When should I consider getting professional help?

by Megan
(MN)

Question: My sister is ten years old. I am 22. For most of her life, it has seemed like she has no respect for my parents or my brother and I.


She throws tantrums all the time about things that are very minor and no matter how nicely you try to help her or ask her to do something, she gets incredibly angry and begins yelling and saying mean and hurtful things.

But it seems that she is only doing these kinds of behaviors at home. Her teachers at school all report that she is helpful and cooperative. When I ask her questions like why are you upset with me or how can I ask you something or give you advice without getting you angry she either tells me (or my mom, dad, etc) to leave her alone and that they aren't the boss of her, or she crosses her arms, glares at me and won't answer anything.

I have been trying very hard to make sure that I keep my temper with her and not yell back as I used to and I've been trying to be involved with her different activities to show her support, but no matter what I try, it isn't good enough. It almost seems like she wants to be angry and fight.

It's rare when she smiles or is genuinely happy, and it's been that way since she was really young. Is there something else at play here? I want to have a good relationship with her but it's incredibly difficult when all that happens is she gets mad at me when I don't even know why. Is there something I should do to try and get my parents to have her see someone, or is this normal?

Answer: This is not necessarily normal behavior, but can be typical of girls at this age. Try to observe from the outside and see what she is getting from the behavior. Does she tend to get more attention or other objects (ex. toys) when she behaves this way? Does this behavior allow her to avoid doing chores or other activities?

Is it possible that everyone is trying so hard to please her that they are reinforcing this behavior? Sometimes, although it is good to remain calm and understanding, it is important to create and enforce boundaries for her behavior.

If she is disrespectful, she needs to be told that speaking that way is unacceptable and that you will talk to her only when she is speaking to you respectfully. Then ignore her until she does.

If she acts angry and says mean and hurtful things, say something like, "It looks like you are having a bad day, I'll talk to you when you are calm."

Always make sure to follow through on having her complete requests and if she is demanding something, don't give it to her unless she has been appropriate. If needed your parents may want to withhold privleges until she does follow through on requests, simply saying, "As soon as you clean your room, then you may surf the internet or watch TV."

Always, always follow through on boundaries that are set. It only takes one time of giving in for her to learn that she can get what she wants when she behaves this way.

I also highly recommend you and her parents check out the following book. That may be all you need, but if it continues to get worse and you can't seem to get a handle on her behavior, getting professional help is always a good idea.






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