She is 6. We get bouts of angry spiteful and violent behaviour at home more than at school. Recently she’s been saying we don’t love her, and she wants to run away, she thinks we love her brother more, he is only 2. How can I reassure her once she’s calmed down? It’s so hard to strengthen our bond which is sadly strained sometimes due to her challenging behaviour.
Mrs. H. 

You are such a loving mother. Dealing with huge angry outbursts is draining for everyone involved, but you are clearly determined to help your daughter and won’t stop until you find a solution.

The solution I recommend is this: emotional regulation. Self-regulation and self-control are skills that all people have to learn. Some kids take longer to master them than others. An emotional behaviour disability adds to the challenge, but since your daughter is able to control more of her behaviour at school, the same or better should be possible at home with the simple coaching skills I outline below.

Coaching your daughter starts with understanding what’s driving her behaviour. Like all children, your daughter will resort to physical expressions of frustration simply because she doesn’t YET have the language and self-regulation skills she needs to be able to better manage the situation. It’s not a choice she is making to react like this. 

I know from my own personal experience with my daughter’s reactive behaviour that the first step is to recognize how you “see” her behaviour and the impact that has on your reaction. In my case, I would become angry and resentful whenever I had the thought, “She always ruins the day,” or “She’s being spiteful.” Those thoughts are loaded with judgment. When we see our children’s behaviour through the eyes of judgment and it shows up as “bad,” we react to that and no longer see the struggling child standing before us. Instead of feeling love and an urge to help, we feel anger and an urge to control or “fix” them.

You tell me that she’s been saying you don’t love her, she wants to run away, and she thinks you love her brother more. How heart-breaking for you! Of course, you love your daughter, and you want her to know that. From her behaviour, I would say she wants that, too.

The escalation of her behaviour when she questions your love and verbally tells you how she feels shows more than anything that she wants your approval and acceptance for WHO she is. It’s a sign she’s still fighting for your love and connection. For your daughter to feel truly loved, more than anything she needs to see that you understand her, that you see the best in her, and that you are there to help her, not fix her. You don’t need to wait for her to be calm to show her how much you love and accept her; you can show her in the moment.

During a child’s angry outbursts, there are things we as parents unknowingly do to escalate the situation. Your reaction is one of the most important factors in de-escalating the situation. You can’t control everything that your daughter says and does, but you do have control over your own reactions. If your daughter sees you as a “threat,” she will likely become more agitated or angry and feel that you’re “against her.” That’s what breaks the trust and connection you both want.

In this blog post, I explain in greater detail how you can quickly de-escalate situations back to calm:

It will help you recognise and eliminate words that add more fuel to the fire.

You don’t mention if you use any rewards or punishments to control her behaviour. If you do, please stop. Those will actually fuel her frustration and result in more of the behaviour you don’t like. 

As I mentioned before, her behaviour is not a choice. The use of punishment to control behaviour—taking away favourite toys, stopping her from doing things she loves or telling her off—is based on the idea that when motivated enough children will change their ways. Your daughter doesn’t need motivation; she needs to feel successful in her ability to calm herself down and control her own behaviour. Regardless of motivation, a child who doesn’t know she can self-regulate won’t be able to do that, and punishment will simply add to her frustration making everything worse.

This doesn’t mean you let unwanted behaviour slide. It means you spend your energy on coaching your daughter to bring out her self-control, which in turn puts an end to her angry outbursts. You can do that with what we call Success Training within the Language of Listening® framework. You build upon your daughter’s existing skills, get on her side and find alternatives that work for everyone.

A great place to start is figuring out what she is trying to achieve with her behaviour. 

Using the 3-step coaching model I teach, the first premise is “Everything children say and do is a communication, and children must continue to communicate until they are heard.” 

So, when your daughter doesn’t feel understood, she will literally “act out” her upsets and frustrations just like in a game of charades. Feeling heard stops “acting out” and helps children feel connected.

That’s why in Language of Listening® the first step is always “CONNECTION.” As a parent, you might fear that if you acknowledge your daughter’s wants or wishes you are somehow approving of her behaviour. You are not! You’re just helping her meet her need for connection with validation.

Language of Listening’s Three Basic Needs for Growth:

  • EXPERIENCE:     Mastery of the physical body through experiential and sensory exploration
  • CONNECTION: Feeling noticed, understood, validated, loved, and having a sense of importance and belonging
  • POWER:            Feeling confident, in control of self, able to make an impact on the world.

To understand HOW your daughter’s behaviour makes sense, start by asking yourself, “Why would my brilliant daughter act this way? What is she trying to tell me?

The way she’s acting out suggests that she is feeling a great deal of powerlessness and disconnection.

Children who don’t know they can control their own reactions and as a result fear they are “bad” have a strong need for predictability and control over their environment and a huge need to feel understood and connected. Feeling powerless and disconnected leads them to be more defensive and aggressive to try to get their needs met.

As you know, trying to stop your daughter’s behaviour is not easy. That’s because acting out is already naturally meeting her needs, just not in a way either of you likes. By adding a few simple coaching skills, you can help her meet her needs in new ways that bring out her STRENGTHs so she can stop feeling defensive and start feeling good about herself and her abilities.

When you offer a CAN DO within your boundary, it helps you gain willing cooperation and helps your daughter gain problem-solving skills and self-control that will meet her need for POWER in ways that you both LIKE.

You can start the process by connecting and turning the problem-solving over to her like this:

“You’re feeling frustrated and want to make sure I know it! You need to get all that mad out, and shouting like that isn’t OK with me. Hmm, must be something you CAN DO!”

You can also offer solutions of your own:

“You want to get your mad out, and throwing things or slamming doors isn’t OK with me. You can stomp your foot, hit this pillow or maybe jump on the trampoline.”

This acknowledges your child’s needs while holding your boundaries and finding solutions that work for everyone.

When you or your child have found a solution that works for everyone, make sure to acknowledge your daughter for her self-control. Even small steps in the right direction warrant pointing out:

“You wanted me to know just how frustrated you were and found a way to show me. You knew just what you needed to calm down. That took self-control, and you did it!”

“You wanted to tell me how important that was to you. You had a wobble, you got all upset, and you calmed down. That took self-control!”

“You came up with a solution that works for everyone! That shows you’re a problem-solver.”

This is what Language of Listening® calls naming STRENGTHs. All children have every possible inner strength, and they act according to who they believe they are, so when you finish your interactions, be sure to point out your daughter’s STRENGTHs. Naming them allows her to see her capabilities—calming herself down, controlling her actions, and problem-solving. 

Why this works.

Your child’s behaviour is guided by her STRENGTHs like the ones you just pointed out to her. This is what will change her future behaviour. 

Responding to her meltdowns with coaching not only impacts the moment, but it sets her up to succeed and believe in herself. Your daughter needs to have real-world proof that she CAN calm herself down. She needs to see her greatness and gain confidence in her abilities.

When you point out her STRENGTHs and give her proof, she gets to have the inner voice of, “Oh! Yes, that did take self-control to calm down. I did it! I did find a solution. I am a problem-solver.”

This is the key to helping your daughter self-regulate, control her own behaviour, feel good about herself and feel loved.