Questions in the Parenting Forum are being answered by doctors from MindWorks. Topics include: Behavioral Issues - Discipline, Emotional Development, Family Issues, Recreation, School Issues, Social Development
5 year old son with Behavior Problems after Child Abuse
My son's father and I have had joint custody since we separated and divorced. My ex-husband got married and started a family with his new wife, and I am living my life, but we kept joint custody of the child. About two months ago I picked my son up from my mother's house (she used to watch him until I got off of work) and took him home. He was acting funny so I decided to put him to bed early. I told him to take off his shirt to put his pajamas on and his back from mid-back down past his but was full of welts and bruises. I took him to the hospital and they pressed charges against his father because he told the doctor and police officer that his dad had done it because he was mad at him. Now my child lives permanently with me as the judge placed a protective order against his father until the criminal court date.....
I feel this back-ground knowledge is important. And I have taken my son to counselors here, but they don't seem to care, and tell me his behavior is normal.
The behavior is this: he screams, he is defiant, he cries over everything, and he throws tantrums. For example, if I am helping him with his kindergarten homework, he screams because he just KNOWS that I am not right, and then he starts crying. If he's drinking a juice box and says he doesn't want it anymore and I tell him to go ahead and throw it away he will start screaming and crying like I'm trying to take it from him. If I he said the sky was blue and I told him "yes, you are right" he will start screaming and crying. It doesn't take much, and since no therapist or counselor will say this is "not normal" then something else must be going on. I mean, I spend time with him and get on his level to sit and play legos, but in the end he ends up screaming about it, and crying. And the crying doesn't just last a few minutes, he will do it for up to an hour.
I really am not sure what route I need to go for next.
It is not normal for a five year old boy to cry for an hour, and if a parent is reporting emotional distress then it is important for mental health professionals to take these symptoms seriously. Most five year old boys are fairly 'happy go lucky' people with rather extreme emotional highs and lows. They tend to 'melt down' easily over seemingly trivial matters, but they recover quickly and go on to the next activity. From what you report, your son is showing above average levels of anxiety. While it is not 100%sure that this is due to the abuse, there is definately room for improvement in both your lives.
It is very hard to predict exactly how children will respond to abuse. Your son has had the extra trauma of having lost his father's presence in his life (regardless of whether that is a good thing for his safety!). Though you were able to see welts on one occasion, there is no way to know all of what happened to your son. He may have been subjected to significant emotional and verbal abuse as well, and you have no way of knowing for how long.
The important thing to remember about childhood abuse and removal of parental rights is that children often believe that this is all their fault. It is not a belief you will argue him out of in one sitting. For most people it takes years to heal. Your son probably believes that he did something wrong that lead his father to beat him, and that he 'lost' his father because of it. He may also feel guilty for having told the police and 'gotten his father in trouble.' Kids want so much to love thier parents they will twist their thinking all around to avoid believing that their parents are not good people. Children do not stop loving their parents despite horrible abuse or neglect, so the loss of his father is still a major event in his life.
I recommend you ask your pediatrician for a referral to a psychologist who has some experience with traumatized children or at least anxious children. A doctoral level psychologist should be able to recognize symptoms of anxiety, depression and trauma in a child. Keep calling people until you get someone who can work with you and your child. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help with the anxious symptoms, and play therapy can help the child work through feelings of guilt, sadness and anger. The book Difficult Questions Kids Ask (And Are Afraid to Ask) About Divorce by Dr. Schneiderman is an excelent resource for learning how to talk to your son about this.
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