Sunday, March 17, 2013

9 yr old is disruptive at school, wants to change

Dear Dr Dave,
I've read your article on anger overload.  I've also read the blogs. I too feel the article was written for our son who is 9 yrs.  A lot of the parents; comments ring true for us.  Our feeling is that there is a strong link between his well being and his behavior; he goes through spells where for a week or so he throws things, kicks things etc and is quite extreme then it settles back to his "normal level" which is still not great. It appears to go in cycles.  His behavior at school is causing real issues. This week he said he couldn't understand why he was so disruptive at school when his sister isn't like that and his Dad and I were good in school, "I hate it Mum".  If he is being disobedient it always helps if he goes to the toilet and does a poo; he comes back a calm, changed child. He generally has large bowel movements, up to three times a day.  We also have to omit artificial additives from his diet where at all possible as they cause his behavior to spiral out of control. I have tried lots of treatments, mostly alternative but as yet nothing has made much difference.  He is a kind, caring , generous, helpful wee guy who is well liked by adults generally.  A number of his peers know which buttons to press for a fire works display and tend to sit back and enjoy the show!!  I look forward to hearing from you. 

Hi, First what I would recommend is keeping notes for a week or two of what is happening when a tantrum starts.  What is each person saying before your child escalates?  Then see if you can find some patterns.  I describe how to do this in my workbook on anger overload.  You want to see if there are some issues or themes that trigger him.  Then I describe in the book a number of ways to try to avoid a blow-up.  First, it is up to the parents and teachers to try to change the sequence of behavior to try to go around whatever causes a blow-up.  You won't be able to avoid all causes by any means, but if you can avoid of few of the situations, that will help lower the number of outbursts

Once your child gets angry, if he is just a little mad, try to use "emotional distraction," that is, try to change his mood by directing him to something that makes him laugh or that makes him curious (and thereby stop thinking about whatever was making him upset).  Once he gets very upset, then it is best to back away until he calms down.  The more you say when he is in a tantrum, usually the longer the tantrum will go on.  

In the second half of my workbook, I write about strategies you can teach your child.  You mention that several peers push his buttons.  You would discuss those situations briefly in the evenings and teach him how to look at these situations differently.  You could also teach him catch phrases that he would eventually memorize to help him look at these situations differently.  For example, if a peer is teasing him about something he said, you could teach him that the peer may be jealous or may like to see people get upset.  So the catch phrase might be "keep quiet or he wins,"  or "he wants me to scream, so I'll say nothing,"  or "I won't let him get to me."  Explain to your son how effective the "cold shoulder" is, and practice at home by role playing a recent situation at school.  Review and practice several times a week for two to three months.

It can take several months for children to begin to implement what you teach them, so be patient and non-judgmental when you work with your child on these strategies.  If he gets annoyed then take a break for a few days.  Tell him anger is a real important thing to learn how to control.  

If the teacher or social worker at school can work with him in a similar fashion, it would help your son.  Repetition of strategies over a number of months is key because children with anger overload tend to react so quickly that it is hard for them to remember the strategies at the moment of upset.  But frequent practice helps the process along.  All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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