Helping an angry teenage girl and stopping a toddler from biting were two of the topics discussed in Family Almanac columnist Marguerite Kelly’s most recent Web chat. An edited excerpt is below.
At what point do you consider therapy for a 15-year-old girl? She is so ANGRY all the time. She is bright and athletic but constantly puts herself down. She is a horrible slob, and you cannot walk in her room. Whenever things don’t go her way, she gets angry and says nasty things. Is this normal? Her twin sister gets annoyed (with me, her brother) but rarely says or does anything. Her brother is about as easy as they come. They both talk things out with me, but from daughter I get a "FINE!" and a stomping away. This has been going on two years! She does not want to go to counseling, but I would make her. What to do?
Before counseling, I think she should see a good internist and get a complete physical work-up, because the brain is part of the body, and the body can make the brain act pretty foolish sometimes. High cortisol can make a child act testy, low thyroid can make her depressed, and the hormones of puberty can send some girls into a tantrum, particularly between 13 and 15.
If the doctor can’t find a problem, I’d do therapy, definitely, but family therapy where the shrink will see all of you together, then see some of you individually and spend time alone with your daughter, too.
To prepare her for that, the two of you might read some of the books written by Columbia, Md., psychologist Brad Sachs, who specializes in teen counseling. Your daughter won’t feel so threatened if she does.
Our son is just over 3 years old. He went through a horrible biting stage from about 1 to 2. We tried EVERYTHING we could think of except corporal punishment. I felt like time eventually phased the biting out. Suddenly this week he has on three occasions bit a member of the family. Is there anything we can do to nip this in the bud before it gets out of control again?
Aa child often reverts under stress, particularly about six months after he’s been at a particularly good stage. The Gesell Institute of Child Development calls it “the age of disequilibrium,” and it generally comes around 21 / 2, 31 / 2 or 41 / 2, but a child can be as much as six months off these good and bad stages. Think of the disequilibrium as a molting season: He’s shedding his old behavioral skin so he can fit into a bigger one, and it’s a bit of a mess.
Here’s one trick that this mom did for her own biting child: I just stuck her own little hand into her own little mouth and gently pushed up her chin. Apparently she didn’t know that a bite can hurt — and she never did it again.
Send questions for Kelly’s Family Almanac column to firstname.lastname@example.org.