How can I help my child learn to regulate her emotions?
February 1, 2016 12:00 PM   Subscribe

My six year old daughter has had difficulty moderating her emotions since she was about three. This mostly manifests in hour+ long tantrums of crying and screaming, but she is no longer out of control for the entire hour. Usually 15 to 20 minutes into the tantrum, she realizes what is happening but will continue to tantrum to save face or out of anger (or perhaps for another reason we haven't identified). We've tried talking to her about deep breathing and other relaxation methods to calm down, but frankly in the heat of the moment, these techniques fly out the window.

I would appreciate any thoughts or anecdotal experiences. I am not interested in suggestions for therapy or other professional interventions.

My daughter is academically gifted and in many ways very mature, but she has ongoing issues with tantrums. Any number of things can set off tantrums, but they never happen in school or with friends. Afterwards, when we discuss what happened, she isn't able or willing to provide much insight into why the tantrum occurred.

During the tantrums, she screams, cries, stomps her feet, and will pull at our clothes. Once she reaches the phase where she is no longer physically angry, she will lie on the floor and while "fake crying", repeat a phrase that expresses the futility of any solution we offer to her problem. "It won't work, it won't work" or "I'll never have enough time, I'll never have enough time". Any attempt to calmly discuss or sit with her is met with more crying and declarations of futility. Like for more than an hour. The only way we've found to consistently end them is to get angry and force her into her room. At that point, she will rev things back up to initial levels of anger while demanding hugs and kisses. No number of hugs, kisses or tenderness will end the tantrum, so we end up carrying her into her room repeatedly. At some point, she stops leaving her room and it will resolve. She emerges fresh as a daisy and ready to play.

This is terribly upsetting and exhausting. Ideas? Similar experiences? How did things turn out?
posted by dumbasamuppet to Health & Fitness (52 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Oy, this stuff is so hard and I don't know about you but the judgement from other adults when it's happening was really burdonsome for me. I really liked the book The Explosive Child for a very specific and practical plan.

But the reason I'm commenting is to say that my kid shared many of these traits. It was exhausting, embarrassing, sad, angering, etc. She is 13 now, still more emotionally intense than some peers, but delightful, mostly modulated, and an awesome kid.

A lot of my most best parenting efforts, in retrospect, have been much less important than just loving the kid hard and waiting until she developmentally moves past things on her own.
posted by latkes at 12:06 PM on February 1, 2016 [9 favorites]

Why not cut to the chase and use your end strategy (minus the get angry part) at the beginning. Carry her into her room right out of the gate. Also, don't offer a lovely kaleidoscope of solutions to problems so that she can volley them all back. Broken-record her right back. So "I'll never have enough time." "I love you, honey; come back when you feel better." "I'll NEVER have enough time." "I love you, honey; come back when you feel better." "I'LL NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVER HAVE ENOUGH TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME!!!!!" "I love you, honey; come back when you feel better."
posted by Don Pepino at 12:13 PM on February 1, 2016 [36 favorites]

One, we asked my son to go to his room if he wanted to continue to carry on. He stayed in his room until he could be calm for the number of minutes he was in years. Two, he seemed to find comfort in his blanket or a favorite stuffed animal he could hug/squeeze. The tantrums always lasted much longer when it was a performance for us. When it was him in his room, he calmed down relatively quickly. As he got older, they happened less and less. He learned to take a deep breath and count to 10.
posted by AugustWest at 12:16 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

In Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, Gottman describes the importance of validation in helping the child settle and deal with their emotions. Instead of offering solutions or alternatives to a problem, you help the child acknowledge the feeling, that it's ok to feel that way, and you're sorry they are feeling that way right now. He gives the example of his daughter being on a plane and on the verge of a meltdown because her stuffed animal is in the checked luggage. After trying to explain that the stuffed animal wasn't accessible, rationalize the issue, and distract her with other things, nothing worked. Then, he acknowledges and validates her feelings and explains to her why she's feeling that way. The whole exchange is in the Amazon preview of the book, so I won't copy it here. Not sure if this would work with your kid, but it's worth a try.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:20 PM on February 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Why aren't you going straight to the thing that works. Sitting there talking offering solutions etc isn't helping it's simply giving her what she wants with the tantrums. Not saying you have to punish or be harsh with her, but reinforcing that loosing control of your emotions gets you attention & people fussing over you probably doesn't help.

Stop trying to resolve the tantrum issues during the tantrum. You are simply feeding the confusion & anger. Let her know she is loved & when she calms down you will help her sort out the problem. She can only learn to self regulate, if allowed to self regulate. Then when she is calmer work with her to find solutions to stopping her reaching that level of frustration. Does she need rest? Does she need more time to do things? etc If she is left alone too it removes the "embarrassment" factor, it's hard to be embarrassed if no one is watching.
posted by wwax at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

My daughter is academically gifted and... she has ongoing issues with tantrums.

These two things can be related. In addition to reading any books suggested here, I recommend you seek out an online support group for parents of gifted kids. The phrases you quote suggest perfectionism. Many bright kids compare their performance to that of college educated adults or other high bars and find themselves lacking.

Both of my sons had tantrums as toddlers. I did not engage their strong emotions. I would sit down next to them and wait until it slowed and calmly ask "Are you done yet?" You need to stop getting sucked into her big feels and you stop trying to control them. It only fuels it. Kids have big feels. Sometimes, their big feels are more than they can cope with. If you don't treat it like a Thing, they tend to outgrow it.

Some of the scripts above sound like a good course of action. I especially like Don Pepino's script.
posted by Michele in California at 12:31 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

one thing I found helpful with my son's tantrums is to give him space and time alone. We went through all kinds of attempts to reason with him, talk and discuss and analyse with him. As you say it is exhausting and totally futile and took literally hours.

So, when he throws a fit, I leave the room he is in, and wait it out. I am not physically capable of dragging him to his room (he is 7) and don't want to risk injury to him either. I tell him that I made up my mind and will not change my opinion or decision, and get myself out of the room.
He exhausts himself and eventually stops. It takes from 5 to 10 minutes. I feel that it works best for us because neither of us loses face. We make up, if I yelled I apologise, and he also apologises (spontaneously without my prompting, if not I do not demand it), we hug, kiss and sometimes cuddle and that is it. I don't analyse with him what happened. He can rarely say why he started the fit and it is more likely to set off another round.

Now obviously this only works at home and only when we are not under pressure to leave the house or similar. But overall the strategy of giving him the space to express his anger is an improvement to any attempts to reason with him.
If we are under pressure and I need him to for example get dressed now, it is more difficult - but still it works best if I do not appeal to him or plead, but simply tell him in a firm voice to get dressed now. Sometimes this works and sometimes I end up yelling (which I am not proud of but it happens, and I do apologise to him after).
I come to the conclusion in re to my son that he needs to be able to express the anger for his mental health. I don't stay in the room in order to not get sucked into it and if he has no audience it dies down so much quicker, often within a few minutes. It is too much to expect him to not be angry but I don't need to be involved or even analyse afterwards as I would do with an adult.
posted by 15L06 at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Any number of things can set off tantrums, but they never happen in school or with friends.

So actually, she can regulate her emotions. She can have all of the tantrums she wants, but she's going to need to have them in her own room on her own time. You need to not make these attention-sponge family events.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:38 PM on February 1, 2016 [42 favorites]

My daughter was very tantrumy from 4-7 years old. She gradually got better at accepting things, probably due to just getting older and more mature. In the meantime, I think it helps a lot to tell her ahead of time what is expected. For example, "Bedtime will be in 15 minutes" rather than telling her "it's bedtime now". I just don't think she could process that she needed transition right that moment but rather needs time to let it set in. She usually says "OK", and then when the 15 minutes is up I let her know and she accepts it much easier. So, I think that giving her time to process your requests or changes in activities ahead of time may help. It's really easy to lose patients and get angry, and unfortunately it's an easy pattern to get into because after a stormy time out she gets a grip and seems fine. This indicates to me that it's best to leave her be for a bit once she loses control. Easier said than done, especially when away from home. When going out for the day, or for dinner, etc, if I sit down and tell her the plan ahead of time, going into as much detail as possible "we're going to get dressed and get in the car. You can bring one toy if you like. We will drive to a restaurant that I think you will like and you can pick out what you want on the menu. When we are finished we will come back home and you can play, take a bath and get cozy in bed with me to read a book. Is there anything you would like for me to help you with now so that you are ready to go? I look forward to spending this evening with you!"
posted by waving at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

My gifted 6-year-old sounds similar.

What has worked for us: I sit down next to her and say "It looks like you're having some big feelings. Those can be kind of scary. Do you want a hug?" Often she'll say yes and I'll just hold her for a few minutes. I then remind her that she tends to feel this way when her body wants a snack and her blood sugar is low. I give her something (a banana or yogurt) to eat in her room and tell her to come out when she's done. We usually see her about 10-30 minutes later. (If I peek in the door, she is usually reading a book while she finishes the snack.)
posted by belladonna at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2016 [15 favorites]

Generally I would say empathising or helping solve her problem but that hasn't worked so here are two solutions other parents have told me they've tried that worked for them. (I have a two year old and a four year old but tantrums aren't as big an issue for us so I can't speak to if this solutions actually work, just that they've been recommended.

A) ignore child and walk away. Tell them you can talk about it when they stop crying. The idea behind this one is that tantrums are for your benefit and if you're not watching, there's really no point. One of my earliest memories is of having a huge tantrum, clawing at the floor and my mother literally stepping over me and walking off. I stopped out of sheer surprise, so for me anyway, it worked.

B) if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Lie down on the floor and scream and wail with them. My sister did this with her six year old once at the mall. The child had a major issue with tantrums and her mother was at her wit's end so she decided to let her know what it looked like to be with someone throwing a tantrum, and how silly it was. This grown woman threw herself on the floor and started kicking and screaming right there amongst the breakfast cereals. The little girl was so mortified by her mother she never did it again.

My personal recommendation though, is to watch your kid closely and see if there's a pattern of when these tantrums occur. Is it at the end of the day because she's exhausted? Maybe she needs an earlier bedtime. Is it because she's hungry? There might be a consistent trigger which just results in her being set off by some seemingly minor thing where what she really needs is a snack or a nap (or something else!) Good luck, you both sound overwhelmed.
posted by Jubey at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's something you have to keep in mind when it comes to tantrums, especially long tantrums. The most important / key thing in the kids mind for tantrums is always "attention".

I don't mean to downplay your child's emotions, but usually the strong emotions don't coincide with tantrums. The kind of tantrums that most parents have trouble with are attention-related tantrums.

I recommend the following process:

1. Make sure they are taken care of: Food, water, attention, comfort, attention to a reasonable amount.
2. Remove attention from the situation, either by mostly-ignoring them or by giving them a time out to calm down. Communicate with them as little as possible during this time - don't engage in arguing or anything, or scold them. Try to just do it quickly and efficiently while delivering very little attention.
3. Be careful - many times with this procedure we see an increase in bad behavior before they learn to do something different. So, if you start to ignore them or put them in a time out, be prepared that behavior could worsen for the first 4-5 times this technique is used.
4. Generalize this technique to a variety of places. If at a store and they begin to tantrum, without giving them attention, just leave as quickly as possible with them.

The big "ah ha" moment for many parents is realizing that you can put them in a time out, just by giving them less attention. Especially if you are normally very attentive and engaging.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:45 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I will note that a child who only tantrums at home is signalling "I feel safe with my family." This is a good sign. I would not assume that her ability to behave at school means she can keep it together at home. She may be feeling extremely stressed at school and valiantly holding it together there, then falling apart when she feels safe again -- I.e. after getting home.

I would be much more worried if she tantrumed at school but not at home. Kids "misbehave" more with adults that they feel will still love and accept them. Don't get dragged into it, but do take it as a vote of confidence that she thinks you aren't going to be abusive to her.
posted by Michele in California at 12:46 PM on February 1, 2016 [26 favorites]

My younger sister would throw intense tantrums well into being like 8/9 years old. Only thing that worked was ignoring them utterly.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:51 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Any attempt to calmly discuss or sit with her is met with more crying and declarations of futility.

Disengage and get her up to her room right off the bat with 'You can go to your room right now or you will not be watching X/playing Minecraft/going to X party/etc' and then follow through.
Don't let yourself get sucked into it.

Rational discussion is pretty useless in those situations. 'We will not be discussing this right now' is fine too.

We also used 'Do you need a time-out?' and frankly sometimes she clearly does and stomps huffily off.

Talking is sort of like throwing water on an electrical fire because their little brains are going bzzzzt BZZZT bzzzt.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:52 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

My 6-year-old melts down a lot but just at home. My theory is she's exhausted from the mental work of keeping it all together all day at school, so when she comes home, she's in a safe space and can let loose. Like how you get home and can finally unbutton your pants.

The good news is that the closer she gets to 7 the better it has been getting (her birthday is in April).

When she is tantrumming we do not try to offer logical solutions. She's having an illogical reaction and her brain cannot handle the truth, even if it's something very obvious (like a beloved stuffy in the hold of the airplane). We offer her the choice to continue to scream in her room, or she can sit with someone and get a hug but she can't be screaming. Sometimes she chooses to go to her room but most of the time, in reality, she continues to scream and sob while a parent sits quietly close by and reads a book or checks email. Loudly reminding her once or twice that if she wants to talk we are here but she can't be screaming.

The best thing to do is just to remain calm and quiet and loving. Yelling back just escalates the situation or trying to "fix" the problem frustrates the kid and doesn't solve anything.
posted by sutel at 12:52 PM on February 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm not a parent, so please feel free to take what follows with a giant grain of salt:

I remember having tantrums as a kid and reading the above comments about how tantrums are only attention-seeking behavior makes me sad. My tantrums were truly out of my control. And they felt HORRIBLE. They scared me. And what made them 100% worse is my mother's very clear opinion that I was having the tantrum to make her life harder, that I was somehow doing it TO her.

What would have helped is to have an adult in my life acknowledge how unpleasant the tantrums were to me. How much I didn't want to lose control like that. That little bit of empathy would have gone a long way to remove the shame and fear and, I believe, helped me deal with my emotions in a more pleasant (for everyone involved!) and productive way.
posted by mcduff at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2016 [50 favorites]

Ah, emotional regulation.

We tackled this from a number of different angles at once, so it's hard to tell what worked, but here is what we tried:

General confidence improvement - more physical activity, gymnastics classes, social skills coaching.

Prevention - avoiding hunger, taking lots of time with transitions, large detailed daily schedule.

Explicit emotional skills talk - there are some good curriculums that lay out very explicitly with pictures how kids can understand their feelings better and make different choices. What is a thought? What is a feeling? How does your body feel when you have that feeling?
Are you having rock brain or flexible brain? Is this a big problem or a little problem?
posted by bq at 12:54 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

That's my kid (10F), to a tee. Brilliant and prone to tantrums/lack of ability to cope.

We'd tried a variety of behavior interventions, and the school suggested neuropsych testing. She is now labeled as high functioning autistic. The label was hard, but it gave us a lot of access to services and a better understanding of what is going on.

Not saying this is your kid, just offering my experience.
posted by heathrowga at 12:55 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Any number of things can set off tantrums, but they never happen in school or with friends.
So actually, she can regulate her emotions.

Maybe, maybe not. My kid can certainly regulate his emotions up to a point but at some point that shit's coming out. Fairly explosively. That said, it's important to figure out how not to add extra fuel to the fire.

My kid is 5, very intelligent, and very anxious. Most of his meltdowns are anxiety-fueled (and it sounds like your kid's might be too, in part, given the comments about the futility of your solution). First off, it is futile and counter-productive to attempt to reason with a melting-down child. Super-duper calm with a side of empathy is what you aim for. Instead of trying to offer solutions to her problem, calmly note that she seems pretty upset, and state the reason if there was an obvious reason. ("You seem pretty mad that we can't go to the library right now. I love you, but you can't kick me and scream in my ear like that. Let's go to your room and calm down.")

In terms of what to do next, I think there are three good options you can test out:
1) Take her to her room, tell her you'd love for her to rejoin you as soon as she can control her body, and leave.
2) Take her to her room, and sit quietly in the room, but not too close, and let her rage.
3) Give her lots of space in whatever room she's already in

Because of the anxiety component, our son's therapist suggested (2). I'm currently in the midst of deciding between (1) and (2). I don't love abandoning him when his anxiety is spiraling out of control, but if a meltdown acquires a performance aspect, it may be better to let it burn out without an audience. That will vary by kid. Telling him I love him, even mid-screaming and kicking, somehow helps me keep my own temper under control.

I think you can continue to talk, when she is calm, about things one can do when one is feeling very angry. But that's the long game, and it's probably not reasonable to expect her to be able to apply that stuff in the moment yet. I wouldn't bring it up in the moment, for now.
posted by telepanda at 1:00 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I specifically remember how I got my son (now 20) to stop crying, and to save my sanity in the process. Looking back, we both laugh about it. We live on four city lots, and there was a large old tree stump in the fourth lot farthest from the house. When I had decided I'd had about enough of his inconsolable tantrums, I marched him out to the stump. I made him sit there alone, crying his head off, and told him not to even think about coming back into the house again until he stopped crying. It took about three stump-sitting sessions, and thereafter he never again had an unnecessary temper tantrum or crying fit.
posted by zagyzebra at 1:01 PM on February 1, 2016

Former tantrum having gifted child here. I distinctly remember a point in my life when I was aware both that the tantrum I was throwing was stupid, and also that I felt physically powerless to stop it. That would freak me out and continue the tantrum even when my logical reasoning could see that there was no point to it.

One of my parents' friends suggested something to me (when I wasn't currently throwing a tantrum) that she did when she was upset, which was to drink a whole glass of water. The next time I felt myself getting super upset about something I tried it out, and most times it worked for me, as a kind of self soothing. I couldn't actively cry when I was drinking water so it helped to break the cycle. After awhile, the act itself would remind me of previous times I had calmed down. I still actively do it to this day when I feel my emotions running away with me.
posted by permiechickie at 1:04 PM on February 1, 2016 [22 favorites]

I agree with the separating her, reassuring her, and leaving it up to her to come back.

When she comes back, rather than parse out what exactly happened, try role playing what can be done differently next time with you acting as she did (not in a way to make fun of her, but have her pretend to be the grown up and you pretend to be her). With our own child, another thing that also really helped was for him to learn about what we, his parents, did and felt about the same ages and what we had to learn to do better. That in particular really helped him integrate his own experiences in his life, and eventually it led to him saying some things like, "I got angry just like daddy got angry when he was kid. When daddy was a kid, he would hit. I throw things. We shouldn't hit or throw things when we're angry." (Example of things he would say, not necessarily what he actually said). And his recognizing the behaviors in part led him to stop them, but also led him to understanding his own motivations more clearly.

I'll also tell you that it's led him to understanding a lot more about how we act and react as well. And he'll even call us out on our own bad behavior from time to time.
posted by zizzle at 1:09 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Super-duper calm with a side of empathy is what you aim for.

I didn't emphasize this in my comment above but agree strongly with this; even when sending the kid for the time out and disengaging, etc., it's helpful to manage your own hostility and anger and exhaustion with some deep breathing. Participating in the emotional escalation doesn't help, and it's important (well, I think so) that the kid still feel loved and safe at the same time they're being sent to their room. They're being sent to their room for their own good, so they can calm down, not as a punishment.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:09 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Every time you try to pat her down, you're reinforcing the behavior.

I had an explosive kid and I'm also a special education teacher, so I'm going to talk about secondary gains.

Secondary gains are indirect, interpersonal advantages which the child derives from his condition, e.g., compassion, increased attention, freedom from everyday responsibilities, and the like.

So basically, when a kid is tantruming and clawing at you and you stay in the room with them, they get attention. The longer it carries on, the more attention they get.

I know it can seem callous, but sometimes (assuming she's otherwise healthy physically and emotionally) the best thing you can do is quietly remove yourself when she's tantruming and tell her you'll be happy to sit with her, but she needs to use a normal voice and to stop screaming. Then remove yourself.

You can discuss things once she's calm, but if you keep checking in every time she has a tantrum, you may be prolonging the whole thing. And then ensure you do talk to her when she's calm.

It's pretty typical for kids to have tantrums at her age and she will outgrow them more quickly if you stop reinforcing the behavior.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:12 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, permiechickie is so right: water! Wonderful cool, calming water, giver of life and friend to the traumatized. That's the only thing that allowed me to stand up in front of a classroom of students and "teach" when I was in graduate school, an experience that put me in a state of emotional havoc that is probably similar to having a tantrum. Every class I would go to the drink machine and get a can of La Croix and every time I got into a panic I'd take a sip and consciously swallow it and think, "Actually, I'm just an animal. See? This proves it. I have a body, and it is fine. If I were in peril, could I be calmly sipping water, now? No. Yet here I am, unharmed, safe, and comfortable. I have all I need. I am not in danger. I will now talk some more nonsense about Joe Christmas."
posted by Don Pepino at 1:18 PM on February 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

The drinking water thing sounds brilliant. My oldest HATED having tantrums. The fact that he was mad and out of control made him madder. So it became this horrible positive feedback loop that ended when one of his tantrums caused a spontaneous nosebleed. The shock of it stopped the tantrum cold and he says it became kind of a biofeedback thing. It helped him figure out how to stop the process. He was able to figure out how to turn the switch off.

If you can find a non nosebleed method to help her interrupt an out of control brain process, you will both be lots happier.

I will add that many adults cannot articulate their emotions and what exactly caused them. Academic intelligence and a high vocabulary will not automatically translate to ability to pinpoint the whys and wherefores. She is still a child. The disconnect between a bright mind and lack of life experience and the wisdom that grows out of it seems to fuel the meltdowns bright kids have. When adults treat them like they should have emotional maturity just because they are smart, that can compound the problem. Adults often do not do this on purpose. They relate to the child's mental age and "forget" the kid is actually younger. Talking to other parents of gifted kids can be really helpful for finding better ways to deal with bright kids, who are, themselves, a category of "special needs" child.
posted by Michele in California at 1:20 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah, forgot to say...another thing that does help is to talk to her when she's calm and ask her what strategies she'd like to try as an "out." As others said, sometimes it can be hard for a kid to gracefully pull themselves from the tantrum because they feel like they've jammed themselves into a corner and can't get out. They're embarrassed and feel a little sheepish.

So brainstorm: a glass of ice water with a straw, a special candy, petting the cat? You want to consider a ritual that signifies she's ready to end the tantrum.

When she next gets revved up, gently remind her, "Here's the ___ you can have once you're calm," and then remove yourself. Again, don't pay attention to the tantrum, have her exit strategy ready.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:31 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Similarly to other posters -

In the very beginning of my 8 yr old son being upset I empathize. "I'm sure you are disappointed that random thing happened........sorry that happened to you".

If it goes on for more than a minute. I'll offer a little more encouragement but after that.

"I'm sorry you feel that upset but it's not fair to bother everyone else because you are upset. Why don't you go read in your room until you pull it together - or as long as you'd like".
posted by ReluctantViking at 2:01 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the responses. We'll be reading these over again later tonight when it's less hectic.

A little more information: I have three children (ages 6, 3, & baby), and the three year old is a much more typical tantrum thrower. Her worst are 5 or 10 minutes and a hug and her favorite stuffy can usually cure it all. My older daughter has never been in that league. While her tantrums are not violent, she will physically follow you around flailing and screeching. There was a (several month) period where I thought that removing myself from the situation was the answer and would lock myself in a bathroom, but that just felt wrong to me and didn't do anything to lessen the length of the tantrum. If anything it increased the violence as she beat and kicked the door.

She won't accept any suggestions of going off to her room by herself to read a book or anything like that. She has to be physically removed from the situation, and frankly, at six years old, she is too big and strong for me to handle like that. We need a solution that doesn't involve been physically bigger than her.
posted by dumbasamuppet at 2:12 PM on February 1, 2016

Something we use with our kids when they start to get worked up is to see if their breathing has changed. That deep, fast, about-to-have-a-melt-down breathing really does start to tell their body that things are getting crazy and they get all adrenaline-y and they lose their shit. When we can catch someone starting to do that, and get them to breathe slowly and calmly, almost every time, the freak out is averted, and they can reclaim some mental calm. Might be worth a try for your daughter, too.
posted by glitter at 2:15 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've had this thread open for about an hour and I'm so angry about it that I'm all but shaking. I've been putting off making a comment because I felt sure that someone else would, but no one has, so...

What you're describing is basically a textbook illustration of this child is potentially mentally ill, and your response seems to be I don't want to hear that my kid might be mentally ill. The child that you're describing is me as a child; the child that you're describing is my daughter as a child.

My parents responded like you have, and like the people in this thread seem to feel is appropriate. You're assuming that she has control during these tantrums, and assuming that she's not terrified and furious at herself. You're assuming that she's being difficult, that she wants attention, and that isolating her to burn herself out or reminders to be calm will be curative. And maybe you're right. Maybe you're one of the super lucky people whose child is really just having a hard time regulating her emotions and all she needs is a year or two to grow into herself. I mean, I think that it's unlikely, but maybe.

Alternatively, maybe you're wrong. Maybe you're wrong and you're forcing your child to go into her room and learn her own coping mechanisms. Maybe you're wrong and what she's learning from this is that she has to deal with her feelings by herself, and that expressing them in ways that you find unacceptable gets her punished. Maybe you're wrong and you're setting her up for a lifetime of knowing that her childhood could have been completely different if someone had looked at her and said hey, this seems like something that's potentially a problem, and maybe we ought to make sure that it's not.

For the record, when my daughter got help, her whole life changed. She stopped coming home from school and sobbing and clawing at her clothes and skin. She stopped having total breakdowns about nothing. She stopped telling me that nothing I suggested would work, stopped insisting that things were impossible. It was like someone flipped a switch and suddenly she wasn't miserable anymore.

Please consider seeking outside help. Don't bet on the idea that you--and, more importantly, she--will be one of the lucky few.
posted by MeghanC at 2:17 PM on February 1, 2016 [18 favorites]

You might get her tested for allergies. My oldest is allergic to raspberries, nonetheless he used to be really fond of a sherbet that contained raspberry as one of the flavors. One day shortly after he had it, he really lost his shit. I realized this was a clear pattern and I announced then and there that he was not getting this sherbet any more. I think that was his last melt down, well after the tantrums he had in youth had stopped.

An allergic reaction in a young child can come out as looking like just a tantrum.
posted by Michele in California at 2:23 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll back Meghan up here in saying that while the tantruming part doesn't sound like me as a kid, the terror of nothing I do will fix how broken I feel and there will never be enough time to do it right and something is very wrong and I don't have the words to tell anyone what it might be so it's never going to stop feeling like this sure sounds familiar. And lo and behold, I am an adult with mental health problems who didn't even begin to start getting any kind of help for them until I was almost 20. An age I almost didn't live to see because, again - untreated mental health issues.

In the end I've come out of it all reasonably well, but my life could/would/might have been drastically different had someone offered me some professional help earlier. Therapy, maybe, yes, but if for some reason that's a non-starter, how about a conversation with her PCP? A child development specialist? Asking her teacher or other school resources if they have any professional perspective or advice to offer? I'm not sure how far your "no professional interventions" rule goes, but if there's anything on this list that you would consider acceptable, then it might be worth looking into. You can always go with assorted tough-love approaches after you've ruled out some sort of health issue, physical or mental, but it's a lot harder to walk back any damage done by ignoring health issues in favor of assuming your child is just being difficult.
posted by Stacey at 2:30 PM on February 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

I will not dismiss the possibility that there is a mental health issue. But I will reiterate: Please, join an online discussion group for parents of gifted kids.

OCD, ADHD, anxiety, etc are so incredibly common in the gifted community that some people refer to them as "comorbidities." Many parents who join a gifted support group and get educated about the special needs of gifted kids see substantial improvements in "neurotic" behavior among their kids within the first year, without necessarily seeking psychiatric intervention. If you join such a group, you will get a much better idea if this is fairly well within the range of "normal -- for a gifted kid" or something seriously out of whack.

My oldest son starts really losing his mind when he isn't getting enough mental stimulation. He was 16 before we figured out how to reliably get him the level of mental stimulation he needed. He was an anxious, neurotic, tantruming child. He clearly has some brain chemistry wonkiness, which we deal with in part with dietary interventions. But a big piece of it is just addressing his needs as a young man with a constantly hungry mind. At some point after figuring out how to get his intellectual needs adequately met, he began behaving like someone with zen like calm. Most of the time, he is astonishingly calm and grounded these days.

Please promptly join a discussion group for gifted parents. You can go find a list of such things on Hoagies Gifted. Find one you like. If you are anything like most parents of gifted kids, you will find your world transformed.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:44 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since MeghanC brought it up, I'm going to back her up as well. Much of my son's inability to self-regulate until the past year or so was because he was unable to understand social norms due to his being on the spectrum, which we've known and have dealt with since he was 3.

Many therapies out there that work for x-diagnosis can also work for people who may not have that diagnosis. There are behavioral techniques that I learned in watching my son's therapist that I have been able to apply to myself as well.

I can't with any certainty say whether your child qualifies for a diagnosis of any sort, and I am not sure if your reluctance with regards to hearing about such things is due to a fear or disagreement with mental health practices in general or if it's because it's an avenue you are already pursuing. But what I would say is seeking help for your child when things seem off-kilter --- whether chronic or situational --- is a sign of strength. The information you gain leads to one of two things (and I say this almost weekly to parents):

1. Your child has no need for a diagnosis and there's nothing to worry about
2. Your child has something going on and you can now find ways to address it effectively (whether chronic or situational)

Both are really good things! You lose nothing through either result! You gain useful information either way that will help you tailor your responses to your child.

Having more tools to put in your parenting tool box is a positive, and some times you need someone else with more experience in handling those particular tools so you know how to use them correctly.
posted by zizzle at 2:52 PM on February 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Based on your update, I would suggest that you try staying nearby as a calming presence (but not engaging with the crazy), and seeing if that helps. If the child is beating on the doors of a locked bathroom, that's not a working strategy. The goal is for you to remain as placid as possible to remind the child that the world has not, in fact, ended, and that you will be waiting with lots of hugs as soon as she stops screaming and kicking.

But if that doesn't work, finding a solution that doesn't involve being physically bigger than her may turn out to require outside help. Before we started our child in occupational therapy, I spent a lot of time second-guessing myself, thinking that my kid seemed mostly normal, sort of; certainly not the kind of kid that "needs help". Then I had a mental crash-and-burn during the realization that, yes, my kid is in fact the kind of kid who "needs help", and more so than I had realized.

Now I've come to realize that it has nothing to do with whether your child is "broken", it's simply a matter of, if you've exhausted all the possibilities you can think of in dealing with a behavior, it can be quite helpful to consult with someone who deals with challenging behaviors as a full time job, and has a varied arsenal of tricks up their sleeve, some of which may be quite effective for your individual child. Not every tactic works for every kid, and someone who's worked with a million challenging kids of different flavors may be in a better position to make some educated guesses about what will work for yours.

I started by telling our primary pediatrician that our child was having a lot of meltdowns, with X timing, Y frequency and Z severity, and asked if that was age appropriate. The ped gave me names of people to talk to for an evaluation, and after an evaluation involving a combo of play and standardized testing, we got a series of recommendations. Because a combination of physical and sensory difficulties were involved, we opted to start weekly OT. I've written more about that elsewhere and would be happy to discuss privately. It changed our lives from a pretty negative trajectory to a mostly positive one.

Though it's clear to us that our child is going to need some assistance with learning how to cope with anxiety, his emotions, and the world's assault on his senses, we have every reason to believe that he will grow up to be a smart, independent, compassionate, wonderful adult.
posted by telepanda at 2:54 PM on February 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

My son is five, and has problems with emotional regulation and frustration tolerance that are profound enough that they stand out among the other children in his preschool class, which is composed almost entirely of children with special needs. (My kid's identified needs are motor and coordination related, not cognitive or behavioral, and yet.) What works with him is a multi-stage process that goes like this:

1. "You look like you're having some big feelings. Can you show me how big they are?" (demonstrate with cupped hands, hands held six inches apart, hands held a body width apart, arms outstretched wide)

2. "Are you having a problem?"

3. "Do you think it's a problem you can solve, or do you think it's a problem you'll have to walk away from?"

Then depending on the answer to 3, we either brainstorm solutions or talk about how hard it is to walk away from a problem and what some alternatives might be.

However, the length of your child's tantrums and, in particular, the fact that she's clinging to the underlying "problem" even though she's identified it as not really being a problem, reminds me of my daughter's tantrums, which were EPIC AND ELEMENTAL. I was always at a loss for how to handle these, because almost all the time, they seemed to be problems that were entirely caused by her -- like she would beg to be able to ride the bus to school (she ALWAYS rode the bus to school) and then refuse to step off the doorstep to walk to the bus, looking at me with increasing misery and fury in her eyes until the bus drove past, at which point she would collapse in a waterfall of tears. And she would deflect any attempt to solve the underlying problem, to the point where she seemed to be much more interested in HAVING the problem them in solving it.

This was enormously frustrating for me as a parent. We found a lot of help from The Explosive Child, as mentioned above, but the ultimate resolution came when she was diagnosed with some extremely unusual food intolerances that had been causing her terrible GI pain for her entire life. When we changed her diet, these tantrums just. . . stopped. Inside of a week. Now she only has them when she's eaten something that her gut disagrees with.

I asked her what these tantrums were about recently, after she'd had one following an ill-considered granola bar. She said "I don't really know. When I'm having them I know they're dumb and I know that they aren't making anything better, but I just can't help it. It's like I feel so awful that I want a reason to feel awful, I want everyone to know that I feel awful, and I want people to keep trying to help even if it doesn't work. So I, you know, find a reason, even if it doesn't make any sense." (She's nine now, this is two years after her diagnosis.) So if you can't find any relief just by following the excellent suggestions above, it might be worth a visit to her doctor to make sure she doesn't have something going on physically that's causing her pain or discomfort.
posted by KathrynT at 2:58 PM on February 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

I strongly disagree with some of the advice you're getting. Your child is not manipulating you, her anxiety is real and her coping skills are still undeveloped. I really advice against abandoning her to deal with her emotions alone, even if it seems to be effective. Six is very, very young; you may have lost sight of that because she's a. cognitively gifted and b. the eldest of your kids, so she is the "big girl" in comparison to the others.

I had similar issues with one of my kids (gifted and also hypersensitive) around that age. It was maddening, draining and scary - for both of us - so I fully get your anguish. In our case, the problem disappeared when she hit the next developmental stage. Not without an effort, though.

One of the things that worked was helping her vocalize her feelings and reflect them back to her without criticism or redirection. "Goodness, you are really worried about this aren't you." "OK, you're obviously very angry with me now." "You seem to feel jealous, and I know how awful that feels." "Oh no, that was a huge disappointment to you, wasn't it?" It's a relief for the kid to be heard/understood and to get help in understanding herself (even if it doesn't always look like it), and helps you maintain a compassionate attitude.

The best preventive method was giving her a lot of positive attention when she wasn't misbehaving. I talked to a child psychologist about this, and she told me that in one study, even in normal, loving families the rate of negative or corrective messages to positive ones was 10:1. Kids are constantly hearing "Careful with that", "Haven't you tied your shoelaces yet?", "I told you to do that 5 minutes ago", "Why couldn't you go to the bathroom before we left", "Now look what you've done". At school, same thing. Imagine how you'd feel.

So the child psychologist encouraged us to give her as much concrete positive feedback as we could. Meaning noticing specific things she did well and letting her know we appreciated it, as often as possible. "You already have your socks on, good going", "Wow, you ate all your dinner neatly with a fork today", "You're so gentle with the dog, I can see he likes it", "You really put a lot of effort into drawing the roof of that house", etc. Praise what she does, in stead of only generally telling her how wonderful she is. If she makes a drawing, pick something specific you like about it ("I love that cheeky smile on the cat's face") and tell her that in stead of just saying that it's great.

When talking about her with these outbursts, If they're very physical, you can try to offer a safe outlet like hitting her bed with a pillow. Also, here's some wonderfully insightful advice from teleri025. If you want to hit the parenting books, I always recommend Raising an emptionally intelligent child.
posted by sively at 3:12 PM on February 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Clearly people are bringing different perspectives to their responses, but:

What you're describing is basically a textbook illustration of this child is potentially mentally ill is 100% not accurate and it's unnecessarily alarmist.

Correlating perfectly age-appropriate tantrums to mental illness seems unnecessary. Healthy six year olds do have tantrums. So do mentally ill six year olds. But tantrums do NOT = mental illness in a six year old.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:23 PM on February 1, 2016 [11 favorites]

Have you read French Children Don't Throw Food? It's not always the most popular format for talking about these issues, but it was hugely influential for my partner and me (we have three boys, all teens at this point).

Context: I was an exchange student in France for a year in college, living with a large family with a lot of young kids, nieces, nephews, and cousins. At the time, I was flabbergasted by the level of cool control the adults in this family had over situations that my American upbringing had taught would necessarily end up with a kid in a fugue state while parents tried to be supportive and soft padded walls for the kids to use to exhaust themselves. My sharpest memory of that years comes when young A cut a piece of young B's hair with a pair of kitchen scissors in a moment of spontaneous childhood troublemaking. B teared up a little bit, then asked, "A, why did you do this? You know that I'm going to tell mom now and you're going to be punished." And A responded, "... you're right, I should have known that. I'll go tell mom now. I'm sorry." And then A calmly walked off and told on himself to his mom, who did not freak out, but simply told him no sweets at the fair this weekend, and you must help A out with her chores this week, understood?

I mean... I... I don't have those skills of restraint and propriety. Not even today, sixteen years later.

The article I linked to summarizes the book by emphasizing the French tendency to detach parenthood a bit from personhood, but that's losing a lot of nuance. The book is a thrilling read, and something we've tried (somewhat successfully) to mimic over the years.

(Editing to add that, yes, children do manipulate their parents, consciously and subconsciously. To the other commenters suggesting this isn't the case, I suggest that you've forgotten the details of your own childhood.)

Best of luck! And patience!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:57 PM on February 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

By request:

The two social skills curricula that my child has encountered are 'The Incredible Flexible You' and 'Superflex'.
posted by bq at 4:22 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

"Ok, off to your room sweetheart, come back when you're ready to be with the family. " (then walk/carry)

Always the same, never different. Dull, reliable.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:26 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your daughter is old enough to understand the old "the doctor said" gambit. You sit her down the day after a tantrum, not in the heat of the moment. You tell her that you called "The Doctor" to find out how to help her deal with her tantrums. Tell her "The Doctor" said the reason some little girls can't control their tantrums is because they aren't getting enough sleep and they are tired. "The Doctor" said that she needs to get more sleep until she can control herself, so the next time she has one, she will need to go to bed immediately after dinner that day so she can get enough sleep.

And then do it. Put her to bed immediately after dinner. Lights out, no books or tv or whatever else her bedtime routine includes. Stand strong the first night and do not let her talk you into letting her out of bed. No long discussions, keep your responses simple. "The doctor said this is what you need to do." Every single parent that I know who tried this had results, with the magic number seeming to be three times. Good luck!
posted by raisingsand at 5:08 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

You have a baby! That's probably creating some issues for her right now, even though the tantrums preceded the baby.

Please, please, please read: "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So They'll Talk". It has mostly similar messages to the Daniel Goleman book but delivered in an easier and more practical/applicable way.

She has tantrums around you because she feels safe with you. Her feelings are scary and overwhelming.

Sleep could be a factor; I believe it may have contributed for me (seriously trantrummed until at least 9yo; turned out fine), but it certainly wasn't the only thing!

Don't just "ignore" when she tantrums. You may "make" her to stop acting out, but you'll also teach her a whole lot of bad stuff too (her feelings are bad, she's only loved conditionally, etc).

Whether or not it's a mental illness or other disorder - that's hard to determine the balance between keeping an open mind on these things, and not rushing to "medicalise" it.

It sounds like you compare the 6yo to the 3yo. Don't do that - they're different.

I dislike those "French kids are perfect and their parents are totally in control" books. They're the worst kind of anecdotalism.

And yes, kids are manipulative. They *have* to be, because they have very little power or control over their own lives. I hate when people use the "manipulative" thing to make it sound like kids are somehow bad.

Don't compare your family to others! Remember that it's not your "fault" and you can't always "fix" a kid. It's a slow process, growing up.
posted by 8k at 5:27 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am not interested in suggestions for therapy or other professional interventions.

I really hope that you're saying this because you don't need those suggestions because you are already pursuing them, so you don't need any more help in that area. If so, I apologize for intruding, and I wish you and your family all the best. But just in case that's not why you're saying it...

What struck me about your description of your daughter is what strikes me about many of my clients: she must be so scared. She must be so, so unhappy and anxious and angry and helpless and scared. And you must be so scared for her, so helpless and sad and worried.

Your daughter is suffering right now, and she doesn't need to be. It may be that she'll get through this suffering and be just fine in the end. I hope so. Almost all kids end up okay in the end. But a lot of them go through so much pain, pain that could have been prevented, before they end up okay in the end. That's what happened to me. But a small number of them don't end up okay in the end, because the pain that could have been prevented spirals out of control and gets bigger and bigger until it's much harder to stop. Every time your daughter screams and cries and can't get control of herself and feels like the world is going to end, that's traumatic for her. And all those traumas add up. Many people, most people, turn out okay in the end. But for a few people, all that trauma takes them to a place that is much harder to get out of than the place she's at now.

Please get your daughter some professional help. If she doesn't need it, if it turns out that this was just an unusually difficult childhood transition and nothing is wrong and she'll grow out of it just fine, then there is no harm done. But if she does need it and doesn't get it, the worst case scenario is, I promise you, unthinkable to you as someone who loves her. And it's so much better if she does a mental health evaluation that she turns out not to need than the chance that she really needs help and doesn't get it until it's too late for you to stop the really bad consequences.

I am an attorney who represents children not much older than your daughter who end up charged with crimes when they break a window or throw an object or hit an adult, and many of them are doing so in precisely the kind of situation your daughter is in right now, except that they're bigger than she is. And almost all of their parents say, almost verbatim, what you have said above. Almost all of their parents are horrified when their children are ripped screaming from their arms and jailed. And almost all of them tell me that they had to call the police because they used to be able to physically stop their children, but then their children got bigger, and now they can't stop them, so they had no choice. And almost all of them, after they are subpoenaed to testify against their own children in court, tell me that they wish they could have gone back in time and stopped all of this when their kids were small. I really hope that you don't end up in that situation. But I can tell you that neither you nor anyone here is qualified to tell the difference between emotional growing pains and a serious mental health issue. That's why we have doctors.
posted by decathecting at 5:33 PM on February 1, 2016 [21 favorites]

The first thing you need to do is role out a mental/ emotional/biological cause for her behavior. You need to be SURE she has had a thorough workup and has absolutely no allergies/intolerances/pain/other health issues/emotional/social disorders causing this. If you haven't ruled this out you're doing her a disservice. There may be a simple solution here.

In the absence of those causes, well, there are so many different angles to consider. You didn't get into what triggers these tantrums. So, what are the triggers? Did you say no? What are the surrounding conditions - is she hungry, tired, stressed? Does she get alone time with you? You say they started when she was three and she also has a three-year-old brother... Is it possible that she's trying to get your attention? Perhaps a special day just for her, where she has your undivided attention, could help, though it likely won't solve it.

Do they work? I'm not asking this to be rude but tantrums are exhausting and if you give in after an hour, well, she's learning that this works. Don't ever give in.

Here's the thing about ignoring. When she is absolutely bugging out her brains ability to process verbal input basically shuts down (as far as I understand). Interacting can cause the behavior to escalate. She needs to get no feedback from you. It sounds cruel, yes, but if ignoring reduces the length of time that she is upset then you are doing her a favor. If she wants something and it's triggered by you saying no, look her in the eye, say this isn't going to work and you will help her when she's calm, and walk away. It doesn't matter if she's grabbing you. Tantrums are an attempt to get something that she wants. It cannot ever work.

You could also try forcing her to sit in a soothing place, again IF there is no diagnosable cause. Yes, it will take hours. But continuously putting her there will teach her that hanging onto you and fake crying will not get her anything. It will give her the means to calm down in a safe place. It sounds like you did this with her room and it worked. Yes, she's getting older, but have you tried this consistently? NEVER changing it? You could set up a corner instead to make it easier. If you haven't been consistent then the behavior isn't going to go away. You NEED to be consistent in order for this to work. It's worked before, and if you stick with it there's a good chance you'll see a big improvement.

However.... If she is having meltdowns, that changes things. Meltdowns are a loss of control. Is she sleeping? Is she having trouble at school? Is she stressed? You may not be seeing a tantrum but instead a complete loss of emotional control and her desperate attempt to get you to help her. Really, she six; her tantrums should not be far more severe than those of her three-year-old brother. I know you said no suggestions for therapy. But you have a child who is having tantrums/meltdowns SO SEVERE you are locking yourself in a bathroom to get away from her. This is incredibly difficult for her, too. Even if she doesn't need a diagnosis professional guidance really may be in order here.

One last thing: no, calm down techniques will not work in the heat of the moment. They will work, however, when she's calm. One brilliant tactic I've heard of is having them throw fake tantrums and then practice the techniques during the fake tantrum. Do this over and over again.
posted by Amy93 at 5:37 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your question reminded me of another comment I've seen on AskMe. It sounds like letting the kid regulate her own emotions is working for at least one family.
posted by capricorn at 7:26 PM on February 1, 2016

She won't accept any suggestions of going off to her room by herself to read a book or anything like that. She has to be physically removed from the situation, and frankly, at six years old, she is too big

Is there nothing that can tip this from 'suggestion' to 'threat'? I don't mean Quentin Tarantino type threat, I mean, 'You can kiss playing Minecraft* goodbye for the rest of the day unless you go to your room and take a ten minute time out right now.'

I think time outs are passe right now but I think it's how they're done and what the intention is. If the intention is genuinely: 'you are past the point of articulating your feelings and are running hot on your own passions. You need to be off on your own to regroup' I think it's healthy and fine and it works for us.

If it's 'I'm sick to death of you, can't handle you any more, the punishment for strong emotions is banishment, and being alone is a terrible punishment'---that's not the thing time-outs should convey. Time outs, done in the same way you'd make a kid wear snow boots when it's cold, are good for everyone--they're meant as a kindness.

*I* take time outs.

*Don't shoot yourself in the foot by threatening to take away something you actually want to do, or something that would ruin her opportunity to make friends or something (like not allowing her to go to a kids' birthday party. Just something that woud be kind of a minor drag overall.)

And lastly:
. There was a (several month) period where I thought that removing myself from the situation was the answer and would lock myself in a bathroom, but that just felt wrong to me and didn't do anything to lessen the length of the tantrum. If anything it increased the violence as she beat and kicked the door.

Are you by any chance....utterly exhausted? Just a shot in the dark but three kids, one tantrum-y, one a baby--I'm exhausted reading it. So you might want to do a systems check on your own body and mind and make sure you're not on the verge of curling up on the kitchen floor and falling asleep. If you are you'll want to a) do something about that (ha ha ha I know) and b) take it into consideration when you're deciding how to handle this stuff, especially if you've not got a co-parent in the mix for support/sounding board.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:29 AM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

There was a (several month) period where I thought that removing myself from the situation was the answer and would lock myself in a bathroom, but that just felt wrong to me and didn't do anything to lessen the length of the tantrum. If anything it increased the violence as she beat and kicked the door.

She won't accept any suggestions of going off to her room by herself to read a book or anything like that.

Some more thoughts. when mine was about 5 or so, he would hit me, and for a while I also locked myself in the bathroom (mostly I was afraid I might hit back) and then he kicked the door etc... truly ugly scenes.
This was the point I went for professional help. The feedback I got from the parenting counsellor was that by locking myself in I actually make it worse - it raises the level of agression another notch. The alternative she suggested was to leave the room he is having his tantrum in but to leave the door wide open, only just remove myself to the next room to prevent myself from engaging further and prevent getting sucked back into the argument. And then work on calming myself - not suggest calming strategies to him but calm myself back to a point when I can be empathic again.
I am not at all suggesting to abandon the child. But personally I need to remove myself to calm myself before I can be of any help.

Also, we never did time out. It is not a concept I find useful or helpful. For me it only adds one more conflict on top of an already existing conflict (go to your room. NO. Go now. NOO. etc etc the "winner" is the physically stronger person).
My son also never accepted the suggestion to go to his room, but did accept that I would leave the room as long as the door remained open and I did not lock myself in. I actually tell him this - that I will go to the (next room) now, in order to calm myself / to stop yelling. When we both have come down, we reconcile.

Until this ask I actually did not realise how rare his tantrums have become now, it still happens occasionally (eg maybe two or three times since September) but mostly when he is already tired and worn out from school. But there was a peak around 5-6 yrs old, when it was nearly every day. I agree with those pointing out it may well be an age thing, but for me there also is the aspect of finding his place in the world, what is acceptable behaviour and what things he can decide and what things I decide as his parent.

This sentence stands out for me: she will rev things back up to initial levels of anger while demanding hugs and kisses.

For me this is about the child learning to be her own person and that I will love him regardless. It is OK to be angry (or sad, or happy etc) and we can still love each other. Growing up, I thought my mother will only love me if I always feel how she would expect me to feel in any given situation, and I swallowed my feelings until they became impossible to express, out of fear she would reject me if I told her what I truly feel. This is something I try to let my son know: you can be angry at me and we may even yell at each other but I will still love you and most importantly we can reconcile. I don't mean I force him to apologise (that would be stupid) but I apologise as approriate and he does and it is over.

Also, in the past 2 years I have certainly changed my parenting style from trying to explain, negotiate and reason with him, offering choices etc (this was an ideal I had) to a more direct approach. I actually think more structure and knowing my expectations does help him to regulate his emotions. I tell him and he knows that it is ok to be angry at me (eg agreed limited time for playing game on Ipad is up so I say stop now). What I did not change is to always reconcile, no matter how small or large the conflict is and reassure him of my love and committment.
posted by 15L06 at 2:31 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

For some kids and some parents, time in works better than time out.

During the tantrums, she screams, cries, stomps her feet, and will pull at our clothes. Once she reaches the phase where she is no longer physically angry, she will lie on the floor and while "fake crying", repeat a phrase that expresses the futility of any solution we offer to her problem. "It won't work, it won't work" or "I'll never have enough time, I'll never have enough time". Any attempt to calmly discuss or sit with her is met with more crying and declarations of futility. Like for more than an hour.

Verbal suggestions about solutions to her problem have never been of any use to her, and she's quite clearly telling you that this has been her experience. So don't offer any more suggestions. Implement a solution based on your adult understanding of what's actually going on in her six-year-old brain.
posted by flabdablet at 8:07 AM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Please get your daughter some professional help. If she doesn't need it, if it turns out that this was just an unusually difficult childhood transition and nothing is wrong and she'll grow out of it just fine, then there is no harm done. But if she does need it and doesn't get it, the worst case scenario is, I promise you, unthinkable..."

That is a really good point. Likely you can trust your instincts and your better-than-anybody-else's knowledge of your own child. Likely your perception that the crying is fake and that the tantrums are manipulative exercises is correct.

On the other hand, however.

Major illnesses like depression look very different in children than they do in adults. And if it turns out to be an early symptom of depression, her lifelong happiness prognosis is much much better if it's caught early. It's extremely likely to be exactly what you think it is, but on the chance it is something serious, the payoff is huge for catching it sooner than later. And if you're right, still, what's the harm? Either way you'll feel better knowing you did all you could to protect your kid.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:03 AM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

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