Tuesday, August 25, 2015

7 yr old acts out in school

Hello. I was reading about anger overload and that is totally my 7 year old son.  Every year since kindergarten my son starts school and it's like 5 months of craziness before he gets settled in.  He acts out in class, get aggressive with other kids, and ends up miserable and with no friends and obviously upset about it. He says he's a jerk, everyone hates him, that I (his mother) think he's a jerk or an idiot.  He's always touching other kids and annoying them.  He gets angry when he feels like things aren't fair or he's not good enough.  He's really smart though. Has no problems learning. I would even say he's a little gifted.. 

I don't know what to do and it stresses me out daily. I work full time and so does his dad.  My mom watches them most days.  When he's at home or with one friend he's amazing! Totally nice, sweet, thoughtful, loves his mommy and family very much..  I'm used to when I do go to school to drop him off or pick up I get dirty looks from parents and already know the teacher is going to tell me something he did wrong that day.  I try not to yell at him at all, when he's in a rage kicking his closet and punching holes in the door I let him be until he calms down.   I take things away for short periods of time, he gets grounded for a day or two, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. It's hard because he's really great at home but when he's at school it's a different story.  He does sports, swims, skateboards, and is very active.  What more can I do. I'm so tired of this and I know it hurts him that he doesn't have super close friends and relationships with peers.  I don't want him to have to feel this way anymore.
Thank you!

Hi, You point out several scenarios at school when he is likely to blow, e.g. a) he touches other kids and annoys them, or b) when he thinks things are not fair, or c) when he feels he is not good enough.  Work with the teacher to review when these types of triggers are likely to occur. That is, a) what is going on right before he touches other kids, b) what does he not think is fair, and c) what is he doing when he does not feel he is good enough.  Let's take the first scenario:  Young children often want more attention from peers and will touch them to get attention.  Does he seem to want interaction when he touches others?  If so, you could practice at home how to get someone's attention without annoying them.  Role play a situation in class.  Ask your child who he wants to interact with and then practice a way that uses words and does not intrude on another person's space.  Or if your child does not want to role play, then make up a story at bedtime that "shows" him indirectly how to get someone's attention in school.  In volume two of my parent's manual, I explain how to use imaginary stories and also explain other strategies for school.  

Self esteem issues are often another trigger.  You mention that he sometimes does not feel good enough.  There are different techniques you can use here.  In the first volume of my manual for parents, I write about lowering a child's expectations ahead of time, before anger is triggered.  The teacher may be able to intervene and use a "mantra" like "everyone makes mistakes" at the beginning of assignments that in the past have triggered your child's frustration.   .At home you can reinforce the message by telling your child that you hope he made at least one mistake today because that shows he is learning something new.  Ask him to tell you about a mistake and be proud of him for sharing this information with you.

Fairness is another trigger for many children..  Often these children have difficulty seeing other points of view.  Here I recommend helping your child to expect that things sometimes won't go his way.  Also, in the second half of my parent's manual, I explain how to teach child about other points of view.

The underlying principle of all these strategies is to try to alter a child's way of looking at things before he gets upset.  Once anger overload occurs, it is more difficult to intervene because a child is not thinking rationally then.  It is usually better to say as little as possible when a child is in overload, and work on strategies, like those mentioned above, while he is calm.  If you can catch anger early, you can also use emotional distraction:  the teacher could try saying something that can change your child's mood.  Something silly or funny often helps.  It is hard to be extremely angry while you are laughing!  There is more about emotional distraction and relaxation strategies in my original manual for parents.

Best, David Gottlieb, Ph.D.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Behavior charts do not work well with 5 yr olds

Hello, I am in desperate need of advice. I have a 5 year old son and over the last year we have had many issues with his anger. He got kicked out of 2 day cares last year. Towards the end, we found a great daycare that would take him aside when he would get angry and take him away from the situation and take him on a walk outside. The director really took him under her wing and he started doing a lot better. But school ended and I was at home all summer with him and my other 2 year old son. We worked on a behavior chart and spent a lot of time together and he seemed to be doing well. We saw a therapist who suggested no yelling or spanking him and implementing the behavior chart w rewards. He started a new daycare this week. The first day he was okay, the second day he got upset and pushed his chair at his teacher. Then yesterday he had a very good day and he was very proud of himself. Then today he scratched another kid and hit him in the face for not playing the way he wanted to and then was hitting and kicking the director. So now he has been kicked out of the daycare. He was supposed to start Kindergarten on August 24th. I have no idea what to do. The therapist I took him to said he's too young to tell if he has ADHD and that he should do fine at school....well obviously not. And now when I call back, they tell me he was only an intern and is now gone. I need help.

Hi, With anger overload, the outbursts happen so quickly that behavior charts are not often very helpful.  For a reward to work, the child has to be thinking rationally and be ready to try to earn the reward.  But when a child is in overload, he is not thinking rationally and is not thinking about the rewards.  Sometimes charts can help if they target early signs of frustration and help a child choose a calming technique in order to avoid overload.  But this requires early recognition of anger arousing situations, and young children will need adults to help them recognize their emotional triggers.  

So first it is important to keep notes of what is going on immediately prior to an episode, and see over several weeks what triggers emerge.  Then you (or the teacher in day care) can either "change the sequence" or "lower a child's expectations" in advance in order to prevent anger overload.  Or if you can pick up signs that your child is getting frustrated, then you (or the teacher) can also use "emotional distraction" or "relaxation activities". (I explain more about the above strategies, the strategies in quotation marks, in my original manual on anger overload in children and in other posts in this blog.)   Basically, the adult is helping to catch and re-direct a child before he reaches the overload phase.  It is unrealistic to expect five year olds to monitor their own emotional states, and that is why it is important for the teachers and  parents to implement strategies.  

Last year's day care director who took your child out of the situation was on the right track. Avoidance and distraction are key strategies.  I explain how to implement all these strategies in a school setting in my second recently published volume entitled Anger Overload in Children:  Additional Strategies for Teachers and Parents.  Both the original manual and the second volume with additional strategies for teachers can be found on online book stores.

ADHD can lead to impulsive behaviors, and can contribute to episodes of overload. Psychologists who specialize in working with young children can help you diagnose whether this is a contributing factor in your child's case.

Best, David Gottlieb, Ph.D.