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Ask Dr. Meg: My 3 Year Old is Acting Out

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg,

I have a 3 (will be 4 in a few weeks)

She’s acting out at school when she doesn’t get her way. She has slammed a kid’s head into a bookshelf, is cussing at and hitting her teachers she pushed over a bookshelf today on top of a kid. Recently we have moved in with my boyfriend, not their father. We’ve been here for two months and I’ve had to leave work 3 different times because of her behavior. She doesn’t act like this at home, she doesn’t have a listening problem or following directions but I just don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t keep leaving my new job and I can’t have her kicked out of daycare. She’s never acted like this before. She’s always had an attitude problem. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Dear Mom-

Your daughter’s behavior at school is not normal. She is screaming for help. You know this and that’s why you wrote. The level of her anger tells me that she is hurts terribly inside and doesn’t know what to do with intense feelings. When young children hurt, they show it by acting very mean toward themselves and other children.

The question for you is: where is her hurt coming from? I think you know but don’t want to face it. Her anger became much worse when you moved in with your boyfriend. Here’s why. Your daughter struggles with not having her father around (even if she had a bad relationship or no relationship, with him, this still hurts) and to make matters worse, now she has to deal with a man she doesn’t know. The bottom line is: she can’t handle living with your boyfriend. You may like him and feel you know him, but she’s clearly very upset.

Many times parents can’t see what’s right in front of them and this is what’s happening to you now. You have probably heard that kids are resilient, and can adapt and handle things well. But I’ve been working with kids for 30 years and I can tell you that this is NOT true. Kids are forced to do things that are painful because parents insist on having what they want. But kids suffer when parents do this and your daughter is suffering now.

You have a choice here: either you move out and get a place for you and your daughter (or live with family) or you throw her under the bus and stay living with your boyfriend. If you continue to live with this man, your daughter’s behavior will get worse and worse. You will constantly be called to help her. And if you think things are tough now, wait until she’s 16. If you stay on this path, you may not even have a relationship with her. So do the right thing. You may not feel strong enough to go it alone but let me reassure you- you are. You don’t need your boyfriend’s money, comfort or love to be independent. You are much stronger than you think.

Move out. You can still date this man but no living together. Give your daughter space. Go to dinner or the movies with him but come home to your own place. Your daughter must come first here because she was there before he was and she is only a child. I know these are harsh words but I’ve seen this a thousand times and I guarantee this works.

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