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My 13 year old daughter has severe and daily outbursts - sometimes as many as 10 a day - from time she gets up till time she goes to bed. This has been going on since she was of walking and talking age. Over the years it has substantially increased, and I am at my wits end with her, and am looking for help.

I have told my family doctor and he said she will grow out of it, but she hasn't, and at 13 it is getting worse. It is a daily struggle with her. I honestly believe in my heart she has a medical condition and is not just being a bad unruly child.

Everything seems to set her off - getting ready for school in the morning, or her hair not working out right - she screams stomps and throws things. It happens always for anything; she seems to have no patience at all, and instead of having patience she explodes with anger, literally damaging her stuff or mine.

I cannot handle this anymore. I just want to run away most times. This pattern of her explosive behaviour always begins as soon as anything doesn't go her way. Dealing with daily outbursts for years and now up to 10 episodes a day, I can no longer tolerate this and am desperate for opinions.

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So you think it's a medical condition, but you've only seen one doctor? I'd suggest seeing a few more doctors. –  DA01 Dec 18 '12 at 4:13
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If it is this bad (where you cannot handle it and want to run away), you should definitely talk to more than just one doctor. Ask your friends / GP for a referral for counselling services to meet with both of you and help. –  Chris Dec 18 '12 at 6:31
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I have heard that the Webster-Stratton programs are most useful –  Avrohom Yitzchok Jan 10 '13 at 16:49
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7 Answers 7

So far the answers have been mainly about medical issues, physiological issues, and whether or not the child is spoiled (which are all valid).

Do you and or your husband yell at each other in front of her or scream at her? Do you find yourself thinking that she acts "just like her father" ? If the answer is yes, I would consider that she acts this way because it is how you have taught her it is normal to behave. I'm not implying that you DO these things, just that if you do, you and your husband may be culpable for this issue. You can't expect a child (or teen) to handle everyday disappointments with maturity and reasonableness if they are constantly offered screaming and irrationality as the solution to trivial problems. You say that "everything sets her off". I ask you, does everything also set off you or your husband?

I can think of many example of people I've known that as children or teens acted this way. But the reasons are so varied there is no one box they can all be placed in.

I had a friend who had a dad that used to beat him - low and behold my friend had an explosive temper.

My wife had a horrible hormone imbalance that cause her to act this way that we didn't figure out until she went on birth control pills and her temper was magnified ten fold. The hormone imbalance went away after having our son.

A friend of mine has a son (13) who acts this way but he has Asperger's.

I acted this way because my mother was a detached suicidal Schizophrenic and my father was a drill Sargent. I literally knew no other way to deal with my emotions about all the bad things I had seen, which manifest in outbursts for trivial problems.

An ex-girlfriend of mine (and especially her sister) both acted like this (screaming constantly, arguing with everything, fighting multiple times a day) because their parents never punished them in anyway for bad behavior. The were entitled spoiled rotten and really unintelligent. I truly believe that simply being so unintelligent can cause this as it is such a primal way to act. If someone isn't smart enough to comprehend right/wrong in a way that takes others feeling into account, and they have never seen a punishment for acting this way, how could they possibly be any other way? I know this sounds harsh, but my ex-girlfriend hated reading, openly disliked everything about knowledge, and her parents just always told her she was an intelligent, smart, and strong young woman. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Fifteen years later, guess what? She is still like this. Can't keep a relationship, is always angry. Her sister grew out of it though. He sister also went to college.

Human tends to learn to do what works. I suggest, that she only has a problem if she has consistently not gained anything from acting like this. If she (the majority of the time) has gotten what she wants from acting like this, she doesn't have a problem, you do.

I hope you find some solution for everyone's sake.

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I agree with you (the questioner). If she's been having severe, explosive meltdowns since she was a toddler, there's a lot more going on than "bad parenting." She sounds like child who might have sensory processing issues, aspberger's syndrome, and/or a more serious condition like bipolar - the childhood manifestations of BPD are different than adults, and often look like what you describe. My 12 year old son presents with some similarities, so I understand the hell you are going through. My suggestions would be to have a thorough neuro-psych evaluation done. They're often done through developmental pediatricians. Many times local hospitals, Especially Children's hospitals will have a good group. You can also start with your school district. In California, I know they have to do one for free if you request it. I'm not sure if that's California or US law. They usually won't really get at the issues you're looking at, but can be a start. You can also seek out a local autism support group - the members will usually know who the "good" local gurus are. Be aware that many members of some of the groups can be evangelistical about some issues - either diet, meds/no meds, so try to get an opinion from some more neutral parents. Good luck. I know how hard it is to live with a teen who can/will explode any minute. Also - it is likely that hormones are exacerbating the problem.

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this book explains this situation and also some interesting approach that is actually quite remarkable and works!

Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves

http://www.naomialdort.com/book.html

What I specifically found to work really well is that sincerely taking time to focus and listen to the child really calms them down. i mean, we also want that to!

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Naomi Aldort is a controversial figure both for the nature of her advice, which I might sum up as "the parent is always wrong and the child always makes the right choice", as well as at one point being claimed to have presented false credentials as a Ph.D.-holding psychologist, based on getting a document from an online degree mill (since this was found out she has apparently presented herself more as a parenting-coach/life-coachy sort instead): mdcsurvivors.blogspot.com/2011/07/… –  Iucounu Jan 7 '13 at 13:48
    
interesting. Still her advice has proved to help me, or atleast help how i feel about tantrums which cannot be stopped :) and i have seen the child calmer at time from such techniques though crudely applied. always 10 ways to do everything though right! –  petergus Jan 7 '13 at 15:40
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@user10580 welcome to the site! The Parenting SE community really does try to maintain a site with information on it that will continue to be useful over time. For that reason, it is always recommended that you summarized links at least somewhat. Especially due to the controversial nature of the source you have included, I would suggest adding a little more information about your experience in relation to the advice you are espousing. How has it worked for you? I'd also have to say, I personally disagree with the idea that tantrums cannot be stopped - especially in a 13 year old. –  balanced mama Jan 7 '13 at 17:48
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fair enough. didnt realize the vast controversy here. anyway, i took some good things from it and of course we all have different ideas. one should just read it decide for oneself! :) per the personal observations: i have found that sincerely taking time to focus and listen to the child really calms them down. i mean, we also want that to! –  petergus Jan 8 '13 at 9:57
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I'd have to agree with the other posters that have said you need to see some one about this situation. Medical or not, it sounds like a therapist for the whole family may be in order if for no other reason than to make sure everyone learns some communication skills and is required to listen to each-other.

I have experienced kids that throw tantrums at this age that did so because there were evident behavioral and/or emotional disorders and the challenges that go with them having been a teacher at a school for kids with disabilities such as severe ADHD, Bi-polar disorder, Aspberger's, and Tourette's Syndrome to name a few, but I've also known kids that throw tantrums simply because they work. Many times both situations applied for my students. For all of these kids, the most helpful thing was to teach them with patience and understanding and firm limits.

There are three parts to successfully eliminating a tantrum habit.

The first part of calming kids is letting them know you hear their beef. Learn how to paraphrase your daughter so she knows you understand her. Getting in touch with a therapist will help you do this as well as set you down a path toward resolving any latent angers or fears either of you are holding toward the other.

The Second part is in developing calming skills for the child. This is also an area where having an expert around will be of great service to you. You are a parent at your wits end and you need some help too. There are a host of techniques that can be used, special breathing, visualizing, counting, squeezing a ball. . . which technique is best for your kid will depend on your kid and her particular make up. Is there an underlying chemical element? if so, there are also medications that can help though they won't eliminate behaviors entirely. Only a trained professional can help you with this. I was not one of these, but as a teacher of kids that needed the extra help, I had access to one when one was needed for a student and they can truly work wonders.

Finally, it is super important not to get so lost in understanding your daughter that you don't also set a boundaries for her behavior. I always have, and probably always will, refused to converse or engage with a kid in the middle of the tantrum. Calmly but firmly saying something like, "I can't understand you while you are screaming. Come talk to me when you've calmed down." Is one way to set this limit on her behavior. If your daughter knows and trusts you will listen when she is calm, she is more likely to calm down more quickly. If she hasn't already been diagnosed with some disorder, chances are that even if there is an underlying ailment, she can still learn better ways to express her frustrations and angers and she'll need you to set stern limits and consistently stick to those limits in order to learn that her temper tantrums won't work. Again, a professional can be helpful in advising you in this area as well. If there isn't some underlying disorder, a family therapist can still be a critical part of your team for achieving more family peace.

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It may be a medical issue, and I'd definitely follow up with more medical opinions.

Another possibility is that she's simply spoiled rotten. By this I don't mean that you have necessarily over-indulged her, but she likely feels that she is in control of the situation, not you, and there is no realistic prospect of losing the things she values the most by her disrespect. I recommend the following books (whether or not there's a medical issue involved) for getting you thinking about ways to break your daughter's control of the situation, without escalating into confrontations. Part of the problem is likely to be that she knows your weak spots for control, ones of which you may be unaware yourself. If you do have regular confrontations with her, she may be getting a sort of psychological payoff from the energy of the battles. You need to set limits and strictly enforce them, but it will be a little more complicated than that depending on the situation.

Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach, by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley (some new-agey language, but tons of good sense here and a system that has worked for many)

Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm, by Beth A. Grosshans, Ph.D. and Janet H. Burton, L.C.S.W. (a somewhat rigid classification of problems, but disciplinary methods that may work to reassert your control without escalation)

From Chaos to Calm: Effective Parenting for Challenging Children with ADHD and other Behavior Problems, by Janet E. Heininger and Sharon K. Weiss

The Manipulative Child: How to Regain Control and Raise Resilient, Resourceful, and Independent Kids, by Ernest W. Swihart Jr. and Patrick Cotter

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You might want to find a psychiatrist, rather than a straight general practitioner. They will be better equipped to determine if there's a chemical problem, an interaction issue, both, neither, etc. It sounds like you have about ten years of an established cycle of behavior that will be hard to break, and I'm not sure it can be solved as easily as a few paragraphs here.

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One can often get their GP to make a referral or recommendation as well –  Chris Dec 18 '12 at 6:26
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You say you've given up on doctors because the first one you spoke to was useless - I have found most doctors to be useless but eventually you find one who has an idea. My son saw probably 6 GPs before one noticed that his tonsils were so oversized that he could not breath properly. Try another doctor, then another until you find a good one.

You stated this is a year dot problem but has gotten worse. An obvious question would be: has she reached pubity yet? The hormone rush from that could certainly set her off. I'm not sure if this would be a constant thing or cyclic since I'm neither female nor a doctor.

You have not mentioned your daughter's take on this. Have a talk with her (at a calm time) and ask her to describe what she feels during these tantrums. At 13, she should be self-aware enough to know what she is doing.

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