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Alicia_MSW, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  Specializing in mental health counseling
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I am in the UK. Our eleven and a half year old grandaughter

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I am in the UK. Our eleven and a half year old grandaughter frequently gets very angry over trivial things and has terrible temper tantrums. She tells my wife and I that she hates us. Initially we thought it was just us but it isn't. She does the same thing with her mum. We all love her dearly but it is getting very difficult to know how to respond. She is a beautiful, very intelligent and talented girl but lacks self-confidence and has always found it difficult to develop relationships with other children and is a bit of a loner. Her father is in the military and has recently reurned from six months in Afghanistan. He is away from home all week and only sees her at the weekends which means that in practice it is her Mum and my wife and I who bear the brunt of her behavioural issues. She also has a younger sister who has just turned ten years who apparently doesn't have any visible problems and behaves very well.

Thank you for asking your question. I'm happy to help you today.

From what you've said, it sounds like your granddaughter may be what's referred to as a "highly sensitive child". This trait - which is generally considered to be a gift and not a negative trait - was researched by Elaine Aron, a psychologist who's written extensively about the idea of high sensitivity. High sensitivity occurs in children who are extremely bright and talented (often, these children are, in fact, placed in gifted and talented programs in school, if the trait is properly identified - sometimes, the trait is not identified and these same children become frustrated and angry because they are understimulated in school and by their peers.) Essentially, a highly sensitive child is more affected by external stimuli and is - as it sounds - more sensitive to the feelings of others, of their environment, of physical stimuli (such as noise or sensitivity to light/heat/cold). They may have difficulties interacting with peers because they feel that they can't relate to them well, they become easily overwhelmed by family situations, peer interactions, and may seem to be "loners". I can't say for sure that that is what's going on with your granddaughter, but because it sounds to be the case based on what you've said, I'd like to provide you with a bit more information about the trait so you can read about it and educate yourself to see if you think this might be something causing her behavior. You can read more about it on Dr. Aron's website:

It sounds that she might be affected more by her father's absence - and this could be triggering her behavior as well. She might not know how to handle her feelings regarding his absence (so, the feelings of loneliness or abandonment - even if she is being supported by other family members, as sounds to be the case in your situation) Her younger sister may not be as affected because she may not have the high sensitivity trait - although again, it's hard to say for sure without a face-to-face consultation.

Sometimes, high sensitivity or not, children display temper tantrums and outbursts in response to feelings of depression. This can only be properly diagnosed by an in-person meeting with a licensed mental health professional, but it is something to be aware of. Again, I can't say for sure, but I'd like to provide you with as much information as possible so you can educate yourself as to what might be going on. You can read more about the signs of depression in children here:§ion=Facts+for+Families

My advice would be to see if you can speak to her teacher or the school social worker or psychologist if there is one available in school to see if they are aware of any factors going on in school that might be affecting her behavior or if they have any insight regarding the situation. I would also suggest that you (or her mum, whoever is able to arrange for this to take place) consider arranging for her to have an evaluation by a child psychologist to see if she is, in fact, displaying high sensitivity or is possibly suffering from depression. It may not be either of these options but it's best to find out now before her behavior escalates or it turns into something more serious.

In the UK, you can find a licensed mental health professional who works specifically with children on this website:
Generally, a type of therapy known as play therapy is very effective in uncovering these types of underlying issues in children and/or can also help to resolve these issues or teach children methods for coping with their underlying emotions. The website also has more information about play therapy and how it works.

I hope that is helpful. It sounds like she is a very bright, intelligent child who may simply be misunderstood or frustrated, but the only way to know for sure is to seek professional help. She may need more intellectual stimulation in school or additional attention at home, but a therapist will be able to let you know what specific steps to take to best help your granddaughter.

Please let me know if you need additional assistance.
Best wishes.
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