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How to handle tantrums in preteen

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Today was a bad day tantrum wise. My two nieces were visiting 13y and 11y and they fight a lot hurting each other. The younger one has a long history of having tantrums out of the blue. Mainly to gain attention when she is not the sole focus of everybody else around her. But for me taking care of my own 2 kids (1 and 3) plus keeping the older ones at bait and cooking for 9 people was not so easy. So I thought it would be a good idea to take them out to the playground today. She was riding in the car with her grandma when she almost jumped out of the moving car throwing a fit just because of a little butterfly being in the car. Like that little insect could kill her. At the playground everything was fine and when we wanted to leave she would not get in the car. So I told her she could ride with me but refused and started walking away from us crying, sobbing, making a big fuss. I had to follow her through have the town. She demanded her mom to come and pick her up. (Her mom was at work about an hours drive away and could not have left early even if she wanted to or else lose her job). I tried to explain that to her but she would not listen. She started even getting louder and crying harder. People were already paying attention to us. I told her to get in the car numerous times or else I would just leave her there (which of course I would not have done). She then laid herself halfway in the car and halfway on the sidewalk just so I would not drive away. I basically pushed her in. Then she would not buckle up. So we had another argument about that. I tried to stay calm and I did not raise my voice during all of this but stayed firm with my demands. My mom had driven on to another playground in the woods with my kids since she did not know what was going on. So we went there and my niece then got out of the car, still crying and just throwing her tantrum. I basically ignored it and offered her that she could have some food and drink and also play with us, trying to involve her but she would not hear of it. When it was finally time to go back home she would not get in the car. She threatened me to hit and kick me. Despite her being just 11y/o, she is almost as tall as me but heavier set so she would physically outmatch me. She kept repeating over and over again just like a broken record that her mom has to come to pick her up.  All the while crying, kicking, screaming loudly. It took me a long time to coax her into getting into the car to go home.  My sister told me that stuff like this is going on daily and that her own daughter beats her. What the heck? I felt so powerless in this difficult situation and since this is not my own child - heck, I did just not know what to do. I was responsible for her well being so I could not just leave her there in the woods even though I really wanted to. When we got back I sent her to the guest bedroom where they were staying to wait for her mom to come. She arrived shortly after but my niece totally refused to even talk to her and instead was having another fit. To be honest I don't want my niece in my house anymore. She is upsetting my kids who don't really understand what is going on yet. On another occasion I kicked them out once already because of this. As she is getting older it is getting worse and the fits seem to last longer and they are about such trivial things.


How would I handle situations like this in a better way? I am close to my sister and she and her daughters stay the night sometimes during school vacations when she has to work. I want to help them but not at sacrificing my own time in such a way that prevents me from looking after my own children and possibly someone getting hurt. Sorry for this long post. I just had to get it out.

post #2 of 10

This is my opinion, and I'll note that I am not a professional, have no real experience with kids other than my own, and obviously am coloured by my own experiences and my kids' issues. 


With that said, what you are describing is not normal for an 11 year old, IMHO. I suspect this child is either on the autism spectrum or has some other issue that is causing this behaviour.


My 11 year old daughter can have tantrums if she is overstimulated, pushed into a situation that causes anxiety, etc. and some of those things can seem pretty trivial to an outside observer. At first I thought she was just "sensitive" until she was at an age where other kids simply would not act that way because it is embarrassing behaviour and social acceptance is importance to kids, especially as they near adolescence. My daughter has Aspergers and I'm not saying your niece has that but I'm suggesting her behaviour is not "normal", for lack of a better word. 

post #3 of 10
It sounds to me like there's a special need here as well. My 11-year-old can flip out, but what you're talking about is beyond the realm of normal IMO. Either she has a special need or something really intense is bothering her or something.

I think in general when a child of any age has a tantrum, it's best to not engage the tantrum and let it play out. Let them know you're there when they need you and then disengage. Trying to fix it just feeds the drama, IMO.
post #4 of 10
Yeah, my 12 year old definitely throws her share of fits, but nothing like that, and certainly not around an aunt or grandparent... That is the first red flag, if the child is willing to behave that inappropriately in front of extended family or strangers. The second red flag is freaking out about the butterfly, unless the child has a phobia of butterflies (while possible, pretty unlikely). You also said she was big for 11, so that is another problem... Kids who are adult sized who throw these kinds of tantrums are a danger to both themselves and others, can you imagine if she actually hurt another kid or even an adult out in public? She could face criminal charges if the mother can't control her, less likely if she is diagnosed, though... Even the most litigious individuals won't press charges against someone with special needs.

Has she always had problems regulating her emotions or is this a new thing? If it has always been an issue, I would have her mom get her evaluated for ASD, but if this is recent in the past few years, it sounds more like ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). If that is the case, she needs to see a therapist, family therapy would be particularly helpful as it can encourage the child to actually hear what the parents are saying through a mediator without just opposing everything simply because an authority figure said so.

As an occupational therapist, I deal with kids who have both disorders regularly, but ASD is very prevalent in many other ways while ODD does not. You should have the mom read "The Defiant Child", it has a lot of good insight and techniques. Good luck!
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all your answers.


Yes, there is def. a lot going wrong in my sis family. And it is not just my niece's fault but also her parent's. My niece has had difficulties expressing herself and her emotions from a very early age on. She had a life-threatening condition from a vaccine reaction and had to have an emergency surgery due to that when she was 2 3/4 y/o. I believe she still has an unresolved trauma from that. She also had surgery due to having polyps and having a form of sleep apnea. She has issues with her teeth and is supposed to wear braces but refuses that too. She also suffers from koumpounophobia (fear of buttons) and does not wear anything that has buttons on it, can't touch them either. Recently she has developed that fear of any type of insect and now with all the wasps flying around, it is particularly bad. The other day when we were eating out, she jumped up screaming from her chair and almost ran into a car that was driving by because of a wasp. She is increasingly getting obsessed about it. She has been in therapy already involving single and group treatment together with other children. But after 3 years she refused to go back. She has not been diagnosed with ADS or ODD. But I suspect something on that spectrum. She is very tall for age and a little heavy set but not fat. I also believe that she will be starting her period soon, which will probably be a total different problem. She finds everything gross and despises untidy places yet her own room looks like a pigsty. Her parents are not very consequent in their behavior either. So it is just a big vicious cycle that they seem to be able to get out of. And I am not getting through to them.


I just don't feel comfortable any more to have her over at my place since her moods and tantrums are getting worse and are upsetting to my kids to. Their are too young to understand what is going on. Yet I don't want to make her feel unwanted either since that would probably just increase the problem. For now she cannot stay at our place unless she apologizes. I am standing firm on that and believe that she needs to be shown that her behavior does have consequences. Any input on this? Am I asking too much? I told her if she does not want to do it in person, she could also draw me a picture or write it down. But I want some form of apology. I already told her that I am not taking her on any kind of trip again since that is just too unpredictable for me. I want to do the right thing here and not make it any worse than it already is. If that is even possible.

post #6 of 10

I totally support you in setting limits on her visiting you and your children. And I say this coming from a mother whose own son often hurt other children, and I used to receive notice from friends that they would not be able to have him over (even with me there). I had nothing but respect and understanding for where these mothers were coming from. I had no idea what was going on with DS at the time, and no strategies to effectively deal with it, and I think those parents made the right decision for themselves and their children. 


It sounds like your neice's family is not dealing with this well either. Therefore you have every right to put your foot down and say that she simply cannot come over anymore. Do not phrase it in terms of punishment/consequences, however. Simply say that there are safety concerns and that you are concerned about how her (unmanaged) behaviour is affecting your own children. Your sister may not understand and me even be angry or offended. But you have every right to put your own kids' well-being first. 


I would, however, suggest you so NOT put conditions on this that depend on your niece having to apologize. First of all, judging by everything you have told us, she is not able to control her behaviour well and based on my own experiences with my kids' "bad" behaviours she probably feels really awful about it inside, may be ashamed or embarrassed, etc. Her parents should not send her to places without having specific strategies in place to deal with her issues, and should recognize that currently she should really not be in that situation, period.


Second, even if she does apologize, it is forced. It provides no benefit for you, does not help your children to cope with her behaviours, and does nothing to protect your children's physical and emotional well-being. It definitely doesn't teach your niece anything that will help her deal with her myriad issues. She needs professional help, providing strategies and cognitive/behavioural therapy. A forced apology is useless in that respect.


Finally, this "condition" places all responsibility for the current situation squarely on her head, as if she alone can make the situation work for all of you. She is not at fault here and, even though she is 15, she is still a minor and her parents should know better than to put her in situations that she clearly needs a lot of support dealing with and not providing the support but expecting you to provide it instead. Obviously she cannot control her behaviour well, if at all. And the truth is that you are making this decision, not because she doesn't appear to be remorseful, but because your children are being placed in a bad situation being exposed to all this, and it's not fair to you either. If she does apologize, nothing is going to change, you will likely have to put your foot down again, and in her eyes you've gone back on your "agreement" with her that an apology will allow her back again.


Her parents are either not managing her correctly, not seeking appropriate help, or they are simply not taking responsibility for the reality of their child. I do not send my son over to peoples' houses to play unless we know them well and I know they can provide the necessary support (like one of his BI's has a son he likes to go play with), or I am there the whole time providing that support. 

post #7 of 10
I have a nine year old who acts like this. We eliminated all dairy and it helped a lot. We don't have the phobias just the complete melt downs. We are thinking of removing gluten or trying feingold diet.
The Explosive Child is a great book and explains how trying to force her into the car just makes things worse.
We are working with my son that he needs to
1) use words to announce, "I need space."
2) he must stay within sight of the adults responsible
When this fails I will wrap him in a blanket or my arms - last time I did a head lock - I laid under him wrapped my legs around his torso and used my arms to restrain his head. And it does make things worse and he'll scream, I'm hurting him, killing him, he can't breathe but it seems safer than him running in traffic. greensad.gif
Other things that make things worse for him/help him. A regular schedule, lots of transition cues and warnings, letting him set conditions ie he can finish the chapter he's reading before putting the book down, food, water and bathroom.
For whatever reason he lacks awareness about needing to pee, and every morning it's a struggle to get him to eat he doesn't feel hungry until he starts eating then realizes he's starving.
I do think most all tantrums for all ages can be resolved with pee, food or sleep but not so easy to make that happen
It's really rough and while I get you can't deal with a dangerous 11year old and keep a 1 and 3 safe I would try to find times you can. Shorter visits at less stressful times of day? It's hard for a child with emotional control issues to know they aren't liked and the stress makes it that much harder for them to be calm.
post #8 of 10

My son has PTSD and sometimes has out of the blue, out of proportion 'tantrums' like that... what has helped us is to tell him that he IS in control of himself and he CAN choose another behaviour. Some options we give him are: go have a shower, go out in the yard, go to your room. In his room he will listen to his MP3 player or play lego. 

 The girl needs to learn that causing a giant scene isn't going to help her reduce her anxiety. Anxiety is very treatable with therapy and there are a lot of books out there with strategies for coping as well, if therapy is not an option for her family. Regardless of the problem, there are acceptable ways of dealing with it, and unacceptable ways. She needs to have the information on different ways of dealing with it, so she can make a better choice.


Often he won't go do those things because he wants to engage with us and vent his frustrations on us. I have just walked away and had him follow me, trying to bait a fight, all over the neighbourhood (I just kept walking until he burnt out) He is 11 too and we've just all gone out of the house and went to a coffee shop for a while and let him burn out on his own at home. When he doesn't have someone to rail against he calms down very quickly.


When we were out at the mall and he got upset with me, I handed him a bus ticket and told him what bus number would get him home. I turned and walked to the truck and just didn't look back... to my surprise he was not far behind me when I got there. Would your sister give you permission to just drive away? You could say you will be back at X time, and you hope she'll be ready to get in the car by then.


One thing that has helped me is to realize that once he's upset, whatever timeframe or vision of how things were going to go I had in my mind, I may as well forget it... we're either going to spend a few hours arguing with him, or we can pick another time-consuming strategy that might keep him from escalating to a point of violence. By staying calm, not engaging in pointless arguments with him, not reacting to his threats. He has been outside at our window with a rock, for example... I had to be prepared to let him break it, he knew there's be serious consequences so he backed down but if I'd stood there begging him not to break it then he'd have me engaged. walking away takes all the power out of the moment for him. Over time, not engaging with him in the moment has paid off, these episodes have gotten shorter in length and further apart. He's not gaining anything by acting this way. Consequences always get discussed the following day... if he's broken something he's got to fix it, if he's hurt someone he has to make amends, and we usually go back to the stricter end of our routine (i.e: no extra computer time just because, no staying up a little past bedtime)


I don't know if any of this is helpful to you because there are a lot of judgment calls that I think are easier for a parent to make for their own kids. If it does ever come to a physical threat to you or you're put in a position where you can't supervise her and your kids (i.e: she runs away from your home) call the police... at least in my area they take it seriously.

post #9 of 10
I used to go from calm to screaming very quickly when I was a teen and being engaged truly made things worse. I had ptsd and was triggered by feeling caged in verbally or physically. My family engaging me made me feel more powerless and my reactions became harder to control. Having space to work out my emotions, being trusted to be alone, and a counselor to talk to weekly helped a lot. I think mummoth's ideas are good and I suggest using them and also letting her know you love her and recognize tgat she sometimes has a hard time controlling her emotions when people talk to her when she is mad then being up front with her about what you will do if she does have a tantrum or refuse to leave.
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 

Well it is difficult for me as just the aunt to deal with situations like this since I am not always around. My nieces phobia of insects esp. wasps and spiders seems to be spiraling out of control at present. She is also very demanding and believes she is superior to everybody else. I guess she feels her self to be more mature than she really is. She has no manners and does not know when she has crossed a line. Every thing is just fixed on a price instead of a value. Money/riches seem to be very important to her. And yes she is being spoiled by getting just about every thing she wants to have. It is just altogether a very complex situation and it involves a family that should really get their act together but for some reason cannot manage at all. My sister has made an appointment at a psychocolgist's office to see what help is available for the family as a whole and my niece in particular.

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