Thursday, August 23, 2012

Is it anger overload or manipulative behavior?

Hello Dr.,
I have been coming to the conclusion that there is something going on with my 5 soon to be 6 year old son. I want to give you a bit of background on our particular situation and I would like to have some insight from you. My husband and I decided in 2010 that he would join the military to better our family as a whole. My mother in law did not like the idea nor did she stand behind my husband and the choice he made. Two days prior to my husband leaving for basic training she told my husband "you are taking the easy way out." My husband was hurt by that and we did not think that what happened next would ever happen.

After my husband left my son was 3 turning 4 and she was all I had to help me out with my children. She started coming by just about everyday and she would take the kids for a walk or we would all go for a walk and she would tell me "stay here do your laundry or whatever you need to get caught up  on." I did not think anything of it until one day my son hit my daughter and I told him to sit for a time out. When I told him that he looked at me and said "Well I know I can get a new mommy that will treat me a lot better than you do." And that broke my heart. Not thinking of where he would have heard that I allowed him to get up and do what he was doing. This had gone on for a few months.

About 2 months into this all my best friend had come over and sat me down and told me there had to be something going on with my son, but he would not talk to me so she talked to him. And in his words "Well Nanny told me if I tell mommy that I can get a new mommy then she would let me do what I want, and I want to do what I want." I never thought in a million years that my own mother in law would do this to me. I knew that she did not like me but to hurt my children like this. I did not have the heart to tell my husband that something was up because he needed me to be his rock at this point in order to get him through basic training....

If I had told him no to playing a game or watching a particular movie or anything really he would get very mad at me. Then the time came that we were moving with my husband and I thought everything was going to get better. And there for a while it did. It was really good. My son is very bright, very intelligent and wonderful until he has these what we call breakdowns. When we went to Korea he did not have a breakdown from June all the way until October....

In Feb of this year we moved to Texas where my husband is now based. My son gets upset and rages out when someone doesn't listen to him or does not want to play with him or if he just feels like someone does not like him. He gets loud with me, his dad and his sister. He hits his sister and he starts school this year and I am very afraid that he is going to have a lot of social issues. I know he will do well in class but worried about the interaction if he gets pushed out of a group of kids or something. Now my question for you is do you think that he would have "anger overload"? If you can message me back would be great. I am just a mom worried about her son. I never thought that I would have to medicate my child or get them help for any reason like this. It is breaking my heart and I have finally come to the conclusion that I am not the reason he is like this. I do everything I can for my children, they are my life and since I know that there is something going on with my son it is killing me.

Hi, It is important that all parenting figures, including grandparents, if they are in regular contact with the children, work together when it comes to discipline.  I'm sorry that your mother-in-law coached your son to disobey you.  One question I have is what do you think changed with the move from Korea to Texas, because it sounds like your son's behavior regressed this year when you moved again.  Why do you think he stopped misbehaving in Korea, and can you re-capture what you were doing there?

Anger overload lasts from minutes to hours.  So my question for you is:  once your son gets angry, does he usually get out of control and stay upset for a while, or does he get loud to get his way, but cuts it out as soon as he wants?  The former is more consistent with anger overload, and the latter is more typical of a child who uses his anger to get his way, but does not lose control.   If the problem is anger overload, then my parent's manual and other posts on this blog explain a number of strategies to help your son develop self control.   If the problem is the latter (your son uses anger to get his way, but not to the point of overload), then you will need to apply behavior modification strategies (incentives, consequences, ignoring, and timeouts) to make sure that you son does not get a lot of attention nor get his way when he gets angry.  There are a number of books for parents that help teach behavior modification, including a chapter in my earlier book about defiant children.  And remember what your son told you earlier:  grandma said to say this so that he would get his way.  He does not really want a new mother, so try to act like you are deaf and do not react to comments like that, as best you can.  

Also, if your mother-in-law is going to have contact with the children again, you and your husband will have to set firm limits or stay in the house when she is there.   This is assuming your son is accurately describing what the grandmother told him.  You and your husband may want to talk with her more about what your son said and how it has affected his behavior, or you may want to contact a family therapist in your area about how to proceed with her.   All the best, Dr. Gottlieb

1 comment: