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I have a 5-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son. My daughter is normally a sweet, passionate, and loving child. There are no problems in school at all.

Lately, she has started being violent physically and verbally to me when she gets reprimanded or put in time out. I put her in her room and she proceeds to hit the door and scream at the top of her lungs. I have been making the mistake of going in there when she does this. Last night, she said she wanted to kill me. She hits herself in the head (lightly, of course) and also says she wants to be dead. My other mistake is I let this get to me and started crying, she fed off that too.

I realize this may be a phase. I know that when I respond she is getting attention, so if I stop am I just supposed to let her scream and bang the door? My husband is done with everything, he's fed up and has no more patience left. Any advice?

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    If you could tell us more, it would help. Have there been any significant changes recently at home or at school? What methods of correction have you tried which have failed (and why do you think they've failed?) Are you and your husband united in your parenting/'discipline' style? Have you noticed a pattern (e.g. they tend to occur at around the same time every day)? – anongoodnurse Nov 15 '16 at 16:51
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There's something going on here, and it's your job to figure it out. :-/ That's usually best done by talking once the child is calm. But there are a lot of things you can try to improve the immediate situation.

Hitting, kicking and screaming are not "OK" behaviors in response to anger. Neither is your distress. This is just a behavior, like thumb sucking or crying when a child doesn't get what they want. Try to remember that, even if the words are extreme and painful.

Anger is not usually a primary emotion (some will argue that point.) Usually it's a secondary emotion; it gives the person an outlet which feels more effective than identifying the underlying hurt (or the primary emotion) and talking about it. But talking about things is what's necessary to get your child to understand her emotions and to control them.

The first step in talking effectively with your child is to give her a rich emotional vocabulary1 that she really understands. A 5 year old can understand frustrated, unimportant, ignored, unloved, lonely, overwhelmed, etc. (There are lots of positive feeling words as well.) Naming a feeling is necessary to deal with a feeling.

When a child is misbehaving, my way of dealing with it was to remind them of what behaviors are and are not acceptable (these have to be discussed ahead of time, as do the consequences.) If the child received a warning about the behavior and they did not exert self control (the ultimate goal), they got a time out. (My favorite book on time outs was 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phalen. One of the things I loved about it was that arguing is dispensed with entirely; a parent can remain quite detached from the child's behavior. The counting also gave the child a chance to reconsider their behavior. If they stopped before reaching three, they got a sticker, which was redeemable for something desirable (the more involved, the more stickers needed. But have things they could earn with just a few stickers, too. Small Lego sets were an option for us.)

Time outs began when the child was quiet (wherever, e.g. in their room), i.e. if they are kicking and screaming, their time out didn't start yet. Just a reminder that their time out hasn't started yet is all the involvement you need to have (I would let her kick and scream. If she damages something, I would have her help repair it at a later time.) When they've quieted down, start the timer and let them know. That's it; no arguing, no "punishments", no drama. After the time out, or as soon as convenient, you have a discussion about the child's feelings. Let them know their feelings are very important to you, and let them find security in your unconditional love (which does not mean you tolerate bad behavior. Discuss alternate ways they can deal with their feelings. Do some role playing.

This might just be a phase, or something could be triggering it. You need to look for patterns which might suggest what the problem is and how to best deal with it. But talk, and remain open to what your daughter has to say.

Sorry this is so long. :-/

1 These lists - and activities to reinforce them - are easy to find on the Internet.

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I would immediately contact my pediatrician for an appointment so he can refer her to a psychiatrist and a counselor. Stay away from untrained people; they are not what you need now.

This is very unusual for a five-year-old, and the longer it continues, the harder it will be to correct. In the meantime, you must remain calm and in control of your own emotions. Try to avoid situations where this behavior is triggered. Just as you wouldn't punish her to cure a fever, you can't punish her to cure mental or emotional health problems.

(I have a child with anxiety issues. It's a medical issue, not a moral failing. It needs to be treated as a medical issue.)

  • I believe this is the correct immediate action needed. I would also indicate the extremely concerning behavior were the statements, "she wanted to kill me, ... she wants to be dead". Even at that age murder and suicidal thoughts should trigger immediate action as you have defined here. – rfornal Nov 23 '16 at 1:46
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Lately she has started being violent physically and verbally to me when she gets reprimanded or put in time out.... She is normally a sweet, passionate, and loving child. There are no problems in school at all.

Doctors like to be informed when there is a big change such as the one you have described. So, if you haven't put your daughter's doctor in the picture about what's going on, this would be a great place to start. When you're making the appointment, you could say, for example, "We've seen a drastic change in her behavior and personality over the past (x weeks or months)."

In the meantime, I would suggest that you think about things this way: your daughter is clearly going through some kind of personal crisis (although we don't understand what's causing it yet). This would be a good time to sift through your expectations and thin them waay out, so that you rarely, if ever, have to give her a time out or reprimand her. Try to set things up in such a way that you can honestly find something to give her sincere positive feedback about every day. (It doesn't have to be effusive.)

The basic idea is to try to limit the feedback you give her to the positive kind, over the short term, at least. Catch her in the act of doing some sort of desired behavior, and give her positive feedback for that.

Edit:

I just realized I misread your daughter's age, and was assuming she is currently 8, but now I noticed she is actually 5.

For age 5, a lengthy time-out in the bedroom can feel intolerable. Once you get out of this crisis, and are ready to institute time-outs again, take a look at my approach, which I wrote up here: https://parenting.stackexchange.com/a/19585/14336

  • I don't understand the down-vote of this answer. Upvoted. – Marc Nov 16 '16 at 18:46
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(If you are in a location that permits) When sending her to her room, the very second she starts banging the door is the ideal time to loudly and swiftly march into the room with an intense look and give her a few firm spanks to the bottom while explaining in a controlled manner that kicking and banging the door is not okay.

The reason you do it the very instant she starts kicking the door is to make the connection unmistakably clear that the spanking is related to that behavior alone and not for her being upset, sad, etc, and you may even explain that while you're doing it.

(If you do use spanking, it needs to be known to the child exactly why it's being done, ideally they would know before hand it's a consequence for a specific action, consistently, and never done in anger.)

As the other poster pointed out, it sounds like there may be something else bothering her, so I'd also suggest following up with asking what's wrong and trying to find the root cause. Hugs afterward, can help alleviate any feelings that you "hate" them and reinforce that you are providing structure. It sounds to me like she needs some hard boundaries. Again, talk afterward to "talk it out."

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    "...loudly and swiftly march into the room with an intense look and give her a few firm spanks to the bottom..." And how will a 5 year old differentiate this from anger? ("... it needs to be... never done in anger.") Is spanking really the appropriate way to react to non-violent but immature behavior? I don't believe it is. Time outs done consistently and with love and respect were very effective in my home. – anongoodnurse Nov 16 '16 at 3:47
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    Physics - be aware that what you are suggesting is actually illegal in some countries. Aside from that, extensive research (outlined in various posts on this site) indicates that physical punishment does not have positive effects. – Rory Alsop Nov 16 '16 at 10:45
  • @anongoodnurse There is a difference between authoritatively and angrily - authoritatively is the goal. (The rest of your comment amounts to a difference of opinion, so I'll avoid a lengthy debate) – Physics-Compute Nov 16 '16 at 11:49
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    Can you provide more explanation how a physical response from the parent is going to reduce the unwanted physical actions the child is performing? I don't see a correlation in this answer, just a proposed method of discipline, so I don't easily understand how this is going to improve things for the OP. – Acire Nov 16 '16 at 12:35
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    What I'm asking is how a physical response from the parent is likely to reduce the unwanted physical actions the child is performing when she gets really upset? It may establish a boundary, but how does it convey that a physical response is not an appropriate reaction? I don't understand the connection. – Acire Nov 16 '16 at 12:44

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