How can I get my ex-husband to be more responsible?

My ex husband is supposed to take our two children, who are 4 and 6 years old, every second week. Our marriage broke up about 3 years ago. There used to be a lot of shouting and things are much calmer at home now.  About once every three months, he just doesn’t show up to pick them up. Sometimes he shows up 2 hours late.  The children are usually very upset and my plans are ruined. He always has some excuse. I could believe him if this occurred once or twice. Although the children are upset at the time, they still want to go with him. I am at my wits end. I cannot afford a lawyer but I don’t know what I ask for if I could.  Why does he do this?  Why do the children still want to go to see him?  What can I do?

Your ex may want to get back at you by causing you hassle.  But most likely he is just irresponsible.  He thinks of his own convenience and not what is best for his children.  He does not make it a priority to be on time for his children.

You are in a difficult position. You see the harm your ex does to his children and feel helpless.

It is better for children to have contact with both parents. Courts are unlikely to take away access to children by their father except in extreme cases.

Your children probably love their dad and want to be loved by him. I expect that is why they still want to go with him, even though he is inconsiderate. With time they may become less tolerant of his lack of consideration.

There are some things that you can do that may help. You have to treat him like a child who is being irresponsible:

  • tell him that what he is doing is harming his children.
  • remind him that if he is going to be late he should call.
  • let him know that if he is more than 20 minutes, late you will assume he is not coming
  • if he is more than 20 minutes late, take the children out to the playground,  for an ice cream or to a visit with a friend.  Come back when you are ready. If he has to wait too bad.
  • if he arrives to get the children after their bedtime, tough. He can come back in the morning.
  • if he arrives drunk or stoned don’t let the children go with him. Call the police if necessary.

Make sure his irresponsibility does not include leaving the children in a risky situation. Does he supervise them properly when they are with him?  Does he leave them unattended?  If so, you can’t let them go with him.

Change occurs easier if you use positives as well. So be positive to him when he is responsible. Encourage his good behaviour. So, if he calls to say he will be a little late, thank him for calling. Give him positive feedback about things he does with the children. “John really enjoyed going swimming last week.” Being positive to your ex is for the kids benefit not for him.

Don’t get mad at him. It won’t do any good and will only make the children feel more in conflict. Just be firm.

You might tell your children that their dad has a hard time organizing his life. Explain that he loves them but is not good at doing what he says he will. Don’t make excuses for him but don’t badmouth him.

A firm but calm approach has the best chance of helping him change what he is doing. But always put the safety of the children first.

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How can I improve my four-year-old’s sleep?

My 4 year old son has recently started waking up 2-3 times per night and coming into our bedroom. He has never been a great sleeper, but for the past year his sleep had been better. Now he wakes up several times a night and insists on a glass of water, one of us (usually me) coming to the bathroom with him, and then sitting on his bed until he falls asleep. This routine takes anywhere from 20-40 minutes. If we refuse to do these things or we ask him to go back to his bed, he throws a tantrum and wakes up our 2 year old. Please help.

First of all, look at is his pattern of sleep. Make sure he has a regular bedtime with a pleasant and calming routine. A regular bedtime routine could stabilize his sleep pattern. It also gives you and your son a pleasant time to share the day’s events and to have lots of cuddles.

Young children who watch TV before going to sleep have poorer sleep. There are 2 possible reasons for this. There may be a direct physical effect. The bright light of the TV may interfere with the sleep-wake cycle by changing melatonin release. TV may also be stimulating because of its content.

If he has a nap, it may be time to phase it out.

Make sure he has a pee before going to bed. If he is getting up to pee anyway, you could restrict any liquids for 2 hours before bedtime.

Is he going to bed too early? It might be helpful to push back his bedtime by half an hour. This might make it easier for him to fall back asleep.

Can you figure out why he is waking and coming into your room?

  • Is there something that has changed in his bedtime routine?
  • Have you changed his bedroom or his bed?
  • Is he cold in his bed?
  • Does he want a night light?
  • Is it quiet where he sleeps?

My guess is he wakes and is a bit lonely. He likes your settling him. Most children wake several times during the night. But they learn how to settle themselves. This improves their sleep and improves the quality of life of their parents.

Teach him how to settle himself. You may not be able to change his waking.

Sit down with your son when you have no other interruptions and chat about him settling himself. Listen to his concerns. Let him know that mom and dad need their sleep and can’t spend so much time getting him back to sleep.

Work out a plan with him how he can settle himself when he wakes.

Give him what he needs during his nightly trips. Would cold water in a special thermos at his bedside help him quench his thirst? Is there a special teddy bear that he can talk to and will keep him company when he wakes?

Practice these new ways of doing things before he goes to bed.

Try a chart where you keep a record of when he settles himself. Settling on his own might be the goal but settling with your help for a few minutes could be a step to the goal.

Give him lots of encouragement when he settles better. Maybe even a small reward for each night he settles, would help.

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How can I deal with my son’s tantrums?

My strong-willed 8-year-old son refuses to leave stores, people’s homes, and fun activities without a tantrum. What can I do to make him come with me without causing a scene?

Children, like the rest of us, are trying to figure out how to get what they want. Ask yourself, “Have I given in to him in the past?” Do you stay longer when he puts up a fight? It sounds like he is bullying you. It will only get worse if you don’t deal with these tantrums.

Sit down with your son to develop a plan. Your son should help in making up the plan for how he can leave places without a temper tantrum. Give the plan a name such as “Operation Easy Escape”. He may at first refuse to co-operate. Don’t give up.

Make sure he understands that you expect him to follow the plan.

Rehearse what he will do 3-4 times over a few days. “OK, now when it is time to go from the store, let’s practice Operation Easy Escape.” Make it a positive experience but be very firm and clear in your expectations.

Have a negative consequence for him having a temper tantrum when out. It should be strong enough to make a difference. You must be willing to follow through. Have a positive consequence for him successfully executing “Operation Easy Escape”. But make sure it is given only after “Operation Easy Escape” is successful.

Rehearse just before you go out. Be firm but positive.

Set up a phony excursion to a store or to a friend’s place. If it is a friend’s place let your friend know that it is a set up to help your son learn to leave without a temper tantrum. If it is a store, choose one where you don’t care if he makes a scene.

Tell him you are going to stay only 10 minutes. Let him know when it is 1 minute before it is time to leave. Remind him of his “Operation Easy Escape” plan. Then leave with him.

If he starts to have a tantrum, remind him of “Operation Easy Escape”. If he doesn’t respond immediately remove him, even if it is a major scene. Make sure he gets his consequence.

You may have to repeat the practicing and the set up activities a half dozen or more times over a few weeks. He will eventually learn to control his feelings. And he will learn he cannot bully you.

If he is so strong as to be a danger to himself or to you, bring some backup with you (a friend, his dad, his uncle). Make sure the backup knows about the plan and will help you. Make sure you are able to remove him safely. Don’t go out with him if you cannot be safe.

Remember, it will take you both some time to get used this new way. Be firm, and consistent. Don’t give up! His future depends on it.

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What is Attention Deficit Disorder?

My ten-year-old son was diagnosed by his teacher as having Attention Deficit Disorder. What is that?

Teachers are not qualified to diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder. A health professional, such as a pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist should diagnose.

Obviously, your child’s teacher is frustrated with him. Pay attention to this concern, you can ask for a meeting to find out more.

Talk to your family doctor about the problems your son is having. He or she may have some specific suggestions or may refer your child to a specialist. You can also contact your local hospital for referrals.

You could see a private psychologist (look in the phone book) but you will have to pay for this service.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD as it is often called, is diagnosed because of:

  • problems in paying attention or distractibility
  • problems in doing things without thinking or impulsivity,
  • almost constant activity or hyperactivity

ADHD is common, occurring in about 10% of school-age boys but fewer girls. ADHD is diagnosed by reports of behaviour in different settings. There is no blood test, or x-ray for ADHD.

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Is my five-year-old showing severe seperation anxiety?

My five year old daughter is showing severe separation anxiety?  About four weeks ago, her 8 year old uncle (my little brother) was killed in a car wreck.  We used simple terms and answered as many questions as she wanted to ask about his death.  Other than our initial sit down talk with her we have not initiated talk around her about his death.  All of a sudden in the last week she has become extremely fearful of anyone leaving, but especially her father.  When friends visit she must kiss and hug and wave and run to them, and kiss and hug and wave over and over until we are all exhausted by the routine.  But when Daddy leaves for work in the morning she is having a full blown tantrum blow out.  She literally claws and clings to him as he is going out the door and when he leaves she lays on the floor screaming and crying.  Everyday it has gotten a little worse.  I am heartbroken for her and just don’t know what to do for her.  She has a twin sister and a baby sister and her fear is causing her twin to have anxiety also.  Is this normal for a grieving five year old?  Will she grow out of it with time? I would be so grateful for any advice.

You are right, your daughter is showing severe separation anxiety and it is likely due to the death of her uncle. It is understandable and natural.  She will probably get better with time.

However, there are things that you can do to help her. These things are a bit contrary to what we would first think, but they do work to resolve grief.  If we avoid things we are anxious about, they get worse.

  1. Talk to her about her uncle’s death. Do this at a time when things are calm and the two of you are alone together. Raise the issue, perhaps by saying something like you really miss your little brother and are sad by his death. Listen if she is able to talk. It is important for her to know that it is ok to feel sad, angry and upset.  It is OK for her to share these feelings with you. She may not talk much.  You can show her how you are dealing with his death. You may want to ask her what she misses about her uncle, what she remembers about him.  You can say things like “I miss his laughter and his smile.”  Maybe she could draw some pictures about him. It is OK if she draws pictures of the crash or if she draws pictures of other things about him. You can also share a bit about anxieties you feel. “I worry a bit when your dad leaves in the car but I say to myself that he is going to be alright.”
  2. The second thing is to discourage her inappropriate behavior.  Although it is understandable, it is not helping her. This should come after you have established that it is OK to talk about the death.  Determine with her, how many times she can say goodbye to friends and visitors. It might be three.  It might be five. When the number of goodbyes is up, they leave.  Don’t let it drag on. This process may help her talk about what she is afraid of. Encourage talking about what she is afraid of. Setting limits together will allow her to gain some control.
  3. Talk to her about her reaction when her dad leaves. Try to figure out a way that she can express her feelings without clinging, clawing and a temper tantrum. Again, work with her to set some limits.  When the agreed upon goodbye routine is finished, he should leave.

If things don’t start to get better soon, you may want to seek some assistance from a professional. Your family doctor can help you find the right person.

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