Tuesday, August 7, 2012
7 year old has melt downs aound school work
We have a seven year old son who displays anger and when he's angry he's very disrespectful. He attended a private school in which many of the kids, him included, were bullied. We eventually pulled him out after a year and a half and placed him at another private school in which he started hitting the same boy every day and he was asked to leave (this boy was very smart and was grades above the classroom he was placed in). I home schooled him for the remaining part of the year. We knew from both schools that he was what they considered gifted: in first grade he was reading at a fourth grade sight word and comprehension level. However, when I started home schooling him I got to see the behavior he was displaying at school. When asked to do something that he didn't like to do or wasn't good at, like writing, he would completely melt down, refuse to do it, call myself or his tutor anything he could think of and sometimes throw his pencil across the room. We would try to do things that were fun as part of our learning time, however, he became bored with those quickly. If he masters, or he considers mastered, something he doesn't want to do it any longer, he says it's boring to him.
For years we have always "saw" a melt down coming and could sometimes stop it before it happened, however, when he's in school it's much harder for the teacher to sense what's coming and catch it in time. We know it's coming if he's frustrated, overly tired or hungry. Instead of using his words to explain what he's feeling he will just explode. Sometimes he feels bad for the behavior and other times he doesn't; it depends on who he has treated poorly. If it's me, he's sorry and tries to make it better. If it's his grandmother he sees every day he doesn't seem to mind that he treats her that way (my mother) or his other grandmother whom he sees weekly. He tends to be very sorry when he's disrespectful to his father, but not always.
Our son is a very loving child, very sweet, very smart and caring person, when he wants to be, but when these episodes happen he turns into a different person, very disrespectful, angry, name calling and sometimes hitting (as with the second school he attended). We have had him tested, IQ, academic placement and behavioral, but being in a school environment versus an office with a psychologist just isn't the same setting and we feel this may not show his true behavior. We are awaiting the results of the testing and will get them next week. I was just hoping to get your opinion about if you felt this was Anger Overload or something else.
The testing may help identify if there are any learning issues; you mention he gets frustrated with writing for example. Also, you will find out what his strengths are, and knowing both his strengths and weaknesses will help you plan for this school year. Furthermore, if the evaluator asked you about his behavior, or asked you to fill out check sheets about your son's behavior, the report would integrate this information even if your son did not misbehave during the testing situation. If the evaluator did not ask you about your son's behavior, then you may want to explain when you meet with him.
Generally I recommend children with behavioral issues not stay out of school too long. If you can coordinate with the school after you get the testing report and plan an appropriate class for your son, he may do well there. If there are problems, you and the school can devise a behavior plan to deal with any outbursts. The key is to work together with the school staff, and set up a behavior plan in advance. You would want to include some of the suggestions in my book, such as having all the adults be aware his triggers, and then try to catch his frustration early. Having a "go to" place for your child to settle down would be ideal, and it would be best not to talk with him when he is real upset, but to give him space to calm down. The school social worker could work with him on calming strategies. Sometimes rewards and consequences also help in school.
Does your son have other triggers or are his melt downs generally around frustration with school work? If the latter, then the anger overload would be limited to that particular situation, and having everyone involved in your son's education develop strategies to lessen his frustration would be key. If there are anger outbursts about a number of issues, you would want to work on the other triggers as well. In the second half of the book I suggest strategies to help children become more aware of their level of anger and their triggers, and I explain how to teach children to consider other points of view, and to compromise.
Take care, Dr. Dave Gottlieb