7 yr old daughter has become out of control

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have a 7 yr old daughter, a 7 yr old stepdaughter ( who I have had full custody of since she was 1) and a 2 yr old daughter. My step daughter is a doll. She has always been very well behaved, My biological 7 yr old for some reason is very defiant, very angry when she doesn’t get her way, and becomes violent with her sister at times. She fights w/ her sister anytime things dont go her way, she will reach out and hit, scream, say “I hate you”, she’s also very defiant with me. She gives me dirty looks, slams doors, talks back, yells at me, and she cries all the time over everything. It’s been going on since she was about 4. I thought I could handle it, that she was just a dificult child and eventually she will grow out of it, but it just seems to be getting worst. What makes it harder is that at the same time, she can also be the most helpful, loving, wonderful little girl when she wants to. It hurts me a lot to see her like this, and my 2 yr old looks up to her sisters and I’m afraid she’s going to end up the same way. I can’t afford therapy right now so I’m hoping anyone can give me some suggestions or new things to try. I have tried sending her to her room, taking things away, spanking her, and sitting down and talking to her about how much it hurts me, which seems to work at the time but then an hour later something else doesn’t go her way and were right back where it started. She seems to not be able to control herself, and the other major thing is she lies so much that I never believe anything she says anymore. I’m worried because lately I have been almost unable to control myself and I find myself saying really mean things you shouldn’t say to a child, and screaming very loud at her, I’m afraid if she doesn’t calm down that I might not be able to keep controlling myself. I love her so much. Please help me.

A: I’m so very glad you wrote. It takes courage to face it when a family is spinning out of control. I have a lot of respect for any parent who takes steps to stop the confusion and anger and find a better way to handle her children. You didn’t share with me the role your husband plays in the family. I hope you can look to him for support, especially when you feel you are in danger of losing your temper.

It sounds to me like your biological daughter perhaps doesn’t feel that she can be as good as her stepsister. In order to still have a unique place in the family, she’s become the “bad kid.” She hasn’t done this consciously. Kids find a niche for themselves by trial and error. Sometimes they get stuck in a role that even they don’t like.

Meanwhile, it doesn’t surprise me that your methods of disciplining your daughter aren’t working. In your desperation to find something that works, you keep changing your parenting style. From her point of view, she doesn’t know what you really expect. On top of that, you are now acting much like she is: screaming and being out of control. She needs the adults to be in control and to be confident about what they expect.

Theory doesn’t help you know what to do. For that you need some practical help from someone who knows your family. I suggest you check the website for Parents Anonymous (PA) to see if there is a group meeting near you. These groups are run by volunteers or by nonprofit agencies for parents who want to be better parents. Usually there is little or no fee. Ask your pediatrician or the school guidance counselor for advice on where to find a PA group or another type of parenting group that would teach you effective ways to set limits and give you the support you need.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Oct 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). 7 yr old daughter has become out of control. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/10/29/7-yr-old-daughter-has-become-out-of-control/