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Our six-year-old daughter is the eldest of 3 girls: her sisters are 3 years, and 3 months respectively. At varying points during the day she will flare up with rage; the triggers can be play-related (sharing, something not going as expected); conversation-related (us not understanding her, or making decisions she doesn't like); or sibling-related (annoyed by her middle sister). They're strong outbursts: screaming, throwing herself around and lashing out verbally.

Between the outbursts she's loving, humorous and good-natured. She's always affectionate towards her baby sister, but this anger does seem to have surfaced since around the time the baby was born, suggesting a possible link.

Stuff we've tried:

  • Conversations about it when she's not angry (reasons why, and tactics for helping, namely taking herself away, breathing deeply): she doesn't engage, or if it does register it doesn't seem to help her

  • Time outs: used consistently ("you need to calm down before we can carry on")

  • Consequences: used very rarely (denied a story, or play opportunity)

  • Holding her and talking calmly: tried occasionally - she hates this, and can't wait to get away (she's normally tactile)

  • Time spent with her alone: not often (1-2 times/week? siblings' needs make this hard). Those times generally pass without incident and happily.

We'd like to be consistent, but with greater confidence that we've chosen the best tactic. I'm certainly starting to doubt the wisdom of the time outs, but don't have any ideas about alternatives.

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    This is an interesting question. I personally think more alone time would help her (which is hard). Does she acknowledge that she is upset and angry when it is happening? Have you tried mirroring (you are ANGRY RIGHT NOW!) and talking about it rather than later? Can you center some of the baby stuff around her: help dress, feed, bathe the baby? Did you have similar issues when the middle kid was born? Could it rather be something school related or something else not related to the baby? – Ida Aug 6 '14 at 19:35
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    I agree with Ida . . . spend more time with her. One-on-one every second you and your other half can manage it, and spend more time with her by bringing her into the baby-care in every way you can. Even if it's only talking to her about what you're doing with the baby, time spent talking with your daughter is never wasted. – Marc Aug 6 '14 at 23:10
  • @Ida no, she doesn't really acknowledge the anger, she's more caught up in her own emotions "You're mean!", but that's not to say she wouldn't recognise it if prompted. There were no issues with the arrival of the middle child as we recall. The bit about linking it to her new sister is pure speculation, it just matches the timing and there's no other obvious cause. We did put it down to end-of-term fatigue but it's mid-holiday now so not sure that's it. – MatW Aug 7 '14 at 18:01
  • @Marc and Ida - I can't disagree with that, of course! We do talk a fair bit; general chat, though convs about feeling anger fall on stony ground, generally. But I now recall something she said the other day in the heat of the moment: words to the effect of "I'm an ugly person". Heart-breaking to hear that, ugly isn't a word we would use of anything. But that would back up a self-esteem issue, I think, and need to find ways to resolve this? Any thoughts? (and thanks for your input to date). – MatW Aug 7 '14 at 18:06
  • I believe you can't talk about problems if you can't talk. The vast majority of your conversations with her should have nothing to do with problems. You should talk about making spaghetti, how to change a diaper, which color you should choose when you're coloring together, everything. Only stop talking to listen. Nothing makes a person feel better than lots of conversation with them, and it'll be easier to talk about problems when they're a smaller part of what you talk about. You can't possibly have too much conversation with your children. Growing up takes time, so don't panic! – Marc Aug 7 '14 at 21:47
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You say you've tried time outs. I wonder if you've employed a systematic approach to this.

1-2-3 Magic is one of (if not the) most effective approaches to behavioral (self-) correction I've ever encountered. When applied correctly and consistently, it allows time outs to be applied without the parent losing their cool (very important, especially if younger siblings are observing) while it gives your daughter an opportunity to correct herself if she is able to before the time out, gaining some experience in self control and earning high praise for doing so. It was given to me (free back then) by our pediatrician, and I recommended it to all new parents.

While I agree with spending more time with your daughter to some degree, I think the behavior must improve first lest she make the connection that if she throws enough tantrums, she gets rewarded with more one-on-one time. Rather, I would use a star/sticker chart and keep significant chunks of one-on-one time (a trip to the frozen yoghurt shop, a movie, etc) as rewards for self-control. You can use other rewards as well - some of the things she values highly (others should be allowed regardless). But the star/sticker chart will give her something to reflect on when she both controls herself (and gains a star) and when she questions why she has not gotten something she wants.

It sounds like she might have been acting out at school as well? You don't state this explicitly. In any case, it does sound like a reaction to a new sibling. My oldest started biting when his brother was born, never before. It's common for kids to regress to some inappropriate behavior when a sibling arrives.

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    I'm so impressionable: before your answer I was all set to buy into a 'Positive Parenting' approach, ditching time-outs for (in my mind) an ill-defined attempt to shower her with attention when she went full throttle. But partly because I wasn't too sure about what I'd actually do in those circs (having tried to get through with talk and holding), and partly because you're right about not having been v systematic, I think 1-2-3 sounds worth trying. The simplicity appeals to me (because it's accessible to children), my only 'concern' is about the lack of conversation that goes with it. Thx! – MatW Aug 8 '14 at 16:50
  • @MatW - the lack of conversation is only before and during the time out (which prevents arguing, justification of her behavior, challenges, etc.) When the time-out is over, that's when I'd talk about it (or not; sometimes it is so obvious that time served is punishment enough.) If she is able to stop before reaching three, a short discussion while you're getting the star chart is appropriate along with the praise for self control. – anongoodnurse Aug 9 '14 at 0:31
  • Thanks. 2 week holiday approaching, I'm resolved to give this a go! – MatW Aug 9 '14 at 14:20

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