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Nine-Year-Old Violently Acting Out

Question:

My husband and I have five children. The oldest two are from his previous marriage; the younger two are from my previous marriage; and the youngest is from our marriage. He has been divorced for six years; I have been divorced for three years. We have been married for almost two years.  

We are stationed overseas, and the oldest children don’t get to see their mother very often. She does not seem to care. She only calls every three to four months.  Just recently, our 9-year-old has begun acting up at school. She throws temper tantrums when she does not get her way, yells at her father and me and is physical with her sister to the point of leaving bruises.  

We have tried numerous punishments, such as taking away privileges, sending her to bed early, making her stand in the corner and writing “I will not bite other people” over and over. But nothing seems to work, and I am running out of options. Please advise me on how to handle our daughter before her behavior gets even worse.

 

Answer:

When a family breaks up, whether it is due to divorce or death, each member handles that traumatic experience in a different way. Sometimes the developmental level the child is at plays a role. It may be helpful to seek professional intervention at this time. Look for a therapist referral from a Family Advocacy or Family Readiness program or from your community.  

Meanwhile, when your daughter gets upset, give her some calming techniques as more appropriate alternatives to temper tantrums and violence. Talk about this when she is calm. Offer her some suggestions that have worked for you. Give her reasons why she should try these techniques when she is angry. Then have her practice those in pretend scenarios that you know have triggered her anger in the past and that are likely to occur again.

At the end of the school day, review her academic work and ask her if she felt anger or frustration during the day and how she responded to those emotions. If she handled them well, praise and reward her. If not, teach her some more acceptable ways to respond. Don’t forget to practice.

All of your children have the right to grow up in a safe environment. Her behavior is threatening this safety. While you are seeking help for your daughter, establish a safety plan for your other children. When your daughter gets angry, make sure her siblings know what to do and where to go so they are safe.

If your daughter’s bedtime routine allows, review her day and have her rate it. If she handled her feelings well, offer praise and a reward. If not, talk about alternatives and pray for more success tomorrow. This should be the main focus with your child. Do not just administer consequences for negative behaviors; teach more socially acceptable alternative behaviors.

 

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