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

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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.

My Kid Whines to Get What She Wants

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My daughter is 8-years old and when things don’t go her way she whines or starts to cry.

MOLLY: This question came from a reader based in Los Angeles and she also mentioned that she has two kids and there’s quite a bit of sibling rivalry between the two of them.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): I think that a parent can set limits with her child but we all should realize that the child will push against a limit pretty hard, especially at the beginning, and whine a lot and if you end up giving in. A child can recognize when a technique works and will continue to do it. That will set the stage for her to do it over and over again and will end up driving the parents and every other adult around crazy.

It’s best to start changing this behavior soon after it starts to become a habit. Early on, don’t give in when the child whines. Instead, give her an option. Say something like, “If you can ask me nicely without whining, then we can talk about this and figure this problem out. But if you’re going to continue to whine, nothing is going to happen.”

Remember: kids will test you over and over about limits until they see that you really mean it. It’s very important that, once you set the stage for the child about not whining, you really have to stick to it without any exceptions.

MOLLY: What do you do about the crying?

MOM: The parent can say that she needs to go to her room if she wants to cry. If she refuses to go to her room then the parent should escape into her own room because, let’s face it, you don’t want to be around that behavior. Say to the child, “When you’re ready to talk to me about this without whining, I’m more than happy to discuss it with you and come to a solution but I’m not going to do this while you’re whining.”

MOLLY: Some of the things we’ve used for dealing with whining and crying in our house have been sticker charts.

MOM: Sticker charts are always great for incentivizing behavior changes with rewards. You can absolutely do a sticker chart, and it’s a very good idea. Sticker charts help make concepts concrete for little kids because that’s how their brains work. So if you get a sticker chart and mark it when she doesn’t whine (using the positive reward system), you’ll want to point out verbally to the child that she did a nice job and let her put the sticker on the chart. After she gets a certain amount of stickers, she’ll then get to pick out a new book or go for ice cream or something; some sort of recognition that she’s handling things well in a grown-up way. Kids really like that.

MOLLY: Another thing I’ve heard of doing is to use a calendar and mark one day of the week that the child can have some alone-time with the mother. I know this can be helpful in reducing sibling rivalry issues, and I’ll bet a lot of whining comes from jealousy of siblings.

MOM: That can be the reward: the time alone with the parent. I think that’s a great idea. You gear it towards whatever makes sense in your own family.

I think it’s essential that you talk to an 8-year old about her feelings about her sibling. It’s very possible that the sibling rivalry issues are the source of the whining. If that is the case, working out those issues may eliminate the whining all together. It’s very important to try to get to the cause of the whining. In the end, it will be easier to deal with if that can be accomplished.

MOLLY: What are the long-term effects if you don’t deal with this. I myself worry about my daughter whining at 6-years old indicates that she won’t be able to cope well with life as she gets older.

MOM: When children whine they are feeling basically helpless. They have to be taught different techniques for getting what they want and need, but first you have to deal with the whining and then you move into what works better. You want to encourage children to talk about their feelings rather than to act them out by whining. If the child continues to whine and the parents don’t set some limits around whining, you’ll end up with a whiny kid who becomes a whiney adult. Constant whiners end up being chronically unhappy and unsatisfied.

We’ve all experienced whiney adults in our lives and basically we try to get away from them. We all  want to help our children have happy childhoods and become adults who are socially acceptable and likeable to others. Whining as a coping strategy runs counter to this child-rearing goal.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success dealing with your whining child. Or Contact Us if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.