Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is anger overload a biological problem?

Hi, I have a now 8 yr old son with every year becoming more aggressive and angry. He shows signs of ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) and by learning just now of this anger overload I believe that is a factor. He has had rages since toddler yrs. He would bang his head in tantrums progressing by age 2 to throwing chairs in fits. He is brilliant and the loving one when not angry. He cannot simply say no. He will scream in your face, sassy, and not a care of earning or losing anything. The rages are continuous throughout the day and just had one episode ever in a school when a girl knocked down stuff of his: he screamed right in her face till she cried and he knocked all of her things down. He said it is very hard to keep control throughout the school day. At home there is no control. I have been working in behavioral health with children and cannot help my own child. Is this a chemical thing or just plain rage? Thank you.

Hi, When anger overload has been an issue for years, it is likely that there are developmental delays in the brain such that there may be a) "weak" communication between the emotional centers of the brain and the self-control centers of the brain, or b) the emotional centers of the brain may be overactive, or c) the control centers of the brain may be underactive.  The amygdala is one part of the brain that is aroused when we get angry, while the prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that helps us exercise self-control.  We do not know yet exactly which part of the brain is not responding adequately in children with anger overload.  With new imaging equipment (like CAT and PET scans) we hope to know more in the years to come.

However, "exercise" can help brain development.  That is why it is important to work with your child on self-control strategies.  In my parent's manual, I explain ways to help children develop better self control.  It takes time and practice, since we are dealing with brain development and with strong emotions.  But it will make such a difference in your child's life once he can control his anger better.  Look through other posts on my blog or check out the strategies I describe in my parent's manual, and see which ideas make the most sense for your child.  Sometimes it also helps to consult with a mental health professional in your area to rule out any other issues and to fine tune the strategies for your situation.

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb 

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