Angry Ten-Year-Old

We have a 10-year-old who does well in school and is an angel when in the care of others. Despite a religious upbringing and having moral and ethical parents who do not curse and almost always treat people with respect and courtesy, our daughter can have a vicious mouth with us. She says she hates us, calls us liars, calls us and her siblings stupid and many other names.

No form of discipline works. She even says these things in public, including in church. We are at our wit's end. Please help! Once she does not get her way, she turns into a verbally and physically abusive, angry and disrespectful person.

--ajc626
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Robert Schwebel

Clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD, has been in private practice for almost 30 years, counseling children, couples and... Read more

I am dismayed about the nastiness and foul language children are exposed to in the media and in day-to-day public life. It is not surprising that children pick up this offensive behavior. I suggest that parents calmly explain that this is an ugly way of talking and ask their children to stop it.

Sometimes parents hit the roof when they hear offensive language, thinking this will put an end to it. Unfortunately, some children revel in their newfound power. They have learned how to push their parents' button. Whenever angry about something, these children can use the language that works. This is why I suggest calmer, more disciplined responses.

The best prevention is to talk about foul language with a child when she is not angry. At calmer times, you can ask your child how she feels about the language and name-calling. I suspect she will admit it is not right. You can also teach her positive ways of expressing resentment. Tell her you will listen to what is bothering her if she will express herself respectfully.

Finally, as a parent, I would not take some of the raw anger too personally. Children sometimes say "I hate you" because they have not yet learned how to express themselves more clearly. If your daughter says she hates you, you could help her a little by saying: "You must be very angry at me right now. What is bothering you so much? Tell me about it, and we can talk this through in a respectful way."

If she cannot stop a foul mouth at the moment, ask her to leave you alone for a while. Tell her she can come back when she has calmed down and you will listen to her when she can talk in a more respectful way.

Finally, I notice you said she gets "physically abusive." I do not know what you mean by this, maybe she pounds walls. I assume you would not tolerate violence toward yourself or other family members. You must be firm about that.

-- Dr. Robert Schwebel

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