Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What can teachers do for outbursts in school?

Thank you for posting your article on Anger Overload. I have only just found it and have already ordered your book.  I am so relieved to finally find an accurate description of my son's behavior after 8 months of going to multiple therapists and experts -- all of whom tell me "he's unusually complicated" with multiple issues at play.  They all agree he has anxiety related to his learning disabilities.  But, the intensity and sporadic nature of his anger (despite two very patient, even-keeled parents) hasn't been explained...until now.

My son is a loving, cuddly, creative kid who makes friends easily.  As a competitive gymnast, he will practice back flips and dangerous stunts anywhere he goes (not just during his 9+ hrs/wk at the gym).  He has been diagnosed with reading, processing and anxiety disorders.  While he has shown signs since preschool of extreme anger when triggered, he can go for months without an episode.  Summers, vacations and sports practices tend to be anger-free -- school is the main location of his rage-episodes.  It appears to increase in frequency and intensity as the academic expectations increase.  He can be triggered by all the things you mentioned in your article (being told no, minor criticism, noticing other kids finish their test while he is still working, etc.).  I can't tell you how eager I am to read your book.

In the meantime, I have a question:  Do you have a recommendation for the teachers on what they should do when he gets into a rage-state?  He can't hear anything while he is in that state (hitting himself, kicking the desk, being verbally disrespectful to the teacher, literally covering his ears, etc.), but they can't just wait it out while the other children's learning is being impacted.  He does go to a private school with a Learning Specialist and Social Worker on site, but they are not always available.

Any guidance you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Hi, Yes, while at home a parent can ignore an angry outburst, in school this is usually not an option if a child is disrupting the class.  So one key is early recognition and developing an assortment of tools your child can use.  First, I would recommend the teachers record what is going on when the outbursts occur in the next couple of weeks.  You mention some triggers in your e-mail, such as minor criticisms and finishing his test while others are still working.  Once some of the triggers are identified, the teachers would develop possible interventions for each trigger.  For example, before mentioning a minor criticism, the teacher could point out something your son has done well, so that he is less likely to feel "injured." Your son can't keep critical comments in perspective yet, and that is not unusual for children with learning issues.  They get frustrated easily and sometimes feel inadequate compared to their peers. So the teachers could help him keep their remarks in perspective by pairing a critical remark with a positive one.

For testing, it sometimes helps a child with learning issues to take tests in a separate room so that they are not distracted or concerned with their peers.  Like my previous suggestion, this would be a way to prevent an outburst from  occurring.  

But what happens when your son is getting frustrated and the staff did not see it coming--and this will happen sometimes no matter how much planning the teachers do.  First, early intervention is important.  Are there warning signs before your son erupts?  Could the teachers have a "go to place" or a distracting activity that would help him calm down?  I would recommend the teachers talk with your son privately while he is calm, and explain they want to help him with his frustrations, and mention that they will give him a signal (it could be verbal or a nonverbal signal) when they want him to stop working and go somewhere (in or out of the class).  They would explain this is not a punishment but a way to help him "chill".  He could get points, or a positive note home, for following directions about using the chill place.  They would empathize with him that sometimes the work will be hard.  They could also say we all have trouble working when we get frustrated, so that's why it is good to take a short break then.

Once a child totally erupts it will be hard to distract him.  At that point, the teacher could either tell the class that your son is having a hard time and ask them to please try to let him calm down on his own, or he would need to be escorted out of the room.  The staff would explain to your son in advance where this place would be, and then without much discussion take him there as needed.  Depending on the age and size of your child, they may need help from a strong adult to bring him to that place.  It would preferably be different place than the "chill" zone.  The "chill zone" is often within the class, whereas when a child erupts, it is usually best to leave the class.

In the second half of my parent's manual, I explain also how to teach a child to use a catch phrase to help him with frustration.  This doesn't work during the anger overload phase, but can help if the anger can be caught at an earlier stage.  For your son, the catch phrase could be something like:  "School can be a pain sometimes" or "Yes, somethings are hard but other things are easy for me."  It would be important to practice saying the catch phrase to himself several times a day so that eventually it becomes automatic.  You would discuss with him some possibilities and pick one that he likes.  Another possibility is to help him think of a funny scene when Mom or Dad had trouble with something.  He could try to think about this when he is frustrated in school to help him realize everyone has trouble sometimes.  These latter strategies work better with children who acknowledge they can get very angry sometimes, and want to try to learn to control it on their own.

All the best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb  

No comments:

Post a Comment