Child Caring

Is this moodiness or something else?

Our 6-year-old daughter is often negative, grumpy, and/or angry. She is also headstrong. When she is told she can't do something, she becomes angry. Yesterday she wanted to play on the playground. It was freezing cold, so I told her not today, perhaps tomorrow. In one second, she had put on her "mad" face and stomped her feet. This happens frequently. When her brother asks her to move to the other side of the couch so he can sit down, she never just complies. She refuses to move, and then when we make her, she becomes angry. At school, if her teacher asks her to do something she doesn't want to, she'll resist and then, when made to do it, she'll stomp and sulk. She yells at other kids in school when they disagree with her or "accidentally" bump into her.

It's creating a negative atmosphere in the house, and it's exhausting me. She doesn't have anything stressful going on. She has a loving home, lots of consistency. We are not yellers. She is not over-scheduled. If she is out of control, she is sent to her room to calm down, and she generally does within minutes.

I know part of it is her general personality…she is dramatic in general (and when she's happy, she's overflowing with happiness)…but it seems so over the top to us. We've tried to help her deal with her emotions, by deep breathing or counting to 10 or taking some time in her room to calm down, but she even becomes angry when we suggest that to her.

From: KM, Norwood, MA

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Dear KM,

It sounds like you've taken some important first steps: identifying and labeling her moods for her (her "mad" face); giving her "cool down" techniques; not "over-scheduling." It also sounds like you've talked to the teachers enough to know that these problems aren't contained to behaviors at home. You've identified some personality traits: high highs (overflowing with happiness) and low lows (flying off the handle when a classmate bumps into her). On top of that, you're at the end of your rope: your house has "negative atmosphere" and you're "exhausted." Yikes!

All of these are clues what? When parenting becomes mostly a reactionary event -- you reacting to her misbehavior -- it's time for professional guidance. Maybe there's just a bad fit between your daughter's needs and your strategies. (Perhaps what you describe as "not over-scheduled" actually is. Since the kind of limit-setting that might help one child establish boundaries tends to make your daughter angry, perhaps she needs more choices so she can feel she owns her behavior?) Or maybe your daughter needs an evaluation. Start with your pediatrician and the school psychologist.

Meanwhile, author and psychologist Linda Budd has written a series of books based on a simple premise that goes something like this: Think of parenting as maneuvering a boat amidst hazardous shoals. There are channel markers to help you navigate, if only you can figure out what/where they are. The shoals, of course, are the behaviors unique to your child that create tension in your relationship. The markers Budd identifies -- security, protection, respect and importance -- are the basis of what she considers effective parenting. Budd's most recent book is, "The Journey of Parenting." The title of the first chapter alone gives you an idea of how helpful the book can be: "How do I know if I'm on the right track? How can I tell if I'm unintentionally undermining my goals for my child's development?" Budd is also author of "The Active Alert Child."