My 6-year-old daughter is impossible to control. We’ve done all we can to try to manage her behaviors but nothing seems to work. She uses very bad language and states that she wants to kill herself. How can we get her under control?
When correcting harmful behavior in a child, it’s important to have very clear expectations and consistent and meaningful consequences when those expectations are not met. Addressing problem behavior early on is critical; while it takes more time up front, it will pay off in less resistance against established expectations as the child grows up.
That being said, your daughter’s comments about wanting to kill herself are very concerning and should not be ignored. At this young age, she should be monitored at all times. Even if she is in her room, you should check on her at least every 15 minutes. Even at age 6, she could put herself in danger if not monitored.
Communicate clear boundaries to your daughter and patiently yet firmly correct her when she crosses those boundaries. You also should seek help from a professional counselor to find out why your daughter is expressing a desire to harm herself.
My 16-year-old son is in an emotionally precarious state. He is having difficulty in school, is dealing with the suicide of his friend and has recently prevented a girl from choking herself while on a church trip. Now he is thinking about suicide himself. I have taken him to counselors and pastors, but I don’t feel he is being helped. He wants to date the girl he kept from committing suicide, but I am forbidding it due to their emotional states and tendencies toward suicide.
When a teenager loses a friend to suicide, he often has thoughts of suicide himself. Being available to him and allowing him to express his feelings will help him a great deal. Children do not realize the impact of losing someone until it happens to someone close to them. As adults, we want to protect them from this sadness.
Find a counselor to whom your son can relate. Boys Town has a database of counseling agencies, along with grief counseling and support groups. If you’d like a referral, give us a call at 1-800-448-3000. Counselors are available 24/7.
About your son’s wish to date the girl he prevented from committing suicide: You are correct in thinking that their fragile emotional states are not good for one another. He may be drawn to this girl because he can identify with her emotional turmoil. Since he recently experienced loss due to suicide, he knows how her death would affect family and friends. He wants to “rescue” her and keep her safe.
How about telling him he can date her AFTER he gets some counseling and reaches a point when you feel he is stable enough and is no longer experiencing suicidal thoughts? He will be getting the help he needs while having something to look forward to. He might lose interest in her in the interim.
My stepdaughter began cutting herself and taking large amounts of Benadryl about six to eight months ago. My wife and I were unaware of this until she was a few months into this practice. We rushed her to the hospital, and she started psychiatric treatment.
When it became clear that she was continuing to harm herself, we took her to a clinic that handles this type of disorder. She stayed there for eight weeks. During her stay, she was placed on suicide watch three times. My wife was very nervous about bringing her home, but she had to begin the new school year.
She has been home for two weeks, and it appears that her old, harmful habits are returning. She has already snuck out of the house past midnight, returning at 5 a.m. This situation is putting a huge strain on the family and our marriage.
My stepdaughter is aware that we have looked into other facilities for possible placement if her behavior does not improve. But she makes my wife feel guilty, saying we are placing her in treatment just to get her out of the way. This is not true. We just want her to be healthy and to have a normal childhood. We have sought the help of local counselors and child psychiatrists. How long do we do this before sending her away? We are concerned about her friendships and her safety.
Dealing with a teenager who uses self-harm as a coping skill is difficult. She was taught new coping skills while she was in the hospital. So now we encourage you to focus on her behaviors: sneaking out, hanging out with inappropriate friends and trying to make her mother feel guilty.
Sit her down and make your rules and expectations very clear. Include everything from her curfew to her choice of friends, chores, being respectful, etc. Let her know that if she does not follow the rules and meet your expectations, she will not earn privileges (cell phone, computer, IPod, free time with friends, etc.)
It sounds like she does not respect your authority and is manipulative (the guilt trips, for example). She needs to earn a large consequence for sneaking out of the house. If this happens again, we encourage you to call the police and report her as a runaway. Let her know that she lost all trust with you and her mother and that it is up to her to earn that trust back. She earns this trust by reporting her whereabouts, being in bed when you check on her at night and by following all of the rules.
Talk with her counselor and psychiatrist to see if they recommend out-of-home placement, as this is often the last resort for parents dealing with child/teenager behavior problems. Give her the opportunity to turn her behavior around, but let her know that sending her to a group home is an option if her bad behavior escalates. We also encourage you and your wife to seek individual and couple’s counseling to help you deal with the current situation with your daughter. It is important that you not allow her behaviors to affect you or your relationship.
How does self-harm affect family members?
When one family member is suffering, the entire family is suffering. If one person is hurting, it affects everyone on a personal and individual level. Self-harming varies, and people engage in this type of coping skill for different reasons. For some, it's a way to release emotions; for others, self-harm is done with the intention of committing suicide. It's important to figure out why the individual is doing this.
Each family member will have a different reaction to the individual based on his or her personality. Common feelings that result from this type of situation include anger, guilt, shame and sadness.
Some people get angry with people who self-harm because they don't understand why they can't stop doing it. For someone who has learned how to cope with her feelings, it's hard to understand how an individual is not able to do the same.
Some family members feel guilty that they are not able to prevent this from happening. This is an irrational belief because we can only control ourselves. We cannot control the behaviors of others. Self-harming is a choice, and only the individual engaging in it will be able to make that decision for himself.
Some family members are ashamed that someone in their family has decided to cope this way. These family members may minimize the problem. They might try to ignore the fact that something like this is happening in their family because they might view it as a sign of weakness. Others are sad that this is happening.
In actuality, a lot of individuals who self-harm are trying to reach out for help. If someone is self-harming, it's important that he or she seeks help immediately since this behavior can become addictive and hard to break. Individual therapy, along with family therapy, can help create a supportive environment. It can be a signal to family members that something is wrong, and can help bring them together for the greater good of the person who is suffering.
My 14-year-old son has many anger issues, has been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD, yells constantly, cuts himself and burns things in his room. He sees a psychiatrist monthly but still has deep anger issues with his father, whom I divorced years ago. I want to help my son. Where do I go for help?
We want to make sure you, your son, and everyone else in the home is safe at all times. The first thing you may want to do is create a safety plan with phone numbers and safe locations in the home. Due to your son's aggressive and dangerous behaviors, if you have other children, they will want to know exactly what to do if an unsafe situation occurs. Once you see a threat occurring, you should be able to say one word that initiates the safety plan.
If your son is unable to keep himself or anyone else safe in your home, you need to call the police immediately. We know this can be scary, and most parents don't want to have to do this, but you can't risk someone getting hurt. Unsafe behaviors such as cutting, suicidal statements or threats, aggressive behaviors towards others or property are not okay and should not be tolerated in your home.
Being diagnosed with ADHD and ODD is a difficult combination. These two disorders cause a lot of defiant behaviors. You mentioned your son sees a psychiatrist once a month which is great, but unfortunately it's probably not enough. Our guess is that your son is struggling applying basic social skills like following instructions, accepting decisions and showing respect. Find a therapist who will work with your son on a weekly (if not more) basis.
We can only imagine how difficult this situation must be for you. We want you to know that our counselors are available 24/7 if you have any questions or just need to vent. We talk to parents every day going through similar situations, and we are here to listen and help.
My 7-year-old son has had behavioral issues since he was about one-year-old. When he was a toddler, he was kicked out of seven daycares for biting, hitting and throwing things at others. My husband and I have two other small children under two years, and my son is generally very good with his siblings, but I am worried about having him around them after the events that took place a few days ago. He has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and is on three different medications. He goes to an alternative school because he was suspended more than 20 times in kindergarten for hitting, throwing objects, swearing and punching people. Since moving to an alternative school in first grade, he has been doing better overall, but once in a while will ‘explode.’
The other night my son lost control completely. He stormed into his room and started throwing and breaking things. I went in there to talk to him, and he tackled me and started pulling my hair and kicking me. He then grabbed my phone that had fallen on the floor and began hitting me over the head with it. I sat on top of him and held down his hands to try to get him to calm down. He then began calling me terrible names. I called my husband to come home from work. My son continued yelling and hitting me. My neighbor came over after my husband had called her and took our two younger children to her house for a while. I went in to my son’s room to tell him to pick it up, and he took his shoes off and threw them at me and tackled me again, ripping at my hair and clawing at me. I walked out and called my dad to calm me down because I didn't know what to do or how to react. My son continued yelling saying that I should sell him, that he didn’t want to live with me anymore and that he wished someone would poison him and that he wanted to hang himself. I have never seen this extreme behavior from my son before. I don't know what to do. He needs help and fast! He can still learn new ways, but I am afraid for myself and other children.
Thank you for contacting us with your parenting concern. Parenting is never easy, especially when you have a child with very unique and difficult behaviors such as your son.
You are completely right in stating your son is able to learn new positive behaviors to replace the existing negative behaviors. It sounds like your son has a lot of things going on right now; however, the most alarming is his violent and aggressive behaviors toward you.
First of all, we really want to praise you in being able to momentarily remove yourself from the situation and call your husband and then your dad. In situations like this, it can be really hard to think clearly on what to do next. You did the right thing by giving yourself a timeout to reach for assistance in gathering your thoughts.
Whenever children become aggressive to others, we always encourage parents to call the police. Not only does this ensure the safety of others in the home, but also your son’s safety. Often police will come to the house and say there’s not much they can do, especially given his age. However, they will assist you in de-escalating in the situation and will give a stern talking to your son. Many children respect police officers and are more likely to comply in the future if they know you’re going to call the police again. In addition, this creates a paper trail and will record the amount of times that you’ve had to reach out for assistance due to your son’s out-of-control behaviors.
If you are unable to maintain your son’s safety and he is posing a threat to himself or anyone else in the home, we encourage you to take him to the closest emergency room. There he will be evaluated and his safety to himself and others will be assessed. If you can’t physically get him to the hospital because of his aggressiveness, the police can escort him to the hospital.
You mentioned that your son was prescribed with three different medications. Were they prescribed by his pediatrician or a psychiatrist? We recommend children on psychotropic medications be seen by a psychiatrist as they specialize in medication management and mental health disorders. Have you been able to identify any progress with these medications? It’s essential that you keep ongoing communication with the doctor who prescribed these medications. We would also suggest individual therapy and also family therapy. Medications work most effectively when they are paired with some form of therapy. Also, in therapy your son can learn new ways of dealing with his emotions (specifically his anger). Therapy can also help you can learn new ways to respond and parent to his specific behaviors.
We’d like to continue to offer you support in any way we can. If you need assistance locating a mental health professional in your area, let us know your city and state, and we can offer you referrals in your community. We’re only a phone call away if you’d like to discuss specific behaviors or just need someone to talk to. If you feel more comfortable with email, please continue emailing us.
My 12-year-old grandson has come to live with me. He has a deadbeat dad, and his mother committed suicide last year. Both of his parents had drug issues. This child is angry and resentful. He says he hates his life and hates people. He is disrespectful and rebellious. He says that if I put him in counseling, he will be worse. He is academically behind, and I am concerned that when he goes to school in August I will have more problems.
Thanks for contacting us about this situation with your grandson. Raising grandchildren presents a different level of parenting and can easily become overwhelming. There are support groups for grandparents who need some support with this difficult task.
One thing we recommend is to use the wisdom you have gained over the years to guide the decisions you make with this young man. Recognize his behaviors for what they are, and respond in a way that will benefit both of you in the long run.
He has had a number of experiences in his short life that could be considered traumatic with long-lasting effects. Living with parents who used drugs or alcohol put him in an unpredictable and inconsistent environment. To a child, that is “unsafe.”
Then, having his mother take her own life could have caused many emotions and distorted thoughts in his mind, such as “she deserted me,” “she didn’t love me enough to stay here and raise me,” or “if I had only behaved a certain way, perhaps she would not have felt like life was so unbearable.” He may even have had the thought that, his parents were more concerned about their drugs than about him, and now he is the one who has to suffer for it. He may feel like now he has to live somewhere that he doesn’t want to be with people he doesn’t want to live with, and he’s MAD!
The point is, he needs counseling to help prevent these distorted thoughts and feelings from disrupting his growth and development into a happy and successful young man. What he said to you about counseling is a threat and attempt at manipulation. If he can avoid counseling, then you will see more threats and manipulation because he was reinforced by getting what he wanted. The message he needs to hear from you is that it is not an option.
When school begins, meet with your grandson’s school counselor and make sure there is a plan in place to help him experience some academic success and catch up on his studies so he can graduate on time with others his same age.
By making the decision to put him into counseling, you will demonstrate that you are making decisions based on what you know is best for both of you in the long run.