Self-Control and Problem Solving

Does your daughter suddenly seem to have the same reaction to dislikes and problems as she had as a toddler? You are not alone. Adolescent girls often have trouble controlling their rage, anger, and fears. Teaching your daughter self-control and good problem-solving techniques can make these years easier.

Where Rage Comes From

Your day with your daughter has been fine until you ask her nicely to clean her room before going to the movies that night. Suddenly, she's hysterical, screaming not just about her room but about how you treat her, how her home life is, and how she hates school. Where did all that come from? Girls often are unable to let any angst go in public. In school or out with friends, they swallow their anger, worry, and fear so as not to show any self-perceived “weakness.” They want to be seen as easygoing, fun, and cooperative. But here is the thing: that anger or worry they swallow does not go away. Rather, it remains bubbling below the surface, just waiting for a chance to get out.

Question

Can I blame her rage on hormones?

No doubt, hormones play a role in teen girl's rage and mood swings. But you cannot “blame” them completely. Hormonal swings will be a fact of her life, and she must learn to deal with them rather than use them as an excuse or crutch.

Rage or anger toward you, in many cases, may not be about you at all. But you, lucky parent, are the person she knows she can let loose on and be forgiven. That does not make it okay though. Helping your daughter calm down and then see where her rage is truly coming from is an excellent tool she can use for a lifetime. But it's not easy to do. The fact that she does not want to admit she has problems (outside of you being an annoying parent), coupled with her deep desire to fit in with her peers can block a girl from seeing what she's really raging about. It may take a day, a week, or a month. But don't give up on helping her learn this lesson.

Teaching Self-Control

She wants a new Juicy sweat suit, and you just plain cannot afford it. Rather than accept that, she goes into full hysterics; screaming, crying, and all but yelling out loud. Didn't all your years of showing her how to control her anger sink in anywhere? It did, but it just needs reinforcement now. The first step toward teaching your daughter self-control sounds simple, but trips up many parents: Don't just give her what she wants to calm her down, no matter how forcefully she protests. Instead, insist that she go to a quiet place until she is ready to talk calmly about the situation: her room, the backyard hammock, wherever she wants, so long as it's a place where she can calm down and reflect. You may have to force her to do this at times. But do.

Essential

Do you control your own temper? If not, you are setting a bad example for your daughter. Practice what you preach and give yourself a time out from situations until you are ready to be rational about them.

And what about in public and with friends? Your daughter has no doubt seen a friend flip out. Ask her how she felt about seeing that. How did she perceive her friend? Chances are, she'll say it looked immature, bratty, and unacceptable. Remind her that she looks the same way when she acts out in public. Help her to learn to remove herself from the public situation until she can act calmly. This might mean her calling you with a secret code that means you must “insist” on picking her up and taking her home. Once home, let her know she does not need to let the situation go, she just needs to reflect on it, assess it, and decide if it is a situation worth talking about more. How often do you decide, once you've stood back and caught your breath, that a certain fight was not worth having? Of course, such control and insight is difficult for even adults to stick to at all times. But if she at least tries, that's a victory.

Problem Solving

Chances are, your teen girl lacks vital problem-solving skills. This can be for many reasons, the first of which is that you, as a caring parent, may have been “solving” problems for her all along. It's easy to slide from cleaning off a boo-boo and bandaging it to stepping in and fixing a social situation, a problem in school, or a perceived wrongdoing against your daughter. But it's time to step back. Before you step in, arm her with the tools she needs to start solving problems that come along. Tell her to take a deep breath, step back, and study the problem at hand. Exactly what is bothering her? And why did it happen? Once she has addressed that, she can brainstorm solutions. For the first few times, you may want to encourage her to retreat to a private spot and “journal” on this. Writing serves two purposes: it helps her to think it through slowly and it removes her from a volatile situation.

Parents can also help by taking their teen through the problem solving process with projects — planning the family dinner or her school-week wardrobe. She should plan with alternatives in mind. What if the store didn't have Alfredo sauce that week? What if she spilled something on the outfit she had planned on wearing?

Once she has brainstormed solutions (encourage her to put everything down; even ideas that are laughable later), she should decide on a plan of action. If her problem is a teacher who just does not seem to like her or her work, one plan might be to make a point of staying for extra help once a week. Then, it is up to her, not you, to carry out the plan. It is important for her to understand that her actions may not solve the problem, and that not solving it does not mean her effort was a failure or a waste of time. Rather, she should go back, reassess the situation and see if she comes up with other solutions. And in the end, if the problem is not solved, at least she'll know she did all she could to try to make things better, which is a solution in itself.

Fact

Time can be a solution in itself. By helping your daughter know to step back and assess things, time will tick by and possibly, her perception of the “problem” might adjust, making it not so much of a problem after all.

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