DD will be turning seven soon and we've had a lot of upheaval recently. She's started to have multiple tantrums on a daily basis. DH and I are at the end of our ropes on this and we don't know how to handle it at all.
I don't even know where to start with how to describe it. DD will suddenly fly off the handle about some little thing. "Time to come to dinner" or "no you may not watch TV right now"... Basically anything that we ask of her that is unexpected or not what she wants to be doing leads quickly to a spiral downwards into a tantrum. It happens so fast we can't stop it once it is upon us.
Perhaps the worst factor is the screaming. She screams at the top of her lungs and can and will do so for 1/2 an hour to an hour or more (occasionally much longer). We live in an apartment with neighbors on all sides. The walls aren't very thick - we can hear the next door kids giggling when they play. I am sure our neighbors think there is something really bad going on in our apartment. Today, for instance, there were at least four instances when DD was screaming long and loud.
Time out isn't an option - she doesn't stay where we ask her stay. We have tried putting her in her room and calmly holding the door shut but she has attempted to climb out the window. DH is ready to spank but I really can't go down that road. How could we tell her not to hit if we hit her? (And she has, just recently, started hitting me, DH and -worst- our 3 yo DD).
I don't even know how to describe it. We are miserable. We spent time with family recently and by the end of the visit everyone was breathing a visible sigh of relief that we were going away.
Does anyone have advice? Is this normal behavior for a seven year old? My sanity is at issue here. But first and foremost: How do we stop the screaming before we get kicked out of our apartment?! I'm seriously concerned we'll be getting a letter soon from the management with a complaint.
If it's starting at that age, my first thought would be that there is a cause other than just bad behavior. That there is a physical issue going on with her, or some stress or other outside issue. You could take her to the pediatrician to see if she has some kind of physical issue or is starting premature puberty or something. Puberty hormones can cause some emotional instability but she seems young for that, but some kids do start very young.
I hope you find the cause!! Hugs to her and your family!
Thanks for the response. Yes, there are reasons for her change in behavior. Some are physical ones - she lost a lot of her teeth all at once. (No signs of early puberty or anything). However, the other changes in her life are hugely important: we recently had a big move and we have more changes on the horizon. I realize that these things put a lot of pressure on her but they are unavoidable. I'm just at a loss on how to help her. We discuss the changes and she often will bring them up herself. But other than that I'm not sure how to help her.
She's always been an intense kid, lots of strong emotions that often come out in behavioral issues. She goes through phases when it gets bad and then better again. So I guess the tantrums aren't starting for the first time now, as she approaches her 7th birthday. But they are much stronger and worse than they have been in a long while.
I've got an intense 7 year old too. I think 7 is intense for a lot of kids. Dd is turning 8 is 6 weeks and I am seeing improvement, slow, but it's improvement, in her ability to self regulate.
A really helpful book for me was: The Whole Brain Child. It was recommended to me when I asked for help in teaching dd some self regulation (tantrums and hitting are, in my view, a symptom of a deeper problem in self regulation). Dd has always been weak on self-regulation (she was never a regular child, she has a hard time judging when she's hungry/tired).
I would make sure that you give her plenty of warnings for transitions. Go back to the 5-3-1 method people use with toddlers. "5 minutes until dinner time." "3 minutes til dinner, time to wrap up what you're doing." "Ok, dinner is in 1 minutes, let's wash your hands and come to the table." When dd is out of sorts, she hates transitions and needs these warnings.
Have you tried sitting with her when she loses it? Our dd needs to rage in the presence of someone. It's gotten to the point where she's OK stomping off to her room for part of her fit, but 8 months ago, she couldn't. This sort of 'time in' works well with her, when I've got the patience to do it. It also gives me an opportunity to calm her a bit and ask her to tone it down because as I put it, "I'd like to be able to hear when I'm an old lady." Putting dd in a time out escalates it horribly and makes it last much much longer.
Hitting: I've started fining dd 25 cents each time she hits. Dd is a hoarder and a miser. It kills her to part with even a penny. I'm not a fan of punishments, but she's got to learn to control this impulse and the societal repercussions for her hitting are starting to get serious.
Several suggestions for prevention:
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY -- we recently moved dd's swimming lessons from 1x a week on Saturdays to 2x a week (T/Th). That plus the fact that it's nicer outside and she can go out and play makes a big difference. If you're new to an area and she doesn't have kids to hang with outside, you may have to schedule family activities like biking/walking, etc.
SLEEP - dd is insufferable when she's too tired. Last night for example, she lost it while practicing piano. It was 'too hard' to do it right. We got over that hump and then we had another minor meltdown for her homework (which I fully admit we started WAY too late). She'd forgotten her Time for Kids at school and couldn't answer the question about how Thomas Edison's light bulb was similar to/different from modern light bulbs. Me: "What's the worst that can happen? You'll have to do it during study hall." "But I don't want to stay in during study hall!!!" Me: "But you always stay in and read during study hall, I don't understand what the difference is?" Her: I just want to be able to read my book!" (Sob, sniff.)
And then as she was getting ready for bed, she came across a stuffed animal of her brother's that she REALLY wants for her birthday. She broke into tears, sobbing. "I really want one of these." "Well, that's a great thing to put on your birthday list." "I can't wait that long. It's soooo far away." (Her birthday is in 6 weeks.)
That's when I realized she was overtired. She went to bed. I told her not to read (she stays up far to late reading most days). I've had to actually go in and remove all of dd's current books at times (she reads 2-3 at a time) to get her to go to sleep. As I said, she's not good at self-regulating and will read past the time of exhaustion.
ONE-ON-ONE TIME -- when dd gets her full cup of attention from me, she does much better. She loves it when I spend 20-30 minutes on the floor (or my bed) actually playing with her. It recharges her in ways that nothing else can. It also gives us a connection that's stronger so we can work through difficulties. I really really love Playful Parenting for working with dd -- both the philosophy and actual ideas help me a ton.
A SCHEDULE - a very predictable schedule so dd knows what's coming. Dinner at the same time every day. New things discussed a couple of days ahead of time. Consistent bedtime.
DOWNTIME/RECHARGE TIME - how does your dd recharge? It turns out that my rather outgoing dd actually needs alone time to recharge. We've discovered that this year. She had something scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays and it was really hard on her. When I gave her the opportunity to switch to T/Th swimming, she went for it, even though that meant doing both piano and swimming on Tuesdays. What she said was "I'd rather have multiple things on one day and have a whole day where I don't have to do anything." I'm thrilled that we've figured that out. Having Saturdays at home is making a difference .
Lynn, what great suggestions. I am really struggling right now to be a gentle parent to my intense 7yo, and failing at it frequently. I am going to share your post with my husband.
dissertating mom to three
A lot of Lynn's suggestions are what I do for myself to keep me sane. Since daughter is already making people laugh by how similar to her Mama she is, maybe I need to read that book.
And on 09/23/2011, we were three; husband, daughter, and me!
A riff off of what LynnS6 said...
For a child who might not easily conceptualize the passage of minutes, I use turns/tries/times with some of the kids I work with at the psych hospital. Rather than tell them they have five more minutes (which, if you can't tell time, can easily become, "As long as I want to do this really cool thing I'm doing, instead of the really boring thing you need me to do instead!") I tell them how many times they can retry the level in the video game, how many more three-point shots they can take in the gym, the number of dives they have left in the pool before we have to go, how many more times they can try to tie their shoes before I help them so they can get to breakfast on time, the number of commercials left in the show before we leave for group therapy, etc. Transition times are SO rough for these kids, especially when they're enjoying something or feel like they're good at something and they're told they have to stop and move on to something else.
That kind of concrete thinking helps some of the more scattered kids focus on the moment and concentrate their energy - and generally, I find I end up with more time on my hands, since it usually doesn't take the kid five minutes to try three more free throws. This lets us take our time transitioning between activities, and gives us time to talk about what we just finished and what the expectations are for what we're about to start. Smoother all around.
For the stuff that takes longer, like shoelaces, I give a smaller number of tries. For the kid who sees me as the bad guy when I impose a limit (ie, we have four more serves in volleyball before we leave! No, you jerk, I'm serving SEVEN more times, I don't care what you say!), I try to rely on external or natural environment cues. When the sun is behind the building, when the commercial is done, when the song on the radio is over, etc. That way, I'm not the one throwing up the roadblock, it's some completely external DJ/cable station/force of nature causing the Earth to rotate, and I can re-focus the child on that, instead of them focusing on why I'm a snot for calling an end to their fun.
Once I set the number, I never negotiate. That's that - that limit exists for a reason. If the kid decides to negotiate, then I tell them they must be done with the activity, since they want to stop to talk to me about how to plan the rest of the day. Nine times out of 10, they jump right back in to the fun stuff instead of trying to be junior-staff. I'm really not totalitarian, I swear! But I also don't set the schedule for the building, and these are kids who need more structure and limits than your average bear, or they begin to hurt themselves and others. Gotta do what you gotta do; you will most assuredly be able to approach it differently with your own kiddo.
If your kiddo likes the clock and can deal with (or actually enjoys!) the responsibility of counting off minutes for themselves and being in charge of their own transition times, then I am SO jealous of you.