Wednesday, July 25, 2012

10 year old melts down during baseball game

The "7 year old lashes out when angry" could have been my son... only difference is he is 10 years old, will throw things (bat to ground, batting helmet into dugout...) when angry, and exhibits astonishing disrespect for adults trying to "calm" him when in one of his rages. His primary triggers also include being teased or when he thinks someone is making a personal attack at him. Most recently he was removed from a baseball team for having a "melt-down" after striking out on a pitch he felt was fair. After the fact, his is quite remorseful and is fully aware of how his behavior was unacceptable. He also knows how he should have handled the situation.  He is seeing a child psychologist and has been given tools to help himself in these situations. We discuss the tools before every game; however, it seems that he just goes into a different realm when he gets mad and those tools are disregarded - it's like he's left his body and the mean/crazy guy has moved in. He is devastated over the removal from the team and wants to "fix" his anger issue. How can we do this when his primary trigger for outbursts is in a competitive situation?? We are all pretty much done with this as it has been going on for years...

Hi, One thought I have is to create a lower level competitive situation and "practice" dealing with striking out.  For example, could you do some hitting with him in the backyard or park, and have him practice cognitive strategies when he misses the ball.  Some catch phrases he could repeat out loud (and eventually in his mind) are "everyone makes mistakes,"  or "even Adam Dunn (or whoever his hero is) strikes out a lot."  The more he practices this "mantra" in situations with lower stress, the more likely he will internalize it.  I would also consider having him participate in sports (if he likes them) that have less focus on individual performance, such as soccer or basketball or football.  Yes, there can be pressure in these sports too, but there is not a long period of time when everyone is watching one play, like in baseball.  The action is faster and no one expects you will always score a goal in soccer, for example.  The basic idea is to expose your son to situations that have some pressure, but less than in a little league baseball game, and once he can regularly deal with those pressures, then try little league again if he really wants to.

I would also work on the underlying trigger--feeling teased or attacked.  Role play how to deal with those situations.  In addition, you as parents can model how to deal with criticism.   If someone criticizes something you do, say out loud how you feel and how you are going to deal with it.  Furthermore, help your son to "catch it early."  Anger can be more easily controlled before it reaches the overload stage.   What are his internal warning signs that he is getting angry?  Does he start breathing fast, does his hear race, does he feel flush in the face?  Have him learn to recognize these signs and develop calming strategies before he reaches overload.  Offer a lot of verbal praise if he practices a calming strategy even if it does not always work to calm him.  I go over possible strategies in my book.  They do not have to be quiet activities to be calming. 

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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