How Should I Handle My Child’s Violent Outbursts Toward Her Parents?

My six-year old daughter behaves violently toward us when she is at home with family but not when she is outside of our home among strangers.

MOLLY: This came from a reader based in Cairo, Egypt. She added that at home, her daughter behaves aggressively and violently. At times she will “hit me or her father.” But “when she’s with strangers outside the home, she behaves like a little princess.”

DR. SUSAN RUTHERFORD (Molly’s Mom):  This is an interesting situation that is not as uncommon as we might think. We generally say in psychology that if the child behaves outside the home better than she does inside the home it isn’t quite as serious of problem as a child who behaves poorly both inside the home and outside the home.

So perhaps that’s a positive sign, but I think the parents should look at what’s going on in the home that allows the child to be so aggressive and violent. I don’t feel like I know enough about what’s going on in the home to address that.

MOLLY: The Mom also stated that she hasn’t “deprived her daughter of anything, she has the best clothes…” Maybe what the Mom needs to do is have a conversation with the daughter?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, I think she should have some conversations with her daughter, several of them because this has been happening for a long time. I don’t think the issue is that she’s deprived of things. There’s some other kind of issue going on. So the Mom and Dad probably also have to think carefully about what’s happening at home.

MOLLY: What exactly would they say to the child when they sit down with her?

DR. RUTHERFORD:  When they sit down with her to talk about this, they should start with, “You know, we notice that you act very differently toward us when you’re outside of our home with other people than when you’re inside of our home just with us. What do you think that’s about?”

She’s six years old; she might be able to tell them. If she can’t, they should bring up some suggestions and see how she responds to them.

MOLLY: What kinds of suggestions? How would you even guess?

DR. RUTHERFORD: They might ask a question like, “Are you mad at mommy and daddy?” or  “What is it that makes you so angry with us at home?”

MOLLY: And start the conversation there.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Right, she may be so used to being indulged materially that she might feel like she should have full reign in the household. It’s hard for us to know because we don’t have enough information.

Regardless of what she gives as reasons for her behavior, it’s obvious that her behavior toward her parents is unacceptable and something has to change. She’s only six, so now is a good time to put a stop to unacceptable behavior by using rewards and consequences to show her what type of behavior is expected.

By six, she is old enough to work toward a goal, like, say, she gets a sticker every day that she does not have a violent outburst and once she gets seven stickers she can redeem them for a trip to the bookstore for a new book. I’m always a big fan of sticker charts to help children adjust behaviors.

As for consequences, she should be physically removed from the group during a violent outburst and put in a time out for 10 minutes or longer if she is still worked up and out of control after that time. She needs to learn that if she feels like she is going out of control, she needs to remove herself from other people until she calms down.

ding 5 comments on “How Should I Handle My Child’s Violent Outbursts Toward Her Parents?

  1. I am a nanny and have an almost 17 year old with that same issue! She screams and bangs stuff around all the time and monopolizes everything! She really acts like it is all about her and she gets EVERYTHING she wants even if she does not need it! Consequences are few and always have been so these parents seem to be doing the same thing! They better take control of that 6 year old sooner rather than later since it WILL NOT change on its own!! This one here has 2 younger siblings who get sidelined because she gets all the attention- both negative and otherwise and she is happy being the center of attention so much regardless

    • Linda – Sounds like some family intervention is in order with this family. It’s pretty late in the game for the 17 year old. She’ll be facing some rejection when she goes off to college or lives with people her own age. That actually may have some impact on her.

  2. Hello Molly and Dr. Susan Rutherford,
    We have a 6 year old boy with similar issues. He does not dare pull these violent, angry outbursts on other people, at school or at his classmates, but he sure does when it’s towards us: his mom and dad. He does this at home and outside of the home such as when we are shopping. When he cannot or is not getting his way he resorts to hitting us or calling us names (stupid mommy/daddy, idiot). The physical could be a slap, a pinch, a punch, or running towards us swinging his arms and hands in hopes of hitting us. We do not insult him in this way at all, we don’t spank or hit. We have always used timeouts and he hates them. Perhaps I (the mom) have been guilty of dismissing his timeout out of guilt (he comes running to me in tears saying sorry, etc and I fall for it ALOT). We do not have any sort of sticker or reward system set up yet he has all the toys a kid could ever want. In fact, he has so many toys he can’t keep them put away and off the floor. I, for one, feel powerless and have been considering the use of outside help to guide the three of us as a family, and my husband and I as parents, towards happy healthy relationships. I love my son with all my heart but I fear his violent and angry outbursts will carry over into his adulthood. My father, though he was never physical with my mom, had a short temper and was an inpatient man. I don’t want my son to grow up like his grandfather.

  3. No. Both are terrors in public and at home. The only time they’re angels is when they’re asleep. We make it an early night.

    • Maria – Are they really? If they really are terrors everywhere, I think you’ll be getting feedback from their teachers. Psychologists generally feel that kids are in more difficulty when they are out of control both at home and at school. How early can you get them to bed?

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