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Ask a Professional: Reactive teen

Ask a Professional: Reactive teen

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Linda-ROPro

Ask a Professional: Reactive teen

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I am concerned about my 13yr old daughter. Her personality is extremely reactive and I can't figure her triggers apart from if it's not what she wants then watch out. She is verbally abusive, she will hit walls/kick doors/slam doors. At times when she is close to exploding she will do little things like walk past her 4yr old brother and slap him on head or push him all gently but still not acceptable behaviour. I don't know how to manage her. I have tried being her friend, Ive tried being angry, Ive tried to remain calm.
I'm pushed to my extreme, I need help!!

Cpaps84

Dear @Cpaps84,

It sounds like a really challenging and upsetting situation to be in, no wonder you are feeling at your limit.

There can be a number of things that can cause a child or teen to be unusually reactive, and if your daughter hasn’t already seen a professional that would be a really good idea. A GP is a great place to start, and they can refer on to more specialised services. A thorough assessment can help identify more specifically what might be going on with your daughter, and therefore help work out what would be the most helpful approach.

They might also recommend some counselling for your daughter, or indvidualised support for you as her parent.

Your daughter is at an age where she is likely to have some insight into her behaviour. This doesn’t mean that she knows or will be able to explain why she gets so upset, but if there are times when things are calmer, it could be valuable to get her perspective on what is happening for her, and how she feels about it. The aim is to be able to work together to address the behaviour, which is likely causing her some problems (for instance, at school, in her friendships, and in her relationship with you and her brother). This can be a pretty challenging conversation, and not every child or teen will be willing to talk about it, but if there are times when she is more open to talking, expressing concern for the impact this is having on her, can be a way to start working together to solve this issue.

Often when a child is behaving in frustrating ways, it comes from a place of something not feeling right for them, so checking in with your daughter about her mood in general is important.

It sounds like you have tried lots of ways of responding to your daughter when she behaves aggressively without success. I’m sorry to hear that, as it must have been a frustrating and difficult journey for you. It can be really exhausting to be constantly trying things and not feeling like you’re making progress.

At times like these a lot of parents find that they focus on their children’s wellbeing at the expense of their own. This can actually make it even more difficult to cope with challenging behaviours, because when someone is tired and worn down, it’s harder to deal with stressful things happening. I’d encourage you to make sure you are looking after yourself with self-care.

I’m not going to recommend a specific approach for you in responding to your daughter, because it sounds like you have tried lots of things, and without a detailed understanding of your situation there’s a risk of this being unhelpful. This is why I suggested an assessment with a professional, an important part of an assessment is exploring in detail what is happening. 

Because you mentioned her reacting quite aggressively, this resource may be relevant for you.

Best wishes,
Linda

Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.