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10 Year Old Daughter Totally Out Of Control With Temper Tantrums

I have a 10 year old daughter who throws temper tantrums regularly (about 3-4 per week). She's been throwing temper tantrums since she was 5 but now they've gotten more frequent and worse in intensity.

When in that mode she kicks doors, throws things, screams and cries uncontrollably, she hits, or pulls hair or punches.

She only does this at home. At school she's actually quite the opposite. She won't ask questions in class and is very polite.

When in that mode she doesn't listen to anything. I tell her to go in time out but she doesn't listen, I tell her to stop hitting or kicking doors, but she doesn't listen.

In the past I've screamed a lot at home but now I'm going into my bedroom and I tell her that I need time to be alone and that when I'm done, I'll come out. But she doesn't like it; and kicks and bangs on my door.

Sometimes I take her Ipad away but that is only after the fact but I know this isn't the answer. She needs boundaries but she doesn't listen or abide by any boundaries when she's in destructive mode. My husband has tried the same things I have but she doesn't listen to him either when she's hysterical.

My son son (12) just stays out of the way when she's in this mode. I never know what is going to set her off.

Once she calms down she usually comes and apologizes but the emotional roller coaster is just too much. I've also suggested she hit the punching bag; she has one in her room. But like I said before nothing works at that moment. I've asked her (when she's calm) what would work for her to let the anger out, without breaking things and hurting people, but she says nothing that she needs to hit. At that moment her emotions are too strong and she can't seem to manage them.

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Handling Challenging Children
by: Annie Desantis

It sounds like you are doing really well to be pro-active to try to have a more peaceful household. And you are right, at the time there is no reasoning when a child is out of control.

I'm interested that she is able to have control at school. Out of control tantrums are when a child gets stuck in reacting, and does not yet have the neural pathways in her brain to be able to move from reaction to rational thinking. Many adults find this difficult too, if they have not learned and developed this as a child.

But when you say your daughter does not erupt at school, only at home, this suggests she is able to have control when she feels strong feelings, as I am sure there are times at school when she gets frustrated and angry.

You have done really well to suggest other options for her to express her anger, and it must be disheartening when in the midst of her rages she is not able to at least redirect her energy to something that is not so destructive.

Time Out For Parents

It is also a good idea that you are taking time out - both to stop it escalating, and to keep yourself safer - a ten year old can cause a bit of damage.

However, it does sound like she wields enormous power in the house if her behavior is sending her parents to time out!

There is probably not much you can do at the time to control her, she has to learn self control, and when she is in the midst of a meltdown, you can't reason with her.

So your work with her needs to be afterwards or at a time when she is able to think rationally.

I am not a big fan of punishment, and you have said taking her Ipad away does not make any difference. Yes, if she breaks or destroys something there has to be a direct consequence that relates to what she has done - using her pocket money to replace something, cleaning up the mess if she has thrown or broken things.

It is always much better to work with our kids to help them learn better ways of getting what they need, than to impose restrictions and rules. Somewhere she is not getting the kind of attention she needs, and she is creating havoc to let you know something is out of whack.

More than likely because her behavior is so extreme and so dominant in the house, it is a huge focus. You are probably overlooking the times she does manage to control herself because the rest is so extreme.

Part Two Follows . . .

Handling Challenging Children - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Recognizing Early Warning Signs

For her to learn control, she needs to become aware BEFORE it gets out of control that she is starting to wind up. So working together to help her figure out what the cues are that things are starting to fire up. Maybe she starts to feel tense or her tummy starts churning, maybe she is starting to feel frustrated or irritated. If she can start to notice earlier on, then she has more choices about how she wants to react.

It may be that you can start to try to put yourself in neutral (hard I know) and start notice if there is a pattern to all the tantrums. There is likely to be some things that trigger her, or a pattern where she has learned to fly off the handle instead of having better strategies for dealing with her frustrations.

If you can help her to become more aware of what the early warning signs are, you can help her to have more choices.

Recommended Book And Program

There is a very good program for dealing with angry kids by a colleague of mine, Dr Andrew Gibson. Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike: A Seriously Difficult Child, which includes his 28 day PACT program which you work your way through.

You can read more about it, plus other tips for living with a challenging child here:

Dealing With Defiant Children

You can also set some things up so she has to earn privileges by behaving better, or finding something that she is motivated to earn to give her a reason to learn new behavior. However, just be very careful that you are not making positive attention conditional on her behaving perfectly. Our children need and have a right to good quality attention, without it being a reward.

At present she is getting something out of all the drama, at the very least a HUGE amount of family energy, albeit negative energy gets directed to her. So her needs are most likely not being met in a positive way and she has got entrenched in using her power to push everyone around.

If you work with her to solve this FAMILY problem - not that she is the problem - but that you all want a more harmonious house, you ALL want to be happy, and you want to work together to find better ways to achieve this. Tell her you are confident you can all turn things around and create a loving happy home.

Part Three Follows . . .

Handling Challenging Children - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Clearly she wants attention and energy. Your plan of going into the bedroom away from her when she is throwing a tantrum is a good one - Withdrawing your energy means she does not get the payoff, and also stops you escalating the situation. Make this a clear arrangement as part of problem solving. "I want us to spend time together and sort out any problems, but if you loose control I will go off quietly on my own until you are ready to talk things over". Make this clear and calmly act on it EVERY time she starts chucking a tantrum - and don't get hooked into trying to reason or control, just calmly remove yourself.

You can also set up some little things she can do when she starts to recognize she is starting to loose it. Counting out loud slowly to ten, is an old technique, but it helps to shift into rational thinking - counting is thinking, not reacting. If she can then say how she feels - I'm starting to get mad, I'm frustrated, I'm annoyed - putting words and being able to verbalize how she feels is better than having to express it by punching something at this stage, as we want her to keep building neural pathways in her brain, out of reaction (survival, old brain) into rational thinking.

Yes there are times when we need to stomp off our anger or release energy, but in her case that is reinforcing her drama and keeping her locked into her feelings. We need to feel our feelings, all our feelings are OK - they are telling us we need something. But then we need to be able to take action in a positive way that gets our needs met. And loosing control and throwing a tantrum gets attention, but probably does not get her what she really needs.

Practicing A New Process

If you have a little process she learns to use to:
1) Recognize how she feels early on before she looses control.
2) Do something to calm herself down so she does not build it up.
3) Say how she feels and what she needs.

You can have an agreement with her that you will drop everything for 5 - 10 minutes to listen to her when she manages to do the 3 steps. This will be a big commitment on your part, firstly to notice when she is managing to work her way through the steps, and secondly, to give her your FULL attention for a short period of time so she can say how she feels. It is MUCH better if you don't react back, or try to justify, or enforce anything at this stage. She needs positive reinforcement that she has kept control and shared how she feels without having to scream and yell. This is HARD - more often than not our kids loose it when we are trying to rush them, or get them to do something we want or are trying to juggle a million things at once. But I promise you, the more you stop and give her your undivided positive loving attention, the less she will have to scream and yell to get your energy.

And in the long run, you will have more energy and more peace in the house to get things done.

Part Four Follows . . .

Helping Children Learn Good Behavior - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Creative Team Work

If you work together to decide what she can do to calm herself or what she can do when she starts to feel herself winding up. Sometimes having a little catch phrase or something that is a cue helps anchor in new behavior. For example, she can even use a silly phrase that helps her to stop and take a breath - I've had kids use things like gobstopper - frogsbreath - or their favorite singer or movie star. It is simply a trigger phrase that she uses so you know she is struggling with how she feels and it is your cue to pay attention and switch into listening, neutral mode. It also means that if you are setting up a reward system where she is earning points towards a treat - you will be more aware of the times she IS getting control instead of focusing on the times she looses it.

I would also recommend you actively look to award points for a day without a tantrum. (And make sure your son can earn points too, he is likely to be slipping under the radar with all her drama). If you make it a family culture to notice and write down all the kindness's that happen, all the things you appreciate about each other, then you are changing the family dynamic. Set up goals to reach for as a family - a picnic day, a game of mini-golf, or have a movie night.

More Good Quality Attention

Your daughter needs one on one time with you, and the more you can build this in the better, she should not have to earn this. But you can set up something special to do with you if she goes a week without a tantrum.

The other thing that might be a tool or technique she could learn to help to difuse her feelings when she is starting to feel frustrated or angry and that is my EFT 4 Kids program. Of course that requires her to learn it first and be willing to start tapping when she is feeling angry. EFT is a tapping technique where we tap on energy points on the body - similar to acupuncture. It can work really well for kids to manage strong feelings, such as fears or anxieties, but also it is a good way to calm down when getting angry, and it can clear underlying issues that have got stuck. Of course it needs her cooperation and willingness to experiment.

She needs to learn to use it in advance, and can tap out her anger and all the issues around that even when she is not angry. So things like, I hate getting out of control, or when I get mad I hurt people and things. Even tapping out all the things she gets mad about. So that might be something you can look into further.

Click here to read more about using EFT Tapping with Kids.

Part Five Follows . . .

Helping Children Learn Good Behavior - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

The other thing that is really important with out of control children, is there is usually a huge emphasis on all their bad behavior because it dominates the household. It is really hard to feel loving and have fun with a child that screams and yells, punches and kicks you. But the more you reinforce the good stuff, and the more you look for the things she does well, the more you help her to invest more energy into getting control.

The fact that she is fine at school, suggests there is a dynamic at home that you have all got locked into where you are walking on eggshells waiting for the next explosion. I am wondering how much positive stuff you get to have with her, and how much fun times you have. It may well be that at school she is seen as a well behaved cooperative child and at home she is seen as the disruptive out of control child. So she is acting that out as the family is expecting her to throw tantrums all the time.

Our Children Are The Family Barometer

Something else you can think about, is that often one child is acting out stuff on behalf of the family. If there is disharmony or poor communication or stuff going on underneath the surface, then our kids are likely to misbehave. So they act like a barometer in the family to highlight other things that are not necessarily
functioning well. Kids even deflect negative attention onto themselves as a way to try to protect someone else, so there could well be other things going on that need attending to.

It may be helpful to get some help with her, as it sounds like you are all overwhelmed and exhausted with all the drama. Getting some family counseling can be useful to help develop strategies for dealing with her, but also to have someone who can help the family to deal with anything that might be under the surface. It is very hard as a parent to be objective, we have so much invested emotionally in our kids, and of course we have our own reactions too. It is great that you figured out that yelling back was not working, and that you are removing yourself from the situation, and clearly you want to help her.

Good luck - feel free to post your comments back.

Annie D :)

Thank you
by: Tania

Thank you for your advice. I wanted to get the book you recommended but when I click on the link I get the following error....

Not Found
Apologies, but the page you requested could not be found. Perhaps searching will help.

Link to Got An Angry Kid?
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Tania,

Here's the link to Dr Andrew Gibson's book Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike - A difficult Child.

Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike: A Seriously Difficult Child

I know there was a problem with his video on the page, you need a particular plugin, but the link should work. If you still have a problem, let me know via these comments and I will contact Andrew myself to see what is wrong.

Update: You are right, the link is not working. This book is now only available on Amazon.

all the best,
Annie D

Correction - Only Available On Amazon
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Tania,

My apologies, unfortunately Dr Gibson is no longer offering a free copy of his book, and is now selling it on Amazon for direct purchase. His entire coaching program is included in the book, so it is one I would highly recommend. Thank you for letting me know the link was no longer working.

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