Friday, November 18, 2011

When to ignore and when to restrain an 8 year old

The parents of an eight year old have read my book and finished steps one and two (described in my last post) for anger overload.   They have identified several triggers so far.  One is at bedtime when their child does not want to get ready for bed.  A variation of this occurs when their child gets into his bed but then shortly thereafter comes out to the parents' bedroom and says that he is not tired.   The parents tried returning him to bed, but he kept getting out.  Two other times when their child "lost it" was after school when he wanted to play outside (but it was dark already) and another time when he found out the library would not renew the video he wanted to watch again.   When their child is frustrated, and things do not go his way, he often escalates quickly and starts to scream, curse, and/or throw objects (sometimes pillows, sometimes small objects displayed in the living room), and sometimes bite a sibling.  What should the parents do when their child is already heated up and out of control?

At this point, reasoning and incentives will not work.  The child is overheated and not going to listen to reason.  If someone is about to be hurt or if something valuable is about to be broken, then physical restraint is called for.  The father of this child has held the child (like a bear hug) until he calms down, which can take five to twenty minutes.  Once calmer, the child is more cooperative and no longer threatens to hurt anyone.  At other times, the child has kicked the back of the seat in the car where the parents are sitting, or told them he hates them.  If there is no danger, it is sometimes most effective to do nothing and "play deaf."  This does not mean there are no consequences, but you wait until later in the day to discuss what happened and to announce any consequences.  If you were to discuss consequences while your child is having a tantrum, he would likely escalate further.

If the child is in the early stages of anger, and has not "lost it" yet, then it would be advisable to try distraction or compromise.  It is sometimes difficult to tell whether your child can listen to you without getting more angry, and you then might try to talk and if it is not working you would become quiet and wait for him to calm down.  You could then say you will talk with him a little later after you have thought about things (if you want to say why you are going to be silent).  You really want him to think about things, but you are more likely to provoke an escalation if you were to say that.  One of the times that this eight year old was starting to heat up, the issue was that he would not sleep in his room.  The father suggested to his son that he take a sleeping bag and sleep on the floor of his older brother's room.  This worked because the child had not totally escalated yet and because the child's issue was that he did not want to be alone.  The father came up with an idea to head off a conflict but did not allow the child to sleep in the parents' bed or to play video games, which would have potentially started a "fun" new routine for the child and would have probably been difficult to avoid the next night.  Sometimes if your child is not ready to go to sleep, a quiet activity in his bed, like reading, or drawing a picture, will help him wind down and get ready for sleep.  Sleep is one of those things that cannot be forced, but happens when a person winds down.  You cannot make a child turn off his "motor" but you can suggest conditions that will help him get sleepy. I will discuss the techniques of distraction and compromise a lot more in future posts.

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