Monday, March 30, 2015

When 9 yr old makes mistakes, watch out

  I have a 9 soon to be 10 yr old boy that has extreme anger outbursts.  I tried saying it was terrible 2's followed by treacherous 3's. Now it is physical and verbal at 9 years old, and I cannot handle it any longer. I feel like I am constantly walking on egg shells because I don't know when he is going to get angry.  He can be a very sweet and sensitive boy.  He is a good athlete and seems to be better when he gets more physical activities.  When he makes mistakes or gets frustrated over something he becomes both physically and verbally abusive.  He cannot handle it if his perceives someone has cheated or not played by his rules at a game.  He is often afraid of anything new.  It makes going anywhere a challenge.  He constantly needs to be entertained:  either talking to him, computer games, television, or some stimulus.  He does not play quietly by himself anymore.  It is exhausting. I have tried taking computer away, time outs, helping him when I see he is getting upset ( that usually makes thing much worse). When he gets into a rage anything you say to him just escalates the thing.  Afterwards, he feels bad and gets upset again because he can't control himself.  He is smart but does not try at school.  He does not want to stand out.  His reading is below grade level this year and is becoming an issue.  He refuses to read and makes it so hard I finally cave in.  I can't argue anymore.  It is so hard on his older brother and me.  I am at a total loss.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much.


What you describe I see in a number of children with anger overload.  These children can be sweet and agreeable until they get frustrated by a mistake they make, or by someone else doing something that violates their sense of fair play.  Yes, talking when your child gets upset will generally not help reduce the outburst.  The key is really early intervention before the child's frustration begins.  In my second volume on anger overload in children that was published last month, I devote a section to sensitive children.  One idea is to develop a mantra that you will use daily with your son before an activity that might lead to "mistakes."  A mantra is a short saying that gets your son to look at himself in a different way.  Sensitive children tend to have high expectations of themselves, and it is impossible to always live up to such high expectations.  So it is important to have your son moderate his expectations somewhat, and that is what the mantra is designed to do.  Now it will not lead to immediate change, but over a period of several months, it is one tool that will help your child learn that "we all make mistakes" or that "mistakes are good, that means you are trying something new."  For one child, I suggested to him and his parents that he receive a hug or a reward when he made a mistake.   I explained that mistakes happen to everyone and if he can make a mistake and smile, he deserved a bonus!  For another child, we made the mantra into a funny song that helped the child remember to take a deep breath.

There are other ways to help a child change his expectations.  One is to use yourself as a role model, and every time you make a mistake, you would say out loud, "Oops, oh well, everyone makes mistakes."  Since your child looks up to you, you want to give voice to a more accepting view of mistakes.  If you talk with him about his anger, wait until he is calm later in the day, and in a non-critical way explain that everyone makes mistakes and suggest ways he could try to relax or distract himself in the future.  Do not punish him if he forgets.  It takes time to change old habits and to learn a new way to deal with frustration.  Negative consequences are often not helpful. Remember that a child is not thinking rationally during explosions, so imposing a consequence then will have no real significance to your child.

You mention your child is getting behind in his reading.  Ask his teacher if she sees any reasons why.  You mention he does not want to stand out.  Is he afraid of making a mistake in front of his classmates?  If so, you might ask the teacher to help him accept mistakes in a similar way that you would at home.  In my second volume on anger overload in children, I explain ways teachers can adapt the strategies for school time.

Take care, Dave Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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