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Ask an Expert: My daughter's an angel at school, something else at home.

EdNews Parent expert and child psychologist Kevin Everhart responds:

Q. My daughter just turned 8 yet she’s having terrible tantrums. She can’t control her anger and often screams, stomps her feet, slams doors, and breaks things. Meanwhile, she’s a perfect angel at school. Help!

A. When my niece was 3, I remember a time when I watched her attempt to tell her mother something. Unfortunately, we were unable to understand her words, and my niece only knew to repeat the same phrase over and over again. Her mother asked her questions, trying to figure out what she wanted to communicate, but my niece just became more and more tearful and angry. Why did this tantrum happen? My niece wanted her mom to understand her – what she thought, how she felt, what she wanted. The tantrum resulted from the anger and helplessness my niece felt because she could not be understood. In other words, her tantrum was a failure of communication.

Just like my niece, your 8-year-old daughter’s tantrums may represent an attempt to communicate something to you that she may not even be aware of, let alone put into words. Is she jealous of a sibling? Doubting her ability? Missing out on quality time with you? As bothersome as your daughter’s tantrums are to you, you can be sure that they are even more upsetting to her. She needs to develop coping and communication skills so that she can regulate her emotions in a more autonomous, age-appropriate way. As a first step, I recommend the book, “The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions,” by Madison and Bendell. Take some time a few times each week to read over a section of the book with your daughter. Help her develop some awareness of her emotions and develop a vocabulary for expressing them. Work with her to set a reasonable goal for controlling her anger outbursts, and reward her when she reaches it.

These strategies typically help children move past tantrum behavior. However, if your daughter becomes violent and inflicts harm to herself or others, has uncontrollable bouts of crying, or makes morbid statements about death and dying, please consult with your pediatrician, and find a child psychologist or other mental health profession to help your daughter get back on the path of emotional health.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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