Tuesday, November 13, 2012

7 year old who kicks and throws things

We have three children, all of whom were adopted. Our son always sweet as a baby is now our biggest source of stress and heart break. He was somewhat obsessive about skateboarding, even when he was 2 but not more than many boys were with trains. He had a language issue when he was a baby and was very frustrated, and was classified so he could have help negotiating himself in the nursery school classroom. He was always very much a "boy" but all his teachers said it was never a problem. Starting second grade he decided not to go to school . It was too hard, not enough breaks and too long of a day. He has always been insecure about his intelligence. He gets some reading support at school but is not behind the curve and is doing very well now. Over the summer, and spring, he developed a love for video games, especially Mind Craft, which he dreams about but reacts to it like crack. We've tried sticker charts, the explosive child strategies, therapy, punishment of all sorts and every thing  works a little for a little while. He is getting more angry when he doesn't get his way. He kicks doors, chairs, throws things, and is 7. I fear what may happen when he gets a little older. If you can help in anyway it would be greatly appreciated. 

Hi, some children have trouble regulating anger.  Once they get frustrated, their anger quickly escalates into explosive behavior.  The key is to try to intervene early in the sequence when possible.  Rewards don't always work because these children are not thinking ahead at those times, but reacting emotionally.  The first thing to do is to observe carefully what some of your son's triggers are, i.e. what situations lead to his tantrums.  Then think about whether you can re-arrange the situation to avoid the trigger.  Or if you cannot avoid the trigger, can you prepare him in advance to get ready for the situation.  Before he gets aroused, he may listen to suggestions or incentives. 

The other set of strategies is to teach him how to handle his frustrations.  The key here is to get your child to think with you about his explosions each time they happen (later in the day once he is much calmer).  You talk about what happened, what the trigger was, and help him think of alternative ways of thinking and alternative ways of reacting.  I explain the steps in my parent's manual.  If your son does not yet see his tantrums as a problem to work on with you, then you will focus on the strategies in the first half of the manual (strategies you can employ without your son's cooperation).  You would still talk a little after an explosion (but not during) to try to get him to see the costs of his behavior.  Once he recognizes the pain he is causing, he would be ready for teaching him alternative ways of thinking and alternative approaches to regulating anger.

You would also want to deal with any insecurities your son has, especially if they contribute to his anger.  Does his reading problem, though improved,  precede an outburst?  You mentioned mine craft:  does he have trouble getting off that game?  Are other transitions hard for him?  Did his therapist have any thoughts about problems that could be contributing to his explosions?  You would want to help your son deal better with any underlying insecurities.

All the best, Dr. Gottlieb

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