My daughter turned seven this month, and we still have weekly if not more frequent tantrums. Yesterday, I took her to a homeschool class at a museum. She started whining that she found it boring, but her younger brother really enjoyed it. I didn't want to ruin it for him, so I encouraged her to draw, to play hangman (one of her favorite games with me), etc... while he participated in the class. At one point, she starts taking interest, but then there's a very short lull (only a few minutes) while the teacher needs to prepare the next part of the presentation. She starts pulling on the tablecloth where the presentation is. I ask her to stop. She does it again and kicks the stuff under the table. The teacher asks her to stop. She does it again. I ask her to take a few steps back so she can't kick or pull on the table cloth. She starts tantruming. I pull her away from the group and empathize. She starts throwing her jewelry and yelling. One of the museum attendants tells her she can't yell. My infant in a carrier starts crying in addition to her yelling. I keep empathizing, reassuring her it's okay to cry, but reminding her that the museum attendant asked her to stop yelling. After about twenty minutes, her little brother says we can leave for her sake. I feel really embarrassed about the tantrum and guilty that my son left something he really enjoyed because of his older sister's tantrums.
Her tantrums have improved. Last year, when she attended kindergarten, she did this pretty much every day. She wet her pants, struggled to make friends, and acted aggressively towards other children. We decided to homeschool, and the frequency diminished considerably and the pants wetting stopped, but the tantrums still continued, especially on days when we leave the house. She still struggles making friends, and I think the aggressiveness and frequent tantrums strongly influence this problem. We talk a lot about how to control anger. I really try to empathize; make sure we meet sleep, food, connection, etc... needs; we talk a lot about others' feelings and other emotional intelligence stuff.
This morning we discussed the tantrum. Even mentioning it really upset her. We talked about things to do to help alleviate boredom. We talked about acceptable ways to show frustration in public. It just never seems like any plan she makes to help her keep control sticks.
I've thought about talking to her doctor. I sometimes suspect that she has some sort of emotional/social developmental issues, but she really opposes it and generally acts out so much at doctor's appointments that the conversation just doesn't happen. I feel out of ideas about how to coach her. I want her to be happy. I want her to have friends. I want to take her to the grocery store or a class and not have her tantrum, but I feel like I've run out of ideas to help her. Help!
Partner to R ('03); Parent to T ('07), A ('10), and E ('13)
I will just speak from my experience as a parent - I know nothing about emotional/developmental issues: some kids escalate their tantrum if you empathize or try to talk it out.
My ds is (was) like this, and I realized it pretty early on - he was a toddler - that the more I offered hugs, and talked to him, the worse it got. I was very determined to follow AP principles (you know, time in and everything) but it wasn't helping him. He would wine and pout and cry.
So I just stopped trying to make it better for him and just let him be unhappy - as long as he didn't bother anyone involved in that particular activity. I was always available for hugs, but he didn't want them when he was upset. If he gets to disruptive - like yelling or throwing stuff, I send him to his room to calm down; I usually go find him there happily playing or reading a book ten minutes later.
Maybe you can give your dd more space to calm down next time she's upset? Could you have excused her from the table and let her play by herself or draw in another corner of the room? It's not fair to her siblings that she spoils the class for them.
Could you set up a private consultation or phone call with the doctor and see if they think it's within the range of normal and where you go from here? It seems like she needs some assistance with her emotions and it's affecting her enjoyment of life and her family's. I think a healthy dose of empathy can be helpful with a 3 or 4 year old tantrumer, but maybe not as helpful at 7. Not that you shouldn't empathize with whatever is making her upset, but I don't think it's going to work to help her control her emotions at this age. She might need a more sophisticated set of tools.
-Ecstatic mommy to amazing DD, 2/07 :
Some things that have helped my DD & our family (obv YMMV);
Making a clear concise list of "tantrum" behaviors that are not acceptable
Making a list of appropriate ways to express or cope with various emotions
Rehearse using the methods of expression/coping on the "good" list -do this when she is calm, make it fun, it can help hugely
Using non-punitive time outs, when my DD is having a meltdown any interaction from me can make it worse so she gets sent to her room where she can read or cuddle her dolls or whatever until she feels better. There is no set amount of time, she may come out whenever she feels ready to behave appropriately. Sometimes it takes 2 minutes, sometimes an hour.
Eliminating all sugar and gluten from her diet. DD get small amounts of honey or maple syrup, and lots of fresh fruit, but no other sweets. Doing this and making sure she consumes protein every 3-4 hours has made a big difference in stabilizing her blood sugar.
I agree with several of the suggestions you've received. Talk to your pediatrician.Give her permission to have her feelings. Dr. Becky Bailey says that kids are asking for either information or understanding. We parents are GREAT at giving information, but most of the time, kids want understanding. So if you're not already doing to, you could acknowledge and/or validate her feelings.
I'm wondering if her frustration deep down could possibly be about you having another baby.
I highly recommend that you and she spend one on one time together at least once a day when her sibling is not involved and that this time be focused on just having fun together - to build the relationship between the two of you. Of course I don't know what your homeschool set up is like, but am wondering if maybe you focus on more teaching and learning things when the infant is asleep. If so, I suggest declaring the first 30 minutes of the infant's nap as "fun time" for you and your daughter where you just play together or snuggle or read a book - whatever you think she would enjoy.
Thanks for all the responses. I have a consultation with her doctor next week.
Trans - I've had mixed results with non-punitive time outs. Most of the time, she will go in her room and read and calm down. Sometimes, though, she engages in very destructive behavior in there, and I don't feel like she's safe unsupervised when angry. Did you ever go through this? Or has your child always calmed down safely alone?
LT - We've talked extensively about unacceptable tantrum behaviors and coping methods for different emotions, but I haven't tried a lot of role playing, since she resists it, I think, because she feels embarrassed. We've tried both acting it out and dolls. Any suggestions on making the roleplaying more palatable? How did you go about elimination sugar and gluten? How did your kid react? I definitely push protein and try to limit sugar, but my daughter would happily live off of grains given a chance. When I made a suggestion that avoiding sugar and grains might help her feel more in control of her emotions, she immediately started crying.
Kelly - She had a lot of tantrums before I had my third baby, but I know she definitely still nees to work through her jealousy. One of her favorite games to play with me is her being my baby.
For one-on-one time, she consistently gets a bedtime with me without one of her siblings. I try to also do a brief one-on-one session with each kid when their father gets back from work, too, but I definitely find it hard to balance both that and enough sleep. The baby is only 4.5 months old, and I'm still working on getting him to sleep by himself, but I definitely would like to try this as my baby gets better at sleeping on his own. Any ideas about what to do with my middle child during that time? He generally has little interest in her school work, but I always have trouble keeping him out of my daughter's special time even when my partner is there to help!
Partner to R ('03); Parent to T ('07), A ('10), and E ('13)
Mommy to DS born 11-10-10 And DD born 6-3-13
As far as keeping her safe when angry - my daughter is very destructive at times when in the throes of a meltdown. We had to make some changes to her bedroom so that she would be as safe as possible on her own. There is nothing in her room that is sharp or very delicate, no heirlooms. She does break things, damage walls/doors/furniture and sometimes hurt herself but the house and furniture can be repaired and her own hurts are never more than bumps and bruises. I would rather she break stuff, than hurt other people, which is unfortunately sometimes the case when she is not alone during tantrums. I think it is CRUCIAL that children have a quiet space where they can calm down when needed, especially children who have difficulty processing their emotions, and that space needs to be safe for them. It took me a while to adapt my thinking to what was safe for my REAL child, instead of what I thought should be safe for a child of her age. Those two things are often different.
Discussing appropriate vs tantrum-y behavior choices - my daughter is a visual/kinesthetic learner. When I talk to her, especially at length, about behavior stuff she tunes a lot out. Not deliberately, it's just not how she takes things and processes them. What worked better for us was making a very concise, easy to read list and posting it on the wall where she could see/read it often. By concise, I mean labeling the behavior with one or two words and having not more than 5 or 6 behaviors listed in total. The actions she should choose instead are listed on the same sheet so it is easy to see. For example;
Hit people Hit pillows/bedding
Scream Take a deep breath
The things she should do instead are actions we discussed together, she contributed ideas about what might work for her when upset. I also contributed ideas and had veto power (hugging teddy bear yes, hugging baby brother no). Not saying these techniques will work for you, every child & family is different, but they have helped us.
Roleplaying - have you tried reversing the roles? Have your daughter play you, and you act like her. It's important when taking on the role of the upset child to not do it in a mocking way (not that you would deliberately do so), but for the purposes of play it can be exaggerated. And your childs portrayal of you may be the same. If you want to try this, these are my suggestions. Do it when you can give this one child your full attention, when you are both calm, rested and fed. (you know, if possible, i realize life can get in the way) Ask her to pretend with you, say that you want to be the upset child and have her be the mama. Then you act out a typical tantrum progression, and let her respond in the parent role, making sure to stop before anyone gets hurt/unhappy. Then have a short talk about it. Ask her what you could do differently to help her in that situation, have one or two suggestions ready if she doesnt readily have an idea. Then let her know ONE thing you would like her to do differently in the situation you just acted out. Then do the role play again, still in reversed roles, with each of you making that one change in your behavior. For us this usually ends in giggles or sighs of relief.
I would guess that your daughter, like mine, is extra sensitive. Especially when she feels she is in the wrong. So it is really important to be as upbeat as possible in order to not frame the talks, lists, roleplaying, diet changes, etc. as punitive or her "fault". Even when we don't say that, or intend it, sometimes it sounds that way to a child. They are still developmentally in a stage where they are unable to see things from your point of view, everything is filtered through their own feelings.
Diet changes - my daughter was 9 when we cut out gluten and sugar. We discussed it as a family and all agreed. So I didn't have to deal with tears or enforcement. On this issue at least. What I said was "It is clear that you are having a hard time, it seems like you've been unhappy. I found out that not eating gluten/sugar might help you feel better and make things easier. How about we give it a try for a month and see if it helps?" She readily agreed to try anything that would help her feel better, she was so miserable before. Our trial period was a month, but we saw results within a week. It was startling what a difference it made. If she had been resistant I think I would have declared that the whole family was going gf for a while (probably a month). Then if it helped, enforce it for her only after that. I make a concerted effort to make sure that she isn't missing out on anything she really loves. After a couple months she said she missed jam the most, so we made a batch of sugar free jam that she eats on her gluten free bread. I even made her a gluten and sugar free birthday cake this year, all the kids at her party like it just fine.
I also want to echo what Babysmurf said. My daughter has sensory processing issues as well and is easily overstimulated, especially in groups of people or public places. I hope the dr. is able to help! Let us know how it goes.
Well, I talked to her doctor, and he thought that the behavior was something normal for a first born girl this age and she will likely outgrow it by fifth grade. He suggested that I try rewarding when she manages to keep her temper in check. I really try to avoid rewards, but I wonder if anyone has had success with this.
LT - I love the chart idea. I think during a tantrum, my daughter feels really out of control and and when I try to suggest self-calming activities, it makes her feel even more powerless, like I'm bossing her around. I think a chart would really help. Do you keep a chart for when you are out of the house?
The sensitivity thing definitely sounds like her. I've found a recent fixation on "blaming," lately. A recent example: We were cooking together and she put spoon on her face. I asked her to wash it. We have a small eat-in kitchen, and her younger brother had his chair on the side of the table by the sink. She yells at him, "Move out of my way."
I tell her, "If you want him to move, please say, 'Excuse me.'"
She immediately starts crying and says, "It sounds like you're blaming me for not cleaning the spoon!" and a large tantrum ensues.
Any advice on how to talk to a very sensitive child about how to act appropriately without making it sound so personal? And how to talk about changing her room so that it can be a safe spot to have big emotions and eliminating the sugar and gluten without it sounding punitive when she is so sensitive?
Partner to R ('03); Parent to T ('07), A ('10), and E ('13)
The line about happy to live off grains....that right there is a huge red flag to me. The body tends to crave what it cannot process, making it a huge downward spiral. I used to crave carbs in the form of bread and pasta like they were going out of style!! What did it get me? Seventeen years of progressively worsening migraines, at least 2 sending me to the hospital I was in such pain, and the same time frame of horrendous skin problems that my mother always blamed on improper washing. When DD was born and I noticed sensitivity to foods while breastfeeding, I first eliminated dairy. That was tough but a welcome change for us both. Next step was I actually had her tested by our Naturopath and turns out Gluten was another culprit along with soy, so out they went as well. I was anticipating the gluten leading up to testing so it wasn't a big surprise and mentally I was ready and we went cold turkey with it. Now you could always go the route of subbing gluten products for their gluten free counterparts - ie gluten free bread, corn/rice/quinoa pastas, snacks, really read labels on condiments and the like. What has worked best for us is just cutting them out altogether and opting for unprocessed whole food options. Yes it means more leg work and cooking, yes it makes going out to eat a bit more challenging when you need to read ahead of time, but the overall changes have been phenomenal. No more migraines and clear skin for me! DD has gone from tantrums where she would lay on the floor kicking and screaming for literally no reason for over 30mins til she was blue in the face, to typical 2yr old occasional meltdowns when tired or told no. But it's night and day for her. She does still get rashes on her cheeks and that would be my FIL very deliberately disobeying directions on what to feed her regardless of what I have prepped or send her with when he's watching her daily....but that's a whole separate issue and as she gets older I'll be able to involve her more on food decisions and she will be able to them make those decisions herself and avoid the off limit things.
You can reward her with positive attention to the opposite of tantruming, showing self-control. And pretty much ignore (or rather pretend to ignore) the tantrum behavior, but don't leave the room, listen and watch out of the corner of your eye for the tantrum to end. Re-engage and give attention when she finishes the tantrum.