An only child, my seven-year-old daughter is already acting like a teenager, losing her temper over the smallest thing, shouting at me, banging doors and telling me she hates me. Her emotions are out of control and my husband and I don’t know how to help her.
It is likely that a combination of factors are behind your daughter’s behaviour. She might not have the tools to manage her emotions or learned the coping skills for dealing with situations she doesn’t like, or perhaps tantrums have worked in the past.
Tantrums over little things should be a thing of the past by now, but if they are happening often over small things, it could be a red flag that some of her needs are not being met. Children store up their feelings and then wait to let them loose.
Remember: having empathy with the emotion doesn’t mean agreement.
What triggers precede the events? What is happening around them? Research shows that children who don’t feel strong connections with their parents struggle with their emotions, social interaction and even schoolwork. The key here is your relationship with your child, so consider how to build your relationship with your daughter. Start taking note of what is happening when emotions take over.
There could be very obvious things like tiredness or hunger or more complex problems like trouble at school. Then look at the time you are spending together – how much is quality time where you have fun and chat, and how much is doing jobs, or correcting her?
Although it’s hard, don’t try to calm her down. What happens when you lose your cool? If your spouse tells you to ‘calm down honey’ when you’re angry it probably makes things worse. What you probably want is a chance to be understood, especially over why you are upset in the first place. Children are not that different, though the underlying reasons might not be as complex.
Once she has calmed down, ask why she is upset and then work on a solution together. Your daughter is still just learning to handle her emotions – when her emotions go out of control, it’s your chance to get down to her level, so you are physically there, eye to eye, and can, rather than correct her, ask her what is wrong.
Staying calm is especially important when it’s just an “I’m not getting what I want” tantrum. Your attention should be positive attention. The louder your child gets the softer you should speak – they’ll match your volume and tone. Your challenge is to stay calm. This is your chance to help her learn how to handle these negative emotions, which is a really important life skill.
In your daughter’s case you need to figure out what she is feeling at this time and accept those feelings, while helping her understand that the feelings are okay but the behaviour is not. After you have identified, empathised and helped your daughter to understand the emotion, then deal with the bad behaviour. Then talk together about a solution.