Tuesday, May 27, 2014

8 yr old's frequent tantrums affecting marriage

Hi Dr. Dave,

I am a stay at home mom of a 3 year old boy and 8 year old daughter. I am at the end of my rope and losing hope.  My son for the most part is a very a calm, mellow, obedient child who can entertain himself and this bothers her. She is a beautiful loving child and mostly only acts out at home. My daughter has had anger issues since she was about 2. I have tried everything, behavioral therapist, psychologist, I've done Total Transformation, and brought her to a Pediatric Neurologist. She was tested for ADHD and does not have it. We go to church on Sunday and have always been on top of discipline with our kids. I am trying a new Behavioral Therapist next week. Nothing has helped and it seems to be getting worse. It has put a huge strain on my marriage which is crumbling and disrupts my day, everyday when she is home. I have bad anxiety, cry when they finally go to bed and can't eat most of the days.  My husband works long hours so basically I am alone Monday-Friday except for the mornings.

My daughter's anger is so out of control she yells, has tantrums, throws things, kicks and screams. Homework is absolute torture with tantrums and timeouts, and takes almost 2 hours everyday. She picks on her brother and fights with him constantly. She says things like: hate, die, dead which is so upsetting. Whenever she acts out she is put in her room for a time out but has to be dragged there, refusing and yelling the entire way. When she doesn't stay in her room I close and lock the door, which the lock is on the outside to keep her in,  when I eventually get her off the door knob. I open the door when time out is over and she comes out but not for long. Bedtime is a huge issue: she doe not like to go to bed or sleep alone so now she has told her brother if he sleeps alone he will have nightmares and bad dreams so he now cries and is afraid at bedtime. She undermines me and goes in his room and tells him to come sleep with her. She also cries a lot at bedtime and says she's sorry for her behavior and i feel bad because I know she can't control it, or doesn't want to.  We have a set schedule for everyday and she battles with me everyday to brush her teeth get dressed, get out the door for school, do homework, eat dinner..... She does not want to participate in any activities and says they are boring, I had her try soccer, girl scouts and summer camp. I can't take on the battle again of getting her ready and out the door for activities. Currently she is in dance but that's a battle every Friday. My kids want for nothing and maybe that's part of the problem but when she's home she says she is bored and walks around aimlessly and eventually starts an issue.  I am embarrassed to go out to eat with them or even have people over because they eventually end up fighting, misbehaving and creating a scene.  I could go on and on.........

I am very close with my Mom and just wanted that with my daughter but I feel like we have missed out on so much because she spends a great deal of time in her room because of her behavior and I have become a prisoner in my own house. This is not fair to my son. I love her dearly and just want my little girl.

Any advice is welcome, anything.....

Hi, It does sound exhausting to deal with.  I would try to strategize for one problem situation at a time, a) homework, b) bedtime, and c) going to activities.  For homework, I wonder what the difference is for her to do the work at home compared to school.  You mention that she does not cause problems at school.  I would talk with her teacher to see how she works with your daughter and then try to do similarly at home.  You may even meet with your daughter and the teacher together to talk about homework, and have the teacher reinforce her for completing homework in a timely way (you would fill out a brief check sheet for the teacher each night to let her know the basics of how it went).

For bedtime, I would consider having her sleep in the same room with her brother since it seems she is scared to sleep alone or she dislikes being alone at night.  Rather than get into a struggle each night, try to re-arrange the situation (if possible) to avoid conflict.  Unless you feel it is not a good idea for them to sleep in the same room, I would try it and see whether that makes a difference.  In my parent's manual, I write that sometimes you can avoid a tantrum by re-arranging situations to avoid some of the triggers.  

Regarding after school activities, I would talk about the importance of picking one activity, and let her pick the activity she wants.  By giving her some control, it may help avoid a struggle.  Also, be sure to do something fun after the activity if she gets ready on time; for example, maybe stop for ice cream some nights, or go to a favorite park to play after the activity.  If something fun comes afterwards on the days she gets ready on time, it may help her learn to cooperate.

Remember that during a tantrum, say nothing, or as little as possible.  Any attention during a tantrum tends inadvertently to reinforce it.  In my parent's manual, I describe other strategies, and see if your new behavior therapist can help you implement these at home.  On the positive side, you said she does not show these behaviors in school.  That tells me she can control herself better if you can figure out some of the triggers at home.  

My guess is one other issue might be that it is hard for her to do things at home by herself; she doesn't sound like she likes solitary time.  The basic idea then will be to try to give her some time with you or someone else when she cooperates (can she join you in the kitchen or in some way help you?) but not when she tantrums. And think about whether there is a hobby (artistic or musical maybe) that you can start out working on together and that she can then do sometimes alone (and show you later in the day what she accomplished).  Be sure to check out other blog posts or my parent's manual for other strategies.

 All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb  


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