Friday, May 24, 2013

Can a 7th grader recognize and prevent anger overload?

Here is an update from the parent of the April 4th blog post.:

We're in a bit of a dilemma here and I was wondering if you can shed some light on our situation.

Since our son had been receiving after school tutor from his teacher, things had really turned around.  We only had one outburst in 2 weeks (a definite first for us), and that subsided in less than 5 minutes (another definite first). 

So our goal was to have our son attempt his 7th Grade Math Placement test with minimal coaching from us.  The only thing I told my son to do was to do his best.  Don't purposely bomb his test, but don't worry too much as well...just do your best.  We were hoping that he would land in the middle tier ~ Pre-Algebra class, in order to eliminate a major stressor.

Well, as Murphy's Law would have hit, his teacher advanced him to the top tier ~ Algebra I.  I know that our son is naturally competitive, so he was really super happy/excited about it, but I'm worried that the Anger Issues would come back.  I asked him how he felt, and he said that "making the cut and getting into Algebra I is super good news!"  I'm just so worried, especially when things had been improving so much lately.  He even took the initiative by approaching his teacher and asked her whether there would be after school tutoring available for 7th grade.

I spoke with my mother about this, and she suggested that I talk to his teacher and pull him down to Pre-Algebra.  However, I'm more inclined to let him try out Algebra I since he took the initiative to seek out after school, I'm thinking that perhaps he is recognizing his own stressors, and trying to work around it himself (by being proactive about after school tutor next year etc). It's almost felt like we just gotten ourselves out of shark-infested waters, and now we're diving back in again. My question is, in your experience, can a child recognize and adjust/work around their own stressors?  How would you approach this?  Please advise.

Hi, Yes children can develop greater awareness of their stressors over time and learn to use strategies that help them maintain self-control.  The second half of my workbook explains how to teach children skills to manage their own anger, and over time children will be able to recognize they are getting upset and apply a strategy in order to maintain self-control.  It sounds like your son realizes that the tutoring really helped him.  Is next year's teacher willing to be available after school?  Hopefully the answer to your son's question about this was yes, and hopefully your son and next year's teacher will have as good a rapport as he had with this year's teacher.

I would suggest you also sit down with yous son when everyone is relaxed (if you have not already done so) and talk about the dilemma you feel.  You could say you want to support your son's wishes to be in the advanced class but you worry that he may get upset if he has trouble understanding some assignments, and you wonder if it would be better for him to be in the other class where there would likely be less pressure.  You could say you are not sure, and you want him to be happy and not stressed out next year.  (By the way by predicting there will be some frustrating assignments, you are helping to prevent unrealistic expectations and thereby lessen the chances for anger overload.  Often anger overload occurs when children expect something that is impossible of themselves or of others!)

Your son will probably say he can handle the more advanced class.  Then review together what he will do next year if something is difficult to understand.   What are some ways he will try to handle it?  First choice might be to ask for tutoring.  You could say that you are proud that he already asked if tutoring will be available next year!  But what will he do if he has to wait a few days to get the tutoring?  What can he do then to help himself not get too upset?  You do not want to put him on the spot to answer these questions, but rather you want to open up a discussion about what some alternatives might be to help him cope with frustration when there are difficult assignments next year.  There is no one right answer.  You just want to think through together some alternative ways to help deal with possible frustration.

I would also mention to your son that despite all our efforts to prepare for the algebra class,  if it turns out the class is too difficult, you will ask the teacher to put him in the pre-algebra class.  You can explain that you know he will be disappointed then, but your first priority is your son's well being, and that this is more important than which class he is in.  You can say you love him and do not want him to be stressed out.  Worse comes to worse he can take algebra the following year.  

If your son has difficulty next year and you have to move him to pre-algebra, he will probably be quite upset despite your discussions about that possibility.  Ultimately, as parents we make the best guess we can about what our kids are ready for.  If you feel now that he is not ready, then make that decision without having the discussion with your son that I outlined above.  Once you have the discussion, if your son feels he can handle it and if he is able to think through how he will deal with frustrating assignments, you do not then want to say no.  Remember that either way it works out, it will have been a learning experience for you and your son.  He is on the path to understanding how to control his anger, and you have done a great job of helping him on this path..

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

1 comment:

  1. I got the following update from the parent who sent in the post above:

    Thank you Dr. Gottlieb for all your help.

    I wanted to involve my son in the discussion, because I wanted him to realize that he is his own biggest, most powerful asset. He actually went to his teacher (unbeknownst to me) and asked whether the 7th grade teacher would be as responsive to him as his 6th grade teacher. His current teacher said that the 7th grade teacher would, but she would double-check for him. The second thing he did was that his Math teacher suggested a summer class for him to attend, to get him prepared for Algebra I, and he seems very eager to attend that class. Thirdly, his 6th grade teacher did tell my son that if he ever find Algebra I too stressful, the school would allow him to step down to Pre-Algebra.

    He seems to be very content with these options. But most important of all, as he said yesterday to me, "I'm figuring all these things out by myself, aren't you proud of me, momma?" What can a mom say to that? I promised him that I would take him to his favorite restaurant tomorrow for lunch, on the condition that I would have to bring his sister...he didn't mind at all.

    We have all come a long way, and I just wanted to thank you that your books/workbooks opened our eyes. Even 9 months ago, I would not even fathom this...thank you!!!