her very much to want to share her equally over such a distance. Build on your mutual love for your daughter and help make her life as happy and stress free as you can by taking care of yourselves and your feelings. I hope this is helpful!
Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University