Thursday, January 9, 2014

Is anger overload a lifelong condition?

One question I have that I cannot seem to get a firm answer on....Is "anger overload" a delay that a child will outgrow or is this a lifelong condition that requires aggressive treatment?  

Hi, You ask a very good question.  To my knowledge there are no long term studies of children with anger overload to determine what percentage of children might still have difficulties as adults.  In my clinical work, the great majority of children develop better self control.  But change can be gradual, sometimes over several months and sometimes over several years.  Research into anger issues implicates the structures in the brain known as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.  These structures continue to mature throughout childhood and even into early adulthood.  While some children may improve without much help, it is my experience that a child's brain structures (like the prefrontal cortex) develop more significantly with "exercises," such as the strategies  in my parents' manual.  To some extent, it is similar to what happens to the muscles in a child's body as he/she matures.  As children age, their muscles get stronger, but one can make more significant changes in the body if the individual exercises.  It is important to add that what is different about muscle growth compared to normal brain development is that puberty brings an increase in muscle mass for every child (except under rare situations), while the brain needs exposure to the environment (life events that stimulate the brain's anger control mechanisms) to reach its full potential.  So while some children may improve without focused work on anger, it is very important in my mind to be aggressive about working on self-control strategies.  "Practice" is important for brain development.  Anger overload can interfere with family life as well as a child's functioning in school.  So it is better to work on it sooner rather than later.  

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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