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4 Year Old Depression

Question:

I have a 4 year old step son who’s mother has been in and out of his life. She and his dad split up when he was one and a half, he lived with her for a few months while she luckily was in and out of jail for short periods so that he didn’t notice. Then she ended up going to jail for eight months. During that time his father and I began a relationship. His father basically ended up with custody (there were no court orders). Her parents (his grandparents) still take him from time to time. She got released and saw her son off and on for weekends and such. In the mean time his father and I have been married and a few months after his mother ended up in prison for a year and is currently serving her time. I have always tried so hard to help this poor kid understand that I can be there for him and help him with things too, but he is very particular with who he likes. If he doesn’t like you, can tell by his actions. He has a hard time competing for attention when other kids are around, and would prefer to only hang out with adults he has known his whole life. And most importantly he is overly obsessive about his dad. He follows him everywhere and if he is not in the same room he goes on a search to find him right away. We have started taking both of our 4 year olds to the same babysitter so that its easier for the both of us. He drops the kids off and I pick them up. The problem is I think this kid has major issues, and its noticeably worse now that I have him home without his dad. He mopes around, gets very agitated by my son, who just wants to play with him, and cries and cries and cries. But when his dad gets home he has started taking short periods of playtime with my son and we all get along fairly well. I swear I am the only one who notices this kid needs help and It is driving me crazy. I don’t know what to do or how to tell his dad that we should get him some counseling. Please help me, I am desperate.

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Answer:

Your E. Mail is baffling because of the way you describe the behavior of your step son. If I did not go back and double check, while I was reading, I would have believed he was seventeen or eighteen rather than just four years old. My thought is that you need some education in early childhood and parenting.

Yes, this child has experienced loss with regard to his biological mother and his maternal grandparents. However, it seems to me that you are not doing much to build a solid parenting relationship with him.

Four year old children are easily bored when they have nothing to do. In fact, I find myself thinking about what both of these children are doing while at the baby sitter. Probably not much. My guess is that they are both bored. Also, four year old children are not to adept at playing with each other, certainly not for any protracted period of time.

Both children enjoy it when Dad comes home because he plays with them. Guess what? You need to play with them and in very structured and organized ways.

First of all, there is every reason, it seems to me, for you to take them to the play ground or park when you pick them up. If that pickup time is too late because it’s evening, then, you can play with them at home. If there is a yard outside of the apartment or back yard, a 1/2 hour of play with them will work wonders. In the house you should be playing with them. Whatever games you have available call for and need parental involvement. If you are preparing dinner, enlist both of them in helping you. Show them what you want them to do and show them how. Make it a game and a contest but allow both of them to win. They can set the table, put the table cloth on, get out the pots and pans, put out the dishes and silverware. Promise them you will play a game with them after dinner. Or, use play dough and make projects with them. Teach them how to bake brownies, yes, boys can learn to make brownies. Bake brownies with them. In other words, keep them involved and busy.

Both of the children are very young and need a lot of parental involvement and activity. Make art projects with them and put the results up on the refrigerator. There are endless possibilities. Use your imagination.

 By the way, when Dad comes home you can sometimes join into the games they play. Only sometimes because they need time with him, too.

Yes, its work, but, then again, that is what parenting is.

Dr. Schwartz

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