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.

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