Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Punching bag and violent cartoons

Hello,  I am the mother of an 11 year old daughter.  Her diagnosis included ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorder. She has a severe reading disability with a reading level 2 years behind her class.   She is a sweet, well mannered, animal loving girl, with difficulties negotiating social interactions. 
My daughter has had difficult emotional outbursts through out her life.  Usually they are an explosion of built up anger, typically a month or two. They include screaming, hitting the bed, crying and then an utter break down and last about 1/2 hour.  She discusses these episodes frankly and asks "Why am I an angry girl?"  We have many discussions about anger control and management.  She has come a long way.  But, she is one of the biggest girls in her 5th grade class and strong.   And, when she is in her rage,  she talks about hitting people in the face.  Although, she knows this is wrong, and has thus far been able to control it, my concern is mounting as she approaches Jr High. 
Yesterday she saw a boxing match on TV and decided she would train to become a boxer to release her anger.  (much to her parents dismay)  She has found Pokemon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Ranger as her favorite TV shows and often acts them out in her alone play times. 
Your article about Anger Overload sounds like my daughter.  Thank you so much for describing this issue in such clear terms.  I will be getting your book on Anger Overload.
My question is:
Are the fighting cartoon shows an acceptable outlet for her emotions, or are they to her detriment? 
After the outburst this week, she told me she wants a punching bag for the basement.  Would this be helpful, like an in home OT session? 
I would really appreciate your help.  Thank you so much.

Hi, A key issue is helping kids understand that feelings are okay but hurtful actions are not.  I help children understand what caused them to feel angry and also help them feel that anger is a normal emotion, but I also explain that while it can be hard to control, it is very important that we work on ways to control it.  We then talk about alternative actions that are socially acceptable. For some children, a physical outlet is helpful, while others prefer to talk out their feelings, and still others prefer to distract themselves with music or computer games.  I try to help children think of several possible actions and empower them to pick the one that they want to try on a particular day.  So their reaction can vary depending on the circumstance.
Boxing and a using a punching bag are socially acceptable alternatives.  It is important though that your daughter understand  that it is not okay to use punching against other people in school or at home.  It is okay to practice and let out tension so long as no one is hurt.  Then I would monitor her behavior over the next month to determine whether there is a change in her acting out her anger against others.  As long as there is not an increase in aggression (and hopefully it helps her with self control), then continue to allow her to use the punching bag. Maybe she can learn to use it effectively as a tension reliever before she gets to the anger stage, and thereby lessen the likelihood of her reaching anger overload.

Fighting cartoons are a favorite of many children.  Some studies suggest they do not increase violent behavior of children, and other studies say there can be an increase in aggression for some children, particularly children with poor self control to begin with.  Since your daughter has not been overly aggressive towards other people, I would lean toward letting her watch the shows she wants.  You might also talk with her sometimes about a cartoon, and discuss why the character reacted the way he/she did.  Then you could talk briefly about the difference between fantasy (cartoons) and reality (school), and discuss what she could do if threatened is some way in school.  I generally suggest parents be aware of what their kids are watching on television and join them sometimes, because then after the show parents can sometimes talk about the theme of the cartoon and how it might relate (or not relate) to everyday life.  Do not overdo the discussions though, or your child may only want to watch her cartoons alone!  See how your child reacts (don't push it if she doesn't want to talk sometimes)  and pick cartoons that seem more relevant to everyday life.

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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