Create the family you want to have

Taming the “Nasties” in Your Children- Part 1


Mid-Tantrum (Photo credit: LizaWasHere)

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.

July 26, 2012 - Posted by | attachment disorder, discipline, help for parents


  1. […] Taming the “Nasties” In Your Children, by help4yourfamily […]

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    Comment by Ramata | August 12, 2012 | Reply

  5. […] Taming the “Nasties” In Your Children, by help4yourfamily […]

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