What if She Acts Like This at 16?

Conscientious parents can get themselves quite worried when they think like the title here.  On the other hand, it is pretty normal to do so.  Say your first grader gets very frustrated with her friend when they are planning a pretend scene, and she stomps out of the room, saying mean things and throwing a book.  You notice that this has been happening a lot lately.  She has a short fuse, gets easily frustrated, and her behavior suffers.  If you confront her, and tell her to apologize to her friend, you might have a bigger fight on your hands. You’re even walking on eggshells around her.  It is true that you don’t want a teenager who behaves in this way.  However, thinking in this way usually makes parents feel more anxious and desperate.  They want to eradicate the behavior Now.  Here are my thoughts about this situation.

First, I often tell parents that child development is on their side.  By that I mean that as children grow, their brains grow also.  The parts of their brains that help them have better judgment and better impulse control grow.  As your child gets older, she will be better able to manage frustrations without physical outbursts.

Second, you don’t know that she’ll behave this way when she’s 16, or even 8.  Why get all worked up by predicting the future? No one I know can predict the future.  Cognitive behavioral therapists call predicting a negative outcome a “cognitive error” that leads to greater anxiety and even depression.  It won’t help you cope with what you are dealing with today, that is, her tendency to be explosive when she’s frustrated.

Third, if you predict a negative outcome in your own mind, you might communicate that to your child, either implicitly or directly.  Unfortunately, a child who believes that her parents fear (or believe) that she’ll come to no good is likely to meet their expectations.

So, what can you do?

Notice when you are predicting a bad future and pull yourself back to the unpleasant present.  Your first grader is behaving badly, and you need to help her with it.  You do not know what will happen in the years to come.

Take a deep breath and try to have some faith that you will figure out how to help her with her frustration.  She is young, and she needs to develop better coping strategies.

At this point, some parents might say, “But I’m doing the best I can,”  and that’s the truth.  So, look for help.  Talk to other parents whom you admire.  Get suggestions for reading from your pediatrician.  Or talk to a child psychologist.  There are a variety of issues that could be leading to the behavior I described above.  You can get some help and learn some strategies yourself.  There is no shame in asking for help.


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Photo Credit:  Russell Adams on Flickr


8 Responses to “What if She Acts Like This at 16?”
  1. It’s so easy to forget that fearing the worst can help to make it happen! I also appreciate the reminder that child development is on the parent’s side, even when kids are dealing with a disability.

  2. I think this comes up a lot for parents (especially parents of girls) and they get all caught up in what might happen during the teenage years when the stakes feel much higher. I really like your advice, about staying present, thinking through solutions, asking for advice and especially the idea that children are constantly learning and growing. Great post.

  3. Carolyn,

    It is so important for us as parents to take time to breathe and manage our own emotions before reacting to our kids. I think it is also key to remember that asking for help isn’t a failure–it’s a healthy coping strategy. When we make choices like that, we teach our kids that it is okay to seek support.


  4. dr.cstone says:

    Yes, sometimes we worry so much about what could happen that we make it more likely. It’s hard, but it’s very helpful to take those deep breaths and stay in the moment.
    And I take tremendous comfort in the knowledge that the frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until the early 20’s! Of course, that also means that it’s a long ways off for some parents…
    Thanks for your comment. Carolyn

  5. dr.cstone says:

    Yes, they are constantly learning and growing and parents’ positive expectations are a big part of that. Thanks for your comment.

  6. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Ann,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that when we ask for help or take the time to manage our feelings, we model those skills for our children.

  7. Arlene Johnson says:

    Carolyn, I like your focus on dealing with the present rather than the future. It is important to help children learn new skills and to recognize their developmental level. Many times we need to pause and take time to manage our own emotions before responding.


  8. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Arlene,
    Thanks for your comment. Yes, jumping into the future is so easy, but it often ramps up our emotions and make it harder to cope. Easier to deal with what is in the present.