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As children reach puberty, it’s not uncommon for them to start lashing out as their hormones fluctuate.
Emotions become intense, mood swings become the norm and your historically peaceful child might even start to act aggressively.
Such is the case for one parent, who anonymously shared her difficult dilemma with HuffPost UK this week:
My 11-year-old daughter hits me – mainly around her period. She has picked up shoes and purposely hit me hard with them. I have bruises all over my arms from this. Sometimes she will be remorseful, sometimes not. She also grips my hair, pulling handfuls of it out.
She doesn’t seem to understand the seriousness of this and how either of us could end up in hospital when she gets so aggressive. If I’m perfectly honest I resent her because she has made my life a living hell. She gets on well at school, has friends, but when her hormones peak she is like a devil and anything that goes slightly wrong she loses control and I mainly get shouted at, sworn at and hit.
I feel ashamed of how she acts and I feel like I have failed as a parent.
*The above post has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
So, what can this parent do?
It’s an extremely tricky situation to be in. “The poor mother asking for advice here seems so desperate, and understandably,” says Counselling Directory member Margaret Reiser.
“She is enduring physical injury on a monthly basis from a daughter who, based on the information we have here, only seems to act out before she begins menstruation and is otherwise well-balanced and social.”
Remember that it must be scary for the daughter, too
While the parent is obviously dealing with a lot and it must be scary for her, Reiser notes that her daughter must also be “absolutely terrified when this behaviour occurs”.
“She is likely confused, ashamed, and almost certainly must feel out of control, which must be devastating,” says the counsellor. “She is also a child and, at age 11, may be the only one of her peers to have begun menstruating. What an isolating experience.”
Try to stay calm in moments of tension
The NHS advises parents that their own behaviour can worsen aggressive situations, so it’s important to stay calm during heated moments and not resort to violence in retaliation.
The health body advises being strong but without being threatening, ensuring your body language reflects you’re willing to listen and, if things get out of control, to explain to the teen that you’re going to walk away and return in 30 minutes.
If they are violent and leaving the room or house is not helping, the health service advises to call the police. “After all, if you feel threatened or scared, then you have the right to protect yourself,” it adds.
Contact the GP as soon as possible
Reiser says this isn’t a common type of behaviour and is certainly extreme. “This family needs help urgently,” she adds.
Her main advice is to contact the GP as a matter of priority. “Although the mother here is convinced the issue is hormonal, expert guidance is really necessary in order to rule out other potential issues,” says Reiser. For example, possible psychiatric disorders.
The counsellor suggests the daughter could be suffering from PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder). Some of the symptoms include mood swings, feeing angry or irritable, suicidal thoughts and feeling out of control.
A GP can advise on treatments that can help. These might include hormonal medicine, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), antidepressants or dietary supplements.
Speak to the school
Family Lives recommends giving teens space and being clear that violence is unacceptable. It also recommends speaking to their school to find out if their aggressive behaviour is happening there as well, as sometimes schools can offer counselling.
The mum and her daughter might want to attend therapy individually moving forward – “with different therapists of course to avoid any conflicts” – and then family therapy, says Reiser.
“Individual therapy for the daughter will hopefully help her to cope with the onset of difficult emotions, and will assist her in the management of overwhelming feelings,” she adds.
“However, there has been a rupture in the mother-daughter relationship that needs to be addressed as well. The mother describes her understandable feelings of resentment when her daughter physically injures her; this rupture requires empathy, conversation, and repair.”
The counsellor says hopefully with the assistance of a skilled therapist, the mother will be able to forgive her daughter for her uncontrollable outbursts – and a family therapist should be able to assist both parties in how to repair the relationship moving forward.
“This will require a fair amount of work and a commitment to healing from both; I wish them the very best of luck,” she concludes.
Help and support:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.