Friday, October 28, 2011

Excessive cursing

"My seven year old son cursed repeatedly, told us we were stupid, and said he hated us after we didn't let him play a game.  He carried on for twenty minutes.  What should we do?"

First, you want to see what the pattern is for this behavior.  Keep a record for a week along the lines of what I recommend in my book:  record what your child said, whom he said it to, and what the other person said.  See what type of situations trigger your son's outbursts.  If you see a pattern, think about how you can head off the next struggle by cuing your child ahead of time (pointing out a way he can avoid a struggle with you) and possibly offer an incentive. 

If you haven't seen a pattern in the outbursts yet, then ask yourself how long this problem has been going on and whether anything happened at home or in school around the time the problem started.  If it has been going on a long time (months or years) and does not have a clear precipitant (other than anytime he is frustrated and can't do what he wants) your child may be experiencing "anger overload".  I coined this term for children who have outbursts when frustrated, and carry on like their world has been destroyed.  In other words, the level of anger is beyond what would be expected for the thing the child is frustrated about.

In the chapter in my book on anger overload I make a number of suggestions.  Behavior management and cognitive techniques are suggested.  Basically behavioral strategies include behavior reinforcement strategies (praise and consequences), ignoring, time outs, and developing a place to "chill" in the house (a calming place).  Incentives and consequences are usually not helpful when a child is experiencing anger overload.  Your child is not thinking rationally at those times, so he will usually disregard potential rewards.  However, if you help your child see alternatives while he is calm, sometimes rewards will help motivate your child to avoid a confrontation and choose the alternative behavior.  If you have not set up an alternative in advance (or even if you have), once your child is in a "meltdown," sometimes the best thing you can do is ignore your child--as long as he is not hurting anyone or destroying anything of value. 

Cognitive strategies include helping your child develop self observation skills ("you are beginning to heat up") and helping to distract your child when he is revving up, by using humor, the computer or television, or another activity he enjoys.  If your child heats up fast and is already in "overload," then distraction techniques will usually not work.  Remember your child is not acting rationally when in the overload stage.  In that case, become temporarily "deaf" while your child is screaming, so that your child does not feed on your behavior.  Later when he is calm, you could review the situation with your child and see if he can think about compromise solutions with you.  I will give more details about these techniques in future posts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Attention seeking 10 year old

I am at my wit's end with my youngest daughter who just turned 10 yrs old.  I have 3 daughters one is 21 yrs old a senior in college, a 19 yr old a freshman in college who has a rare cystic brain disease and has had to have 9 brain surgeries in 5 1/2 yrs, and my youngest 10 yrs old and in 4th grade. The 10 yr old goes to private school so she can get more attention due to the smaller class size and they have a no homework policy, as well as daycare. She has been in activities since she has been 2 1/2 yrs such as gymnastics, dance, soccer, band, eco club, girl scouts. Currently she is in dance and band.

First of all, she refuses to go to bed and many nights ends up in our bed, even though she start outs in hers.  In the morning she won't get up and drags her feet getting ready.  I make her breakfast, and lunch, pack her backpack and if she needs her band stuff I get that ready too, plus I load the car.  She is responsible to eat, brush her hair and teeth, get dressed and get in the car.  This am it took her 20 minutes to brush her hair.  She makes me late to work and is rude and yells at me:  Blaming me for everything in life.
It wouldn't be so bad, if I didn't have to be to work on time-but that isn't the case.  I asked her to pick out clothes the night before, but she always forgets.  When she eats and dresses she drops
wrappers and clothes right where she is.  I have grounded her, took her out of girl scouts and soccer, blocked her cable tv and even took away the box for a period of time, yet nothing helps. 
I have cut her some slack at times because of her sister's illness and I am sure she feels that she doesn't get enough attention, but it is just getting ridiculous and I need some help.

Dear Mom, 
If your daughter is seeking your attention, try to turn it around so she gets more attention (praise, and/or earns time with you doing an activity) when she cooperates rather than negative attention when she does not do her chores in the morning or night.  Pick a few specific tasks to target at first.  Let her know if she does these with only one reminder she can earn time with you in the evening doing an activity you both agree on.  Discuss ahead of time what that activity might be, and if it is long, then have your daughter earn some time each night and complete the activity another night.  Pick something she won't be able to play with you unless she earns it.  Up until now, most of your behavior modification has focused on negative consequences.  You want a mix of positive and negative usually.  In your case, I would use mainly positive if you feel she is seeking attention, which sounds likely given your family situation.  The praise and/or activity should be daily if possible, as younger children will not stay focused as well on a long term goal.   Ignore her negative comments, such as blaming you.  The more she engages you in negative discussions, the more of your attention she is getting.  If you find the frequency of the targeted behaviors decreases in the next few weeks, eventually you can target a couple of additional behaviors in order for her to earn "game" time in the evening.  

One other suggestion if she is taking too much time brushing her hair, for example, is to have her look at a clock (in the bathroom) and have her earn time with you if she gets done in 5-10 minutes, or whatever time you think is appropriate.  This could be one of her behavioral goals to earn your time playing a game.  Also, have her do the hair last in the morning, so that if it is not done you can leave anyway and she will have to deal with the hair the way it is.  If you want other suggestions, check the chapters in my book on situational causes of defiance and on strong willed children. Good luck, Dr. Gottlieb

Friday, October 7, 2011

My child is disobedient only in school

A parent contacted me about her first grader.  She explained that her child is obedient at home but won't follow directions in school.  More specifically, her child won't sit in the circle for story time, often does not complete written work, and tells other children what to do during play time.  What I would suggest is ask the school for a case study evaluation.  The purpose would be to rule out any learning disabilities and to rule out attention deficit disorder.  Either of these problems can cause the behavior you describe.  If your child has neither of these problems, then you would want to consider whether there are any emotional issues interfering with your child's learning in school.  The psychologist or school social worker may meet with you and also observe your child in class to see if anything may be troubling your child.  Is your child angry about something?  Or does your child have problems in social settings other than the home?  You would want to rule out Asperger's syndrome--these children have trouble adapting to new situations and have difficulty in social situations, like a classroom setting.  Once you figure out what is the cause of your child's behavior, then your school's psychologist may offer some suggestions.  Also, you can read in my book about what you can do to help your child once you know the cause.  Each chapter of my book offers parents strategies based on the cause of their's child's  misbehavior.