Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Update on 8 yr old's outbursts playing little league

Hi Dr. Gottlieb,

I emailed you last summer and you responded, thank you.

Our son, now 8, has been diagnosed with Anxiety. Maybe performance anxiety. They are uncertain. His therapist said maybe mood disorder along the depression spectrum.

Anyway, he is on 10mg of Prozac and seems happier overall, engaged, laughing etc. He is passionate about baseball. And if you recall last spring we had a terrible time with him on the field. Didn't matter if it was practice or games, he was very hard on himself, blurting out a swear word here and there, sometimes throwing his hat, bat or glove. It was pretty obvious that he was struggling and having anger outbursts. The coaches were pretty supportive telling us not to pull him but to let him play as this is where he'll learn.

Well we are headed into about 8 weeks of spring ball. He hasn't played any sports outside of gym class just because we haven't been able to handle the stress as a family.

We see more positive signs going into baseball this year, but are afraid of what we might encounter again this year.

We are trying to find a sports therapist, or someone along that lines. We just don't understand the undue pressure he puts on himself competitively and then gets upset when he doesn't perform or even gets upset if a ball isn't hit to him. Also, gets upset if his team looses. We do not put any pressure on him to play or not play. We just want him to have fun like the other 8 year old boys on the field.

Any thoughts? Suggestions?

Thank you Dr. Gottlieb

Hi, Last year in the post of June 4, 2013 you mentioned that you had given him time to cool down and had refrained from engaging him while he was in overload.  That is an important first step.  Next think about whether your son shows concern about his outbursts, that is, whether he indicates a wish to have better self control.  If not, the first step is to help him become aware of the problem and help him to develop self-observation skills. I discuss this at the beginning of the second half of the manual (see pages 32-37).  

If your son is already aware that he gets frustrated on the baseball field, then you would move to the strategies that involve changing one's perspective (i.e., seeing another point of view) and learning a "mantra," or saying that reinforces the new perspective.  Here's one possible thing you could say if your son finds it meaningful:  You could talk about how making mistakes are important, that if someone doesn't make mistakes, they are not human, they would be a machine, and we don't want you to be a machine, so please make some mistakes on the field.  

Another possible discussion could occur after you watch a professional game on television and talk about players making errors or striking out.  Talk about how they must feel.  Help him to see that upset feelings are okay but loud outbursts are signs that one's frustration has gotten out of control.  Ask him to think about what he could do when he feels the frustration coming on.  How could he reassure or distract himself so that he avoids a loud outburst?

Practice whatever strategy you decide on together before each game and practice.  Then ask afterward if he tried it.  Give him plenty of praise for trying, regardless of whether it worked.  Reassure him that the strategy takes time to work because frustration can be a powerful emotion.  It is important to warn him that it takes time, so that he does not become self-critical when he cannot control his emotions.

Lastly, try to use yourselves as models.  Talk out loud when you get angry about how you feel and what you are trying to do to calm down.  The more he sees other people working on self control, the more likely he will be motivated to try too.

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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