Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Door slamming and "smart mouth"

I am writing to you because we are at the end of our rope with our son and his constant anger outbursts... He talks to us like we are nobody and gets so mad. He slams doors, then comes out and starts in again and has a smart mouth. He does not talk to his peers in this manner and they all say  how sweet  he is.. We have not had him tested for anything, he is starting to have trouble in school with following directions or putting the answer down on paper and then trying to explain the answer.. I have worked with kids that are ADD and ADHD and I don't see any of those things in him, but I could be blind to it since he is our son.. The more we take away from him, he gets worse or if we say we are going to do something about it , then he says we don't love him.. Any help or advice would be great so that we can get this under control before it gets worse.
Thank you for your time

Hi, Anger overload often happens more at home than with peers.  It is a good sign that he realizes he cannot act that way with peers or else they would avoid him.  Now how can you reduce the slamming of doors and the smart mouth at home?  First, I would try to record the times he has outbursts over the next couple of weeks.  What is going on at the time?  What was he doing before he got angry, and what were you doing or saying?  After two weeks, look over your notes and see if there are any patterns.  Are his tantrums more with one parent, more during a particular activity, more when a parent asks him to do something? There will be outbursts that do not fit any pattern, but hopefully you will see a pattern(s) for some of them.

The next step is to think about whether you can change the sequence that leads to an outburst.  For example, if an outburst is more likely when you ask him to turn off the computer and start his homework, you might re-arrange the schedule in the future so that he does not start on the computer until his homework is done.  Basically, the idea is to get him to do what you want before he enjoys time doing what he wants.  If his preferred activity comes second, he will be more motivated to cooperate with you.

In my parent's manual and in other blog posts I describe other strategies, such as emotional distraction and when to ignore a child.  One recommendation about ignoring:  it is generally not a good idea to discuss consequences while a child is having an outburst.  You can talk about consequences after everyone has settled down.  Also, you want the consequence to be targeted to a specific behavior, not to anger per se.  Many of these children have short fuses, and so you will not eliminate all expressions of anger.  But you could target door slamming, or a particular obnoxious word or two.  Help him to see when he is calm what words would not trigger the consequence.  Also, pick a consequence that he cares about but that is relatively short term, from as little as an hour to a day at most.  It does not matter whether he says it bothers him or says that you do not love him.  Apply the consequence when everyone is calm, and then after a few weeks, think about whether the behavior you have targeted has decreased in frequency.  If it has, then your consequence was successful.  If there has been no improvement, then you should think about changing the consequence, or trying a totally different strategy.

In my manual I describe strategies parents can employ without a child's direct participation, and also strategies that involve discussions with your child.  The second half of the manual is about teaching your child new skills to improve self-control.

If your son continues to have difficulty in school with directions or with comprehension, you might ask the school psychologist or a private psychologist to evaluate him to determine whether there is ADHD or a learning issue affecting his performance in school.  Some children with ADHD have trouble with attention, but are not hyperactive or impulsive.  The first step regarding his school performance might be to consult with his teacher and/or school psychologist or social worker.  

Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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