Taming the “Nasties” in Your Children- Part 1
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Any parent with a child old enough to speak has most likely experienced what I call “the nasties.” The nasties are the times when your children say or do mean, nasty things to you or other caregivers. Sometimes you can even see them fishing for something to be nasty and angry about. When kids have a case of the nasties is when they say the most hurtful things they can think of to say such as, “I hate you.” ”I wish I had a different (fill in the blank, mom, dad, sister, brother)” and even, ”I wish you were dead.” These words hurt and even on the days when we are able to understand they do not mean it, it still hurts your heart to hear it. Other days, when we are feeling more vulnerable as parents, we can begin to wonder if perhaps our children are saying what they really think about us, and/or whether we are doing right by our children, and we can begin to catastrophize about the ways our relationships with our children are going to turn out. While we all know that the nasties are a pretty normal part of growing up and many of us work to control them, even as adults, it still feels pretty bad when they strike your children.
The first thing to do when the nasties are tearing through your house is to assess what is causing the nasty behavior. I had a professor once that said the most important piece in addressing any behavior is to find out it’s cause, and while you may not be very curious about the root of the problem when your child is yelling at you, perhaps I can persuade you by pointing out that figuring out the root cause is way more pleasant for you than beating yourself up over having such a mean child. Here are some ideas to take into consideration when you are trying to figure out what is going on:
1. The first thing I assess for children and adults of all ages who are experiencing a case of “the nasties” is whether they are hungry or tired. I know, you may have read this before, but in many children this is the main culpret. I know I get pretty nasty when I’m hungry (or tired)- ask my husband, he sometimes figures it out before I do. Our children are no different.
2. Look at your child’s diet. Did your child just have an ice cream cone? Have they been eating junk all day? If your child is pretty consistently nasty and it seems outside of developmental norms, the foods I have seen that have the greatest impact on mood in order of most to least common tend to contain: gluten, food coloring, caffeine, sugar, dairy, soy. I also have had families who switched to a mainly organic diet who have had good results in mood stabilization.
3. Is it possible your child has been trying any mood altering substances? I have seen parents of teenagers who do not always consider this question, especially if they have a “good kid” most of the time, but even good kids can make poor choices. It is not unusual for teens to experiment, you remember high school right? Mood altering substances do not just alter your mood for a few hours, there is a kickback, like a hangover. Remember, what goes up, must come down. Remember too that there are other substances besides alcohol and pot. Middle and high schoolers can get access to all kinds of prescription medication and over the counter products, like cough medicine and whippets, that can alter moods, and kids may think that because they are so easy to get or because a doctor would prescribe them, they must be safe. Ask your children about whether they are using substances or not and make it an ongoing conversation where you let them know your feelings about this issue. Do not forget that caffeine is a mood altering substance. Even though it is a mainstream substance, a child that has been drinking a lot of those highly caffinated drinks, coffee, sodas, etc. can have major side effects. We are all impacted differently by substances and children are more likely to have major side effects than adults.
4. For children with recurring cases of the nasties, ask a doctor to check for any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing such as a thyroid issues, diabeties, lymes disease, teething, bladder and ear infections.
5. Is there something going on at home, school, camp or child care? Is there another child bullying your child and you are unaware of it? Have you been less available for one reason or another? Are you moving, or is there another major change coming down the pike that your children are aware of, say their first year in middle school?
6. Is it possible your child is suffering from a mental health issue? Children show they are depressed differently than adults. While adults may be depressed to the point that they cannot get out of bed, children are more likely to be irritable, angry and sullen. If this happens more often than not for a period of two weeks or more, it is time to have your child evaluated for depression. Similarly, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and anxiety disorders can be accompanied by nasty outbursts.
Next week, I will address how it is that you can address these nasty behaviors in your children when they occur to try to change them. Before I post that, do you have any behaviors that your children do that leave you scratching your head about how to address them? Have you had children that had the nasties and you figured out the origin? Please feel free to share with the rest of us.
- A Few Signs Your Teenager May Be Depressed (psychcentral.com)
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Kate Oliver, LCSW-C (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) has been a clinician working with traumatized and attachment-disturbed children for the last thirteen years. She is co-owner of A Healing Place, a successful private practice in Columbia, Maryland, since 2007.
Kate earned her BA from Goucher College in 1997 and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 2000. Kate first worked with the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR Center) working with abused and neglected children in Columbia, Maryland. While working for the STTAR Center, Kate found that while some children responded to traditional child therapy practices, there were a significant number of children who showed little or no improvement in their overall emotional well-being. Kate sought out specialized training to learn more about attachment, the bond between parents and children, and found that by using attachment-based strategies built upon research by John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth, and models that foster parent/child attachment, even the most challenging children and their parents, saw major, life-changing shifts, not only for the children she was working with, but the parents as well.
After the STTAR Center, Kate accepted a position with Tamar’s Children, a program that took pregnant, incarcerated women from prison to a treatment facility that worked on teaching the women to bond with and attach to their babies, while also helping the women to heal their own broken attachments, and history of trauma and addiction. Kate was quickly promoted to Clinical Director of Tamar’s Children. The program was internationally recognized for having a successful, evidence-based practice using an attachment-based model. From working with some of the most severely disenfranchised parents, Kate received important information about how to help all parents maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their children with little or no additional financial investment for the parents.
In 2007, Kate co-founded A Healing Place, a mental health private group practice in Columbia, Maryland, where she focuses on working with families with children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment disturbances. A board certified supervisor, Kate has been an invited presenter to teach continuing education courses for other social workers and psychologists. In her courses, Kate teaches attachment-building techniques and presents about her sub-specialty, working with families headed by gay and lesbian parents.
Kate is a former board member for the organization COLAGE, a non-profit group that works toward community building for people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender parents. She is currently a member of Attachment Disorders Maryland, a group that works to educate parents and professionals about working with children with attachment related issues.
Kate lives in Columbia, Maryland is the mother of two amazing daughters, the partner to a fantastic husband, and the daughter of one mother and two gay dads. She loves to read any book that crosses her path, write (of course), and she recently started dancing again, a passion she has had since her youth.
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