Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why does 8 year old forget his outbursts?

I have found your blog and articles so helpful. We have a son who is almost 8. He became upset last night and said things like, "I don't want to live. I want to be killed" and "I want out of this family/" This was in response to his not getting his way to play some Wii with a new babysitter. We greatly limit the Wii time, but thought it would be a good icebreaker with a new sitter. When his older brother (who is almost 9 w/ADHD/anxiety) and he began to argue over which game to play, we told them that they were not going to be playing Wii.  Our younger son flew into a complete rage. I took him in another room, held him and he was crying very hard and saying all of these awful, awful things.

But yet, when I asked him today about it, he said he doesn't remember saying any of that. Is that possible? The whole meltdown lasted for about 25 minutes. After he calmed down a bit, my husband and I were able to get out to dinner nearby and we kept in close touch with the sitter. We were told that he calmed down after we left. We had a great day today--went to a science museum and went for a hike as a family. And he was happy. He also said he liked the sitter.

Is the fact that he's not remembering his rages a sign of being bipolar? He is an excellent student, but is very behind socially and is having a great deal of trouble making friends.
Thanks so much for listening.

Hi, Many children do not remember the details of their tantrums after they are over.  Usually they remember they got upset, but because their brain was on emotional overload, the details of what happened may not get into long term memory.  Not remembering does not mean your son has bipolar disorder.  With bipolar disorder there are frequent changes in mood, not just angry episodes.  Also, with bipolar disorder, children often exhibit impulsive, risk-taking behavior.  

If your child only says he does not want to live during an outburst, it is unlikely he has plans to harm himself.  During overload, children often say extreme things, in part because they are lashing out at their parents, and in part because they so overloaded that it is hard for them to put there feelings into more nuanced language. If your child does actually harm himself during outbursts, or if your child talks about self-harm while he is calm, then it is more worrisome, and it would be advisable to have a mental health professional evaluate what is going on.

Since he has trouble making friends, you might want to talk with the school social worker to see if there is a social skills group at school, or ask if the social worker knows of one in your community.  Also, if your son has a friend in school, maybe he can invite the friend over some day.  The more one-on-one practice with peers, the better to develop skills.  Group settings can be harder for children to manage unless they are structured by an adult.  In unstructured groups, there are so many social interactions going on that it is generally more difficult for children to keep track of the conversations and know how best to respond.

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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