Anger & Hostility in Pre-Teens

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello,

    I'm looking for a practitioner (therapist/counselor, etc) to teach my 11 year old daughter self-control and how to regulate her emotions. If you have also found a practice for your child (maybe something like a yoga or martial arts school or anything else) that has done that as well, I'd be open to hearing about it too.  Just whatever has helped your child the most. If there is a specific person or place, I'd like to hear about it. 

    Thank you so much!

    Boy, if only there were a silver bullet for this! Do you have a sense of the root cause or most serious impact of your daughter's lack of self-control? Do you have a sense that she is out of step with her peers in this regard? 

    Martial arts certainly can work, at least while they're in the dojo. My somewhat dysregulated now 13 yo has also liked reading the American Girl Smart Girl's Guide to Emotions (and there are more topics that touch on this) School counselor maybe another option or resource? Kaiser has some kids' groups for anger, if that is a factor. Time, maturity, and peer feedback also works. 

    Do you mean executive function? You might want to consider checking in with their pediatrician, perhaps they should be assessed for adhd.

    Even a neuro typical child will have plenty of executive function issues, since the pre frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until age 27.

    If your child is on the autism spectrum, UCSF has a great program called “Regulating Together.” All about kids managing their big emotions . Waitlist can be long. I know screens are not ideal, but we have had success with a system called Mightier. It is a child self-regulation app with a heart rate monitor. 

    Hello. I would suggest looking into an occupational therapist (OT). Some OTs specialize in emotional regulation. You didn't provide much info about what is going on for your kidd--so I am making some assumptions, but if these issues are a big struggle or something that impacts her daily life, you might want to consider getting a nuero-psych evaluation. The evaluations are expensive (if you don't go through your local school district), but they might really help you drill down on what is underling your daughter's challenges around self-control and emotional regulation. You may have already done all the assessments and evaluations of you daughter, but if not, they can help you understand if she has a sensory issue, a learning disability, a processing disorder, an executive functioning challenge, anxiety disorder etc. Sometimes it helps do know why they are having trouble regulating their emotions before you try to get them to regulate them. 

  • I know this is supposed to be normal developmental stuff, but our 11 year old girl has turned into a hostile, rude, screaming monster with awful attitude.

    Everything we say -- she will fight and argue. I get that she is seeking independence but she clearly does not have the skills to be independent. I'm trying to teach her and show her tools to be independent and she blows me off. I feel like a huge failure as a parent. She does not know how to wash her face properly. She doesn't even wash her face or brush teeth unless reminded. I'm trying to show her because she's starting to get pimples. She screams at me.

    I'm trying to show her how to wash and brush her hair, because her hair is like a rat's nest and she growls at me but also asks me to do it for her. She says she's hungry and I'm trying to show her how to make simple things like toasts, sandwiches, eggs, and she says sweetly, "it tastes better when you do it." or screams that she is afraid of using fire or knife or whatever excuse is handy.  At the same time, she screams I hate you, and that I'm mean and tells her friends that she hates her life, hates her parents, and then she says sweetly, could you please give me a glass of water? i love you... She clearly has low self-esteem (again, I feel that I failed her for not helping her be independent a bit earlier in life) and thinks she is not good at anything. On the contrary, she's very smart and is a quick learner. She simply doesn't have the grit and patience to give anything enough time to get really good at it. 

    I feel like I live with a psycho demon possessed tween child who screams I hate you and hugs I love you all within a span of an hour.

    We recently started therapy for her and I hope it'll be helpful. I'm also wondering if we need a family therapy. Our family communication has become a minefield. We are grieving the loss of our sweet child and are dumbfounded at how fast puberty has come... she JUST turned 11. 

    I try to remain calm and tell her that her words are hurtful but I still love her and will always love her. I come back when she's more calm to discuss the issue that caused her to scream. I don't know what to do but I want her to know that words have consequences. We can't take back what we say in the heat of the moment. 

    Are all children supposed to go through a phase where they hate their parents intensely and become horribly unpleasant? There's so much I feel I need to teach her before she enters teen years and she seems to reject everything I say at the moment. I'm sad and would appreciate words of wisdom / tips. 

    My 12 yo girl is like this, whiplash between her hostility and lovey dovey ness. In fact this morning she joked that Dr Jekyll had left the building and now I had to deal with Miss Hyde. My main point is to say you are not alone, although this does sound pretty extreme. Maybe try less overt teaching and just live your life, letting her observe you and ask when she wants help with face wash, for example (also a current issue for us! why did I buy such a smelly face wash! [it is FRAGRANCE FREE]). I'm thinking get her a copy of the American Girl Guide to the Care & Keeping of You for some support on the hygience stuff. We also try to connect in the calm times and note to her that we see her spiraling and ask her to think back to the last moment when she felt in control (to try to rein it in next time).

    Asking a child of 11 to attend both individual therapy and family therapy seems like a lot and could lead to her feeling too bad about herself - maybe give individual therapy some time.

    Lisa Damour's books and podcast are helpful too. I really encourage you as the parent to detach a bit and let her come to you more. (including, for example, not fixing lunch anymore - that can be her responsibility, and if she wants something other than a cold sandwich, she can ask to be taught how)

    Good luck! It's not an awesome time but it sounds like your daughter has a lot of assets and a great parent!

    You aren’t alone. My daughter was like this from the ages of 11 to about 13. For me, hygiene was the most important. I was on top of her for that but pretty much laid off everything else. A book I read said if you think it’s hard to parent a 6th grader, remember that it’s also hard to be a 6th grader. I tried to parent with grace and tried very hard to remain calm, removed myself from the situation when I needed to, asked her dad to step in at times, and now I have a really sweet, thoughtful almost 19 yr old. She went to therapy in 8th and 9th grades because she asked, but I think family therapy might be overkill. You could go yourself. The loss of that sweet child is very very tough - but ours came back around and it only took a few years. 

    Best of luck. 

    Hi, I'm sorry you are going through this. I would suggest having a good psychological workup, especially for ADHD. She is about the right age for that to be an impact--for my kid, there were many things I thought he 'wouldn't' do, but in reality he 'couldn't' do them because of his ADHD. Tasks like basic hygiene, preparing food, homework, chores, can be much harder to do than you know if there is a lag in executive functioning. Emotional dysregulation and poor impulse control can also be connected. Finding that out would be a great first step. Other suggestions--parent coaching is actually more effective than family therapy, because you knowing best how to support, connect with and set boundaries with your child is easier to implement than trying to change her. Dialectic Behavioral Therapy is also useful for emotional dysregulation and impulse control. If you can work on finding time to connect on the things that she likes, and finding time to praise when she is doing well (even if that feels like very small things and hard right now!), that can go a long way. Start doing these things now because you will need a strong relationship to weather the teen years. Good luck. 

    You are not alone and you are a great parent. No need for a therapy, but a great need for resilience and patience.

    I have a 12.5 year old boy. I have to remind AND check his teeth afterwards! Washing off the face (HIS)-I do it. If you stand outside the bathroom, you would think I am abusing him. We also oscillate between a shaking screaming monster and a helpful child. I remind and remind again to him that we are a family. He does not live in a jungle. He gets food, shelter and many many other comforts of life (including screen time and video game time) because of he is a part of our family.

    Also, be strong. She wants a glass of water-great time to remind her that he is old and strong enough to get it herself. You are exhausted of her screaming, your heart is aching that a person who you love so much is so upset and you need rest. I remind my son, that I put all my life and love into him and I am deeply hurt that he screams at me. If he wants to scream-do so at your friends, not me.

    If she thinks you are horrible-she can make her own dinner, and yours as well. Laundry, lunch, house cleaning (not just HER room)-are also options. It is your job as a parent to educate your child that the house needs to be regularly cleaned somehow...

    Have you tried coming at her with empathy, and repeating back to her what she says? We have an about-to-be 11 yo and he argues relentlessly w us, too. We have been reading and implementing advice from “The Explosive Child” per recommendation by our kid’s therapist. 
    instead of telling your kid what to do (how to wash her face, how/when to brush her hair) try instead, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been having difficulty with X (eg washing your face/brushing hair and teeth). What’s up?” And then wait for her to answer. You then repeat back her answer and begin a dialogue. The point is to not prescribe what she does and when (which is a common routine for many parents; myself included) but to bring them into the conversation and allow them to be part of the decision making process so they have some ownership. 
    BTW, the time to try the “What’s up?” dialogue is in a time when you are both calm; NOT when you’re wound up about her not washing face correctly, for example. 
    The book stresses that you think of *no more than* 3 challenges that she’s currently having and start to work on those. (Important to note that the author believes the challenges our kids face are simply b:c they haven’t developed those skills *yet*. That’s all it is.)  Again, only work on what you consider to be the top 3 challenges first, and let the others go for now. Sometimes the other challenges will naturally be addressed as you and she work through the top 3. Oh, and be as specific as possible when you think of and write down her challenges. 
    Check out the book. It may be a game-changer. 
    I also agree w another responder: family and individual therapy seems too much for a young person. Pick one. 
    best of luck! 

    I think your daughter might be telling you that she is not ready to be as independent as you seem to think she should be. No doubt she senses your disappointment that she isn't more independent. And that could be making her feel bad about herself. Something to think about is that in order to become independent, kids first have to know there is someone they can fully depend on. Perhaps something else is going on; I don't know your daughter. But try letting her be a little kid for while to see if that helps. She's only 11. 

    Hi There, My heart goes out to you! We had a very difficult 11 year old as well.  I would get yourself to individual therapy for yourself as fast as you possibly can. You need someone to support you so that you can have the energy and knowledge to support your child. While you are looking for a therapist for you, I would start on major self-care: take walks, take breaks, make yourself healthy meals that nourish you. Try telegraphing to your daughter that you will take charge of yourself, you can be calm (not perfect, btw) and that you are readying yourself to be there for her.  Also, get your partner to do the same thing.  It is crazy-making, difficult for a parent's marriage, and very hard on siblings to live through all this yelling and tumult. The first step is acknowledging to other adults that you can't take this anymore, and you're doing that!  I would forget about the face-washing and skills because it's reached a point of coercion. You have to repair the base relationship before she's going to work with you. (I do agree with another poster, just live your best life and show her that you are taking care of yourself--eventually she will want to do the same.) Sounds like she's getting tons of negative attention, so I would ignore so much of the small stuff.  Maybe going away with her for a weekend could help re-set? 

    I think you're doing everything right, getting her to counseling and considering family counseling - a good idea. Maybe she's dealing with something you don't know about. That said, puberty is tough! MS is the most challenging kid era, IMO. My son got difficult in 7th and 8th grade, but lots of girls start earlier. Just remember that you have years and years of time to teach her things - she will be with you for another 7-8 years. They get easier over time. Mine is now 17 and pleasant about 80% of the time.

    I could have written this post 6 years ago. You've hit on the answer in your last paragraph; it's a phase. Remember when, as parents of toddlers, we told ourselves "It's just a phase...until the next phase"? The phases don't end, just become different and more challenging. I discovered that it takes about 1.5 to 2 years for my daughter to adopt the advice I dispense. The hygiene and decorum books help, even if the books are received with derision at first; it will sink in. A little subterfuge works, too, by getting another adult or teen that they like to offer advice that would normally be rejected if it came from you (I pulled my daughter's stylist aside from time to time to offer tips on grooming). Finally,  ask questions and just listen -- about friendships, wardrobe, health, sex -- but don't offer advice in those conversations unless asked directly ( use non-commital responses like "that must have been hard for you," "Aunt Mary used to have that problem," or "I remember when that happened to me."). I'm not a child development specialist,  just another parent who needed a map and learned the hard way. It won't last forever; their brains really do fully develop eventually!

    My thought would be just to concentrate on being there for her, until things calm down. It also might be worth exploring what is going on with school and her friends. When our child had a hard time it turned out they were being bullied in sixth grade, and their natural tendency to be quiet and reflective was at odds with middle school culture. For now though, just concentrate on nurturing as though she was a couple of years younger. You can teach the skills when the emotions are more centered.

    Behavior is communication. And it’s not an indictment of your past failures. It’s what is going on for her now. Not all of us are our exact chronological age developmentally. External ideas about what she should know by now aren’t relevant-despite the inner parental critic and alarmist blog posts.  She isn’t giving you a hard time. She’s having one. Take a break from teaching skills she should know and doesn’t have. Stop talking about the pimples that are erupting but won’t if she only does xyz. Sensory issues can interfere with hygiene. Executive function issues can interfere with learning multi-step tasks. Take a look at the explosive child by Ross Greene for ways to approach children’s stormy emotions. And offer to do something with her she will enjoy—keep empathy and connection flowing through the difficult teen years.

    My now (still very headstrong) 6-year-old was like this at that age. Every day, every interaction was horrible. I realized that for my own mental health, I could not continue living like I was being held hostage and in a constant battle with her. So, I did a lot of sitting and thinking about what I wanted and what steps I could take to get there. I wanted more than anything to have a good relationship with my daughter. My mother was very controlling and we fought 24-7. We have been estranged for many years because of how ugly and dark our relationship was. And that's where we were heading! 

    The first step was working on being non-reactive in the moment, or at least paying attention to when my temper flared, and learning how to regulate my own emotions in the moment. This was super hard. For a long time, I just had to say I couldn't continue the conversation & leave the room so that I wouldn't blow up at her. 

    Then I thought a lot about the small moments, like going into her room. Every time I went into her room it was to ask her to do something she didn't want to do, so the minute I knocked on the door, the anger & exasperation were already right there on her side. So, I decided that I would change it up and go in there to show her something or give her something I'd picked up that reminded me of her, etc. I had to keep asking her to do things but it shifted the dynamic over time. Another small thing that helped was that I made sure that when she came home or into the room, I looked happy to see her. I realized how much anger & resentment I was carrying around, & when she walked in, that's what she got.

    Then I did a lot of reading of Dr. Ross Greene's book The Explosive Child & Raising Human Beings, which helped me further shift my lens with her. The premise is that kids (or anyone) do well when they can. So, when she was reacting with anger I had to remember that she wasn't giving me a hard time. She was having a hard time. Seeing her behavior with compassion changed my entire approach with her. It also made me see that I was dying on way too many hills and that a lot of my nagging and battling did nothing except made both of us angry & frustrated. It took a long time of convincing her by our actions and words, but finally, she saw that we (her dad & I) were not against her but that we were on her side. 

    None of this was easy & it took all 3 of us (her dad, her, and me) being in individual therapy to help support us during the rough periods, but we actually got to the other side! We almost never argue, we hang out, and do things together without the "inevitable" argument that would ruin the day. I will also say, that my kid is not neurotypical, and throughout this period she was dealing with depression, anxiety, and sensory stuff from ADHD, so this really wasn't an easy shift. We didn't get lucky. It just took a lot of work to regrow that trust that we had lost with her. It was the hardest thing I have done in my life but it 1000% was the best thing I ever did too. 

    It's hard to see the transition from the sweet young child to the nasty pre-teen or teen. I went through this with my son at age 12 (now 21). I could have felt more compassion for what he was going through, not worried so much, had more optimism. I wish my main goal had been to connect with him on emotional level - find out what was important to him and not care that he was meeting my parental expectations. There are so many pressures on kids with school, friends, family dynamics. With hormonal changes, they have emotions which they don't understand, they react and take out on us because we are supposed to love them no matter what. They are testing us to see if we can love and accept them when they are imperfect and don't meet our expectations. I was that mean and nasty kid to my mom 50 yrs ago. My father was so preoccupied with work, and not very interactive in general, that I would have arguments with with my mom just to get his attention! My mom's actions seemed like a way to control me and not allow me agency to make my own decisions (like maybe I didn't care if my hair was brushed or my face was clean). What I wanted was a parent who could listen and connect with me, who could have a conversation to find out what I was going through emotionally, even if my thinking was irrational. Of course this is somewhat impossible because a "middle aged" parent has totally different priorities than an 11 or 12 yr old and parents understand that they need to teach life skills. But, I wanted someone who wasn't directing me on how do everything and wasn't judging me all the time. I like what BUKA said about "I remind my son, that I put all my life and love into him..." As my children got older (I also have a daughter who is now 25), I would always preface my expressions of parenting, which they were resisting, by telling them that it was out of my love for them as a parent because I wanted them to have a good life and future, and hope they can learn from my experiences. Everyone has their story, but I felt my mom's parenting came across as just criticism and control, and then mixed with my own temperament and personality, as an adult I ended up with anxiety, OCD, and perfectionism. Those traits can work well in the world as a student or a professional, but can result in a lot of stress and unhappiness in life. Good for you for getting her a therapist so she has someone to talk to who can maybe help her understand your needs. And I would recommend working on a skill called "reflective listening" so you can connect better with her, which will help her understand your priorities as you understand hers. Before trying family therapy, I would recommend a program called "Hand in Hand Parenting" They have a lot of resources, including podcasts. Years ago my husband and I took some in-person classes they offered and I realized how important it was to spend time with my kids in a way where we were enjoying each other, I was listening to them, showing interest in their lives, apart from teaching them skills and pushing my priorities as a parent. I wished my parents could have been more loving and gentle, listened to me more, had some humor and cut me some slack to allow me to learn things in my own way. Maybe I would have spent more of my adulthood less anxious, being more self-accepting, and having more compassion for my own struggles.

    I am the OP. I wanted to write to thank everyone who responded. We began a play based therapy which is working out well. DD says she loves the therapist and it’s nice to talk to non-parents. She likes her therapist so much that she now says she wants to be a therapist when she grows up.

    The therapist is also doing coaching sessions for us. Our communication has improved with the child. Hormones still run wild and child occasionally goes into destructive mode, but it is slightly less frequent. 

    We are seriously considering a comprehensive eval to see if child has ADHD. She is very smart and learns extremely fast but has a very high need to fidget, pace around, etc. her tunnel vision and attitude for things that interest her is intense (it scares me!).

    Thank you. 

    I hope you will look into getting her assessed for ADHD. We didn’t get a proper assessment until my son was in high school and I have been kicking myself for not doing it earlier. It often takes months to get an appointment so if you booked one now you could always cancel if you choose other ways of dealing with it. Middle school seems really brutal for many girls. Lots of cliques and bullying. Could something like that be happening? Also kids don’t realize that they are getting smelly with the onset of puberty. Most parents have to suggest deodorant. It is a rough time of life with all the physical changes. Good luck!

    You are micro-managing. Back off. Leave her alone. Nothing dire will happen if she quits washing her face.

    Try finding something you enjoy doing together like a puzzle or going for a walk, or learning to knit. Put your energy there. 

    She is being unpleasant because you are being unpleasant. Nothing will change until you change. 

  • I am seeking help finding an excellent therapist who can help us with our 10 year old daughter with major anger and impulse control issues. She has just moved to live with me in Oakland in the summer and attending a new school, 4th grade. I’m a single dad, educated professional, so is her mother, my ex wife.

    She has gotten into all sorts of trouble with other girls at her new school which has just resulted in her    suspension for threatening other students. Kaiser does not have appointments for weeks out. Private pay referrals are welcome.

    Thank you.

    We have had good results with Reyna Cowan, PhD. My 9 year old son loves her and we found her to be especially good with working with him. Her office is in Rockridge near Trader Joe's.  Phone number: 510-601-0232

    Hi there, 

    Our daughter also has anger and emotional regulation challenges.  We are just starting family therapy with Dr. Anthony Guinieri in Berkeley for this.  We spoke with several therapists and like his approach.  

    Also, if your child is getting suspended due to behavioral issues, I’d recommend you contact DREDF (disability rights education and defense fund) and speak with an advocate to get more information about different strategies to get your child the support she needs with your school district.  

    We found Jason Keppe to be really helpful.

    Please, do not let Kaiser continue to get away with NOT providing the services that they are required to provide by law (Affordable Health Care Act).  They are required to provide your family with parity in Mental Health as compared with physical health.  You can actually go "out of network" and force Kaiser to pay for a local licensed therapist to serve your family.  It is a simple process to make this happen.

    Kaiser also tries to get out of their legal responsibility by not having appointments available weekly for therapists, often only allowing families to have appointments every 4 to 6 weeks because their limited number of therapists are overbooked.  But the standard of care for therapy is weekly appointments and you have the right to receive this type of care.

    We have a similar age daughter and anger issues. You might look into Meghan Tunson in Oakland. I liked her alot (my daughter stopped seeing her because a trek to Oakland was going to be too difficult for us). I thought she was really skilled in dealing with strong personalities and kiddos that are hesitant to talk.

    We also really liked Laura Rainville in Rockridge - has a more gentle style.  Perhaps one of them will be a fit. 

  • My daughter has some issues that have escalated recently. Although she has a therapist we recently had a crisis appointment with a cognitive behavioral psychiatrist and she responded very well to the direct and concrete approach.  Her therapist is great but really focuses more on younger kids and I think my daughter has outgrown her.  My daughter is struggling with abandonment issues as an adopted child, emotional regulation difficulties particularly with anger, has some learning differences (and a moderate 504 plan though she’s doing well in school now) and has recently talked of self harm and suicide (hence the crisis intervention).  Given the timing of her most difficult times there is definitely a hormonal component but before treating her for that her doctor recommends an evaluation and treatment plan from a psychiatrist to treat her more holisticly rather than just symptom by symptom. Which I wholeheartedly agree with. So now I need the psychiatrist.  We have Kaiser and because she’s from foster care she also has MediCal.  While of course a covered doctor is ideal, we’re mostly interested in getting her the best care possible and I have family who can likely help with the cost.  We’re in North Berkeley. 

    Her issues are private struggles at home—her school, friends and after school programs would be shocked to know of what happens at home sometimes.  So I feel we are at a good point to get her help before things spiral more out of control.  I am a solo mom with a long term, live out boyfriend who is incredibly supportive of both me and my daughter.  And I have my own therapist so I can focus on my daughter during her sessions.  Even with all this support, and everyone telling me I am doing everything right it is so hard and so scary to see my little girl suffer so much and to carry this emotional baggage. So even if you don’t have a recommendation—any encouragement, words of wisdom and especially thoughts from those who have made it to the other side are appreciated.  

    I'm having very similar issues with my son. We had a neuropsych exam done at Clearwater Counselling in Oakland and are now doing therapy there with Talia Kurland. My son really likes her and looks forward to going. He has not that reaction to other therapists that we've seen. Talia is young and has developed a very nice, trusting relationship with my son. We tried the therapist who is known locally as the leading adoption therapist and there was no connection at all. I've found that my son relates much better to younger therapists than to baby boomers at the end of their careers.

    We pay out of pocket for this. Unfortunately we have never had any luck with therapists covered by our insurance. In my opinion, you can do a lot of damage by trying to force a relationship with the wrong therapist. You don't want your child to hate therapy and be reluctant to attend. If you can get help to pay for this out of pocket, I'd recommend that. We also told our son that he would have input into the therapist and that our goal was to find someone who he liked. Talia has been great. I've not heard good things about Kaiser mental health services. And the Medi-Cal resources that we've tried to use haven't been great either. Unfortunately the age of the therapist is one of the most important things for the fit with my son and the older the therapist, the less likely there is to be a good fit.

    I wanted to write you to tell you I get it. I too am a mom of a tween who was adopted. Have been exactly where you are. So much anger, despair, threats of suicide and running away—and all of it completely invisible to the world outside our home. He behaves like a completely different kid in public. Saves all of his attachment/abandonment rage for his parents. It’s exhausting but I guess, also, maybe encouraging that he has learned how to be socially appropriate and so does not alienate teachers and potential friends. 

    I can can recommend Dr Wymes at Kaiser for a psych evaluation. He doesn’t do cognitive behavioral stuff and he’s not a therapist but he did do a great job for us of assessing danger and figuring out diagnosis and meds. Also—he seems to have a lot of experience with adopted kids. He told us things tend to get even worse through the teenage years (sigh...) before they get better, as the normal teenage search for one’s identity re-ignites all the abandonment stuff. 

    Best of of luck to you mom. We will get through these years eventually. 

    I think I have a pretty good idea of how you are feeling and what it's like to be the parent of a child who is suffering emotionally. Our son entered into a deep depression w/ social anxiety and was suicidal a lot of the time. We found a CBT therapist about a year ago. The CBT person recommended he do the CBT work but also see a psychiatrist. Its been a little less that a year and WHAT A DIFFERENCE it has made. He had to make an effort do the CBT work (visualization, meditation writing, etc) but it paid off. The psychiatrist recommended he should try Fluoxetine, (which we were not in favor of in the beginning) but it REALLY helped. It gave him a break from the depression so he could actually do the CBT work.  By the way Fluoxetine (Prozac) is often recommend for premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which your daughter may or may not have.  I don't mean to imply our son is "happy all the time", but he is himself again, doing well in school, having fun with friends, fighting with his siblings, etc. In his darkest hour (a few weeks into treatment) I did talk to him about my experience with faith, not faith in any particular god or anything, but that sometimes when people are in their darkest hour, faith is the only thing left. We also cried together a few times just hugging and not saying anything. I have faith that you will see your daughter smiling again, brighter than ever!

    My child is a little older and will not commit to the work she was recommended to do through her CBT. DBT is another level you might look into.  Exercise is really all she relies on for calmness. While she is the one experiencing all the confusion of this newly diagnosed condition, if I don't remember to take the time to take care of myself and let myself go I can be of no help to anyone.  So my advice is to be good to yourself,  continue to be a great role model and utilize a spa day once in a while. 

    Yup, the tween, early teen years have been super hard for my younger adopted daughter, the older one seems to be cruising through though. We tried and are having success with 1000mg of omega fatty acids for mood (recommended by a friend who is a child psychiatrist) and also Sam-e which is sold as a supplement in the US, but prescribed for depression in Europe almost as frequently as Prozac. The other suggestion which Kaiser discouraged was having genomic testing to see what antidepressants would be a good match for her. She had a bad reaction to Adderal for ADHD and I didn’t want to put her through anything like that. She’s been attending a girls’ adoption group and will be going to a small high school with a strong mentoring component. Good luck, pick your battles and love your kid unconditionally.

    I am sorry to hear your daughter is struggling.  She has a great support group with you, your boyfriend and the professionals you have ensured she has access to. It is hard to go through this, but know you are doing great. You have support for yourself as well as for her. It's a long haul sometimes, but with continued support for both of you, things will get better. If you think there is a hormonal component, I recommend using the app me v pmdd.Your daughter can easily choose moods, etc to track each month and there is an area to type in a daily journal. The creator of the app encourages positive self talk in the journal to help during the tough times each month. We believe our daughter is suffering from PMDD from 2.5-3 weeks out of the month - anxiety, exhaustion, withdrawal --- each month is a bit different --- some months more mild than others, but way more than PMS. By tracking these moods/emoitions/physical symptoms on the app, we will be able to have a better picture over a few months of what is going on (or not going on if that ends up being the case). The app has helped our daughter track her emotions/physical ailments and thoughts of the day easily. We tried other journaling and it never really got to a point where she would do it every day. The app is simple and helps her remember what to rate each day.  Hopefully, it can help  your daughter too.  Hang in there Mom, you are doing well and all of this hard work and support you are providing her will pay off.  Remember to celebrate the small things, the small wins, when you see them.  Lots of celebration along the way to larger goals helps a lot.  Take care.

    First of all I want to say that I am so sorry to hear you are going through this. There is nothing worse than when your child is struggling - you just want to do whatever it takes to make sure she's okay. Second of all, I want you to know that you're not alone. So many of us on here have been through similar things with our kids. It's just that nobody really talks about it because there's so much shame and guilt (did I do something wrong? Did I mess up as a mom?) and so much fear (is she going to be okay? What do I need to do to protect her?). We had a hard time finding a therapist who was a good fit for our family. We wanted someone our daughter liked, but also someone we could work with as parents. We finally chose Dr Rachel Zoffness in Berkeley. Our daughter at the time was also struggling with chronic migraines that were triggered by stress, and Dr Z was a perfect fit. We loved her. I cannot say enough about how much she changed our lives. There are a bunch of good CBT therapists in this area so you can't go wrong. We did a Google search and interviewed a few until we found one we loved. Don't give up and hang in there. This too shall pass!!!

  • My son just turned 12, is in 6th grade, and seems to be slipping backwards in terms of how he relates to us and his friends. He's generally been pretty socially savvy, pretty confident, and has a good group of friends, has always been liked by boys and girls, etc. I'd also say that he's usually averagely polite to us parents - not often rude, and enjoys a close relationship with both his dad and me. (But he is a talkative, noisy, funny and slightly smart-alecky kid - which seems hard-wired, so we generally accept it.) He's an only child. But in the past few months he's become MUCH mouthier and talks back in rude and aggressive ways fairly often, especially to me, his mom. His dad isn't here all that much and doesn't see much of it, so to a fair extent, I am the primary parent and have to figure out how to deal with it. He's also becoming quite rude on some playdates and seems to have "forgotten" how to treat guests in our home. He and other boys get into arguments, he tries to demand his own way, he sulks, refuses to participate in games he doesn't want to play, gets furious if he gets physically hurt by a friend (which is 95% an accident, but he often assumes it was intentional). All these behaviors seem normal to me for a kid of 6-7 or younger, but unacceptable at 12. I didn't see much of this the past 2-3 years, that I can recall. It feels like it's ramped up to become the "new normal" just in the past 3 months since MS started. 

    Is this typical? I am getting seriously tired of all of it. I've said I will not host more playdates if his behavior doesn't way improve immediately. I flatly do not want to see this self-centered nonsense anymore on playdates, and his rudeness to me needs to end now.  I am exasperated. But my question for you wise parents is, am I missing something? Is this a 12 year old thing? Am I being fair? Is my parenting lacking? Are there any books or sites that have helped anyone dealing with similar issues?

    I'm sensitive to all this partly because I really worry about the coming teen years, and partly because as an "only" child, I think it's super important that he have great social skills. Anyway, thanks in advance!

    As one of my sons started puberty he also did this. Turned out that here was an underlying problem of anger and other issues to blame that required therapy and behavior modification through consequences and discipline. You may want to consider that there could be some problem that is precipitating the behavior rather than it being a matter of manners. 

    I have a 15-year old.  At least the rudeness and self-centeredness with regard to mom, and dad is normal in middle school, in my experience.  They have too many thoughts going through their minds.  They are pulling away and developing a separate identity but it's scary and they still want to have their parents like them.  Not to mention aggression and hormones.  What they really want is parents to be nice to them and some coziness on occasion (while also hiding out alone in their rooms as well).  I saw a middle school boy at Disneyland at 6:30 AM once, who just asked his dad to butter his bagel, and his dad treated him to a contemptuous lecture about how he was 12 and should be able to do it, and I saw the boy's face fall, crushed before their fun day at Disneyland.  That showed me how much these little kindnesses (that they may not exactly deserve) can help a kid be happy once in awhile.  I totally would still let your son have playdates.  A worse thing than a rude teenager, is a sad and lonely teenager.

    It's not an official developmental phase, but I swear my 2 kids and 2 stepkids went through the "terrible twelves." It seemed like the impulse to be independent kicked in first... even at 13 they had more empathy and better awareness about the impact of their words and actions on other people. The rest of the teen years were their own adventure, but their sense of empathy does gradually catch up to their other emotions.

    Is he showing signs of puberty? Maybe it is hormonal. 

    The other thing that I thought of is that you said your husband is not home much these days. Do you think your son is missing out on that connection and perhaps that is what is contributing to his moodiness?

    I suggest asking his teachers if he is acting out at school too . 

    Lastly- I don't think a "play date " is a meaningful term for a 6 the grade get together!

    Welcome to adolescence! Yes, this is normal, from our own experience with our middle-school daughter and others we know with kids of this age. .Kids at this age experience a roller-coaster of emotions with surging hormones. It can be very frustrating - here are some thoughts about how to handle "the new normal."

    First, while it looks like misbehavior, it sounds like your son is having a visceral reaction to the sessions with his friends. I am guessing even he doesn't really know what's setting him off or why.  And you are right, it is a sort of regression back to the toddler/preschool days.

    To follow up on that thought, i am guessing that he has outgrown either his friends or the playdate format (which someone else suggested). Perhaps he doesn't really find his old friends to be on his same wavelength anymore. Or perhaps, rather than doing a playdate at home, something that allows for more independence would be better, because he is transitioning to teenagehood and may be seeking more independence - such as a bike ride, outing to the park. Or, since he may be missing his dad, could he do something with another adult sometimes?

    My suggestion would be to broach the subject during a calm moment (not during the playdate) and open up the conversation.  Something like, "I've noticed that you don't seem to enjoy your playdates with your friends so much anymore.  Want to talk about it?"  I have found that sometimes your child will tell you. Sometimes they actually don't know - as they don't always have the ability to understand or explain their feelings - and then it's a matter of patiently talking it through.

    Anyway, just to reassure you that the clever, warm child has not gone away for good - though having been there, it can feel like it. Take care! 

  • My child had meltdowns like clockwork, especially on Saturday mornings (after a long "catch up" sleep...) If she did not eat within 1/2 hour of waking, meltdown. That lasted five years, from 4 to 9. Then she got more of a handle on it, over time as I continually mirrored to her, telling her this is the pattern I see. She is older now, and we have talked about her pattern, but she still lashes out when she feels bad. It is so hard. For example, when we moved I turned down a lovely place because it was a fishbowl in a cluster of homes, all one bedrooms, because I was worried about the proximity of others and her noise. Even in a duplex which is all I could afford, they have said something, but my efforts to restrain and help could be misconstrued I worry sometimes. Does this sound familiar to anyone? In the back of my mind I'm scared she has childhood diabetes or bipolar, because she got terribly addicted to sugar (also the cause of certain meltdowns). She had night terrors as a toddler and won't go to bed and can be very difficult about food, bedtime, moods. Her father thinks she is depressed, yet he does very little for her. She has mixed feelings about him, because he was quite mean and preyed on us for years. The scientist in me doesn't know how to tease this apart. It was always hard to get her to go to bed, just really need to remove all stimuli and have her be in the dark. She does only show this "side" with me, and things can turn ugly quickly, even if she was initially playing, gets too rough or just swings to sadness (if I reprimand her) but that could be a mistake on my part. It can be hard to talk with her now (knows everything) but she glosses over her homework, and one friend said unsympathetically she is just lazy. She seems to crave sweets and carbs, and it is hard to get her to choose health. She will let a smoothie sit unless I am there. Trouble is I can't be there because of my commute. It is all pretty overwhelming. I wish we could move to a large shared house and the two families look out for the two kids or I could get my nerve up to have a preschool in home to cut the commute and be with her more. With the prices today, I might have to move out of the area... I feel constrained on all sides and have no advocate or go to. Her dad says he doesn't want to hear us argue, and he won't speak to me alone, part of our issues held over from when I asked him to be discreet and not talk on front of her.

    Eating a lot of carbs and sugar are *not* indications of type 1 diabetes.  Excessive thirst and very frequent urination are typical symptoms.  I can't speak to the behavioral/mood issues, but it does sound like a visit to your doctor could help.  

    This sounds extremely familiar. I went through the same thing with my daughter. I can't urge you strongly enough to get a Neuro Psych Evaluation done for your daughter. They finally discovered when mine was in fifth grade that she suffered a severe anxiety disorder and that that was the cause of her meltdowns. Once that was understood, we could talk about what was happening in a different way and seek solutions that made sense. They do the evaluations at Cal's Dept of Psychology on a sliding scale. I believe they also do them at the Wright Institute in Berkeley. 

    Dear Mom:  How difficult this is for you.  You describe a family in turmoil, not just because of your daughter's behavior, in fact she may be responding to the family's issue (or at least her issue) of living with her father who you let back into the house although you describe as being a person who was "... quite mean and preyed on us for years."  Maybe nothing is going on with your daughter, except she's acting out about the serious unresolved past.   (Certainly sugar & processed carbs don't help anyone but what if she's just medicating her feelings?.)  Please start somewhere in this mess.  You have influence over one person, always have, and that's you.    May you have the resolve, courage and energy to do what needs to be done.  My prayers are with you.   ( There are local churches that offer sliding-fee therapy to the public-- please research what's possible.  BTW: I suggest you NOT tell your daughter nor your husband once you start getting help, at least not in the beginning. Neither will be able to understand, cheer you on, not at this point in their lives.) 

    Oh this sounds so tough! My daughter has a similar profile. It turns out she has anxiety the causes her to melt down. Finding the right therapist was the key for us. We tried a few before we found one that helped, now, three years later melt-downs are much rarer and we know how to handle them. She still has anxiety and panic attacks at times but we're managing much better. I hope can find a therapist that will not only work with your daughter but also help you as parents figure out how to react to melt-downs. For us it turned out that not engaging was the key to helping things calm down. I also started doing mindfulness meditation myself and that helped me handle her anxiety and sensitivity much better (not perfectly mind you!). Good luck and I know how tough it can be to have a sensitive, volatile child. 

    Just to clarify to anon, I'm a single mom with full custody and full financial responsibility. Her dad sees her once or twice a month. He was mean to me only. He took things belonging to us, and it took a toll on us. I just didn't want to write much about her father but feel I have to clarify. Thank you for replies. It may well be anxiety. God knows I have it.

    Dear Mom, In listing the history, you noted that your child suffered from night terrors. Have you ever considered getting her evaluated for sleep apnea? Many of the behaviors that you are describing are similar to what our own child exhibited, including night terrors.  In our case, the dentist was actually the one to notice that the tonsils were so grossly enlarged that he could not properly recline. He battled bed time for years without a proper diagnosis. It was exasperating and quite worrisome for all. The ear, nose , and throat specialist noted that individuals with sleep apnea are primed to keep themselves awake. Cycle after cycle of poor sleep with critical deficits leads individuals to reach for sugary items to prop themselves up for needed energy. Also, meltdowns are common for children with apnea from being so sleep deprived. Our child's case was fixed literally overnight with a removal of both tonsils and adenoids at age five.

  • We are desperately seeking an excellent family or individual therapist for out 9 year old.  She is an excellent student and very social but her behavior at home is out of control: defiant, angry, rude, aggressive with her little brother , drives us crazy and has gotten into a pattern at home we would like to break.  Please help with any recommendations in Berkeley, Albany etc areas. We would prefer a female therapist.

    thanks so much!!

    I would recommend East Bay Behavior Therapy Center.  They are all female therapists there.  Their website is and their phone number is 925-956-4636.  

    Lenny Levis in the Berkeley area has had 25-30 years experience with kids. He's great, and a dad himself.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Help for middle schooler's significant anger management issues

Feb 2013

I would very much appreciate some current recommendations for a therapist to help a middle school boy (and the family) with his anger management challenges--severe enough to be resulting in some significant consequences at school. It would also be helpful to get some advice on choosing a psychologist vs. a LCSW. anon

I can't give you specific recommendations as I'm too far out of the Bay Area, but I have had really amazing experiences with psychologists for my traumatized foster son. Maybe we just got lucky, but our testing psychologist and our therapeutic psychologist have been incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, skilled people.

Our foster son was beginning to ramp up the physicality of each of his blow-ups, until he and my husband nearly came to blows (I had to separate them). One session with his psychologist untangled this and he never got physical like that again. We were already impressed with the progress they had been making, but this was really outstanding. We did this one family session, with break out time for the two of them to process before and after, and that was it. She handled it beautifully.

So, I'm a fan! If you can afford it/insurance will cover it, I'd recommend a psychologist. And I say that after having had many LCSWs/MFTs myself for past therapy. a fan of the PhD

We found Anne Brodzinsky to be very helpful in similar circumstances -- she is compassionate and non-judgmental, but also direct and unapologetic about what we needed to change! She gave us a long list of small, concrete things we could do at home, and things have improved slowly but steadily. Her contact info is on her website: Parenting Is Hard -- It's Good To Get Help 

Angry 10 year old yells, throws things, and lies

July 2011

My son is ten and a half years old and he is already being treated for ADHD. I know I don't have to say it but I love him with all my heart and actually think he is in pain. We had counseling four years ago when his father and I divorced, and I remarried and we became a blended family. Over the last 18 months he sneaks food in the middle of the night, lies about things he has done. I don't know when he is telling the truth or lies. He won't brush his teeth or wear his ortho gear, or do homework without practically sitting on him. Then there is the anger issues. You can ask him to do the most simple of tasks and he gets mad. Yells, throws, and refuses with huge gestures. When we slow things down and talk to him we discover that all the little things he experienced from when he got up that morning attributed to his outburst. We are rational parents with education and have been able to get him to a place to discuss his outbursts and lying. He says he wants to change. He says he wants to be a contributing member of the family. I so want to believe him. I know there are many issues wrapped into this. But, is there an a youth anger management class here that would give all of us tools to help him control his anger? I worry about what kind of an adult he will be if we don't help him learn how to control it NOW. Andy

Call West Coast Childrens Center. They were a huge help to our family

I was so moved by your post. I have been in a similar position with my 10 year old son. I am a single mom - I thought I was going to lose my mind. I was afraid for him as well. There has not been a singular solution. I have tried a myriad of ''tools'' including creating a support network of family and friends. We both had ''emergency numbers and used them numerous times. That ''village'' has been a godsend.

I would encourage you to consult with Joanne Yeaton. She is a therapist with Children's Hospital Oakland. (428- 3359) She also is in private practice (655-5612). She specializes in bio-feedback therapy. It is not a magic bullet or a quick fix, but we have seen significant progress over the last six months. I am hopeful and much less afraid for him. I heart and prayers are with you. Please contact the administrator for my contact info if you would like to talk. Mom who loves her son

I don't know your son, but the behavior is familiar. My son, now eleven, was diagnosed with ADHD about four years ago, not long after his father became severely disabled. We've had anger, frustration, opposition, lying, sneaking food, all of it and more. Your child is simultaneously processing the family situation, his ADHD challenges and his normal developmental changes. Your email doesn't say if you've tried therapy; the anger may only be a symptom of his combined issues. My son is doing much better these days. I attribute his improvement to a wonderful therapist, appropriate medication, changing schools (Raskob), specialized summer camps (Trails to Success, SOAR) and time. It all takes energy and money. I don't think there are any magic bullets and you may find a answer or combination of answers, but I'm sure that you can make it better. Good luck. Ann

Hi, Wow - this sounds very, very challenging and heartbreaking. I hope you will get a response from someone about a truly helpful anger management class that will help your son. I wanted to reply because of something else I picked up on. You did say that you believe he's in pain. My sense is he's in a world of pain. It sounds so so sad to me that he feels like he's failing to be a ''contributing member of the family.'' Maybe it's just not time for him to ''contribute'' as he's going through this. He needs something and doesn't know how to ask for it (maybe the family needs something unspoke?). I agree that some useful tools to help him with behavior, particularly in his social relationships, could help him from becoming more alienated (it's not clear how this affects him at school or in his friendships and in settings outside the home). But my overriding sense is that judgment about how he's not measuring up only feeds the fire and what seems like desperation. I really think he needs help. He's still quite young. You did mention receiving some counseling in the past. There is something that is very loudly calling for attention now. Something needs to be heard, and it's beyond what he can consciously communicate. The other thing that struck me as how he could start to see himself (or be seen by the rest of the family) as a bad seed or the problem child etc. I think this is so dangerous, as he is likely acting out something that is more of a family issue, not something wrong with him. Maybe he's just more fragile or volatile than the others in the family, so if something is askew in the family as a whole it will manifest in him. It's easy for me to say from here, not having been lied to etc. but your son needs as much compassion and attention as you can muster. I don't mean lulling and enabling. But this needs to be addressed truly, not punished and not just repressed by behavior modification. Please find an appropriate therapist, books, something to help you listen and attune to what is at work here. I wish you well. anon

I recently read a book you may find helpful---Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors consider many behavior problems at all ages as attachment problems that go unrecognized because of our culture's normalizing of ''independence'' from parents and the way it skews the parent/child relationship. Kristine

11 yr old daughter seems to live to cause me grief

Jan 2010

Our 11-year-old daughter seems to live to cause me grief. I realize this is normal behavior, but I need help with communication skills and coping skills lest I be completely stressed everyday of my life until she goes off to college, and do more harm than good in terms of my relationship with her, and also my husband, as this is affecting all relationships right now. Our daughter does everything she can to push all my buttons, and push them hard, virtually everyday. She says hateful, mean, and hurtful things to me (and very occasionally to her dad, with whom she has always had a wonderful relationship), is just generally nasty and rude, obnoxious, bossy, and has major attitude.

I have read a variety of books already, some more helpful than others:

''Reviving Ophelia'' - interesting, but didn't help my particular situation much

''Get Out of My Life, But First Can You Take Me and Cheryl to the Mall?'' - am I the only one who does NOT find this book funny? The little dialogues in it were painfully true. I felt like the author had been spying in our house the examples were so real! At the same time, I didn't find it helpful in that it basically was saying to me that the behavior is normal, and sometime, years down the road, it will get better. I need help now!

''How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk'' - this book was the most helpful to me and pointed out very clearly that I have work to do in terms of my own communication skills.

At the same time, I feel like I need more than reading books. I could really use either a parenting group or, better yet, some sort of therapy with someone who specializes in family communication issues.

In recognition that all kids are different (parenting strategies that work with others' kids never worked with ours, e.g., our daughter has always been very strong-willed and things like time-outs never worked with her), I would welcome hearing what strategies have worked for you, and also whether anyone has any recommendations for parenting groups and/or therapists in the Lamorinda/Walnut Creek area. Speaking of therapists, anyone know of anyone who is covered by our United Behavioral Health benefits? I've never explored UBH.

Thanks! stressed mom of 'tween

I'm afraid it's just another book, but maybe something to read in the waiting room of the great therapist I hope you find. I found ''Yes, Your Teen is Crazy'' helpful. It also has the message that this is normal, but combines that with a dab of science and some what -to-do's. Good luck. Valerie

I recently discovered a great book and website with free downloads on communication with tweens andteens. Vanessa Van Petten wrote a book at l7 years old called:''You're Grounded! How to stop fighting and make the teenage years easier, A teenage perspective''. It is: ''a book by a teen for teens and their parents''. Website is: I also got a 50 page free download '' How to communicate with your teens'' written by Vanessa, then l7yo, now about 21, from her website: There is a portion for teens, another for parents, you can write a question and her panel of teens will answer you. I really have enjoyed Vanessa's perspective. There are videos of her talking, discussions that your teens can read and they can also write questions in. It is novel that a teen tries to help us parents. Enjoy! Hopefully improving mother-teen communication

Hi stressed mom, sounds like you so long for some harmony and real connection with your daughter and although you understand that's it ''normal'' what she's doing, it's just plain hard to take day after day. I have a similar 11 year old boy, although he's been like that since he was about 4! I found that non-violent communication based books, classes and training helped me enormously. Best book I ever read was Raising our Children Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort. The basic idea is empathy--perhaps first and foremost for yourself! You try to acknowledge how bad you feel hearing all that, and this provides a lot of relief, so that you can then focus on your child. You try to hear what she's really saying underneath the rudeness, etc., about what she's feeling and offer to listen, be a receptor of the huge feelings, even if her response is no--what's going probably has nothing to do with you, and your act of compassion in such a moment might trigger a release for her and an opportunity for closeness, for understanding, between you. It might go like this: ''It sounds like you're irritated/upset/angry.'' She might not respond, or might say, No, I'm not! or even dish out some more rudeness. You can say, okay, well if you ever are angry or irritated, I want you to know that it's okay for you to vent your anger here, at me, if you want, it's okay, you won't hurt me or anything. Or you can say, okay, I want you to know that if you are upset, you can vent it at me, even if you don't want to tell me the details, that's okay, you can just express your feelings and I won't take it personally, and I won't even ask any questions if you don't want me to. You can try some short hand version of this every time, and maybe even if not right away, eventually she will trust you and let it out, and these moments are a chance to reconnect with her on an emotional level. I would highly recommend doing an intro evening to nonviolent communication: Best of luck mom of teen, tween, and wannabe

I highly recommend Sharon Tom of the 'Ohana Resource Group. She is a family dynamics facilitator and has helped my friends improve communication with their kids as well as helped siblings communicate with each other. You can reach her at (510) 821-1881, ohanarg [at] or Mom of Teens

12-year-old son has morphed into a sullen, intolerant know-it-all

Oct 2008

In the last year, our gentle, compassionate and respectful 12 y.o. son has morphed into a sullen, intolerant ''know-it all'' who rolls his eyes at everything we say. I know this is arch-typical teenage behavior, but my husband and I are not rolling easily with the punches. Since I spent many years of schooling to prepare myself for the position I hold, it seems reasonable to get some education for the even more important job of parenting! Winging it seemed easy and natural until now. :) Any good suggestions of books on how to successfully parent a teen supportively without losing our cool? Thank you!

Read Mike Riera's ''Staying Connected to your Teenager''!!! It's saving both my sanity and relationship with my teenage daughter. On the subject of teenagers he is one of the most intelligent, sensitive, respectful, humorous, and compassionate thinkers I have ever encountered. Good luck! anon.

I think what I am going to say will not be the usual or most popular approach.

Now that my boys are 20 and 17, and I've seen so many other families go through the teen phase, plus experienced it myself, I do not think this kind of behavior from teens is to be expected or to be tolerated in your family. I think it is a warning of problems you are not aware of.

I think it is worrisome and something that needs immediate attention. Young teens are still children, and your child needs you as much now as when he was six. TALK to him about this behavior..find out where this anger is coming from, and do not put up with disrespectful behavior. How will it feel when he is 6 inches taller than you and wants to drive, and acting this way? You need a peaceful, respectful home at all times during a child's life.

Any dramatic change is something to pay attention to. What's going on in school? with friends? with substances? Do you go into his room, sit on his bed and talk? Give him hugs? Ask what he'd like for dinner and invite him to cook with you? Open up the lines of communication, and set the limits. Tell him that in your family, rude talking, eye rolling, etc is not acceptable behavior for any of you. Tell him you love him, and that it hurts you to see this happening and that it is going to change. Find out what is going on, and help him make changes, immediately. Don't wait. Happy boys, happy home

Moody 10-year-old who gets real angry

Feb 2006

I am concerned about our child who has been challenging for years, but he (10 years old) gets into very funky moods where he says ''shut up'' all day long, calls everyone ''stupid'' and worse things all day long, and refuses to take time away from people when he does this, and if we can somehow get him up the stairs for time out for this, he slams doors, etc. He is seeing a good counselor now, and this may or may not be helping, but has anyone has any experience with this? He is also ultra sensitive to pain, too, so even if he has a molar coming in, he will be really out of sorts. Does this sound even somewhat familiar to anyone? Thanks for any advise. concerned parent

This doesn't sound like a psychological problem to me, it sounds like a kid who is acting out some enormous, mysterious discomfort with the world. I suggest that you immediately contact a neurodevelopmental pediatrician to get the opinion of someone who knows what developmental issues might be making your child react so oddly. Kids who have been traumatized might act out like this, in my experience, but you don't say anything about that. It's important to rule out that your child might have some cognitive or sensory issues that are making life really unpleasant. anon

Hi, I saw your post and wanted to reply. Behavior is a tough issue and and because you said he has intense pain sensitivity, I would suggest you read a book called ''hearing equals bahavior by Dr. Berrard. It is not technical and a easy read. Your sons anger may be related to a sensory processing issue that can be corrected fairly easily. Hope all the best, if you have any more questions on sensory integration, please e-mail. Bryan

A homeopath in Emeryville has done good work in treatment/cure of children with mood and attention problems. She also is a naturopath and chiropractic doctor. Her name is Dr. Owen Jonice. Her website is www. Nimo

Mine, now halfway through high school, was like that, too. Turned out a lot of it was due to his unhappiness/frustration at school or at home. He found school ''boring'' and ''stupid'' every day of every year he was not challenged. It was depressing/alarming listening to this turned-off little kid every day. (He read at middle school level in 2nd grade). In retrospect, I wish I had taken him out of the good quality (supposedly) public school district he grew up in and put him into a smaller, more caring private school that could have nurtured and legitimized his interests instead of denying them, as it was the case in his public school experience. At his insistence, we switched to a private school in high school (he now attends Maybeck HS, in Berkeley and loves it---- does 4-5 hours of homework a night and doesn't complain!----we cannot say enough fine things about the teachers there). The same may be happening with your son. At 10 years old, he doesn't have the skills or life experience to deal with creepy teachers, mean kids, feelings of not being loved enough, etc. Plus, for my son, not sure about yours, he was usually ''off'' schedule------his moodiness can be a result of his being out of synch with food or sleep. Ours needed extra vigilence for making sure he got proper nutrition. After he eats well, or sometime when he's in a good mood, sit down and have a nice talk with him. Mine would open up when he was in the right mood. Also, I took my son to movies (just the 2 of us) , the zoo, rides, whatever---tried to spend time with him alone (demanding, needy, or competing siblings can really be a problem, too). These helped. Good luck. Anon

Waldorf education talks about developmental stages a little different than traditional schooling does. My son's waldorf teacher says that emotional outbursts are very typical for the 10 year old, and I have seen my quiet son rage and cry with his strong feelings. I notice that his feelings can be much stronger if he has gone too long without eating, especially after school if he didn't eat all he should have. another stage to pass thru

10-year-old having tantrums

July 2002

How can I deal with my 10 year old daughter: she is a delightful child 95% of the time - but her explosions of anger (directed at me, her mum) are enormous, intense and quite alarming considering her usual mature demeanor. I knew how to deal with these overwhelming emotions - although she did not have many tantrums as a young child : but she will not respond to cuddles or reason and the smallest thing can spark these tirades off. This is happening up to twice a week and she will go on for hours (2) crying shouting and full of tears - she is extremely articulate - but very unreasonable.

She is a great student at school - her teachers think she is wonderful - an example to all - but these tirades frighten me: what should I do? I feel bullied. Should I try to walk away (she will follow me and shout). I have never believed in smacking and never have - but I feel close to it for the first time too.

I am most disturbed - parenting so far seems to have worked with love and reason and cuddles - still works for my 7 year old son: what now? Linda

This is advice to the mother of the 10 year old girl who is sweet 95% of the time and anything but during the other times. Although boys and girls are very different, they both undergo enormous hormonal changes starting around 10 years old, plus or minus a couple of years. My son's occasional outbursts started at 10. They were miserable for everyone, including himself.

Recognizing it was hormonal, I chose a time when he was his sweet self and explained to him the physiology of puberty (emphasizing hormonal changes in language he could understand) and framed the issue as something that was happening to him that would eventually stabilize. I reflected back to him what it was like for me to go through it (I recall that being 13 years old was hell!) and empathized that he must really feel awful inside when he was going through it. In other words, I didn't just think or talk about it's impact on me and others in the family, I empathized with, and brought into his awareness, his internal struggles.

It also helped that around that time there was an Ask Beth article in the Chronicle's Sunday Pink Section in which a teen had written about her turmoil. Beth's answer was similar to mine. So by showing him that others were going through it, it helped to normalize the whole thing.

Therefore, the next time there was an outburst, we named the incident for what it was (hormonally induced anger and frustration), gave each other distance until the surge passed, and then dealt with the particular issue at hand when cooler tempers prevailed.

This still happens on occasion (outbursts and tantrums), but I can count the number of incidents per year on one hand. Invariably later on after the outbursts, he apologizes for the tantrum (or we do, if we provoked them)and then we respectfully address the real issues at hand.

It's a blessing... Peggy M.

Reply to parent with angry child. Hearing your story, I would suggest homeopathy. I would recommend contacting either the store, Birth & Bonding on lower Solano Avenue for a recommendation, or contacting: Nancy Herrick, who works with her husband, Roger Morrison, M.D. I recommend either of them. 412-9040 in Pt. Richmond.

Often homeopathy is very effective in providing a remedy for irrational or excessive or uncontrollable behavior. While I know that some people will advise counseling, I find that children don't know why they behave how they behave, and even if at some point they understand that their behavior is wrong, they are unable to control it, and counseling is not effective in changing the behavior. I have seen homeopathy to be very effective in just this type of situation, especially with children. Yolanda

Reply re tantrums. There is a book that was of enormous help to us as parents of a child very much like what you describe. It is called The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. There is also a website called, founded by parents who have read the book and found it helpful. Good luck. Anonymous

Obstinate, sullen 10 1/2 year old

June 2004

Greetings - Our daughter is now 10 1/2 and is becoming a changed person before our very eyes. Up until now, sweet, grounded, cooperative, flexible. Suddenly obstinate, inflexible, often running late, a bit sullen and rude, easily bored, and so on. It's like putting one kid to be and waking up to another. And there are times when she says things that actually make me, her mom, feel quite hurt, which I know she doesn't intend, but they just seem to have that effect. Is this just the beginning of adolescence? How do I prepare myself to not be so hurt and how do I collect enough patience to be gracious about all of this? I love her madly and actually can remember far enough back in time to recall that my teens were fairly torturous, so this could just be part of the package. Is 10 1/2 on the young side or are we on schedule? Thanks!!

Fastening my seat-belt as we speak

To the mom wondering if 10 1/2 is too early for adolescence, It goes without saying that every child is different. My personal experience was that my daughter went through her most difficult period between 10 and 12--way before I expected it. It felt like almost overnight, she went from being a great kid to being non-communicative, demanding, very easily upset when things did not go her way, and extremely difficult to reach. I kept thinking, ''Gee , if she's like this now, what's she going to be like when she's a teenager???'' The (wonderful) surprise was that by the time she became a teenager all of this was behind us. She's 16 now and I couldn't ask for a better daughter, or friend. She is highly responsible, considerate, thoughtful, caring, and makes excellent choices (way better than I did at that age). I basically don't worry about her at all. If I had known when she was 11 that her difficult stage would end as early as it began or that she would end up being such a lovely young adult, the transition would have been easier to take. So hang in there!!
Proud (and relieved) mom

Dear ''Fastening my Seatbelt'', My daughter is 13, and we've been having similar experiences for about a year. I don't know whether your daughter is ''early'' or ''on schedule'', but I really resonate with your comment about getting your feelings hurt by her. I, too, have struggled with really hurt feelings from things my daughter has said and how she has said them. I know, intellectually, that I am the grownup here, and that she is immature, and I have to rise above. But can really hurt. I have clearly seen that when I CAN be less emotionally vulnerable, everything between us goes better. Even when she is trying to hurt my feelings, it is an immature lashing-out that she does not mean in the bigger sense, and someone has to de-escalate things, and that someone has to be me.

Here are some of the things I am doing, with some effect (and I hope others will pitch in with their thoughts):

  • trying to talk to her less -- shorter answers, listen and don't volunteer so much, do things together that are not about talking (movies, ping pong..)
  • when I have to, ranting in a most unmotherlike way about how mean she is to me to a trusted friend
  • trying to care less about what she thinks-- pretending I am one of the martini-swilling moms of my youth. getting out more with my husband, so I can remember that I have other, more stable relationships in my life.

    The bottom line is that our adolescents need us to not be needy. This is about the hardest emotional transition I've ever made in my life, but it's part of the package. After a rough year, things in our home are going better. So good luck to you! also struggling

    10 1/2 is not too early for this change to occur, especially with girls. The thing that seems to hurt is the judgment--implied or stated. When my daughter (now 33) was 12, she hit this stage. Twice in one day she told me I was ''weird.'' The second time, all I had been doing was running across a grocery store parking lot with my younger son--not cool for a mother in her 40's! I realized that I had been labeled ''weird'' as a teenager. She could not have picked a harsher judgment. I didn't want to feel hurt like that for a whole adolesence! So I thought on it for a while, then told my daughter this: ''I've been thinking about the fact that you called me 'weird' twice yesterday. It was very painful for me to hear you call me that. In my thinking, I realized there is something I need to say to you. It is 'congratulations, you are growing up!' That's why you are saying things like this. Up until now, you have thought I am a pretty nifty person--you've tried to wear my makeup, my shoes, my clothes. You liked me well enough to want to be like me. Now, however, you have a different job. Now you are deciding which parts of me you want to keep, and which parts don't fit you very well, so you don't want to keep them. When you call me 'weird,' you have found a part of me you don't want to keep for yourself. This is an important part of growing up. I don't want you to stop deciding what you want to keep, and what you don't want any part of for yourself. But I do think it would be easier for me if you would just say that: 'I don't like this part of you; and I don't want to keep it to be part of me.' That's a lot less painful than a judgment or a 'you're weird.' Will you, please, just tell me when there is a part of me you don't want for yourself?'' With a few reminders, she just told me. Her adolesence was a LOT less painful as a result. Remember, too, no matter how rough things get, teens still need to be hugged and touched lovingly. Sometimes this is difficult to do. I sometimes had to remind myself that this ''alien being'' was my lovely child who desperately still needed the hugs and touching that was so much easier to give when she was younger. My best to you! Ilene
    Seems on target to me. I have 12 and 14 yr old daughters and I thought I was ready for the tweens and teens. But all that processing when my girls were small seems to have done no good. It does seem that your child changes overnight into someone you don't know (and wouldn't want to if you had the choice). In the roughest moments, I revisit my journal (fromm 7th grade) that my dad sent me (ha ha on me, huh) when he sold the family home. That is all it takes for me to remember being 12 and thinking I knew everything too. My only advice is to take it day by day, keep your ears open because there are sometimes clues as to what is really going on hidden in the babble of a tween. And remember, they don't stay this age forever! Also, my mom once told me that it really helps to have a close friend with a similar aged child to bond with... Good luck!
    Yes, I think your child is entering adolescence. The transition was also very sudden for our children: one day exceptionally happy, apparently well-adjusted, socially precocious; and the next day angry and critical and acting out. (The first ''changed'' at age 11, the second right after the 13th birthday.) What can be especially tough is if your child is the first in his/her peer group to begin this transition. In our experience, other parents suddenly seemed uncomfortable around our child, and less likely to extend invitations and welcome. Understandable, under the circumstances, as we all would probably like to postpone the change as long as possible! (But yes, somewhat confusing and painful for us and our children.) Also, parenting an adolescent is so very different from parenting a child, and advice from those who haven't been there just isn't that helpful anymore. I suggest that you start seeking information and reassurance specific to early adolescence--you will likely need some fresh ideas and also, it will help you to come to accept this new stage. It does take a while. Give yourself permission to grieve, over time, the not-so-gradual/gradual end of your daughter's childhood. But cultivate an appreciation for the entirely new developments to come.
    Taking it day-by-day

    Hostile 11-year-old son

    May 2003

    I am despondent over my relationship with my 11-year-old son. He is a good kid, gifted in many ways, but socially tone deaf, cruel to his little brother, and doing poorly in school. I try to accept him for who he is, but I am constantly disappointed/embarrassed by him. Despite my efforts to be kind and supportive, he experiences me as critical and demanding -- which I probably am, especially when he abuses our little one -- and he is nasty and hostile. It is affecting my marriage too; my husband is critical of my parenting, but is not stepping up and helping our son address his issues. Any suggestions for a therapist for me/us?

    Please don't walk, but run: first to your pediatritian for a thorough checkup and then to either a psychologist or a psychiatrist. It could be many things besides emotional issues: Non Verbal Learning Disabilities, ADD/ADHD, or even a mental health problem (depression for example). There is a wonderful MFT in Albany who specializes in kids and families, and runs social skills groups for kids with social/emotional issues. I find her empathic, experienced, and skilled.Her name is Toby Hendon.
    been theredonethat
    Dear Anonymous Mom of angry 11 year old son,
    I highly recommend Marlene Millikan, MFCC (510-845-2479). She is an excellent, highly compassionate therapist who works extremely well with angry kids. She will often spend (unbilled!) time on the phone doing check ins with the parents. She works as the child's advocate, while also allowing the child to express anger with her. My daughter was so angry at having to go to therapy, that for a while, she would leave in the middle of the session or stand outside the door, passing notes to Marlene. This faze ended, and over time my daughter came to trust her; in turn, my daughter came to trust others and began to make new friends. I can't recommend Marlene enough. She has restored my faith in early theraputic intervention.
    Mom of once very angry 11 year old daughter who is now almost 14 and thriving


    Stop blaming yourself! Get your son evaluated by a good developmental pediatrician and/or a speach pathologist who is well versed in social communication. The term ''socially tone deaf'' immeadiately brings to mind Asperger's Syndrome or Non-verbal Learning Disability (NLD). Both Asperger's and NLD fall in the realm of the autism spectrum (at the highly functional end of the spectrum). Because these kids are highly functional and usually bright and verbal, they often go undiagnosed. Children who are ''socially tone deaf'' (I like that description) mispercieve, and often respond inappropriately to social stimuli. Frequently they have trouble making friends, and despite being smart they often do poorly in school. Of course I can't know that this is what's going on for your son, but it is certainly worth evaluating. ''Asperger's Syndrome'' on Google will get you a wealth of information so that you can get a better sense. Good luck! Oh, and tell your husband to stop blaming you too!! Blame has never been a good parenting tool. Shastine

    PLEASE get your child tested for (1)asperger's syndrome, (2) non-verbal learning disabilities, and (3)ADD. Social difficulties and the other issues you mentioned are symptomatic of these issues. If you do nothing, you may find years later that your relationship has suffered over something you might have improved. It may not be something your child can control without assistance of some kind. He may not even understand why he acts the way he for both your sakes, please rule out any cognitive or neurological causes. Even if you discover a ''cause'' it doesn't always make it easier to deal with day to day, but it can help keep the love alive.

    Snarling 12-year-old daughter

    Jan 2002

    My 12-year-old daughter has been snarling at me for the last month or so. Not constantly, thank goodness, but her father and I hear her churlish side a lot more than we used to: e.g., I'm bored, I'm not having fun, what should I DO about it, don't YELL at me [when one of us politely remonstrates with her], yada, yada. While I understand this is a fairly normal phase, it is incredibly irritating, and I sometimes have a hard time not slapping her. My usual response is to keep on quietly talking and ignore the rudeness, or to take her aside and give her a talking-to if she's getting nasty. She is doing well in school, has friends, etc., so I don't think anything seriously wrong is going on. Any suggestions about keep my cool and defusing the situation? Thanks, Melanie

    You are walking the tightrope, how much do you ignore, and when do you set a limit about how you are willing to be talked to? Good luck!! My daughter has finally become human again (she is 16). It was rocky. I am very grateful that I was able to not get too sucked into her nastiness. I tried to stay focused on my goal of not having every interaction become an argument despite her frequent goading. The two most powerful tools I had was my sense of humor (I mean some of what comes out of their mouths during this phase is so ludicrous it is funny), and remembering that even though she was pushing me away she didn't really want me to go far. Again, good luck!! And remember the fact that she is doing well in school and socially but snarling at you means she is doing really well and that she trusts you. (Lucky you :-).
    When my daughter started acting mean and nasty, the oft-repeated advice that this too shall pass just didn't help me much. I highly recommend the two books below; they have helped me to understand and deal with my daughter's hostility and rudeness. Get Out of My Life explains teenagers and suggests how to live with them and save your sanity. Backtalk takes a very practical approach . It uses appropriate consequences for bad behavior to establish a norm of communication in your home. The authors' premise is that rude behavior needs parental intervention and being allowed to get away with backtalk is bad for your child. We still have bouts of bad behavior, but I now feel I have some control over the situation. It helps me to return to these for advice from time to time. You can read excerpts from them on If the links below don't work, just go to, search for the titles, and click on the sample pages.

    Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? : A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager by Anthony E. Wolf

    Backtalk : Four Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids by Audrey Ricker, Carolyn Crowder /104-3014247-5029548


    My 13-year-old step-daughter suggests that the best way to deal with this is to learn not to take it personally, as there is no way to stop it. Diane
    I have a 15 and a 13 year old, and when my 15 year old hit 7th grade, the snarling began. I think it is weird that in America, we compartmentalize people by their age and thing that abnormal behavior is normal. Only in America is there is navel gazing on this artificial creationn of adolescence. Anyway, I thought my son was stressed out, and he agreed, and so we became proactive. Regular exercise, regular sleep, sensitivity to his diet (low sugar or white flour/refined carbohydrates, incrreasing fruits & vegetables and trace minerals), quality down time and I threw in 5-HTP (derived from vanilla seeds, Jarrow has a good formula), and it helped enormously! (It also helped his skin enormously too) This is not to say my son never snarls, but he is now recognizing the relationship of stress to his emotional state and we are working towards him taking more responsibility for his own health.!
    Teen Parent Support Groups is one solution.....meeting for coffee/tea to discuss whatever is frustrating you. Getting a chance to vent. Several years ago I was involved with Scouts. Of course this wasn't going to be a traditional scout group. There were 4 boys and 4 mothers. No one wanted to be the scout leader but everyone wanted their sons to participate. We worked out this arrangement. We took turns leading an activity for the boys. Better yet we decided to eat dinner (meals made by nonleaders for the night) before our meetings. The boys sat at one table and the mothers sat at another. During this time the mothers had a chance to meet and discussed issues. What was great was hearing that we were all going through somewhat the same issues. We shared solutions. We were able to release some stress that way. Doreen

    Demanding and difficult 12-year-old

    Jan 2005

    My daughter has been a spirited child, demanding and difficult since infancy. Now at twelve, it seems our authority does not matter anymore. We can go through some good days, but she mostly makes fun and teases her sister, hits and mocks everyone in the family. When we threaten with punishment, she is indifferent. Yesterday it seemed she would not be getting out of bed for school and I felt helpless in making her move. It seems she thrives on negative attention. I have tried to use a rewarding system (works on and off) and humor, but with short term success. I am considering group therapy or a social group for her. Does any one else have an impossible teenager? Any suggestions of books, therapists or advice on dealing with these issues? Desperate mom

    Does my daughter live at your house?

    I don't have advice, really, just more of a vote of support! Our 12 year old has always been a handful and now that she is 12, she can border on being abusive some days. Mostly directed at me (mom). Most days she is a loving child, a mommy's girl. But the days when she is in a funk, it is very discouraging and disconcerting. I am watching carefully and going to therapy for ME. We will see how things go over the next year or so. I just wanted to say, hang in there and get support for yourself! We want to fix our kids, but I know it has helped me tremendously to let go of guilt and not take everything she does personally.

    Best of luck to you! Email me if you'd like. inga

    It's pretty late to start setting limits and asserting your authority over a 12 year old. But you seem to be aware that you don't want to live with her in charge, and that your own behavior needs to change too.

    No matter how bad the behavior is, make it clear that you love your child. Your emotional connection with her has to be strong to get you through the next 6 years together.

    Please try family therapy. Every relationship in the family is strained by such misbehavior-- you and your spouse may feel tension as partners, the younger sibling may feel unprotected and ignored. And other issues may be contributing or being ignored. It will be a good reality check for all of you to have an experienced and neutral third party involved.

    We have two very spirited and challenging but rewarding children, a teen and a tween. In the interests of living together peacefully, we have recently been clarifying family rules. Here are some ideas:

    Be Safe. Be Kind. Be Respectful (be polite, accept that some people have more power than you). Be Responsible (clean up your messes, keep your promises). Misbehavior is anything that breaks one of these four rules.

    Possible consequences: Loss of privileges. This can mean TV time, computer time, time with friends, time outside -- or inside-- her room, time on phone, rides to activities, music lessons, sports, family activities. Time outs. Apologies. Having to do something nice for the other person. Extra chores. ''Do overs'' ---''Try that again, there's a more tactful/pleasant/polite way to say that.'' Monetary fines-- we're considering this to curb the swearing.

    We are fully prepared to embarrass a disobedient child by showing up at afterschool events (''Sweetie Pie, you have to come home and do your chores right now'') or calling other parents (''We just wanted you to know that Sweetie Pie is grounded for a week and not allowed to go to friends' houses until next Saturday''). This is a powerful weapon.

    The next time your child refuses to get out of bed to go to school, can you leave her there and let the school administer the consequence?

    Go to the library or the parenting section of any bookstore and check out books like Laying Down the Law (Peters), Backtalk: 4 Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids (Ricker), How to Make Your Children Mind Without Losing Yours, or Our Last Best Chance (on early adolescence). One of my favorites on parenting teens is a tiny book called Helicopters, Drill Sergeants and Consultants.

    One thing that helps us is to control our own tempers and always speak calmly. You can express disappointment and disapproval, and then claim time to calm down and think of an appropriate consequence, and then walk away.

    Good luck. Things can get better!

    concerned parent