5 year old explosive temper, hitting

HELP!, I'm not sure how to handle my daughter's behavior. She just turned 5.

When she can't figure out how to do something, she gets frustrated and begins to throw the object, or tear the pages, etc. When I begin to talk w/ her, to calm her down she then gets extremely mad and begins to tell me she hates me and to go away.

Today at swimming lessons, she pushed her friend into the water and tried to dunk her. The instructor told her she had to sit out of the pool. I discovered she was mad, because she was more afraid to go under water and retrieve the objects the instructor was tossing into the pool. Her friend could do it, but she couldn't very well. She does a lot of mean things to her friends when they do something better then her. I've tried everything from time-outs, to apologizing, to telling her (in the moment) her behavior is not acceptable.

When she calms down we talk about what went on for her. She can express her feelings quite well, so we can begin to work on what bothers her. It seems she understands what she has done and then a few hours later the same explosive behavior. I'm searching for answers. I want to eliminate this destructive behavior, before it gets any more out of hand. I have a very loving child and then boom, she's a screaming hateful child, that wants to hurt myself or others who are near her when she's frustrated.

I would love to hear how to deal w/ this behavior. I am ready to do something different. I love my child and I don't want to act in a way that will be negative on her in the long run. Thank-you!

I understand your frustration. Five is too old to be lashing out physically, and punishing her will only make it worse.

Under anger is always a more threatening emotion: fear, hurt, disappointment, sadness. Your daughter's outbursts are an indication that when she feels one of these upsetting feelings, she attacks. That is normal five year old behavior, although by five many kids are able not to act on those "attack" feelings. Our job as parents is to help kids learn to manage and tolerate those yucky feelings so they aren't still lashing out at others as adults.

It sounds to me like your daughter's feeling of "All of me is good, even my yucky feelings" is fragile. When she feels unhappy, or like she is not perfect, it threatens her self esteem so severely that she has to defend against those feelings by lashing out.

How to change this? First, help her tolerate the threatening feelings, and be clear with her that "Nobody's perfect." Anytime you see her demanding perfection of herself, remind her that no one is perfect, and that's ok. Second, help her develop anger management skills.

When you and your daughter talk, always go to the feelings under the anger. Acknowledge and empathize with those feelings. Help her develop awareness of them and become accepting of them. They are just part of being human. If she learns that you love her just the way she is, yucky feelings, imperfections and all, she will begin to accept them in herself.

In working with the anger, help her understand why she is getting angry. "You were mad at your friend because she could dive under the water. You can be angry, we all get angry. But we never hit. What can you do when you feel angry, instead? Can you come tell me? Can you go get a drink of water and breathe deep ten times? Can you squeeze a squeezey ball?"

The best book on this topic is Smartlove by Martha Heineman Pieper. I think it might be very helpful to you in helping your daughter.

Please consider coming onto my regular parenting coaching call for more specific support on how to help your daughter through this.

Blessings to you and your daughter,

Dr. Laura Markham

AHA! Parenting Magazine
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