I am so at a loss as to how to handle my 4 1/2-year-old daughter. Most of the time she is an incredibly sweet, thoughtful, very intelligent, loving girl and big sister.
...She is also super-high-energy, has a hard time sitting still, and extremely stubborn. And I thought she would have grown out of it by now, but she STILL has major tantrums. I try to keep our routine consistent and get her a ton of exercise in various activities. I consider myself (and her dad) pretty firm parents. She knows the rules in our household and consequences if she does something wrong, for example, hurting her little sister, or saying something unacceptable to me (it seems to only happen with me and this is why I'm writing.)
Today she wanted to play with something of mine that wasn't a toy, and started screaming about it. I told her if she could calm down and ask me nicely, she could hold it. But the opposite happened - she got more and more mad and screamed louder and louder and then said, "You are such a meanie and I'm going to kill you when I grow up!" This shocked me even more than when she's said in the past, "I hate you!" in anger so I sent her to her room. Usually after some forced time alone she calms down and comes and apologizes to me, which she did. But honestly, I couldn't even accept her apology this time - I was so upset. I told her I was canceling her playdate, even though I felt bad doing it, but I wanted to make an impression and reinforce that she can't speak that way to me (or anyone! and she knows this.)
I try to tell her "it's okay to tell me, 'Mom I'm so mad!'" but not to say things that are going to hurt people like I hate you, etc. She seems to really not be able to control herself once she gets so worked up and nothing I say (in a reasonable tone of voice too) gets through to her.
Then an almost identical situation happened after school. She wouldn't share a toy with her 2-year-old sister, and was being mean about it, pushing her. I intervened, again she wouldn't listen, got madder and madder until she was punching me with her fists and telling me she was going to run away from home. I took the toy away and sat her in a time out and heard her from the other room say she was going to kill me. Again after some time in her room she apologized but I now am at my wits end AND worried she's going to turn into an awful pre-teen someday!
What should I do? I can't get through to her when she starts getting so angry. Our home life is happy, we're a loving family and never hit, her dad and I have a solid and respectful relationship. Where is this behavior coming from? All I can think of is am I spoiling her with too many toys or do I let her watch too much PBS? Sorry to go on and on I just really don't know what to do.
Thanks so much for any advice you can give me.
From: UPset Mama, Boston
(Editor's Note: This letter was condensed.)
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say your daughter is what professionals might describe as an "active alert child" (Linda Budd); a difficult child (Stanley Turecki); or a "spirited child" (Mary Sheedy Kurcinka). I'm most familiar with Budd's work and find it pretty compelling.
I applaud the various strategies you've tried. It sounds like you have the right ideas but sometimes, there's such a thing as being too rational. You may be using consequences too often and too much. Time out, for instance, does not work for every child and it particularly doesn't work for the spirited child who can see it as being abandoned.
Your daughter needs help to deal with her emotional upset. She needs to learn how to calm down. Sit with her. Just sit there, maybe hold her, maybe not, maybe talk quietly, maybe don't. That will feel to her that you are on her side, that you want to help her. It will gain trust and build stronger bonds. You could tell her simply, "I will help you calm down. I know you are angry and upset." At some level, she feels guilty for saying those things to you, but she probably can't control herself when she's worked up in that state.
Where is she learning these mean, hateful words? Just from living in today's world. Not much you can do about that, other than to be clear on your values: "In our family, we do not use words like that."
It's not uncommon for kids to use words like that, and it will likely get worse before it gets better. (I once told my son that if he wanted to use S-words -- and we were talking about "stupid," not s__t -- he could go in the bathroom and shut the door and say them as often and as loudly as he wanted. It really did help.)
My other advice is not to take this too personally. The language you are giving her is good, that it's OK to have the feelings but it's not OK to use words that hurt feelings. But if you over-react (as opposed to being matter-of-fact and calm), your response itself is frightening. There's a section in my book about kids using bad words, including saying, "I hate you!" Here's a snippet (content isn't online, at least not that I know of):
"I hate you"! he screamed at me.
"I was stunned not only because it was my child uttering these meanest of words, but also because of his intensity. It made sense for him to be angry, but did he really hate me?
The use of the word hate is common and normal among preschoolers, a true rite of passage as they move from one stage of development to another. It does not have the same meaning for them as it does for adult. To us, hate means wanting the demise and destruction of another person. To a child, it isn't that loaded....It can mean almost anything from hate and anger to frustration, disappointment or annoyance. It can even mean, 'I slightly prefer...'"
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