Q&A: how do I stop my daughter getting angry and sad?
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Q: Hi Angie, my nearly five-year-old daughter misses her father terribly while he is away. She is an only child and I work full time. I’ve noticed that she gets angry a lot and seems sad a lot of the time when he is away. She’s also told me she doesn’t trust me but she trusts her Dad. She has openly admitted that she "hates daddy's job". I've tried highlighting all the good things about Daddy’s work; I’m always organising play dates; I spend as much time with her as possible doing fun things. Although she is quite social at day care, when it is just her and I, she is so difficult some days that I get angry and frustrated which makes things a lot worse. I’ve reiterated that it’s okay to be angry and sad. I’ve even said that if she is really cross, she can go and kick the beanbag, but nothing seems to work. Any help or guidance would be greatly appreciated.
A: Hi and thanks for your email.
It must be tough for you working full time when your partner works away, trying to fit everything in! It sounds like you’ve done a good job highlighting the positive parts of Daddy’s job, and letting your daughter know that all her feelings are OK.
I know this isn’t a popular thing to say, but mostly what I see in children who are angry and difficult is that they need or want some more time with one or both parents. I know this is not a great answer when you’re already trying to juggle so much, but it is true I’m afraid to say! Your daughter’s behaviour with you indicates that it’s not just about missing her dad, but also perhaps about wanting more time with you.
The reality is that it’s hard to meet the needs of young children when two parents work long hours, and this is mostly because there is always so much else to do as well. I know from my own experience on the days I work that it’s tricky to come home and spend time with my children when there is also dinner to be cooked and washing to be done etc.
My suggestion is that you schedule in some more time with your daughter, just being together at home, giving her your full attention. I know this is tricky when she is being angry and difficult, but if you persist I think you’ll find that her behaviour settles down over time.
It does also sound like she really misses her dad while he is away, so please have a look at my previous columns and Q&As on connecting with kids when you work away (and pass it on to her dad too). You’ll find lots of links here.
Tiredness and diet are factors that can also contribute to, or cause difficult behaviour in children. If you think that these might be contributing, you could keep a diary of the food your daughter eats, and how much sleep she has, and see if you can make any links between these and her mood.
Finally, if your daughter’s anger gets more difficult to cope with, or manage over the next few months, please consider going along with your daughter to a psychologist who specialises in children. He or she will be able to provide you with some specific and more detailed information for your particular situation. While all feelings are definitely OK, learning to deal with anger is an important lesson for kids to learn, because not managing it well can lead to friendship and relationship problems.
I hope some of this helps, and all the best.
To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.