Monday, July 8, 2013
Is the manual helpful for three year olds?
I’m thinking of getting your book about anger overload. My 3 year old has thrown epic, enraged, crazed fits since she was 1. They are becoming violent now, with her biting, scratching and kicking me, her grandmother, herself and everything in sight. She has no calming mechanism and will completely destroy a room with a quite impressive display of strength for someone who still wears 24-month clothes.
Does your book address children this young?
Is there any other advice you have? I really worry that she needs to see a professional. Yes, we have babied her (her sister is 20 months older). Yes, she is likely showing spoiled behavior when being told no. Yes, we engage in her fits when we shouldn’t. But she’s done this since before she could walk. I fear that this is more than a discipline issue.
Thanks for your help.
Hi, Some young children have a very difficult time soothing themselves and have explosive outbursts. After reading your e-mail, some questions I have are 1) what is the frequency of her violent outbursts, 2) what are some of the triggers, 3) what have you tried so far. In my book I explain that the first step is to carefully observe the triggers for a couple of weeks to see what patterns there might be. Then I explain various strategies that you can employ. The first half of my book would be useful for working with a three year old. These strategies do not involve your child's direct participation. If you have observed triggers for your daughter's outbursts, ask yourself if you can you sometimes alter the sequence of behaviors to avoid an outburst? For example, if she rages when you tell her she has to stop playing and take a bath, you could re-arrange the sequence so that the bath comes earlier before she starts to play. A related topic in my parent's manual is to lower your child's expectations. The idea is to try to prevent an outburst when possible.
The next section of the manual explains how to use "emotional distraction" and calming strategies. In your case, it would be important to practice calming strategies with your daughter while she is not having an outburst. You would try to develop a quiet and fun place in the house (some parents use a mat with blankets and pillows and wrap their child in a blanket, or have their child lie in a bunch of pillows) and put on distracting and calming music or a video. Once your daughter is enjoying this space when she is calm, you would sometimes suggest she go there with you when she is just a little bit frustrated.
This is not likely to work however when she is already in serious overload. Then you say as little as possible, but if she is hurting you, you would need to restrain her (possibly bear hug her) for a few minutes or more until she is no longer trying to hurt you. It is real important then to give her more of your attention once she has calmed down, so that she sees there are definite advantages to calm behavior.
Since it sounds like the outbursts are severe and have worsened the last two years, it would be helpful to get a consult with a mental health professional who sees young children. You would want to rule out developmental delays, and possible co-occurring conditions like autistic spectrum disorders, attention disorders, and sensory integration issues. A young child's brain is growing so much, but sometimes there is unevenness in development such that self-soothing is delayed. You would want to learn why this might be happening, especially if you do not see some improvement in using the strategies in my manual over a couple of months. I'd also recommend you read my post from June 12, 2013 that was in response to another parent of a three year old. All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb