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Child Behavioral Issue

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Hello my stepdaughter is 9 and lives with her mother in a quite tumultuous house. although I believe the child is unaware her mother uses illicit drugs but is aware she is very promiscuous. Her mother also suffers from mood swings and can become very aggressive.
We have a quiet calm house and she spends every weekend with her father and myself she and I have a solid bond.
What I am hoping to get insight into is this: whenever my stepdaughter is experiencing excitement/ happiness she has a mood swing that makes her throw somewhat of a tantrum. For example, at her birthday party, she was excited then became very moody and said it was the worst day ever despite receiving a very special party and nothing obvious happening to affect her mood that I can identify.
We take her to events that she is excited to go to like fairs or theme parks and she goes from being excited to angry and sulky, stating that it sucks. She whines and throws a tantrum. I want to help her through this but don’t know what is causing it or how to address it. (From Canada)

Child Behavioral Issue

Answered by on -

A.

Please do not consider this an official diagnosis at all, that could only be done by a mental health professional in person. These are simply some thoughts that would be rule-out scenarios if I heard this story in person.

The first thing I notice is a clear description of the mother’s behavior. The keywords are tumultuous, illicit drugs, promiscuous, mood swings, and aggressive. This collection of issues can occur as a result of many different possibilities‚ but the first one to jump out as a cohesive explanation is a bipolar disorder. Again — please realize I am responding to this much in the same way I might to a graduate school essay where a list of symptoms is given and you are asked to give a response that makes the most sense and why.

Take a look at this list of behaviors from the manic phase of a bipolar disorder from this article by Psych Central’s Margarita Tartakovsky:

  • Feelings of euphoria and elation or irritability and anger
  • Impulsive, high-risk behavior, including grand shopping sprees, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual promiscuity
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Increased energy and rapid speech
  • Fleeting, often grandiose ideas
  • Decreased sleep (typically the individual doesn’t feel tired after as few as three hours of sleep)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating; disorganized thoughts
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases)

I’ve added the italics to show that each of the behaviors you’ve mentioned is clearly stated here as part of that disorder. In addition, bipolar disorders tend to run in families, meaning that if mom has these symptoms and if they were indicative of a bipolar disorder her daughter may have a predisposition. Again I want to emphasize this now is speculation on top of speculation. Yet, you have said that “…whenever my stepdaughter is experiencing excitement/ happiness she has a mood swing that makes her throw somewhat of a tantrum.” This means that she will have expansive feelings followed by irritation with rapidly changing moods that are destructive detrimental tantrums. You mention this with two examples in your email.

Again, if I were taking that test again in graduate school I’d make the recommendation that the child is evaluated by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to rule out childhood bipolar disorder, and this is what I’ll recommend for you and your husband.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Child Behavioral Issue

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Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Child Behavioral Issue. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2020/03/27/child-behavioral-issue/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 Mar 2020 (Originally: 27 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 24 Mar 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.