Tuesday, January 28, 2014

12 yr. old threatens teacher

I have a son that is exactly as you describe and he is now being expelled from school due to one of his rages (he’s 12 and on an IEP).  The school has recommended a more therapeutic placement for him but I am afraid it’s just going to make matters work.

Also, my child struggles at SCHOOL much more than at home (which seems like the opposite to the parents described on your blog).  My wife and I have worked to provide structure for our son and we are able to recognize when he may be getting triggered and get on top of them.  One thing we know is that food is critical to his success and we help him to maintain an eating schedule.    At school he doesn’t always eat like he’s supposed to and that impacts him dramatically. 

It also seems the people at school are unable (or sometimes I think unwilling) to recognize his cues and they keep pushing him.  It just gets ugly, and most recently he had an anger surge and ended up grabbing scissors and threatening his teacher.  He is on an IEP and is in a “special” more structured therapeutic program within the school but now they want to remove him because they think they “can’t meet his needs." They want to move him to a completely different school.  I know you probably can’t give advice but I’m hoping you would be able to let me know whether you think homeschooling for a year or two to help him mature and learn anger management would be more beneficial than an alternative school.  I honestly worry about who he will be exposed to in one of those schools.

Hi, It all depends on what the alternative school is like.  If it is a school for aggressive, acting out children, often labeled a BD classroom, it may not be best for your son.    Many children in BD classrooms are oppositional toward adult authority, whereas many children with anger overload are compliant and friendly toward adults.  Oppositional children tend to get in regular conflict with adult authority figures, and these children would not be good role models for your son.  On the other hand, if the class has children with emotional issues, like depression, anxiety, or Asperger's, then the class may be okay for your son.  Often these ED classes have nurturing teachers and social skills groups to help with developing peer relationships.  It would depend on what other emotional needs your son has, and whether there is a fit with the kind of class the school is offering.  You would want to observe any class before making a decision, and you might want to hire a child advocate or mental health professional to help at your school meeting. 

Ideally, the school would learn about anger overload and how to work with these children.  My parent's manual can be adapted for school use.  In previous recent posts, I have given some examples.  The key is to understand the episodic nature of anger overload, to observe some of the triggers, and to develop a three part plan:  1) prevention, 2) early anger phase, and 3) overload phase.  You would want to work with the teacher and support staff to write out a plan for each stage.  Like you do at home, the teachers could cue your son in order to head off difficult situations.  For stage one, were possible, the idea is to work around trouble spots for now.  For stage two, there could be a "go to place" for your son if he began to get agitated, where he could calm down.  Distraction and relaxation techniques are important at the early stages. 

Furthermore, if there are some academic  or social areas that are frustrating for your son, hopefully the school could develop a plan to give your son more assistance in those areas, because if you can head off frustration, you can head off anger. 

If all else fails, there would need to be a plan for the overload phase.  This usually involves a time out room, or some place where your son could calm down but not receive a lot of attention until he were calmer.  There should be clear consequences also for physical threats or violence.  So there would be consequences for threatening the teacher with a scissors.  You want to draw a line at physical threats, and the consequences could be losing all privileges at school and/or home for 24 hours, or longer if necessary to change your son's behavior.

Once you have the three part plan in place, and the frequency of anger has been reduced, you would want to apply the strategies in part two of my manual.  Part two involves teaching children strategies they can use themselves to deal with anger.  The school social worker or a private therapist could help with this.

The school principal and staff are probably concerned about violence in the school, and not knowing how to deal with anger overload, they feel your son should be in a more protected environment.  Try to engage them around the anger issue:  agree with them that violence will not be allowed, and then urge them to read my manual and to consider the issue of anger overload. 

If however you decide to home school your son, be sure to provide regular activities for peer interaction.  Examples would be a sports, music or art club, scouts, or a religious group.   

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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