Ask an Expert: My 12-year-old hits, kicks, throws things, and slams doors

I have a 12-year-old daughter who is generally happy, healthy and doing well. She is very smart, athletic, good looking and has generally good social skills … sounds perfect however … when she wants something or wants to do something and she is either not allowed or a decision doesn’t go her way, she loses it, big time. My issue is not that she argues or then yells, but she goes to the next next level and hits, kicks, throws things, slams doors etc. I know that this is probably normal but she does not know when to stop. She just keeps going. My fear is that she appears to have no internal cut off switch that tells her where the line is that she should not cross.

Last night she was trying to get her mother to do something for an up-and-coming dance concert and what she was asking for was impossible to achieve due to timing. Well, after she did not get her way she went off on a verbal tirade that was disgusting, absolute foul (and I’m no prude). I don’t know where she would have heard the words?

I have seen her front up to her older brother and try and fight him even though he is much stronger, bigger with no hope of even hurting him, but she will go in full steam and not back off. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

My fear is that she will get in trouble as she gets older as she will cross the line with someone and her behaviour will turn into assault or worse. Will she develop the ability to know when she should stop or is there something else that i should be doing? I worry because she is not even a teenager yet and everybody says they get worse as they become teenagers … could this be a mental health issue or does she just need more anger management skills? My wife and I feel we are quite regular people who have manners, morals, ethics and don’t think this is diet related. Any thoughts?

It sounds like there may be a number of things going on in your daughter’s situation at the moment.

Firstly, it is unclear from your question whether there are any consequences in place for when your daughter displays this kind of unacceptable behavior. If there aren’t any in place at the moment, then this is an important place to start. Children and adolescents alike need to know where your ‘line’ is as parents and what will happen once that line is crossed. Consequences help teenagers to understand the structure of your family and actually assist them in feeling nurtured and supported. Consequences need to be reasonable, something you can follow through with and immediate if possible.

Secondly, you mentioned a few words like ‘mental health’, and ‘anger management’. It is possible that one or a combination of these issues are coming into play for your daughter. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can often appear in young adults as angry outbursts and the irritability you describe. This is especially true if these outbursts are a change in your daughter’s regular behavior. If this is the case it may be helpful to visit your GP who can assess your daughter’s mental state or refer you to a Clinical Psychologist who may be able to assist you.

Thirdly, teenagers often exhibit similar behaviours that they have been exposed to. So it is important as parents for us to be aware of how we cope with feelings of anger and frustration. It may also be helpful for you to have a look at her friendship circles and family of friends who she may spend a lot of time with and how anger is displayed in those environments as well. The people your teenager is around will become her role-models for coping with emotions. This can be a good thing if these people cope with emotions productively, or may be unhelpful if these people have difficulty expressing intense emotions appropriately.

Finally, it may be useful for yourself and your daughter to familiarise yourselves with basic anger management techniques including simple ideas like:

  • count to 100
  • leave the situation and come back to it later
  • do something physical like exercise
  • distract yourself
  • talk to someone
  • relax with basic relaxation techniques.

You can find out about these and more techniques at websites such as www.youthbeyondblue.com and au.reachout.com/how-to-deal-with-anger

Stefanie Schwartz, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, www.groupworx.com.au

Our Ask an Expert Week panelists are all qualified professionals in their field. However, advice given on The Kids Are All Right website is not a substitute for direct, personal, professional counselling or psychological care, medical care and diagnosis.

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