Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The overload phase and what to do about it

All the descriptions of anger overload fit our son perfectly! I understand the long term approach to identifying the triggers and working over time to develop alternative strategies.  Can you please give some suggestions about what to do when he is in a rage? Regardless of where we are he will scream incredibly loudly and be very defiant.  We are very strict at following through on consequences, and once he has come out of his rage, he will accept them and get on with it. The problem is dealing with the rage in the most appropriate way while it is happening so to shorten it and limit the extremity of it. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Hi, You bring up an important issue.  The strategies, especially the cognitive approaches in the second half of volume one (as well as the suggestions in part two of volume two), can take weeks or months for children to learn to use at times of anger.  On the other hand, the strategies that parents can use without a child's direct participation (part one of the first manual) can be implemented more quickly but hinge on catching the anger quickly (when possible).  That is why identifying triggers is important:  then you can anticipate difficult situations for your child and try to head off anger before it reaches the overload phase.  

The first step is prevention.  If you see some patterns, you can change your child's expectations ahead of time, or change the sequence to avoid an upset.  In volume one, I explain how to do this.  In volume two, I explain how to do this for sensitive children by using cues and mantras with your child.  

The second step is the early anger phase when you can implement relaxation and distraction strategies (see volume one).  When a child moves right to the overload phase, as your question suggests, it is usually not possible to distract a child.  Then the best approach is to say as little as possible, not even talk yet about consequences.  In other words, try your best to ignore your child, unless he is hurting himself or someone else, and then you need to physically restrain him.  A child in the overload phase is not acting rationally and will usually escalate if you try to talk him through it.  As painful as it is, try to wait it out, giving as little attention to your child as possible.  Save any talk about alternative coping techniques, or consequences, until your child has calmed down and is thinking more rationally.  

Anger overload has a physiological basis in most cases, and therefore it takes time for children to calm down after they reach the overload phase.  But you can lessen the frequency of these events by using the strategies that prevent overload.  Once a child is in the overload phase, your options are limited.  That is why early intervention and planning how to deal with triggers is so important.

Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb