My 5 year old acts up around his mother, especially if other people are around. She has clinical anxiety, she's taking antidepressants.

It's not his fault, he noticed that he can get what he wants if he acts a certain way. I don't think he realizes how much it hurts his mother. She's terrified of his screaming, especially in public.

Another consequence of this is that I tend to be tougher on him when I'm around. In order to keep my wife functioning she needs to be able to invoke me with a phone call. I hate it, it makes me hate myself. I can see this boy starting to enjoy it and I can see where this is going and it's not good.

Can somebody help us?

3 Answers 3


There are a lot of resources out there for parents trying to cope with mental health issues and parenting at the same time. I'd recommend reading the professional linked advice. Also, a lot of this comes down to what your wife's willing and capable of doing, which is something you need to discuss, maybe involving her therapist/counsellor/care co-ordinator.

But there are some basic things you could start with.

Firstly, you both need to give her permission and support to simply avoid certain triggering situations. If she cannot go to the shops with your son without panicking about him behaving in a way that sounds pretty normal for a five year old, an obvious solution is not to go to the shops with him.

That means either she has to wait till you're home so she can go to the shops without him, or you order online. Suddenly, the situation of "child throws a tantrum in the aisle at the supermarket", which is stressful for any parent, ceases to exist.

Another thing to do is to look for a support network you can trust. Cultivate certain friends or family who know about her condition and can support her in these circumstances. Arrange for her to go out with them there to support. That way, she can go and take a moment if he begins acting out, while grandma death-stares him into grudging compliance.

I obviously don't know your social or financial situation, but one obvious support network is professional childcare like a nursery or childminder. You can give money to some nice, competent people who want your son to behave but won't beat themselves up if he doesn't. Nurseries are fantastic fun for five year olds, and do help with teaching them to handle social situations more appropriately.

I personally recommend you be honest as you can with your son. He's five, you can literally calmly tell him "Mummy can't take you to the playground because of how you behaved last time. She gets particularly upset when you behave that way because of how her brain works." Whether your wife's comfortable with that is another matter, of course, and that's something you'd need to talk about. But as one concern is "I don't think he realizes how much [his behaviour] hurts his mother", good news, you're the parent, it's your job to help him realize.

Another consequence of this is that I tend to be tougher on him when I'm around. In order to keep my wife functioning she needs to be able to invoke me with a phone call.

I don't know what you mean by tougher, but again, if your behaviour towards him is making you hate yourself, I'd recommend seeking mental health support, for example there is specific support for people who act as carers; but to be clear, given your situation, it's okay and indeed probably appropriate to set tighter boundaries than you strictly need on how he behaves, so that you're setting behaviour expectations to what your wife can cope with. What's not okay is getting angry with a five year old. It doesn't help, they can't respond to it in a useful way, because they're five, and if you expect them to, it can get pretty toxic.

Regarding your wife needing to have you "on-call" at all times, this is, to an extent, just a part of parenting. Kids get hurt, kids get sick, and parents need to be able to call in. If she's relying on it so often that it's burning you out, that's where talking to carer support comes in.

Given that your situation seems to be on the more extreme end, I'd also recommend ensuring your work's fully aware of what's going on. There is often stuff that they can do around shifting responsibilities to free up some of your capacity to deal with a difficult period. They may even have some kind of employee assistance programme that can offer therapy.

I agree with user16464047's comment, that "all this shall pass". As long as you're setting expectations for him reasonably, seven year olds don't behave like five year olds. You might end up pleasantly surprised at how supportive he'll turn out to be in time.

And finally, don't let anyone tell you this doesn't suck. Being mentally ill can be as crippling as any other long-term condition, and not being able to do certain things because of your mental illness can be heart-breaking. It also warps the natural balance of parenting, as you need to work out how you can take over the things she can't do without just ending up overloaded and overstressed.

From the link at the top:

You may feel like you need to be the best parent you can be. Or feel guilty that you can’t do certain things with your children. If you’re finding things difficult, it’s really important that you get the right help and support.

Good luck, hope this helps!


I'm really sorry you're going through this.

I can't advise on the specifics of how to handle this situation - it is something that you would need to discuss with a professional. I do have one thought to share though:

I can see this boy starting to enjoy it and I can see where this is going and it's not good.

Can you really predict where this is going? Is it possible that his misbehavior isn't as worrisome or permanent as you feel it is?

This is a rough patch, but with God's help it will be temporary. Focus on supporting your wife and strengthening your marriage. All the best.


he noticed that he can get what he wants if he acts a certain way.

This is when the parents have to parent. You can't let undesirable behavior result in reward.

She's terrified of his screaming, especially in public.

She has to learn to stop rewarding it. She might have to let him scream at home. She might have to remove him from public when he screams. That obviously would have been easier when he was 2 or 3. It's going to be harder when he is 6 or 7.

She knows that she has the upper hand, and has the power to stop the screaming if she gives in, so she has to exercise that power and not give in.

  • 1
    This feels like really good advice for someone who's not suffering from clinical anxiety.
    – deworde
    Jan 4 at 1:08

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