My nine-year old is angry all the time. She has terrible meltdowns when we tell her she can't have what she wants, and takes our her frustrations out on her little brother and sister in very spiteful ways. Her siblings are only three and five but she acts younger than they are!
Frustration is an unavoidable fact of life for children. From morning to night they are told what they can and cannot do. Some more easily handle the Yesses and No's their parents deliver. Others are trigger-happy with their anger, releasing it the moment they feel upset. Here are some thoughts to consider:
• Help her cry. In my work, I frequently talk about a child's frustration in terms of loss. Just as we have to move through stages when someone dies, we gradually make our way toward accepting life as it is rather than how we wish it might be, when what we want is not an option. Many parents prolong their child's misery by negotiating, explaining, advising and arguing when she can't have what she wants. This only makes things worse. Help your daughter move toward accepting the limitations you have to impose by letting her have a good cry, or kindly acknowledging her sadness when she is disappointed.
• Don't lecture when she's upset. One of the worst things you can do when your daughter wants something she can't have--let's say more cake--is to appeal to her left, logical brain with explanations and justifications for your position. She can't hear you when she's upset! Just let her know that you understand how badly she wanted have another piece of cake without lecturing her about the evils of sugar."I know you love that cake. It doesn't seem fair that I'm not letting you have more. I get it. That happens a lot, doesn't it sweetheart--that I say you can't have something you really want. I know you're mad. I know it seems unfair..."
• Don't pour salt in the wound. Once you have said "No," don't keep saying it. It undermines your credibility and fuels her frustration.
• Build connection. The more closely connected your daughter feels to you, the more easily she will be able to respond to your requests. This is simply how human beings are wired. We want to please those who please us. Does your daughter know that you like her? Does she know that you enjoy who she is, and that spending time with her is a treat?
• Watch her diet, sleep and stress. Children these days often do not get enough sleep, and much has been written about the affects of processed foods and the massive overdose of sugar kids are eating, not only knowingly, but also in foods we wouldn't suspect. Some kids have volatile temperaments from the get go, but all kids will have more trouble handling frustration if they are not rested or well nourished.
• Empower her whenever possible. If your daughter feels powerless in every aspect of her life, she will naturally rebel when you set a limitation. Look for ways to put her in charge of something. Offer her choices whenever possible. Ask her opinion about things. Invite her to teach you something. The less she feels like a sheep being herded from dawn to dusk, the better she'll feel when you do have to say No.
It's exhausting to deal with a child who is so easily angered. Hopefully, these ideas will reduce her meltdowns, and restore more peace to your family's life.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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