What's Up With My (Almost) 10 Year Old Niece?

My niece is almost 10 years old, and she is still having out-of-control temper tantrums. She behaves herself at school and with babysitters (my sister and brother-in-law get glowing reports of her), but at home, she has temper tantrums that last for hours, including slamming doors over and over, screaming at the top of her lungs, and yelling threats like “If you ground me, I’ll hurt you!” or “If you ground me, I’ll kill myself!”

This is a kid who has been spoiled rotten; the only abuse she might possibly have suffered in her life is getting too much. The rest of the family is completely at a loss for what’s going on with this kid. Is she simply that spoiled? Does she have some kind of real psychological problem? Is there anything we can do or say to try to help this kid? Anybody dealt with a kid like this, and have any insight here?

Define spoiled.

Off the cuff it sounds as if she behaves at school because there’s structure. What kind of environment exists at home? Do her parents lay down the law or is this kid calling the shots? If it’s the latter, why are they letting her do it?

“I’ll kill myself/hurt you” definitely would have flied with my mother when I was growing up.

There’s the problem.
That, and her parents take her seriously when she threatens to hurt herself or anyone else. She’s 10 years old. Who is she going to hurt? You cannot be afraid to punish your child. They need to know boundaries. The only place they learn them from is people in authority. Namely, parents.

Er, wouldn’t have flied.

My brother used to have temper tantrums. The doctor told my mother to just ignore him and he will get tired and stop. One day he was having one of his spells and my mother sent him to his room. He went to his room, dumped the contents of every drawer on the floor, tossed everything for the closet around the room, pulled the mattresses off the bed, etc. My mother went in and beat him until she was exhausted. I don’t remember ever seeing him have another temper tantrum.

Can’t help rereading the words “beat him until she was exhausted” without smiling a little (just a little). A one-time mercy beating that stops all future problems is every parent’s fantasy. Too bad you can’t advise that without having the PC police kick your door down. Sometimes a good old fashion whupin works.

My dad was afraid to spank kids so he learned to sound menacing. Somehow he could make the walls vibrate with just a couple of words. Still remember the word “SITDOWN” (pronounced as 1 word). It carried an entire paragraph of information with it. Loosely translated: “I will find something in the scrap wood pile to paddle your bare ass with if you don’t sit down, shut up and stop whatever the hell you’re doing wrong”. And if it breaks I’ll find a stronger piece of wood". Didn’t find out till years later he was all bark. Mom got to use the fly swatter as needed. didn’t have the voice for it.

Fortunately it’s possible to get kids under control without needing to beat them. It’s not every parent’s fantasy to beat their children so viciously that the kids behave perfectly forever more.

The most telling point in the story is that she is perfectly behaved outside the home and difficult at home. That’s either because she knows she can get away with outrageous behaviour at home and chooses to do so or (less likely) she’s using all her energy to behave outside the house and when she comes home she lets fly.

Kids like this need structure and boundaries even if a psychological issue is present. If you’re dealing with a psychological condition, you still need to be structured even though it can take more persistence and energy than one would have thought possible. One book I recommend is Sal Severe’s How to behave so that your kids will behave.

Can you talk to your sister about it? Are they open to having professionals involved? Sometimes a few sessions with a developmental paed or a child psychologist can help clarify what they are dealing with.

Alright, I know I’m going to get a lot of rolly-eyes for this one, but it was what happened to my Goddaughter at 11 going on 12, so I have to share just to make myself feel like I said it.

Laurie was exactly like you describe in your OP. She was argumentative, whiney, generally all around bratty and just unpleasant. She was a screamer and a thrower of things. Mostly around her mother. Who really didn’t know how to handle her except alternately give in or scream back at her. She was fine around me or other people if mom wasn’t around. (Homeschooled, so didn’t have an outside school environment to compare it to.) We were all certain her behavior was because her mother didn’t give her consistent limits.

She was also a very tall, thin girl, with a lifelong love of carbohydrates. She’d eat an entire loaf of bread for dinner and nothing else, if you didn’t watch her plate closely.

One dreadful weekend, after attending no less than 3 birthday parties, Laurie got the flu. She was the type to curl up and get very, very quiet when she was sick. Mom (an ER nurse) made sure she was getting fluids and pretty much left her alone for the first two days. By the third day, I was getting panicked phone calls from mom. Laurie was even less responsive than usual, and was drinking all the root beer she could get her hands on, but wouldn’t eat or drink anything else and was, in mom’s words “suddenly looking as thin as a concentration camp photograph”.

That night, they admitted Laurie into the ER in a diabetic coma. Her blood sugar was 785.

Three days later, she came out of it, and the long learning-to-live-with-diabetes process began. She is a completely different person. She is charming and polite and when she has an issue she can talk about it without screeching, and it’s just simply amazing. The doctors told us her behavior problems were probably linked to inconsisted blood sugar levels she’d been having for years.

And, once in a while, the “Old Laurie” returns. Sure enough, it’s when her blood sugar dips below 60 or above 200.

So, while the odds are overwhelmingly against it, I do think of Laurie’s story when I read your OP. So I’m just putting it out there. Do with it what you will.

The kid is completely calling the shots in her house. She gets what she wants, or there is hell to pay. As for structure and boundaries, I don’t think there are any boundaries for her at all. My sister and bil are the type of parents that are all “Honey, please don’t do that. Okay, if you do that again, you’ll get a time-out. Okay, one more time and you’ll get a time-out. Okay, one more time…” etc, repeat for the last 10 years.

Is my sister open to discussion? Not really. We’ve been pretty much telling her since my niece was a toddler having wicked tantrums that this isn’t normal behaviour, and she’s tired of hearing it. As basically an outsider looking in, I don’t know what else I can do for this awful situation.

Interesting idea, WhyNot. As far as I can tell, my niece is also a huge carbohydrate fan. She has always been stick-thin, but she’s rounded out a little in the last couple months, so I don’t think she’s diabetic, but it might be worth investigating.

All you can do is refrain from saying “I told you so” when the kid is arrested at 14 for grand theft auto and winds up preggers at 16.

Parents like you’ve described seem to be incapable of getting a clue. Then they rend their garments and cry “WHY?” to the heavens when they find out their kid is dealing crack. :rolleyes:

I had big temper tantrums at this time.

Part of it was puberty. Ten isn’t that unusual of an age for mentration right now. Puberty wreaks total havoc on one’s brain and fills people with strong, strange emotions they can’t make sense of, much less control.

Part of it was that I was depressed. Always have been. Kids can get just as depressed as adults, but kids are a lot worse at hiding it. It can also be worse for kids because they do not control major things in their lives, and have little sense of self-efficacy. If you were depressed, and had no control of your life down to what you eat for dinner, you would probably also go a bit nuts. I lashed out at my parents because I felt a lot of pain and figured my parents were probably involved somehow.

Part of it was that I was spoiled. No good cure for that at this point. I still am pretty spoiled.

My parents did not help by esculating the situation. I remember they would not leave me alone until everyone was in tears- which has set a bad precedent for later relationships in my life. If my mom had tried to stay unemotional and allowed me some time to cool off before tackeling the big issues, a lot of pain could have been avoided.

Kids and parents can have different conflict styles just like husbands and wives do. My mom was a big fan of “let’s talk about it until we get it resolved”, whereas I more often felt like “I’m feeling a lot of big irrational emotions right now, I need to sit in my room and be angry for twenty minutes and then I can approuch it rationally.” So I felt like my mom was needling me until I was about to burst with rage and anger, and my mom felt like I was trying to avoid the issues. I also often felt like there was no way to give in gracefully, and the only way I could end a fight or admit I was wrong was to break down entirely and basically admit to being wrong about everythng always.

The good news is that I turned out okay. The tantrums didn’t really stop until I was fifteen or so. I feel truely bad for putting my mom through so much trouble.

Raging hormones can be scary for her, and can certainly exacerbate this behavior you’ve said she’s had all along.

Our youngest is 12 and had HORRID temper tantrums as a very young child. Our Dr. also recommended ignoring her. We added a step to that and physically picked her up, put her in her room, promptly shut the door, and then ignored her. As she grew older, after the storm, we’d talk to her about how to get in control of her temper. I’d like to say she completely outgrew those feelings, but frankly she’s just gotten much, much, much better at managing her behavior when she feels like that and the most we see is her marching off to her room to rant quietly in private.

If she had not, and if she behaved like your niece, she would not have a door on her room to slam and her bottom might be too sore to sit down for awhile. This young lady seems to be out of control and is begging her mom to set some boundaries for her. Kids like knowing where the line is that they can’t cross, and they feel more secure knowing there is a parent there to stop them when they try.

BTW - I know this sounds crass and cruel, but the one time one of my kids threatened to harm themselves if they didn’t get their way, I asked them what color flowers they wanted on their casket. Shocked the crap out of them and shut them right up (of course I secretly watched them to insure they were just blustering)

I was like that at age 10.

My problem was different from your niece; I was an abused child and suffering from depression. But it’s not an unusual reaction from a kid that age who is otherwise a good kid but having a problem with the parents. I also saw this kind of behavior in my friends who had parents who did not discipline or set up any kind of limits or structure.

Obviously, the cure would be to have her parents begin to set up limits and structure, but that’s probably seriously unlikely to happen without some family counseling.

If I were you, I’d recommend they go to some sessions for the express purpose of working on both her behavior and theirs. That might be a hard (if not impossible) conversation to have with her parents, especially if they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. I’d still try to sell it as getting help for the niece. A good counselor is going to recognize the need for parenting changes.

(This all assumes that you have perfect information on the situation.)

God, my little sister did that through high school. It would take a book to describe her incredibly awful behavior. I wouldn’t be surprised if she still did it occasionally, for old time’s sake, and she’ll be 21 in a few months (we live on opposite sides of the country now, so I don’t know). IMO, my parents never followed through with their threats. They’d take away her computer, but give it back when she’d insist she needed it for school. They’d ground her til she cleaned her room, she’d sneak out, and then they wouldn’t punish her.

Obviously, I was such an angel that they had no experience dealing with this sort of behavior. (Unfortunately, I only wish I were joking. I was a damn boring goody two shoes.)

I’m not a parent, but from watching my parents dealing with my sister, the only thing I wish they’d done differently was set limits and stick with them. My own urge was to throttle her silly, which is probably why siblings aren’t noted for their reputations as good disciplinarians.

If it does turn out to be that the parents aren’t setting limits and sticking with them, would they be amenable to parenting courses ( a co-worker of mine teaches classes that are free or low-cost through the county agencies, and hers are great, at least)? A little family therapy? No matter the cause, something’s wrong, and a professional might be able to help.

With the emphasis on fantasy.

I think this is the heart of the matter. My niece just seems so unhappy and insecure. Maybe if I presented it to my sister like that she might listen and do something.