Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Manual helps, but young child won't talk about anger

Just a line to thank you so much for your excellent helpful Manual on Anger Overload. My 5 year old son has always from 2 until 3 and a half ish had intense and prolonged aggressive tantrums in reaction to being told no. However as he started school we experienced a set of much heightened responses, mainly directed at me his mother. He shouted nonstop, hit, kicked spat, words, used very violent words, and indeed tried to hurt himself. Hurting himself and being so distressed was truly awful. The rage lasted up to an hour and NOTHING could distract from this locked in response. It almost had to wear out from him. 

Thanks to your Manual we have felt an immediate ability to calmly attempt the emotional change at a trigger moment and start to help him and us cope with strategy that works. It is very hard at times to know what to do for the best. But we feel that your expertise diffused via the book and website has rescued what for us was almost becoming a crisis situation. So I feel immensely grateful to have found your knowledge which is so readily shared and accessible. And most importantly works. We know it will be a long haul but with this blueprint we have a model to work with.
My son finds it difficult to want to talk about his overloads - he doesn't want to address his responses so would you have any advice please about how we get him to be reflective. He has a wide vocabulary and seems to respect his father more than me. Should he start more of the discussion?

Many thanks indeed for your help.

Hi, For five year olds, many of the strategies in the second half of the manual will not work yet. Young children are often not ready to look at and discuss their behavior.  The first half of the manual is key for young children, and it sounds like you are applying those strategies. These are directed by the parent, and do not require the child's direct participation.  

What you could try is making up a story with dolls or puppets, and use any that your child already likes.  They could be stuffed animals or superhero figures he has at home or watches on television.  Think carefully about what themes you want the story to contain. Use themes that are consistent with your child's triggers, and write stories and resolutions that are dramatic, but metaphors for how your child could someday handle anger.  In other words, use fantasy in the story; your child's triggers would be disguised.  You want the story to be appealing and send a message, but it needs to be indirect for your child to be interested and listen. So the character in the story may for example throw giant boulders (when angry) and the boulders may almost land on a house.  But then a wise superhero says "you are destroying their house.  Why don't you build a fort with the boulders instead." Eventually after a few weeks, the ending may be about making peace with whomever the character was angry with.  "Talking works when you don't scream,": the wise sage could explain.

Another idea would be to make up a funny song with lyrics about anger that has a helpful resolution, or make pictures together about anger, or read a story together. (There is one by Mercer Mayer, for example, called "I was so mad.")   The basic idea is to begin a "discussion" about anger indirectly with your young child.  

Also, be sure to use yourselves as an example.  Talk out loud sometimes about what got you angry one day, and how you handled it.  All these techniques give the message to your child that everyone gets angry and that it is okay to talk about it.  It may be a year or more before your child is ready to talk more directly about his anger.  At that point, you might start by using a labeling system for levels of anger, which is one of the strategies I write about in the second half of  my manual.  The idea behind that strategy is to develop greater awareness about levels of anger.  It is easier to control anger if one takes an action at lower levels of anger.  But first a child needs to observe that anger comes in different forms.
All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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