Thursday, September 11, 2014

11 yr old is disrespectful, rips books, picks up knives

I have twin eleven year old boys.  About three years ago we moved countries and it seems during the day that everything is going well- they bike ride to school, they hang out with their friends, they play soccer after school, they chat on their phones, they play games and talk “normally.” Twin A sometimes reacts over the top when denied certain items, activities, or when he thinks he is being treated “unfairly.”  He also has recently added in that he and Twin B are angry about where we moved and want to move back.  When Twin A gets angry there have been moments where he has picked up a knife - not harmed anyone but  is definitely trying to get my attention, ripped up a school book, screamed incredibly disrespectfully at me or my husband, etc.  He is very difficult to bring down from these scenarios.  They usually end with me saying that his phone is being taken away and he saying that he doesn’t care, me saying that he needs to pay for his school book and he saying that he doesn’t care he will rip more, etc.  Throughout the episodes there might be a flicker here and there of a logical response but then almost as quickly as it appears it is gone.  Over the years he has had random outbursts but especially the past few weeks these have escalated.  I need help.  I am worried about him hurting himself or anyone else around him.

Hi,  It is worrisome when children pick up knives.  If he acts like he might harm himself or someone else, it would be important to get a consult from a mental health professional in your area.  Generally, when children have outbursts that are verbal, I recommend not responding while they are heated up.  Since they are not thinking rationally at those times, they are unlikely to consider what you say, and they often will continue to argue and rage.  Wait to impose consequences until everyone is calmer.  You would tie the consequence to a particular behavior, like picking up knives, rather than targeting the anger per se.  For verbal outbursts, only use a consequence if you feel he was very disrespectful of adults, as you mention he often is.  If he can blow off steam without using the disrespectful language, then I would not recommend consequences.

What I would work on with him is looking for early warning signs and issues that are more likely to trigger him.  I explain in other posts and in my manual how to work on this with your child: to observe triggers and to develop strategies to change your child's expectations (if that is a trigger) or change the sequence (so that what he enjoys come after what he resists doing, if task compliance is a trigger).  Then there is a natural incentive for him to cooperate.  Also, I write about how to use "emotional distraction" and calming strategies before an outburst occurs.  Once an outburst is in overload mode though it is best to say as little as possible, unless someone is being physically harmed.

I write about a child in my manual who like yours erupts when he feels things are "unfair."  I explain how to help children look at other points of view (not during, but after an outburst subsides).  I also suggest families use catch phrases to alert their child when they feel he/she is getting frustrated (if you can catch anger before it erupts). The catch phrase would remind the child of a different way of looking at things.  For example, for children who get mad about sometimes performing below their standards, a catch phrase might be "everyone makes mistakes.." One other strategy that might help you is teaching your child a compromise technique, and I explain how to do that in the last section of my parent's manual.

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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